Sunday, July 29, 2012

Great Canadian Model Railroad: The Northland Route

Winnipeg is home, or was home, to some great layouts—Stafford Swain’s Whiteshell Sub., Ken Epp’s four-level Cougar River Sub., and George Myer’s Central Northern Sub., plus some I haven’t got around to photographing yet. But I think the best of all is Arnold Walker’s Northland Route.

The HO scale layout— which fills a 16 by 40 foot room in Arnold’s basement, features generic western Canadian scenery—mountains, prairies and an urban area. He started it 1991; the mainline was completed in 1992 and the basic scenery was done a year later.

The track plan is a 200-foot double-track mainline in the shape of a dog bone. A total of 11 staging tracks supply trains for the layout; each track can hold two locomotives and 20 cars. Trains are powered by DCC.

A special feature of the Northland Route are its bridges—eight of them, altogether, either kitbashed or scratchbuilt, including a working bascule lift bridge. The longest is about six feet long.

Another feature is BC Rail coal operations, modeled after that former railway’s electric operations at Tumbler Ridge, B.C. The Northland Route contains a 120-foot long point-to-point electrified section of track from a coal load out to an interchange.

Motive power includes two scratchbuilt GMC GFC 6000 HP electric locomotives. (See the August and September, 1995 issues of Mainline Modeler for articles about how Arnold built the unique units.)

The locomotive shops area is another highlight, featuring a turntable, transfer table and diesel shop that is open on the aisle side so visitors can look inside.

Other highlights are the large grain terminal and oil refinery; the size of the refinery is doubled by Arnold’s use of a mirror.

Arnold use about 550 pounds of plaster for the mountains; hundreds of handmade spruce trees dot the hills and mountainsides. He also painted the backdrop himself, using techniques learned from a PBS TV show.

The Northland Route doesn’t represent a particular time or era, but the motive power is mostly modern with units from the CPR, BNSF and BC Rail—and a smattering of classic CPR maroon and grey, a Union Pacific turbine that Arnold really likes, plus some Australian GE Cv40-91 units that he purhased during a trip to that country.

In addition to the photos on this page, you can see a video of Arnold’s layout, with a special focus on his mountain bridges, on YouTube; click here  to watch the Northland Route in action!

(More photos of the Northland Route can be found here; I just didn't have enough room here for all the great shots of Arnold's layout. The Northland Route was also featured in Canadian Railway Modeller, T1T5.)


  1. Man, do I envy people who have the skills to build something that amazing. That is utterly spectacular!!!

  2. I really like that red barn of his! Do you know what kit he used? What a beautiful layout. Thanks for posting.

  3. Arnold scratchbuilt the Red Barn.

  4. Where is this layout located? (e.g. Vancouver, Calgary ETC)

  5. It was in Winnipeg. "Was" is the operative word, since it is now dismantled.