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Retaining Clarington’s history at a miniature scale

Bowmanville is no stranger to the railroads. After all, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific both own lines that run past or through the town....
HomeNewsCommunityRetaining Clarington’s history at a miniature scale

Retaining Clarington’s history at a miniature scale

Bowmanville is no stranger to the railroads. After all, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific both own lines that run past or through the town.

Named after Charles Bowman in the 1830s, Bowmanville grew from a small village to a thriving town built on industry in the early 1900s. From Goodyear’s tire plant to the canning factory, Bowmanville was a valuable exporter of goods for over a century.

Stories like this are what inspired the formation of the Soper Valley Model Railroad Association. Started in the late 1970s at the Visual Arts Centre in Bowmanville, the club moved to its current home in the basement of the Newcastle Community Hall in 2006. The hall recently celebrated its centennial birthday in the summer of 2023.

Bill Harford Sr., 79, has been with the club since 1986. His son, Bill Harford Jr., is the current president of the club. He possesses extensive knowledge of the area’s history and how it inspired the current layout the club has built over the last 18 years.

Harford detailed how the layout was built, from the planning phase to showcasing each of the towns and industries throughout the layout.

Built in HO scale, a model railroad scale where the models are 1:87 the size of real trains. This means that 3.5 millimetres is equivalent to one scale foot.

“So, when we walked in here [the Newcastle Community Hall], it had been formally used by the air cadets,” he said. “It was just a vacant hall.”

Then the question of whether to build a static or portable layout came about. According to Harford, they initially settled on a portable layout, which they built. Now, he says, they take it to model train shows. “But realizing too that there was a lot of potential here, we started looking at making a static layout,” he said.

After constructing the framework, and laying down the track, scenery work began. He highlighted the towns that the club tried to recreate to loosely resemble the real locations.

Harford described their recreation of Orono, Ont., as a “little, small country village,” adding, “there’s only one track there, a station. And there we get all kinds of different commodities in the way of agriculture.”

He also went into detail about the industrial history of Bowmanville, some of which has been incorporated into the layout. “We have Goodyear, we have the cannery… We also have some stockyards which used to be there a long time ago – even before my time.”

In June 2023, the Municipality of Clarington approved demolition permits for all but three of the buildings at the real Goodyear plant, a facility that was acquired by Karmina Developments in 2019. They plan on turning the site into housing, retail, and restaurants. The model of the plant on the layout will allow for plant’s legacy to live on.

Harford also discussed the layout itself, set during the transitional period between steam and diesel trains in the mid-1950s to late-1960s. He says that they have a freelance setup with their operations, meaning there are no restrictions on which trains can be run based on when they were built.

“The reason we’re freelance is because we’ve got a lot of young people who have never seen a steam locomotive,” he said. “It’s great for the young people coming up if they’ve got an imagination.”

And it has. Nine-year-old Zach, the club’s youngest member, enjoys running his GO freight train around the layout. Zach joined the club around two years ago because “It just seemed nice.” He also said that he loves “driving the trains through all the realistic scenery” and says that he likes the effort put into it to make it look as realistic as possible.

For Harford, it brings back memories from his time growing up in Bowmanville.

“For those people like myself that are retired, it gives me a bit of nostalgia to go back to the days when I was a kid.”