A few words on how I ended up choosing this branch line as the subject of my modelling. There were two main sources of inspiration for me: 1) having attended the University of Waterloo myself, whose campus the spur runs through, and 2) Lance Mindheim's (and others') writings on the play value and interest to be had in running a small, prototype-based layout.
The first point is pretty much self-explanatory. I would venture a guess that most modellers are drawn to the trains they watched in their formative years, when they first had the freedom to go out into the world and could choose where to go to watch trains. For me that was initially Canadian National's Oakville sub, running through my hometown. I made many GO train trips to Toronto in the mid- to late '80s and '90s to scout out the track layout around Spadina and the CN Tower, and actually drew many trackplans to fit an expanded version of my parents' house. I wonder where those pieces of paper are right now. I'm pretty sure they've not been thrown away. Looking back, one has to wonder how I thought I would be able to manage modelling a 3- and 4-track mainline, pre-DCC to boot! We'll leave that to Jason Shron and others.
It was while attending university that I came to appreciate CN's secondary mainline through Kitchener and the occasional short local that scooted through the UW campus. Unfortunately I did little to document it, and remained ignorant of the CP operations that were abandoned just as I graduated. However, those times and trains have kept coming back to me over the years as I've planned layouts, started the occasional layout, and certainly as I've collected rolling stock in anticipation of having my dream layout.
There have been many distractions along the way, in terms of deciding on which prototype to follow. Living in Germany, there was no shortage of small branch lines with healthy doses of picturesque scenery, steam and/or electric motive power, plenty of passenger trains that I'd actually had the chance to ride, and interesting freight operations.
In Georgia an absolute gem of a prototype is the former Gainesville Midland RR, now CSX. Multiple six-axle diesel consists pulling long strings of feed hoppers through the razorback hills between Gainesville and Athens, small-town Southern stations with big-time Amtrak & NS operations, shared switching of the local feedmills, and kudzu everywhere! I might still come back to that one.
A move to Delaware introduced me to the former Octararo branch of the PRR, which was operated by a series of shortlines with interesting motive power pulling short trains through the beautiful countryside near Kennett Square, PA - mushroom capital of the world! Just as Gainesville was chicken capital of the world!
Upper New York State offered the water level route of the NYC/CSX, but more interesting was Susquehanna's Utica branch. The list of fantastic prototypes could further include the Delaware Lackawanna in Scranton, the Maryland Midland in lower Delaware, the Ontario Southland/Guelph Junction Railway, the Livonia & Avonville in the Southern Tier, and many more that would each make a fascinating history lesson as well as intriguing model railroad.
In the end, it always seems to come down to what you feel the most connected with. Model railroading is very much an exercise in nostalgia, even if you're modelling what you see outside your window right now. You are capturing a moment in time, and for most people that moment recedes into the past with each day that the railroad in the basement exists. We look for ways to capture a favourite location/motive power/operation, or perhaps just the feeling we ourselves experienced at a particular time in our lives.
For me, that time was my university years, where the trains were captivating, not yet obsessively so as they are now, but where the adventure of being away from home was the larger picture. Building a model railroad based on the CN operations of that era allows me to also think back fondly on the friends, cars, travels, and adventures of that time with each trip into the basement to work on the railroad.
More on narrowing down the choice of a prototype and the role my second source of inspiration played in the next post.