Model Trains & Tractors
Model builder Orin McIntosh with some of his meticulous scale models of famous Prairie machinery
According to the family story, when Orin McIntosh was three years old he wandered across the street from his home on Melville’s Railway Avenue, and was discovered sitting under a “carbox”—his word for boxcars—in the rail yards. A few years later, McIntosh’s father, who worked for Canadian National Railway, took him to see a steam locomotive, and he always wanted to go back.
“I was always so interested in the tie rods and all the motion that you get from a steam locomotive. I couldn’t help myself.”
McIntosh first built his own model locomotives and steam tractors with his Meccano set, but wasn’t completely satisfied. “I would look at it and think, ‘Yeah, I built that steam tractor, but look at it; it’s all nuts and bolts and holes. I can do better.’”
Now 84, he has certainly proved he could do better. Descending into the basement of his home in Watrous, Saskatchewan, is an invitation to imagine life in slower, simpler times. Exquisitely detailed models from the glory days of steam locomotives sit on lengths of railway track that run along two walls of his basement lair and workshop. Joining them are meticulously crafted models of some of the province’s landmark buildings—Danceland at nearby Manitou Beach, a train station similar to those once found in many Saskatchewan towns, and the distinctive art deco CBC transmitter building at Watrous.
McIntosh was a child of the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties in Saskatchewan. His family moved a few times, including a brief stint in British Columbia, so that his father could continue working for the CNR. However, the family was back in Melville when McIntosh began school. A few years later the family settled in Watrous. He recalls watching the construction of the CBC transmitter building and the tower, which was intended to beam a powerful signal to large parts of the three Prairie provinces.
“I was getting interested in radio, and then when it went on the air (in 1939, with the call letters CBK), I was really interested.”
It was easy to pick up CBK with a simple crystal set and headphones, McIntosh recalls. In fact, one poor connection in the local telephone system meant people could hear CBK’s 50,000-watt signal on their telephones. In his high school years, McIntosh knew all the technicians working at CBK, had mastered Morse code, and had begun studying radio theory by correspondence. After high school he worked as a summer relief technician for CKCK in Regina, followed by five years with CFQC in Saskatoon, and then five years tending the CBC transmitter at Carman, Manitoba, before moving back to Watrous in 1958. All the while he continued his correspondence course.
“The fundamentals of the course were great for learning the theory,” McIntosh explains, “but you learned more by working with the equipment. For example, the transmitter at Carman was air-cooled, while the one at Watrous was water-cooled, and that meant you had all kinds of other things to know about and monitor.”
McIntosh was the last full-time technician working at CBK until the operation was completely automated, but even before he retired he began model-making, working around his job schedule, which often required performing maintenance and testing equipment after CBK signed off at midnight. He started the Britannia steam locomotive in the 1960s, and he began recreating the CBC building in miniature before he retired 20 years ago. The latter project was “a big job, but easy,” he says, because not only had he spent a good portion of his working life there, he had blueprints to work from. He often didn’t have the luxury of any blueprints or detailed plans with several other projects, such as the Watrous train station, the elementary school he attended, or the Chalet Pool at Manitou Beach.
For the full story find Bill Armstrong's article "A Miniature World in Loving Detail", page 22, in the Winter 2013 issue of Prairies North Magazine.
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