The Arnprior Dinkey
It started with a rumour that a small locomotive, possibly steam, was locked away in an abandoned quarry near Arnprior, Ontario. This was mystery enough in itself but as editor of the Industrial Locomotive section of the Canadian Trackside Guide I found it annoying to have such a blatant unknown right on our own doorstep. Further discussion showed that the locomotive, if it did indeed exist, was a small gas unit, and was thus not so interesting to many - except the compiler of the Guide!
Some further inquiries indicated that the quarry concerned was that of the former Dochart Brick and Tile Works but the information was confused. No, they didn't have a locomotive but they did have a "dinky" whatever that was. The only thing to do was to visit the place, I hasten to add, with the permission of the owner.
The Dochart Brick and Tile Company has been in business since 1866 and ceased to ship last year. In recent years the company produced flower pots and some ceramic ware. There were a variety of different railways in use. Clay is the raw material for the firing process and this was quarried close to the main works. It was brought to the works by means of a three foot gauge railway that was constructed with a form of snap track. The "main line" extended about a quarter of a mile into the quarry and the clay was moved in small four wheel skips. There are steep grades down from the pit into a dip and then up towards an unloading shed. The line makes use of the contours to climb up to the second storey of the unloading shed.
The unloading shed is a rickety two storey structure from which the clay was tipped into a vast holding area below. The clay is mixed and molded and moved throughout the lower portion of the works by means of a two foot gauge railway. Many of the wagons exist within this system which is mainly under cover. In one area there is a very interesting rudimentary switch which consists of just one blade that is pivoted where the frog would normally be. The blade is moved manually to throw one way or the other. Switches such as these have been used right from the beginning of railways.
There are a number of drying areas that are served by the two foot gauge railway but access to these is by means of two electrically worked transfer tables. These seem to be standard gauge. Gauge number three! As if this is not enough there is another transfer table outside to gain access to a second kiln and this would appear to be six foot gauge, possibly to handle three foot gauge wagons.
The railway layout is very complex, particularly when one considers that the whole arrangement could easily be handled by one relatively small dump truck and a fork lift.
But what about the dinky? Inside the unloading shed there is a small three foot gauge Plymouth locomotive. It carries serial number 3412 and this four wheel dinky has a gas engine. It was built in February 1930 and the Plymouth records show that it went originally to the National Fireproofing Company in Aldershot, Ontario, (Aldershot is near Hamilton), but is has evidently been at Arnprior for a long time. It hasn't been used for a little while but is in relatively good condition. The dinky only weighs five tons yet one must be concerned that it could break through the floor of the rickety building in which it is housed. Maybe it will be possible to preserve it. It was typical of the small contractors locomotives that were built in the 1920's and 1930's for quarries and general construction work.
Don't forget the locomotive is on private property and trespassers are not allowed. The property could very well be dangerous so do not even attempt to enter without permission and with somebody who knows his way around.
The Arnprior dinky is a surprising find in 1987. Are there any more out there?
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, June 1987.