Part of Rod Craggs’s model railroad layout

Part of Rod Craggs’s model railroad layout

A tiny but perfect world: the Tomahawk and Western Railroad Company

Longtime train enthusiast Rod Craggs of Ashcroft has constructed a miniature world where the trains always run on time.

The black-and-white photograph is showing its age, but the subject is clearly visible. A man and a woman stand on the back platform of a train carriage, the man leaning against the doorframe, hands in the pockets of his jacket. The woman is on the platform, hands folded across her chest. Clad in a matching jacket and skirt, she has a delighted smile on her face. Even at this distance in time they are instantly recognizable: Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, during their first trip to Canada in 1951.

The photograph was taken by long-time Ashcroft resident Rod Craggs, who was a train operator in Glacier when the royal couple came through more than 60 years ago. “I bought a film camera just for the event,” says Craggs. “Cost me $300 in 1951. I still have the footage somewhere.”

Many of the streets in Ashcroft are named after people who lived here and helped shape the town, but all of those people save one are no longer with us. The “one” is Rod Craggs, who was Mayor (or Chairman, as the position was then called) of Ashcroft from 1962–5. It was under his watch that the roads in downtown Ashcroft went from dirt to paved, something in which he takes great pride.

Craggs has, in the course of his 87 years, seen and done more than most people can only dream of. In his long and eventful life he has been a telegraph operator on the Kettle Valley Railway starting at age 16 during World War II, after which he trained at Brandon and entered the Air Force. In 1949 he began a stint as an operator at Glacier, and then moved to Ashcroft, where he was an operator and then the CP Stationmaster from 1960–69. He has variously been Chief of the Ashcroft fire department, an ambulance attendant, an alderman, a ham radio operator who logged 18 hours straight at one point during the 2003 fire outside Ashcroft, and a search and rescue spotter who worked from Kamloops for seven years.

Out of that wide and varied life it’s easy, however, to spot his passion: trains. That 1951 photograph is as significant for the fact that it’s taken of a train as it is for the subject. And it was in Glacier, in 1949, that Craggs first started working on something that now draws visitors from all over the world to his house on Mesa Vista Drive.

“There wasn’t much to do there in Glacier,” says Craggs, “so I began to build a railway.” Some six decades later, he’s still building it: “it” being the Tomahawk and Western Railroad Co., which now comprises some 90 feet of model railway track that wends its way through an immensely detailed landscape of towns, rivers, tunnels, and mountains.

“A lot of it is from my memory, and based on real places,” says Craggs, who has painstakingly crafted every detail, from the painted backdrops that surround the layout on three sides, to the buildings in the towns the trains pass through, to the trees and bushes beside, above, and below his miniature world. Look closely and you’ll notice any number of tiny details, from the illicit still below the tracks in one place to the deer and bears above it in another, or the nude bathers taking advantage of a quiet beach. The old Ashcroft fire hall has a place in a row of buildings, and an engine house has been so lovingly detailed that smoke from the engines coming and going can be seen on it.

Craggs’s passion hasn’t gone unnoticed, and every year he gets visitors from all around the world, attracted to Ashcroft by notices in magazines such as Model Railroader. A glance at the visitors’ book in his shed bears this out: in the last few weeks visitors from as far afield as England have dropped by. “Really great set-up; thank you!” wrote Ken and Margaret Cook from Deal, in the county of Kent. Closer to home, John Cowan from Maple Ridge wrote “Awesome!”; a verdict with which it’s hard to disagree. Craggs has a thick binder full of hundreds of cards from other model railroaders all over North America and as far afield as Argentina and Germany, while another binder contains more than 500 letters he’s received from enthusiasts all over the world.

Craggs is happy to show his railroad, which had its genesis all those years ago in Glacier, to anyone who wants to see it. “Just give a call,” he says (250-453-2481). Please bear in mind, though, what it says on the back of his Tomahawk and Western Railroad business card: “Passengers must refrain from using those four letter words: cute, tiny, or nice.”

Barbara Roden