Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Northlander at Washago

Ontario Northland 's Northlander departs Toronto Union Station six days a week, heading north on an eleven hour schedule to Cochrane. On Thanksgiving Monday just before 1030, travelers crowd the platform at Washago, Ontario as the train approaches from the south. Aside from the tug on the coupler as a train journey starts, the moments of anticipation as the train approaches are among the highlights of any trip.
The train paused at a signal at Washago station, before pulling ahead a few carlengths to board the passengers, some of whom had arrived at the station on a tour bus. We were driving back to Kingston, after a fall getaway in the Horseshoe Valley resort area, and a short sidetrip brought us to Washago. Timing is everything, and the hubbub at the station made us stick around to see the northbound arrive, moments after we pulled off Highway 169 into the parking lot. The Quetton Street level crossing and Highway 11 overpass are just beyond the signal:
The green needles of a majestic pine and some remaining colourful deciduous leaves form a bright backdrop for ONR Electric Generator Unit 204, converted from a disembowelled former Milwaukee Road unit. Former Trans-European Express trains provided service on this route, and one is now a restaurant back in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, with other cars rusting away in North Bay.
The journey begins for these travelers. I rode a Northlander consist like this one in 1994 between Toronto and Timmins, although arrival in Timmins was on a bus from Matheson. This memorable trip will be profiled in an upcoming post.
Dying weeds line the ballast as the train accelerates away from the station. Here's a similar view of a CN freight passing a 1979 excursion train behind CN 4-8-2 6060 on this curve.
The consist of the Northlander: 1809-204-604-601-609-700. GP38-2 1809 built in 1984, the four coaches and one snack car are former GO Transit equipment built in 1967.
Just about to disappear up the Bala Sub. Washago was the junction of the CN's Newmarket and Bala Subs until 1996, when CN abandoned the Barrie-Washago section of the Newmarket. I can remember an earlier trip through Washago, waking up here to see a CN freight diverging. Like many former junctions, activity at Washago is much reduced, with extraneous trackage removed. After the Northlander departs, a section crew sorting material is the only rail-related activity in Washago.
Over in Orillia, the Ossawippi Express restaurant and patio is up for sale. Great waterfront location at Lake Couchiching. The operation comprises eight former CP, CN, and DAR passenger equipment and a former interurban. Ex-CN baggage 9180 and express-refrigerator 10627 provided storage.
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Was Santa good to you? Respondents to Trackside Treasure's pre-Christmas poll indicated that almost half were looking for railway models under the tree, with others hoping for railway books and memorabilia and photos. Seems a large part of Trackside Treasure's readership is involved in modelling what they recall, or what's rolling by today.

Looking for a gift that gives newsy, enjoyable reading year long? I've been fortunate for several years now to receive the Bytown Railway Society Branchline - Canada's Rail News Magazine (thanks D&S!). Each month it brings a wealth of information, photos, recollections and data for the discerning rail aficianado.

An occasional CN freight and VIA trains 52 and 53 were rolling by early on Christmas morning. VIA crews could look forward to a free turkey dinner. VIA 1 crews were also providing goodies to their colleagues in the cab.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Covered Hopper Train of Thought

Aluminum covered hoppers are now being scrapped. Excess car supply means that these cars are stored on out-or-the-way spurs, and this costs the owners money. The age, capacity, or features of the cars make them candidates for disposition. Procor sodium chlorate cars and CNWX grain cars have outlived their usefulness. My covered hopper "train of thought" started to roll. I remembered a "This is a car I saw" 1998 spotting report from my then-eight year-old son that matched a Railroad Model Craftsman September 2003 article I was reading on Johnstown America Grainporter aluminum covered hoppers. I'd had rare sightings of these cars, including leaser JAIX 96140 (above) likely hauling corn for Frito-Lay or Cargill to Quebec City on CN train 308 on October 2/99.
Built in 1996, the JAIX fleet was the last of four fleets of Grainporters: BN 485020-485029 (above in RMC photo of first production car of ten), JAIX 95001-95100 and 96100-96349, Cargill CGAX 9519-9999 and A.E. Staley STLX 7000-7279. I was fortunate to come across CGAX 9750 with several sisters in Selma NC on April 26, 2015:
The cars were built from 1994-1996, with aluminum construction on steel underframe and bolsters, a capacity of 5,400 cubic feet, and intended to carry low-density agricultural commodities like oats, barley and canola seed. The next car in my train of thought: Southern Railway 'Big John' aluminum cars built by Magor, beginning in 1960:
These four-compartment, large-capacity cars caused quite a stir in the shipping community, cheekily stencilled with the Big John logo as shown in the above RMC photo. Third deep in my train of thought: I'd seen these cars in Kingston! In 1998, several ex-SR, now Norfolk Southern Big Johns such as NS 269379 (below). The Southern lettering, four-digit number and Big John lettering barely covered by the NS logo gave the game away. Labelled with the characteristic (UN) 3077 orange label indicating specially-lined covered hoppers to handle nylon feedstock adipic acid:
Almost all the Big John cars were scrapped within the last year, but one has been preserved at NCTM in Spencer, NC. But wait, I'd seen other weird cars arriving at the DuPont plant. Couple up the fourth car: CSXT 201582. Formerly Family Lines, the uncomfortable and unsuccessful grouping of SCL, L&N, Georgia, Clinchfield and A&WP, rusting and coupled to a plain-grey CSX mate, this car was at DuPont in Kingston on March 28/08, with orange 3077 label amidships:
Fifth in my train of thought, similarly rusted BN 455430 and five brethren passed through Kingston on CN train 305 on May 21/07. Often seen heading east to Atlantic Canada, they're almost all painted and lettered BNSF now, as the original BN-lettered ACF covered hoppers are fast disappearing.
Sixth car is BN-painted PS-2CD 4785 RFMX 464629 operated by Caldwell-Baker Co., exx-Conrail, exxx-Penn Central H54 class, built in 1971, seen on CN train 308 May 9/02. The RFMX cars' green BN paint often looked washed-out and revealed the small CR 'can-opener' logos or Penn Central lettering, BN 464629's BN logo has been painted out but the green paint is uncharacteristically intact. The Pullman-Standard steel cars held less and weighed more than the Grainporter. Ten thousand pounds lighter tare, one foot taller, and twenty-five years newer, aluminum allowed a heavier lading due to lighter weight.
Now, having connected all the dots, and hooking an ETU on my covered hopper train of thought, what are the chances a third-grader would have the presence of mind to sketch an example of the revolutionary Grainporter car design he saw passing by, and for it to be only one of ten built for BN? The following sketch is indeed the stuff of which Trackside Treasure blog posts are made.
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VIA trains 651 and 48 took me to and from Toronto on Thursday. Those Cobourg commuters know how to drive into the parking lot just at train time. On the trip home, darkness enveloped the countryside, except for occasional houses decorated with Christmas lights. A warm towel, followed by a Sleeman lager and tilapia dinner made the trip home more than bearable.

Friday was one of the busiest travel days of the year, as school breaks begin. Click here for some VIA trains of Christmases past . Only three seats were available on Thursday's train 48 leaving Toronto.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Afternoons at Ernestown, 1985

Ernestown, Ontario is not one of Canada's trainwatching hotspots. It barely rates a map dot, yet hosts the only set of mainline crossovers between Kingston and Napanee West on CN's busy Kingston Sub. It's also the location of one of Grand Trunk's surviving classic limestone stations. CN and VIA trains rip through the tiny hamlet when they're not waiting for signals at the interlocking. Such was the case on June 23, 1985. An eastbound 7-car LRC train is waiting to cross from north to south main track. A westbound 10-car LRC with trailing unit 6908 clears the south track (above).
An hour later, CN train No 318 with a cut of empty rail cars behind 2579-2566-4377 slowly passes the concrete milepost at Mi 188, with Ernestown station visible at right. Upon receiving the signal to proceed, the train accelerates as MLW smoke engulfs the Highway 133 overpass:
At 1704, an eastbound freight with 9529-2334-4493-3652 and caboose 79396 passes the station in the humid haze of the afternoon. Produce reefers are visible on the headend, in this photo taken from the overpass approach, as is the signal maintainer's van at the station:
Five months later on November 23, a dusting of snow covers the ground as a westbound freight behind 2112-3626-4224-2558 with autoracks on the headend approaches Ernestown station. New yellow and white fibre-optic cable warning markers are visible in the foreground:

CN lumber and paper cars loaded in northern Quebec follow. Note that most of the lumber on the standard bulkhead flatcars is unwrapped; today most is plastic-wrapped and rides on longer centre-beam bulkhead flats.
The markers on caboose 79559 bring up the rear as the train passes beneath hydro towers from the nearby Lennox Generating Station, featured in this post on Oil Trains and Tank Trains:
Forty minutes later, an eastbound LRC passes Ernestown station on the south track. The spur/setout track, a handy place for bad-order cars to be set out but now lifted, is to the left. Can you find the second LRC in the photo? No? Hint: it's beside the station...Little Round Car.
The train passes over the hand-throw switch to the spur, parallels the snow-covered signal maintainer's road to the interlocking, and is about to take the green signal at Ernestown:
At 1600, the last LRC train of the afternoon blasts through the hamlet, past the Insulbrick-covered storage shed and some of the barking-dog homes of the hamlet into the setting sun. Overshadowed by nearby Bath and even Millhaven, both on Lake Ontario, Ernestown's rail connection never led to much prosperity.
CN's Images of Canada historic photo collection, hosted by the Canada Science and Technology Museum has two nice photos taken just west of Ernestown station, looking east before the level crossing became an overpass. An undated steam-hauled westbound freight with reefers on the headend passes the station and milk-loading platform on the business track, and CN's 1953 museum train visits.

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This post leads to a few upcoming posts: bad-order cars, CN's fibre-optic train on the Kingston Sub, and railfanning vehicles I have known. (That 1976 barely-heated Volkswagen Beetle is an early example.)

Try our Trackside Treasure pre-Christmas poll. All I want for Christmas is... Notice socks and ties are not two of the choices.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Postscript: Portage's UGG Grain Elevators

In June, 1984 CP 6021-5995 lead a 70-car grain train eastward into Portage la Prairie from CP's Minnedosa Sub. This photo shows UGG's Portage elevator at Eighth Street from the north side. A map of grain loading points shows the grain elevators northwest of Portage that the Dundonald high-throughput elevator replaced. Red lines are CP, black lines are CN and the greater the tonnage shipped,the larger the circle, with single-elevator points in light green. Most of the lines shown radiating from Portage will be featured in future Trackside Treasure posts.
Portage's newer UGG elevator outlasted its older counterpart and country elevators at Westbourne and Rignold. Since UGG's Westbourne 2,190-tonne UGG facility already comprises two elevators, rationalization had already taken place here some time ago. Westbourne is at Mi 16.4 of CP's Minnedosa Sub, only two miles from today's concrete Dundonald monolith.
Many unpainted, wooden annexes were added during World War Two, to accommodate additional grain harvested for the people of England and the war effort.
Several cars are being loaded at UGG's 2,300-tonne elevator at Rignold at Mi 9.9 of CN's Gladstone Sub , during this 1984 visit. It's a pale shadow of Dundonald's massive 62-car spot:

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Watch for CN's Oakland Sub, CP's Carberry Sub east of Portage, CP's Carberry Sub west of Portage, CN's Rivers Sub in future posts. As wooden elevators are replaced by concrete plants, these classic Canadian granaries are definitely viewed as treasure at trackside. I was fortunate to be able to borrow my aunt and uncle's car to visit them in their heyday.

The tree is up, the lights are strung, the balls are dangling and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. (Did you know the oldtimers did this to dry out their sodden socks by firelight overnight?) Actually, I could start quite a conflagration by setting alight all the advertising flyers in the newspaper. Poof!

Nothing says Christmas like a train under a tree. CP's Holiday Train (with a tree atop the locomotive cab) is again travelling across Canada gleaning money for food banks along the line. See Jeff Keddy's lineside video of the train at speed at Marquette, Manitoba.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Portage la Prairie's UGG Grain Elevators

United Grain Growers opened their state-of-the-art high-throughput grain elevator at Dundonald, Manitoba at Mi 14 of CP's Minnedosa Sub in 1993. This new elevator replaced three older elevators in Portage la Prairie and area, all built in the 1930's. Located just west of the Skyview Bridge in Portage, the first of these was built by the Victoria Grain Co., whose lettering was visible through UGG's paint job. Pictured above in December, 1989 in this A.M. Gagnon photo and below on a summer morning in 1982:
The former Victoria elevator was located on CN's Rivers Sub, and formed the backdrop for a drizzle of falling embers in a Portage Daily Graphic news photo, taken on September 11, 1982 as MPE's Portage A elevator burned just to the north:
Car headlights illuminate the car puller at the elevator's base in this 1984 nighttime shot. Note the rack built to hold stored wooden grain doors, just to the left of the telegraph pole:
Another Daily Graphic photo showed the elevator at the time of its closing in June, 1994. UGG's other elevator in Portage at Eighth Street appears in the distant haze in this westward view taken from the Skyview Bridge:
By December, it was gone, with UGG no longer having to pay lease payments on the railway-owned land.
Portage's newer UGG elevator handled 40,000 tons of grain per year. A 1962 black & white photo graciously supplied during my visit to the UGG's Winnipeg headquarters, shows the company name and location proudly emblazoned on the elevator's south side:
In 1982, a CN section house and CP's Portage switcher S-3 6569, which switched the elevator several times a week completed the scene.
The Daily Graphic featured the elevator with its newly-applied UGG logo and a CN freight behind 5439 and a Geep in September 1987, marking the end of a CN strike.
The newer elevator outlasted UGG's older Portage elevator and two others: Rignold on CN's Gladstone Sub, and Westbourne on CP's Minnedosa Sub that closed when $4 million Dundonald began operation in September, 1993. Handling 150,000 tonnes of grain per year, and now operated by Pioneer, this W. Schellenberg photo shows the concrete silos, metal bins and office in September, 2010. A 62-car siding is in foreground, between the elevator and the Trans-Canada Highway.
GMTX 407 is the elevator's own ex-Conrail GP15-1 switcher, which toils away preparing trainload business for CP, sometimes late into the night. Change had come to grain shipping in the Portage area: three outdated wooden classics on three different lines, each loading a few cars at a time, replaced by a concrete behemoth with its own locomotive.
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New addition to our "ETU" links list in our sidebar: Chris van der Heide's Canadian Freight Car Gallery. Chris was kind enough to add Trackside Treasure to his Gallery's Web Links section.