Thursday, October 22, 2015

Two days at Portage, August 1979

On August 18, 1979 at 0615 hours, my brother and I hopped in his VW Rabbit GTI and headed west. Driving a dit-dit-dah dash across northwestern Ontario with Portage la Prairie as our final destination, the hammer was down. Stops in North Bay, Cochrane, Kapuskasing, Hearst and Schreiber - more in a future post. VIA's circus-train era when CN, CP and VIA paint mingled on transcontinental trains - more in a future post as well. In this post? 

Two days at Portage la Prairie: August 21 and 22 - the most trains we'd see during our trip trackside at Portage, resulting in five films to be developed upon return to Kingston. We travelled from August 18 at 0615 to September 2, (starting Grade 11 two days later - yecch!) Two days of overcast and sun, of CN and CP, of SD's and GP's - several snapshots of non-stop train action at Manitoba's central choke-point, from which both railways' lines fan out. I'll list all the trains from those two days, along with photos of the ones I photographed!
Did somebody say SD's? CP's dominant fleet and CN conventional- and safety-cab series were everywhere. The first train on August 21, westbound at 1001 hours, was potash empties with reporting marks like IMCX, ACFX, NAHX, NIHX, USEX, and names like Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, GAF Corporation, and Duval Potash, tailed by caboose 79607. Switching the CP interchange were five SD's! 5065-5232-5176-5062-5047 (top photo) and before the next SD-laden locomotive consist appeared, VIA No 2 was eastbound at 1043 with VIA 1423-CP 8560-8526, then an elfin CN eastbound of 40 cars coupled between 9437 and 79628. At East Tower at 1157, it was lunchtime as 5067-5136-5165-5238 took CN hoppers like 197906-197650-197827 were ahead of caboose 79560 (above).
After lunch, as was often the case, a westbound was switching the CP yard when we returned trackside at 1345 - including two MLW's! CP 5555-4511-4563 and van 434477 (above). Just over half an hour later, Extra 5058 West with 5058-9459-5098-79659 stopped. The operator waited with train orders for the tail-end crew as the train was scooped by 5106-9562-79363 with Cenex and USLX potash empties westbound on the track nearest the station:
An hour later, 5751 brought 80 cars of TOFC/COFC and general freight eastbound flying white flags and white class lights ahead of two vans - 434609-434415 and the CP Rail speeder sheds:
At the same time, pups 1356-1368 were taking a work train to Brandon out of the CN yard with caboose 79856. This industrious pair would lead another westbound a few days later:
CN No 315 was switching the yard at 1600, making a lift that included insulated boxcars from Portage's Campbell's soup plant. Power was 9505-5100-5283-caboose 79268. Those safety cabs were still novel to easterners!
At 1616, CP sent 5802-5825-5507 eastbound with CP bathtub gons like 799656-799825-799686-799761-799764, totalling 115 cars ahead of van 434620. Nine minutes later and just before supper time with aunt and uncle, it was CN sending the daily BC lumber train behind 9479-9657 and lumber from Fort Nelson, Pringe George, Mackenzie, Smiths and South Hazelton ahead of 79465.

Twelve trains on August 21...sixteen trains would pass us on August 22! At 0939, VIA No 90 behind CN 9151 was right on time, then VIA No 2 at 0954 with VIA 1409-VIA 8558-CP 8519, running late. Really late. The following station times applied at CN's Portage station: Canadians VIA No 1 2252, VIA No 2 0700; Super Continentals VIA No 3 2227, VIA No 4 0730. So, we were lucky to catch any VIA action. (We all owe CP a debt of thanks for delaying No 2 on these two days, nearly three and four hours, respectively!) Ten minutes later, CP 5794-8671 dragged grain loads east ahead of vans 434101-434496:
At 1014, CN 9530-9462-9658 (oh, we have those at home so no photo) grunted general freight and caboose 79584 eastward. Candy-striped, high-multimark (of course) 5652-5595 were eastbound with grain and van 434326 at TRAINS magazine time: 1027. See that sandy area in the foreground? Just nine months earlier, VIA's Canadian had called at Portage's CP station. Now operating on CN west of Winnipeg before transferring to CP at West Tower, the wooden platform was no longer needed and had been ripped out:
CP 5747 was solo westbound, likely with grain empties and van 434022 at 1048, just before CN Geeps 4315-4254-4126 came out of the yard lugging caboose 79484 as CP Portage switcher 6569 with end cupola van CP 437103 drilled cars in the yard in the background:
Lunch beckoned as solo Geep 4303 switched with caboose 79739 at high noon. Back at 1430!
At 1426, CN 5235-9653-5566 led general freight with caboose 79329, then an hour later, CP 5708-5536-5518-5717-5758-4568 took general freight westbound with van 434112 as CN simulateously sent lumber etys west behind 9522-9496 ahead of 79747, all at 1532. 
Seventeen minutes later, CP 5756-5515 having cooled its heels, courteously curtailed on CP's Minnedosa Sub, dutifully drummed east with van 434506. The CP tie gang's boarding cars are set out right beside the mainline, plus some other miscellaneous tracks in the background near the ready-mix plant:
Another CN meet at 1612, with 9476-9471, potash etys and 79443 westbound as 9604-9506 take general freight east, including caboose 79315 three cars behind the power and 79711 on the tail-end.
CN 9485-9466-9461 brought lumber loads east at 1632 with caboose 79447, then SD's 5210-5014 closed out the day at 1725 with general freight tailed by 79366. 

We'd return east fuelled by high octane and a steady aural landscape of Quebec discotheque, Patsy Gallant, Gloria Gaynor, Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summer and the Village People! We'd left two days after the death of former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and Lord Louis Mountbatten would leave us on August 28 of that year. Stops in rainy Schreiber, White River and Sudbury, including a ride on a miniature park train around the Big Nickel would return us to Kingston on September 2 - two days before starting Grade 11 (yecch) but what a way to wrap up summer!

Running extra...

Inspiration for this 1979 post came from my brother's recently-published blog posts First Section and Second Section about his 1985 railfanning in Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg. 

Over 74% of Canadians voted in this week's federal election. Advice from Bruce Anderson - what makes a successful leader - on tonight's CBC At Issue panel: 1. Be yourself. 2. Be humble. 3. Show that you're willing to improve things. The peaceful transition of power and the exercise of precious Canadian democratic rights are what matters, not the politics nor the platforms. Great coverage, CBC! 
Federal money well-spent - Border Security! The CBSA guys and gals (including Officer Danielle and her four-legged sidekick Nova) root out Chinese meat-smugglers, sketchy snowboarders and innocuous-looking drug-containing packages at the mail centres (least-desirable CBSA posting, I'm sure) on this very watchable TV show. Right up there with American Pickers! Watch out, Canadian packers!


The packages I've been sending out contain no contraband, just HO scale models and Canadian railway paper items. Thanks to all the Trackside Treasure readers who participated in Trackside Treasure's recent sale. Now, just mention the secret code phrase "I want 25% off!" and you can take 25% off any and all of the 19 remaining items in Trackside Treasure's October Sale

10 comments:

Zartok-35 said...

SO MANY SD40s!! And some Hellcats and Lightfoots too, for good measure. Thanks profusely for sharing these beautiful views of the glorious bygone days. My favorite era of the CN, as if I had to tell you! I absolutely love that 'Great Canadian Brace' with the GP40L, SD40, and Thundercow. I don't know why, but they always put a Hellcat ahead of the six axle units. They must've had better suspension or something. All that's missing is a money shot of the "Holy Via Rail Grail" herself, 8558. Also, how did you miss the Super Connie on this trip? Wasn't it due through Portage just about the same time as The Canadian?

Eric said...

Don't worry Elijah, I got the money shot of VIA 8558 - held for an upcoming post on VIA's Circus-train era.

At Portage in August 1979, the Super Connie was due eastbound at 0730, westbound 2227. The Canadian was due eastbound at 0700, westbound 2252. These were outside of our normal trainwatching (?waking?) hours, and quite dark out.

So, I can only conclude that CP had a harder time keeping VIA No 2 on schedule than CN had with VIA No 4.

Thanks for your comment - this post was definitely up your alley!
Eric

Michael said...

Seeing your photos of the five-engine lash-up makes me think of my younger days when I would see things like that in Windsor when my grandpa would bring me to the rail yard there. That sounds like an epic trip you would do only when you're young. Just the thought of all the driving now!

Eric said...

Great comment, Michael! Yes, a young man's game - my brother just reminded me about the dangers of driving in Northern Ontario in the early morning - moose alert! Constant vigilance.
Eric

Zartok-35 said...

Wow, didn't realize these Canadians here were so late! I can see why VIA opted for a 4-hour layover at Winnipeg in the coming years. Thanks for filling me in.

Anonymous said...

Well Eric...another great blog of Portage. My kind of town. Again, my thanks to your blog for putting Portage on the map so many times...Thanks, form Diamond...

Eric said...

Thanks, Brian. More to follow. Portage just goes on and on and on. As do the 1980s - great decade!
Eric

Tyler said...

Another spectacular Portage post! Keep the inspiration for my layout coming!

Eric said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Tyler. This post is an example of what could be seen on a couple of random days during which easterners were visiting the West. Oh, if only I had more photos, but as it was I didn't photograph every train. Selectivity reigned!

Definitely more Portage to come!
Eric

Anonymous said...

As always, the Way-Back machine is always ON. Great material as always. I'm so surprised that we never met in Portage. Kingston or bust. From the Peg...Brian.