Friday, January 12, 2018

First Visits to Portage la Prairie!

My first memories of being trackside on the Prairies were formed on a sunlit evening trackside in Portage, during that 'golden hour'. The last of the day's sunrays glinted off CNWX-lettered Government of Canada aluminum covered hoppers, in the shadows of Portage's towering elevators. The calm of the evening was descending. GMD-1's chanted. The nearness and number of long freight trains on CN and CP made a huge impression on me. It was 1976. Was I the only one who felt instantly impressed with Portage? Apparently not. 

Now, with 2018 laid out before us, I am really looking forward to sharing my observations and photographs of years of railfanning at Portage in my upcoming project Trains and Grains. Photo editing continues apace. Proceeding through the years' visits from 1976, I just made it to my photos taken in 1984! So much neat stuff:

I relived those first days of excitement vicariously through the eyes of Winnipeg rail enthusiast and photographer Jack Hykaway, when he recently posted his first visit to Portage. It appears he was under a similar spell during his first visit in 2010 - thirty-four years after mine. Jack was 11, and I was 12! Jack kindly shared his account and photos which are presented here in italics:

I remember my very first railfan trip like it was yesterday. It was fall 2010, and I had recommended visiting Portage La Prairie for some railfanning to my dad. He was all for the idea, and we made plans to go on the next nice day. I wanted to visit PlaP because of an article I had read earlier that week in "Railfan Canada" magazine. A group of railfans traveled out to PlaP for the day, travelling to/from Winnipeg on VIA trains 1 and 2. Even though they were only in town for a few hours, they caught a huge amount of trains.
So, that weekend, we were off. The whole family piled into the car, though I'm not sure everyone wanted to...the hours that lay ahead were full of promise - I was hoping to catch an endless parade of trains, just like the railfans who wrote the article in RFC had.
Arriving in Portage, I had my camera ready. That was lucky - I stepped out of the car just as the 3rd St. Crossing was activated by a CP train. It had 3 GP38-2's leading. Soon after the train's passing, my mom and sister had already had enough of the railfanning experience, and went to find a thrift shop along Saskatchewan Avenue.
My dad and I decided to leave the car, and we walked down Pacific Avenue until we saw another headlight on the eastern horizon. It was VIA No 1, running right on time. The train stopped briefly at the station, oddly on the north track, then pulled forward to the signals near 8th Street. The train stopped, and waited on an eastbound CN freight to clear the line, before continuing west.
The engineer in lead unit 6404 kindly invited Jack up into the cab, resulting in the view westward at Kearns (above).

Just as No 1 was pulling out, a westbound CP train came through, heading north-west out of town on the Minnedosa Sub. Both trains were moving - I didn't know where to point the camera!
Walking back to the station, it was CN's turn again. A Westbound Intermodal sped through town, with two GEVO's leading. Moving from the station to the Tupper Street overpass, I made it on the bridge with only seconds to spare to film another Westbound Intermodal, led by a single Dash-9. An SD70M-2 was the rear DPU.
It was getting late, so dad and I moved back towards the car to head home. Just before setting off, CP ran another train through town: Intermodal/Autorack traffic heading to Winnipeg.
When the tail end disappeared around the corner, we went to pick up my sister and mom (who were still busy in the thrift shop) and we headed home.That railfanning trip to PlaP is one of my favourite railfanning memories. I have to thank my family for that. 

My thanks to Jack for sharing his early Portage experiences. Jack's words, "I didn't know where to point the camera..." resonated with me. When things happen at Portage, they are fast and furious! Recently, while scanning photo prints for Trains & Grains, I came across photos my Dad took of me during our first visit to Portage in 1976 (top and below). I was not yet old enough to take my own photos...
At the CP station (above) while the platform was still in place for CP's Canadian as S-3 6569 idled:
CN's train from Gladstone is eastbound past CN's station mid-morning. We were firmly in the pre-VIA era. I get some of my first consist observations on paper:
Running extra...

We have not seen the last of Jack's photography! In fact, his equipment and skills have produced some amazing images in the intervening years since 2010. Consider these two varying views of Winnipeg wow factor along the Seine River, that Jack took in 2016. One of shoreline, foliage and colour; the other contrasting view of vintage, slug and smoke:

Friday, January 5, 2018

CP's Imperial Tobacco Spur

Canadian Pacific's three-track route between Montreal's Windsor Station and Glen Yard included a unique and seldom-seen model railway-like device: a switchback. Switchbacks are perhaps an overused device in scale, but on the prototype are used to conquer a vertical separation over a narrow, confined horizontal distance. Like in mountain logging regions, iron ore mines, and in faraway places like the Andes of South America. But on a Canadian Class 1?? This one descended 80 feet below the CP mainline, to serve nine team tracks, a freight shed and a number of industrial sidings. Chief among these was the large Imperial Tobacco cigarette factory, hence the name of the trackage - the Imperial Tobacco spur.
Faced with a challenge of serving customers well below the aforementioned three tracks, CP constructed a switchback in 1910, diverging off the south track westerly, from a switch immediately west of Greene Avenue. (CP had already built a small yard with a freight shed north of their trackage in Westmount in 1907, though most industries that would ship using the CP were in St-Henri, below the escarpment. Too steep for horse-drawn wagons to negotiate the grade up to Westmount, the Grand Trunk Railway - later CN - knew this, all the while promoting and exploiting its presence in the area.)

Initially, a freight transfer between the main CP freight yard and St-Henri handled the operation. In later years, the Glen switcher served St-Henri, following the evening commuter rush. This job was colloquially known as 'The Peanut'. After completing its work, the cars were taken to CP's main yard and the power returned to the Glen.
Full disclosure - my involvement and experience with this spur is next to nil. I rode past it on VIA's Dayliner to Lachute in 1981 (opposite side of the train!) and over a decade later when our family rode an MUCTC commuter out-and-back run to Valois. But access to the spur is so well-camouflaged - tunnel-like -  as to be nearly invisible from onboard. When the 720 Expressway (apparently now being demolished) was built in the same alignment that CP used to carry its lines, the switchback was even  more invisible to the naked commuter eye. (That's naked eye, not naked commuter- Ed.)

My minimal connection to this spur reached an unexpected, zealous zenith back in 1989, via a chance purchase of a copy of the June 1989 issue of Model Railroading magazine which appeared to have Canadian content (top photo) - CP and ONR. Showing the issue to my Dad, little did I know that this obscure line was actually something that loomed large in his past, since he had grown up in Westmount and travelled on CP West Island commuter trains between Westmount and Windsor Station. On the cover of this new-found printed periodical pearl, he penned, "C.P. St. Henry (English spelling) Siding Westmount-Windsor Station Special Issue see P. 58" on the cover. On page 58, another inscription: "Eric happened on this magazine and I am grateful to him. Canadian Pacific had earlier ignored two letters I had written requesting data on this unusual switchback."

A 1947 aerial photograph shows CP's tracks at top, the pre-expressway switchback just below it, then the St-Henri yard that served CP's St Antoine freight house, just above St Antoine St., circled:
CP's 1960's Atlantic Region, Montreal Terminals Division, Westmount Subdivision employee timetable footnotes stipulated: 

In Switching Imperial Tobacco Company's Track, St. Henry, BTC [Board of Transport Commissioners]  Order 53086 restricts switching to night hours - 6.30 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. - no car to be allowed to stand on portion of track on St. Antoine Street. Before any car or engine shall cross St. Antoine Street, or move along Bourget Street, the Yard Foreman will precede the movement to see that streets are clear before giving Engineman signal to porceed. Movements over such streets must be protected by a member of the crew. 

A 1949 land-use map shows the same area:
Also interleaved by my Dad in the issue: 
  • January 1998 BRS Branchline photocopied photo of CP Glen Yard denizen 2-8-0 3642 dragging Standard model Jordan spreader CP 402807 up the switchback. Scroll to page 17 of the pdf here.
  • January 1998 letter to Montreal rail subject author Michel Leduc in which Michel notes, "The St-Henri Lead is no longer used by CP. It has been over a year since I saw any action along it. The last time I walked the line was in 1995, and only CFS [Refractories] was being served. In the list of abandonments filed by CP, St-Henri spur was included. If no-one bought it, CP would tear it up. I cannot see a shortline operator taking it over, so its days are numbered."
  • April 1999 Montreal Gazette article detailling a $60-million investment in the plant by Imperial Tobacco: 20% more cigarettes! Each worker would produce 40,000 cigarettes an hour. My Dad noted at top: "At end of former C.P.R. switchback on the St. Antoine St." 
Interestingly, the Imperial Tobacco buildings have been 'repurposed' into a sustainable residential complex. Back issues of Model Railroading are hosted by TrainLife, with the article beginning here. My 'redneck scans' of the five-page article by David B. Frost follow:

Running extra...
I was lucky enough to receive a Railway City Brewing Co. (St Thomas) gift pack for Christmas. The Cranberry Festive Lager was, well, festive. But this Sunday will be the moment to savour the Dead Elephant Ale, during the Nature of Things episode about Jumbo the Elephant - Life of an Elephant Superstar. This Sunday, January 7 at 8 p.m. Jumbo was the biggest elephant in the B&B Circus. (B&B - that's Barnum & Bailey, not Bridges and Buildings!)