Friday, 31 October 2014

The Massawippi Missiles

"The Massawippi Missile" in July 1984. CP Rail diesel locomotive C-424 numbered 4248 was leading twenty-one cars and a caboose southward from Sherbrooke, Quebec, to Newport, Vermont. This scene was captured a little more than a mile south of North Hatley, Quebec, near mile 14.5 of CP Rail's scenic Beebe Subdivision.

The railway's alignment literally followed the eastern side of Lake Massawippi between North Hatley and Ayers Cliff, Quebec. During summer, going for a swim in the lake meant having to cross the track because much of the beach frontage was the railway right of way. The value of lake frontage was an opportunity that CP Rail did not miss out on. CP Rail leased sections of lake front to cottage owners who wanted access to the water...boulders, rocks, stones and all.

The former Massawippi Valley Railway was officially sentenced to oblivion on November 30, 1989. The National Transportation Agency granted CP Rail permission to abandon the entire rail line between Lennoxville, Quebec, and Beebe Jct. The abandonment also included the 2.4 mile Stanstead spur to Rock Island, Quebec. 

Like a stay of execution, the rail line remained dormant and quietly rusted away for a few years, however, in spring 1992 the scrappers were finally called in and the railway was torn up.

Prior to the railway's demise, rumours often surfaced that part of the railway might be developed into a tourist operation, however, nothing ever came of that. Tragic. In terms of scenery, this line could have been one of the best. The Orford Express came along too late.

Today, reproducing any of these scenes is impossible. 

Abstract from a 1980 CP Rail employee time table

Carload customers were non-existent. Bridge traffic and waterfront users were all that moved over this route.

"The Massawippi Speeder" Actually, it was anything but speedy. Recording this scene in July 1984 was nothing more than the plain blind luck of being in the right place at the right time. I just happened to be on the way back to the cottage after a swim in the lake and about to cross the track. That was the one and only time I ever saw or heard a CPR speeder on this route. Some days things just worked out.

Trains were not the only attraction on the railway. Kie on a hot hazy evening with Lake Massawippi in the background in summer 1981.

The small bridge over Brown's Brook located just shy of mile 15; the white mile board visible in the distance on the left side of the track. My ultimate goal was to photograph a train at this location but that was not to be. Anyway, I enjoyed making the half-mile walks here and swimming in the lake.

One more look at 92 southbound in July 1984 as it meanders along Lake Massawippi. A string of bulkhead flatcars loaded with Canadian lumber destined to the United States. Nothing works better than wood to get a fire going over trade issues concerning Canadian lumber going to the United States.

The Massiwippi Missiles, fourth class trains listed in CP Rail employee time tables as 92 southbound and 93 northbound, were for me the most challenging trains to photograph and that was in spite of the maximum track speed of twenty-five miles per hour.

In July 1984, service was down to three days per week and train times were any time. Times posted in the schedule were pure fiction. Without the aid of a car and a scanner I was forced to rely on older technologies: ears and legs. If I heard the train whistle in the distance, and hearing it depended on wind direction, I would grab my camera and race downhill on the footpath to trackside to get there first. Many attempts were necessary to finally obtain a satisfactory picture, much to the amusement of neighbours after they caught on to what was going on.

If nothing else, at least I can now identify with those crazy farm dogs that love to chase after cars.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum August 30, 2017

Some days when least expected...

Over the years I've made countless futile searches for an image of a train, any train, crossing this particular railway bridge; I didn't think any existed... and this week, purely by accident, I struck pay dirt!

March 02, 1968, saw this 2-car CPR Budd train crossing the wooden trestle in North Hatley, Quebec, with frozen-over Lake Massawippi in the background. The event was a Canadian Railway Historical Association special excursion. (Fred Angus photo)

 The same bridge in October 07, 1989, before the railway was scrapped

"A run-past through the woods." Another March 02, 1968, scene of the same CRHA-chartered Canadian Pacific excursion train on the Massawippi Valley Railway. The location was not identified. (Fred Angus photo)

Yes, this is the same North Hatley that former US president Bill Clinton visited about two weeks ago, thus putting the small picturesque town in the spotlight... for a while at least.

On this note, the final image below is dedicated to politicians everywhere because the result looks to me like a typical political solution.

Is half a bridge better than no bridge at all? I suppose the answer is a matter of opinion.

The Oddblock Station Agent


  1. Amazing picture heritage , thank you

  2. I have a few dozen photos and slides of the massawippi line from the 1940s to 1980s(many on the north hatley bridge). I grew up with the line and have been collecting for years, just email me...

    cprmlw at

  3. Love the photos, especially the RDCs, and the tracks out near Brown's Brook where my family had a small piece of land.

  4. This is a pleasure to see and read. I grew up in Hatley Acres and spent many summer days swimming in the lake and crossing the railroad tracks to get there. If we heard the train coming we would position ourselves along side the track to wave and were overjoyed when we got a wave in return from the conductor. Another childhood thing to do was to walk along a rail for as long as we could maintain our balance. Thanks for the pleasant reminder of many delightful childhood moments.