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

Friday, 3 October 2014

What is a Roomette?

Let's start here, one place where roomettes are found.

Above is Via Rail's Train 15 making its scheduled 15 minute stop at Moncton, New Brunswick while en route from Halifax to Montreal; enough time to step off the train for a few minutes to record a few scenes.

By the time Canadian Pacific Railway purchased this and the other stainless-steel Budd built passenger cars in the early 1950's, North America's railways had perfected the art of cramming basic but modest comforts of home into spaces the size of a closet.

Here is a brochure that Canadian Pacific Railway issued in the 1950's detailing the then new stainless steel passenger equipment placed into service for the introduction of "The Canadian"
Below is an up close view of one of those former CPR stainless steel passenger cars in Train 15. This car is named Chateau Dollier. The name should be changed to Chateau Dollars because sleeping car accommodations are rather expensive these days. An airline ticket between Halifax and Montreal would have been less expensive but air travel is not for those who enjoy the journey rather than the destination.

Anyway, my accommodation on the train was in this particular car in roomette number 4. Via Rail's "Chateau" series sleeping cars have 8 duplex roomettes, meaning they are more compact than the regular roomettes that are found in Via Rail's "Manor" series sleeping cars.

A roomette is ideal for one person for overnight train travel, whether it's only for the one night on the "Ocean" between Montreal and Halifax, or for the four night odyssey across Canada on the "Canadian" between Toronto and Vancouver.

Here is a floor diagram of a "Chateau" sleeping car. In the mid 1990's and some forty years later, Via Rail was placing these diagrams in their timetables. Very little has changed inside except for the removal of one section to make room for the added shower facility,

One thing to keep in mind if you check the Via Rail website; you won't find roomettes listed as a choice of sleeping car accommodation. Via Rail has since dispensed with the traditional railway names and now calls a roomette a "Bedroom for one."

Let's get back on the train and step inside roomette 4.

The scene below shows the bench-style seating for the daytime part of the journey. A travel bag can be stowed beneath the seat. That's an armrest that folds down when wanted. The sliding door is closed and latched. The door can also be latched to remain open as well.

One more look inside the 1950's CPR brochure. In spite of the passage 60 years, this is perhaps the best illustration of what a duplex roomette is and still is today, which is the type of roomettes found in the "Chateau" sleeping cars. Roomette 4 was the lower type of accommodation.

In the corner is a tiny side-table that is ideal for holding a few small items, a bottle of water, maybe a book, some loose change overnight, even an i-phone. A raised edge ensures that items won't slide off while the train is in motion.

Beneath that at floor level is a tiny closet for a pair of shoes. More than half a century ago in the golden age of train travel, overnight passengers would the next morning find that shoes left in the closet were cleaned and polished. A tiny separate door from the shoe closet to the hallway made shoes accessible to the porter without disturbing passengers. Those days are long gone. So too are the access tiny doors to the hallway.

Turning around, below is the scene as seen from the roomette doorway. Shown in the lower right corner is the toilet with the cover down. It can also serve as a footrest while one is seated.

Midway on the right, yes that part that looks like a drawer, is the bed...and it does slide out just like a drawer. Shown on the top right is a cover that pulls down like a blind and hooks on to the bed frame during the hours the bed is not in use. For the photo, the cover is pulled it up to show the bed.. Smaller baggage can also be stowed beneath the bed but getting bags in and out can be awkward with the toilet in the way.

The next scene below shows the bed pulled out.

When fully pulled out for its intended use, the bed will cover the toilet, the seat and all the floor area except for a tiny corner by the doorway. Just make sure you have everything out that you need before going to bed for the night. If not, then you'll quickly find out why.

Partly shown on the left is the window with the blind down.


Below is the stainless steel sink which folds down from the wall. As you can see, it's located above the toilet. Both hot and cold water are available for washing. While the train is moving water in the sink will constantly slosh around, but water never seems to run over on to the floor. Well designed for use during the journey. When done, simply fold the sink back into its place and the water will drain out.

In the scene below is the night light which is easy to reach even while lying in bed.

If you're not ready to go to sleep, then turn off all the lights, raise the window blind and look outside. Even though it's dark outside, you can easily see and watch the night time scenery pass by from the darkened comfort of inside.

"There's nothing to see!" you say.

That's Canada! Those seemingly endless miles of trees, hills, rocks and water is Canada. 

In today's world, long distance passenger train journeys that require days rather than hours to complete do not make any sense. Trains can only go where the tracks go. The convenience of driving your own vehicle makes more sense for land travel and flexible choices of route.

That having been said, the train journey itself is the adventure; not the destination. A sleeping car roomette offers a comfortable, even nostalgic means to make that journey.

(Originally published January 2012. Moved to this blog and updated October 2014)

The Oddblock Station Agent