Monday, 26 October 2015

A few more CSRR September Musings

A ticket to ride...

41 Years! 

Most of the and many tech companies didn't last very long, certainly not four decades, so the Conway Scenic Railroad must be doing something right to be around after 41 years.

North Conway, New Hampshire, is well-known for tax free outlet shopping, but for me, the main attraction has always been the trains.

Okay! I'll admit to doing some shopping... after all, who doesn't like a bargain at stores you cannot and will not find north of the border. This said, I still like to ride the trains while the others go shopping at Settler's Green and other places.

Very little seems to change from year to year but on a comfortable, sunny afternoon I still like to spend a few hours wandering around the grounds... which is okay but just keep off the tracks... and record a few images.

As the following two scenes of CSRR252 resplendent in Maine Central colours show, all is very quiet at the station depot and in the yard between train times.

The 11:30 a.m. departure having returned from Bartlett; now accepting passengers and preparing to become the 1:30 p.m. departure to Conway.

A look at the 2015 schedule and train times.

At 1:32 p.m. and with bell ringing, 573 and passenger cars departs southward for Conway, NH.

The run-around as seen from on board - a familiar scene shortly after the train arrives in Bartlett. The markers (lantern displaying the green light) have already been hung in preparation for the return to North Conway.

A night train seconds away from departure at Bartlett a few Septembers earlier.

Next: the Conway Scenic Railroad's Notch Trains visit here in summer and fall, but for most of the year the railway north of Bartlett, NH, remain dormant.

Ben and Catherine in front of the former Maine Central Railroad station at Crawford Notch.

A word to those who may take railroading a little too seriously: don't be so quick to dismiss Thomas that Tank Engine as kid's stuff. 

Most North Americans under 50 have never set foot on a passenger train. Most Canadians under 40 don't know that Canada's two main railways once had their own separate, competing passenger train services. Unless one lives in close proximity to a mainline or branch line, railways today for the most part, are largely invisible and unknown.

Thomas & Friends have introduced several generations of little people to the world of railroads, a world those young people would probably never see or learn about.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Few Old Train Photo Yarns

What does one do with old railway photos and images that don't quite fit into a category or topic but may have a story behind them nonetheless?

Following are a few thoughts.

1. An introduction

Summer 1974

One memorable warm summer Saturday evening I was to meet up with and join a group at one of those popular restaurants in Gastown. 

With its partly re-cobbled streets, quasi-quaint exotic shops, and unusual eateries with fancier names than their fare, Gastown was that area of refurbished older buildings in what was probably the oldest part of downtown Vancouver. CP Rail was immediately behind the buildings on Water Street.

My cousin Monica had spontaneously organized this outing, inviting any friend and acquaintance she could think of inviting on the spur of the moment, and then she scrambled to make the arrangements. Monica was often arranging last-minute group outings to unusual locations and establishments. Usually invited to tag along, I was grateful to be included. At times I also wondered if she was deliberately trying to introduce me to some of her friends.

Just feet away from the entrance of my intended destination, I unexpectedly noticed a bright red CP Rail diesel sitting in the yard near the foot Carrall Street. My then new Kodak pocket camera was tucked into my pocket so I detoured over to quickly grab this scene of CP 8515. 

No doubt this wasn't the party Monica had schemed for me to meet, however this was the only photo and number I took home that evening.

2. Thanksgiving in Kicking Horse Pass

Mile board 133 of CP Rail's Laggan Sub in October 1974.

October 1974

October 1974, Train 2 departing from Field, BC.
Moments after abandoning the onboard comforts of "The Canadian" at Field, BC, I grabbed this image of CP Rail's departing Train 2 about to commence its assault of the "Big Hill"

Watching that train disappear really did feel like having waved good-bye to the last chance to change my mind about walking up that same hill.

Two hours later at mile board 133, I was in this craggy corner of British Columbia that I had often dreamed about one day visiting. Now truly in the middle of nowhere, I was alone and isolated from everyone except for the people in the cars and trucks that raced by overhead.

This day had certainly arrived but I hadn't expected a cool, damp, overcast October weekend because I had always visualized a warm, sunny, late August summer day. My temporary resting place was beneath the Trans-Canada Highway on the bridge's concrete support footing, a sheltered front row seat facing the famed Canadian Pacific route through Kicking Horse Pass. 

The highway overpass was a perfect location to break my trek, rest and celebrate Thanksgiving Weekend with the special meal I had brought along just for this occasion. My meal consisted of English muffins, cheese slices and a tiny bottle of red wine. To provide some atmosphere of elegance, other than only the scenery, I brought along a few paper cups I had picked up from train's water cooler. At least a paper cup was a step above having to drink out of the bottle. Of course I would've preferred that traditional hot turkey dinner with my family in Montreal''s West Island, which I was certain they would be having this weekend, but I was a little too far away to join them.

After opening the bottle of wine and filling a paper cup, I stretched out and raised my arm then exclaimed aloud, "Here's to you Canada!" and then as an afterthought added aloud, “Here's to you CPR!”

3. Welcome to Field

CP Rail's Train 1 during the 10 minute crew-change stop at Field, BC.

Summer 1975... when we were young and foolish.

At dusk we were unceremoniously awakened by a park ranger who ordered us to pack up and move to one of Yoho Park’s designated campsites; we had camped out beside the main highway. 

Upon inquiring where the nearest site was, we were informed it was several miles back near Leanchoil. Absolutely no way were either Michael or I going to be moved in any direction away from Field so we refused to move our camp. In spite of the ranger's threats to fine us for illegally camping we continued to refuse to be pushed into walking any further in any direction. 

Neither one of us could have walked anyway; our feet were too sore. Relenting somewhat, Michael and I did offer to break camp only if we could have a ride into Field. The park ranger refused and gave us some official excuse about not being allowed to carry passengers in a park vehicle regardless of the fact his girlfriend was sitting in the cab. After a few more minutes of heated argument and our unbending refusal to move, the ranger finally gave in and accepted our terms. He drove us into Field.

Field did not have a hotel or motel but, with some assistance from the park ranger, Michael and I managed to rent a room for the night in the upstairs of the local watering hole. Beyond the door to our room was a single uncovered light bulb in the ceiling, an unshaded window and two beds with bare mattresses. In some way the architectural similarity of the building reminded me of the bedrooms in my grandparents' house. 

"What a dump." Michael complained.

"Looks pretty darn good to me... and clean too." I said, very grateful not to be spending another night outdoors sleeping on top of rocks.

"Eighteen dollars for this? I think you paid too much." he commented.

"This was a bargain Mike. Believe me, in the morning you'll feel differently about this place." I said.

"Which bed do you want?" he asked.

"The nearest one. I can't walk any further." I replied.

Our ordeal was over and I felt like a humiliated survivor rather than a triumphant adventurer. We fell four miles short of our goal but in those two days we had managed to cover on foot at least 31 miles of the 35 miles from Golden, BC. We were probably lucky to be leaving with our bodies and minds intact. 

The following evening we picked up Train 2 for our return to Vancouver.

Our foot journey was a gruelling experience that neither of us would forget and that day would prove to be my last visit on foot into the wilds of the Rockies.

4. Amtrak Days

Abstract from Amtrak's public timetable effective May 15, 1975

November 1975

For a brief time my Saturdays became "Amtrak" days. An Amtrak Day to Seattle was long; four and a half hours of train travel to get there, seven hours there and almost five hours to return. Travelling alone and spending a rainy day in Seattle was depressing. 

Daily I prayed to God and begged for a miracle to change some circumstances (read: floundering LDR) in my life, so that doing crazy things such as going to Seattle to send and receive mail would not be necessary, but nothing changed. I felt as if the louder I shouted toward heaven, the more God seemed to ignore me.

The downpour outside was unrelenting and walking around was not in any way appealing. More than four hours remained until train time and I was wasting those hours in Seattle’s King Street station. A panhandler was shuffling around and searching through the station’s garbage bins. Eventually he stopped in front of me but I did not look up from what I was doing. 

“Do you have any money you can part with?” he asked.

That was a strange way to ask for money because all money was money that could be parted with in one way or another. 

“Here.” I eventually answered and handed him a few dollars, hoping he would go away.

“Thank you.” he replied, sounding somewhat surprised.

Instead of wandering off, the vagrant sat on the bench and began to talk to me. “I haven’t always lived like this.”

I did not say anything. I did not know what to say to him. I did not want to have to say anything to him.

“Where are you from?” he questioned, even though I had remained silent.

“Canada.” I finally answered but trying to avoid a conversation.

“What are you doing down here?” He continued.

"Just visiting from Canada.” I revealed.

“I’m from Mississippi.” He announced.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, aware that Seattle was far from anywhere in Mississippi.

“Couldn’t take it anymore.” He stated, now sounding somewhat agitated.

“Take what?” I wondered.

“All the nonsense, the lies, the crap. I had to get out.” He continued, sounding as if he was repeating to me something that he thought I should have already known.

What he said did not mean anything to me and I did not ask for more details. I really did not want to know any more.

“I quit university.” He added, and then continued, “I’ve been drifting around and trying to find a purpose in life.”

He went on to inform me that his father owned a fishing resort in Kenora, Ontario, and then began to tell me about the resort. He then abruptly stopped and asked, “Have you ever heard of Kenora?”

“Yes, it’s near the Ontario-Manitoba border. CP Rail’s trains roll through there.” I stated authoritatively, certain of this much.

“Yeah, you know it.” He confirmed. 

He then handed me a folded slip of paper with the name and address of that resort in Kenora and while pointing at the paper said, “If you ever visit Kenora, go there and ask for my father. Just tell him I told you to ask for him.”

He wished me well and wandered away and I wondered why he had stopped to talk. I looked at the name and address on the paper and thought, “Why would I ever go to Kenora?”

His comment about quitting university and finding a purpose in life stirred me though and compelled me to question why I was coming here to Seattle every Saturday. 

Desperation was my excuse. But what was my purpose?

From the internet: Amtrak's Pacific International circa 1975

Amtrak’s Pacific International was a four-car train outfitted with worn-out, hand-me-down equipment from Union Pacific and Great Northern. A dome-observation car on the tail end gave the train an air of importance; not every passenger train included a dome car. Unlike CP Rail’s Canadian, which offered coach seating in their dome cars, Amtrak had turned the dome into a dining area and served meals up top. 

During the return trip I sat in the rear of the dome car and from the curved back windows watched the track racing away into darkness. Occasionally I would puff away on my pipe when the lounge area was deserted. As I stared out, my mind wandered aimlessly...

“A smoldering, half-smoked cigarette has been left in the ash tray.” Holmes pointed out after making a cursory inspection of the immediate area.

“Is this a clue?” Watson asked.

“No.” Holmes responded immediately, having already dismissed the cigarette as irrelevant.

“What makes you so certain?” Watson challenged.

“Left by a woman, you will observe smudges of lipstick on the end.” Holmes pointed out.

“Ah... yes... but what if our quarry's not alone?” Watson suggested.

“The young lady who left this here was quite alone.” Holmes replied.

“How do you know?” Watson questioned.

“We passed her only moments earlier but you most likely looked at her rather than observe her. She was wearing the same shade of lipstick, slightly smudged as if by…” Holmes started to explain.

“A cigarette against the lips.” Watson interjected.

“Exactly!” Holmes stated, almost sounding like a teacher who had been explaining the solution of a problem to a student.

A yell came from the galley, abruptly awakening me from my daydream. 

“What? Another murder?” I asked aloud mindlessly.

“No. Cook fried some fingers on the griddle.” The Amtrak steward replied, having heard my silly question.

A half-smoked cigarette in the ash tray on the empty adjacent table was still smoldering away, and sure enough traces of lipstick were visible; but I couldn’t recall who may have been sitting there moments earlier.

After 41 days without mail the strike ended and Canada’s postal services resumed. Two weeks later I made my final trip to Seattle to close the mailbox and hopefully, to find a letter or two.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

More Railway Ramblings...About Trains of Course!

Just call me the imposter

When Kie took this photo, a few people who saw thought I was the engineer. Although I insisted I was only another passenger like everyone else, I was asked to be in a couple photos posing as the engineer.

Once in a while it is nice to dream and wonder what life would have been like had I been able to make a career of moving trains over roads of wood and steel. The passing of time ensures that some desires of youth never come to pass. Today I am too old to become a railroader - but at any age, I can occasionally wonder what life on railway may have been like.

Need anything be added about the scene below? Perhaps a few words. The location of course is Agawa Canyon. This scene was recorded before CN bought the ailing Algoma Central Railway.

Agawa Canyon, August 17, 1997. The locomotives had already completed their runaround and the idle southbound train was holding on main line while passengers tour the canyon.

Oh no! Not another F unit!

This scene was recorded in summer 1998. 6520 was leading the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway's 1950's streamliner which just squealing to a stop at Farmer's Market station to take on two passengers - the writer and the writer's poor wife who took this photograph.

Only an hour's drive from home and operating from April through December, this train was easy to get to and very easy to ride. A $10.00 ticket was good for unlimited all day travel at the breathtaking maximum speed of 15 miles per hour; this was no ordinary streamliner. The train was truly a joy to ride - comfortable reclining seats, large picture windows, air conditioning, snack service and nice scenery. What else could a train rider ask for? 

I spent many hours on this train enjoying the slow lane of life.

6508 is on the other end of the train

With an F-unit on each end, the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway's passenger train was similar to a push-pull operation. This negated the need to turn the engine or run the engine around the train upon the completion of each run.

Using former passenger equipment that CNR newly placed into service when it introduced the "Super Continental" in the 1950's, the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway utilized an accurate and almost identical paint scheme.

A look at the advertised train service

The South Simcoe Railway actually has a station named NOWHERE which is an intermediate station marked by a sign, but the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway's train literally terminated in the middle of nowhere after crossing the Conestogo River; somewhere, or nowhere, in the midst of farm fields between two country roads. I'm assuming their northern terminal was too small and too remote to have a station name board.

Looking northward. The resting train is in front of the Waterloo station during the 40 minute break before the day's last run to St. Jacobs is made. 6508 will be on the rear when the train departs northward.

A day trip to the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway was definitely worth the drive. While Kie shopped at the farmer's market, I rode the train. 

Although the train operated during 1999, because I rode the trains that year too, so far as I am aware, the railway and its train never made it into the 21st century. 

Following the demise of the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway, the idle equipment spent years sitting in Mimico Yard and was visible to riders on the Lakeshore West GO Trains.

A Little closer to home...

Actually a lot closer to home. This next group of images was taken two decades ago at Ellengale Park; a five-minute walk from home.

If one is patient enough to wait long enough, something eventually shows up.

Winter is probably the best time to take train photos. A heavy snow fall usually flattens most of the dead vegetation growth, and the absence of foliage provides clearer views. The downside of course is the cold, the wind and fewer hours of daylight. Then again, some days are just right and become worth the waiting.

CP 5660 and unidentified SOO Line mate were heading west near mile 17 of CP Rail's Galt Sub. Although winter, not much snow was on the ground this Sunday afternoon.

A few hints of green herald an early spring.

April 12, 1993. A late afternoon westbound GO Train slowing for its stop at Erindale station.

The Roadrailer was an interesting train with the most unusual equipment to ride on rails. 

How often does one see a train without railcars; instead only highway trailers with their tires skimming just a few inches above the rails? 

Unlike Red Rose Tea's Canadian claim to fame, Roadrailer trailers are no longer seen moving over Canadian railways north of the border like this. Pity.

I have since been corrected. The Roadrailer train is alive and well, moving on CN Rail into Toronto. 

The following post on You Tube published June 24, 2014, by TheEtobocokeRailfan, features the Roadrailer trains passing through Bramalea.

Later summer 1993 in Mississauga saw the westbound Roadrailer quickly passing through ON CP Rail and heading to Detroit, Michigan for hand-off to Nortfolk Southern.

Freight trains are frequent on the Galt Sub but photographing the trains requires a fair amount of just plain waiting... and waiting... and so on. Actually more time is spent track watching.

GO Trains are easy to photograph because they operate on fixed schedules. The disincentive is that the GO Trains all look alike except for the numbering.

May 21, 1993 evening sees GO F59PH numbered 527 operating on the rear and about to arrive in Erindale.

Carload traffic

This scene should serve as a reminder why railways exist and why railways continue to exist; hauling freight and getting paid to accomplish the feat profitably. But scenes of single carloads of freight waiting to move have all but disappeared, because handling shipments like this gets in the way of running trains.

Railways are in business to haul freight and moving trains is simply the result of having freight to haul. All revenue rail cars eventually have to originate a load somewhere, whether it's a busy intermodal terminal or rusting team track with a single flat car.

Scene recorded at Dorval, Quebec, in the mid 1980's. An observant eye may have noted that the large crates on each and of the flat car as well as the upper crate in the center, are all over-width.

This loaded flatcar no doubt will require special attention to ensure that the route the car is to travel is wide enough to clear the crates. If not, then damage may result.

Before this car is permitted to move, CP Rail will send someone out to check the manner in which the load was placed on the flat car, tied down and blocked to prevent shifting. If the preparation work has not been carried out to the inspector's satisfaction, then more materials may have to be added.

This said, does it make sense to send this shipment on a flatcar that may require several days or weeks to travel to destination when the cargo could move on a truck or two and get to that destination in a day or two?

I wonder what was in those crates and where this car was destined to.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, 24 April 2015

Scenes of CN's Yale Sub as seen from Train 1

All scenes were recorded on April 15, 2015

On the CN route a few miles south of Boston Bar, BC. Train 1 is entering one of several tunnels between Boston Bar and Vancouver. Running several hours late provided daylight views of locations that would normally have been passed in darkness. On the left side those wooden poles strung with wires are slide detectors. If rocks and/or other objects fall through the wires, signals will change to red to alert train crews to stop.

Another tunnel and more slide detectors. 

Slide detector and tunnel information from an older CN employee timetable reveals 15 tunnels on the Yale Sub, providing about 1.8 miles of travel through rock; though not much to see inside.

For those of you who have always wondered - the answer is yes! There really is light at the end of the tunnel... and Kie was there to record it.

The end of another tunnel but more of the same on the other side... rock, mountains and grey skies.

Too many tunnel views? Tunnel vision? Perhaps... but we do not see these too often in Ontario. Some tunnels are short enough to see through. Note that wire screen on the left. Also visible are the cuts in the portal and roof lining made to increase the clearance needed for safely moving double stacked containers on rail cars.

The Fraser River. Hidden behind trees, Canadian Pacific Railway is over there on the other side of the river. Falling rocks are not the only problem the two canyon railways have to contend with. In this location cascading water is diverted over the train rather than beneath the track.

Hey! No rain and clearing skies! What could be better than a dry arrival in Vancouver?

The mountains eventually give way and farmlands abound in the lower Fraser valley.

A pair of Seaspan barges being towed upstream by a tug on a placid looking Fraser River.

New replaces old... bridges that is... in this scene anyway. Not much remains of the old Highway 1 bridge (yellow) in Surrey. The new bridge is behind.

Given the okay to proceed, Train 1 begins an up-close tour through Thornton Yard.

A "train's-eye" view of a "ladder track" in Thornton Yard.

Train 1 crossing the Fraser River at New Westminster. On the other side of the bridge are BNSF tracks which the train will traverse into Vancouver and to the Via Rail station.

Streets choked with stopped traffic. The only thing moving here was Train 1 albeit slowly. To the right of the train is the SkyTrain's Millennium Line.

The Burnaby city skyline as seen from BNSF. Warren Buffett may own the BNSF but I doubt he has seen this view from his railway.

Following train arrival in Vancouver at the end of track. Train 1 was backed into the station. By the way... what time is the next train leaving?

The Oddblock Station Agent

Scenes of CN's Edson & Albreda Subs as seen from Train 1

All scenes were recorded on April 14, 2015
You know you're in Alberta when... waking up the next morning, looking out the window and seeing working oil pumps in the middle of fields. These particular pumps are west of and just outside Edmonton.

Eating is not the only thing that goes on in the dining car. Parked in the Edmonton station for the next hour and looking out on to busy 101st Street NW and mounds of rubble from the torn up runways of the closed airport, now is a good time to check for message from home or simply to find out what has been going on in the world. Connections are good here, which is not always the case when the train is on the move through remote places. If you're not going to eat that toast getting cold there...

Double track between Carvel and Wabamun allows for both trains to safely meet and pass at track speed at mile 33.9.

Train 1 skirts along the edge of ice-covered Lake Wabamun. Ten years ago on August 03, 2005, a CN freight train derailed 43 cars; mostly bunker oil that spilled into the lake. Four days after the mishap CN revealed that a hazardous chemical had also leaked into the lake.

Approach signal 633 displayed green before the front of Train 1 passed. CTC (Centralized Traffic Control) signals authorize and govern all train and other rail vehicle movements over the hundreds of miles of busy track. Nonetheless, compliance and safety ultimately rests with the head end crews in charge of their trains.

Although the 236 mile route westbound from Edmonton to Jasper realizes a vertical gain of about 1280 feet, Train 1 rolls through a downhill sag near CN Gainford.

The view from CN's crossing of the Pembina River at Evansburg, Alberta. The height above the river dwarfs that large rig over there on Highway 16.

Train 1 was placed into and held at the east end of the siding at Evansburg to wait for an eastbound intermodal train to pass. A stacked pair of OOCL containers and others on the hurried train race by our waiting train. Rather than proceed to the west end of the siding, Train 1 was backed out of the east end and then cleared to overtake the intermodal train also waiting in the same siding. The two trains just fit with no room to spare.

First glimpses of the mountains near CN Dalehurst

A large lumber mill at Hinton, Alberta. I wonder why this location was not named Spruce Grove instead of that Edmonton suburb 165 miles back.

Hinton, Alberta, is no different from any other large town/small city in Canada, however the name remains well known to those interested in Canadian railway history. The collision and wreck of Via Rail's Train 4, the Supercontinental, which occurred on February 08 1986, and always referred to as the "Hinton Train Disaster" actually happened about ten miles east at CN Dalehurst.

Getting closer to the bigger hills.

The Rockies are the main attraction and few empty seats are now available in the glass attic.

Train 1 passed through Swan Landing siding to overtake the stopped westbound intermodal train holding the main line. The switch points have yet to be restored and a proceed signal given for the main track; events that shall not occur until Train 1 has passed and cleared the next signal west of the siding.

Telephone poles and cross-arms adorned with glass insulators strung together with wires still follow parts of the rail route. This reminder from the telegraph age serves no useful purpose today and that once vital infrastructure has been slowly crumbling; in many places the poles and wires have vanished.

Between the Edson Sub's one tunnel at mileage 204.8 and the CN location known as Park Gate at mile 206, concrete ties, clean vegetation-free ballast and perfectly aligned welded rails attest to well-maintained track over much of the subdivision. The clueless, ignorant and uninformed railway-bashers in the media and Ottawa would do well to take note and go and see for themselves before stating something stupid and misreporting about Canada's railways being unsafe and poorly maintained.

CN's "Safety is of the first importance in the discharge of duty" has long been ingrained into everyday railway work habits. That freight train crew on the ground is not out for fresh air and exercise while waiting for Train 1 to pass. At every meet where at least one train was stopped, crew members were always out and on the ground to visually inspect and report the status of the passing train. When stopped, Train 1 crew members were out doing the same.

Container volumes moving on CN's Edson Sub are staggering. Almost every siding between Edson and Jasper had an intermodal train waiting to meet Train 1. No doubt some of these container trains were travelling to or from Prince Rupert because intermodal traffic lessened west of Redpass Jct.

The passenger station at Jasper, Alberta.

CN6015 - tribute to and a reminder of an interesting past, but I highly doubt that steam powered Class 1 railways in North America would be capable of coping with the freight volumes and lengthy trains moving today.

Heading west into British Columbia and Mt. Robson Provincial Park.

Mile 116.2 - Train 1 overtakes a grain train waiting in the siding at CN Pyramid.

The sunshine was finally off the tops of the mountains and daylight was fading quickly.

Last scene of the day recorded at CN Thunder River and no train was waiting in this siding.

Acknowledgement: All images here but one were recorded by my wife; I was busy watching the world go by.

The Oddblock Station Agent