Friday, March 9, 2018

ACI Labels

In the Sixties, railways began adopting electronic data management and automation to manage car fleets and serve shippers more efficiently and at less cost to:
  • provide rapid location of specific car types to meet traffic needs 
  • enable faster and more accurate transmission of information
  • exchange up-to-the-minute records of car interchange between railroads
  • lower per-diem costs
  • reduce labour costs of car checkers and clerks
  • reduce the number of cars in hold tracks
  • automatically collect and store car data for maintenance purposes
  • improve overall better customer service
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) formed an Automatic Car Identification (ACI) Committee in January 1966, chaired by Illinois Central's director of data control, W. H. Thompson. In September 1967, the AAR Board of Directors announced that Sylvania's KarTrack system would be the industry standard. Up to two million freight cars and other pieces of North American rolling stock would be labelled, at a cost of $20,000,000. ACI labels are applied at Pullman-Standard's Bessemer, AL plant (top photo) and by Southern Pacific painters at Sacramento (below) in 1968:


The ACI system comprised three parts: label, scanner and decoder. 


The scanner was housed in a weathertight steel case containing colour-sensitive optical and electrical equipment. A beam of high-intensity light, projected through a window, formed a 9-foot curtain on car sides. Reflectorized stripes on the labels bounced light back to the scanner in the same path as the original beam. The scanner read the reflected light from the stripes on the ACI label, scanning them at high-speed from bottom to top, one digit at a time.


The decoder received optical data from the scanner's reading of the label in the form of electrical signals and translated this input into meaningful numbers fed into a central computer or converted into a printed list. A car counter counted cars passing the scanner, notifying the decoder of any cars without labels and correlating TOFC/COFC to the flat cars they were carried on.


ACI labels were produced using 13 stripes measuring 5 3/4" x 1" on steel plate measuring up to 10x22 inches. Horizontal strips of black, red, blue and white reflectorized Scotchlite material, more than 200 times brighter than the brightest available paint were arranged vertically 3/8" apart. Each label had a coloured stripe for each of the 13 digits that identified each car in five sections:
  • a validity check digit to confirm that the scanner had read the label properly, based on a mathematical calculation derived from the stripes applied to each label
  • "stop reading" stripe
  • six stripes one for each digit in the car number 
  • four stripes for each letter in the car owner and a numberical code for the car type
  • "start reading" stripe
There were four steps in producing every pair of ACI labels for each car. CN shop forces at Toronto Yard (above) were training, preparing and applying in 1968. The four steps:
  • apply protectively-coated adhesive-backed horizontal stripes to the steel label plate
  • paint the plate with rust-resistant black paint
  • remove the protective coating from each strip
  • fasten the completed painted ACI plate to each side of a car (below) as at Illinois Central's Markham Yard in 1968

In 1968, 38 railroads including CN were applying ACI labels, and 10 railroads had ACI installations along their lines. Illinois Central planned to label 8,000 of its 51,000 cars by January 1, 1969. CN planned to label 200,000 pieces of equipment by January 1, 1970. Southern Pacific fed ACI data into its Total Operations Processing System computerized car information system.


ACI was abandoned in the late 1970s due to problems with reading the labels. Up to 20% of cars' labels had become unreadable due to dirt, grime, damage or missing labels. Railroads continued manually entering car data into their car fleet management systems. Within a few years, a new system of wayside car readers would be implemented.  In the 1990s, Automatic Equipment Identification tags would become the state-of-the-art car identification system, reaching full implementation in 1994.

Running extra...

Big week coming up! Saturday is the annual Kingston Rail-O-Rama train show. Next Tuesday it's off the Associated Railroaders of Kingston March meeting at which I'll be presenting some Kingston Platform Scenes. Through all the changing scenes of life!

Ever been to a plowing match? I hadn't until the city plowed an unusually small amount of snow on an unusually warm day on our street. The result is enough to make me furrow my brow!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Snow day at Kingston, January 1999

Before winter finally makes its anticipated actual exit, it behooves us to remember what a Canadian winter can throw at the railways. On January 16, 1999 a record January snowfall made CN operations on the Kingston Sub problematic. Switches froze, crossovers were inoperable. VIA train frequencies were reduced (VIA No 650/651 stored on Queens and annulled: VIA 6427-4102-4125-4115). CN freights were delayed or annulled. Numerous Form 564's were given to crew to hand-throw automatic switches. At Kingston's VIA station at 1345, CN 7074-7041 was backing CN No 590 east to Queens along the south track from the Invista plant; vigilant trainman riding the leading car. Intermodal train CN No 126 from Winnipeg approaches on north track at right, visible under overpass (top photo).
CN 7074-7041 are nose-to-nose Cataraqui Spur power (above) pushing caboose 79473R, tankcars PROX 77754-70215 and DOCX 23503-23509 and covered hoppers NAHX 455031-DUPX 38407-NCHX 43514-NAHX 455309, while CN No 126 with CN 2550-2423-5613 also eases east, stopping at the station.
Wheel container CNSU 300507 was perched high up on red Trailer-Train well car DTTX 432110. A more flexible means of shipping smaller quantities of wheels than a full flatcar load! Also on the train were similar containers CNSU 300575, 300538 and 300576.
CN No 126 has a signal to crossover to the south track. A dead freight is east of the Queens West signal bridge as CN No 590 has entered the south service track before running the power out and on to the east end of Queens before coupling up and heading farther east to Brockville. The dead westbound freight was not recrewed and westbound for over an hour.
Within the hour, CN No 519 with unusual, road power: 9456-9462 made its way east to Queens with 26 cars: EOGX and CGBX tankcars, CELX and AMCX covered hoppers from Millhaven before returning west at 1513. Anticipating disruptions, delays and mechanical difficulties, VIA had pre-positioned its Emergency/Mobile Unit in the station parking lot.
Tim Hayman shared the next generation of VIA mobile response units, taken at Brockville, ON station, December 23, 2008. Thanks, Tim!

Running extra:

Speaking of weather, the topic of whether or not to weather model rolling stock is a worthy one. Indecisive as always (or, am I??) I decided to work on several cars - weathering one side only. The cars congregated on my Rutland interchange tracks near Allen Lumber:

Speaking of being out in the weather, several weathered Hollywood stars will be attending the Oscars this weekend. Not sure why they named an award after a garbage can-dwelling, green furry monster, but there you go. The red carpet pre-show is OK, but I prefer to watch the never-ending parade of high-end SUV's that seem to have replaced the stereotypical stretch limos!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Locomotive Nicknames

Early in our railfanning careers, we approach our new-found fascination of trainspotting with fervor and unabashed enthusiasm! If we stick with it, for decades even, we run the risk of becoming unenthusiastic, jaded and may adopt a been-there-see-that, world-weary attitude. But let's keep it positive. This time of year reminds me of my 41 years of data-recording which began in the wintry cold of February, 1976 (L.C. Gagnon photo):
I had a vague idea what an A-unit, B-unit, F-unit or GP-9 was, from model railroading. But when it came time to organize and record my early cold-hands observations in a practical way, I had to label each page on which I listed the number, date, direction etc. Each page held numbers of a type of locomotive - I didn't record the train's entire locomotive consist together. So I came up with wacky terms like Fatties, Fakies and Roadies. Hey, I was 12. A legend for my own reference on the back of my first scribbler notebook for observations:
Here are some original green-ink and pencil listings. Sorry about the exposure - the problem with pencil lead is that it 'lightens' with time and page-flipping. Initial pages of Fakies and Roadies:
The first Fatties page. I originally started with symbols to connect locomotives from each train, but soon adopted an alphanumeric system!
Do these look like Fatties to you? Check out those safety cabs. Revolutionary at the time, state-of-the-art today:
Ooh, VIA! Seems like I started grouping RDC's in with B's! Alphabet soup!
Loyal Trackside Reader Elijah Hall from Saskatchewan emailed me about Black Widows and Thundercows. Whaaaat? I found out that Elijah had also come up with nicknames for some of his favourite locomotive types. Of course the Black Widow was a characteristic CN scheme introduced in 1961. Overall black with a large CN logo, this scheme was superseded by CN's striped freight scheme applied to safety cab units. Black Widow alert! Portage la Prairie in 1978 (below). By 1986, nary a Black Widow. All Stripeys!
I am definitely not a 'locomotive person'. Too many designations, numbers and letters, dashes or no dashes. There we go again, letting the devil get in the details and losing track (pun intended) of the big picture. Of course we should find observing and talking about trains fun! I can read it in the Beachburg Sub blog of Michael Hammond, as we learn more and share more of the trains they have known.

So in that spirit, Elijah and I have compiled our nomenclaturic naming conventions for select locomotive types. Elijah makes it even more specific, with certain sub-types. Fun!
Thanks to Elijah Warner Hall for his contributions, his enthusiasm and his patience while this post languished in the Trackside Treasure queue. So much stuff to blog, so little time and such a relaxed once-weekly publication schedule in this, Trackside Treasure's tenth year!

Running extra...

Fakie is also a snowboarding term!

Been watching the Winter Olympics. Here are my Top Ten Snowboarding Terms or Things You Would Not Admit to in Open Court:
10.Switch Nine Hundred
9. Pickpocket
8. Rusty Trombone
7. Stiffy
6. Tail Grab
5. Crippler
4. Backside Misty
3. Frontside Grab
2. Cross Bone
And the Number One Snowboarding Terms or Things You Would Not Admit to in Court:
1. Chicken Salad!
(Which in itself sounds innocuous, but check out the definition thereof: The rear hand reaches between the legs and grabs the heel edge between the bindings while the front leg is boned. The wrist is rotated inward to complete the grab.) Ouch.
But all the Olympics-watching doesn't mean there's nothing happening on my HO scale Green Mountain Lines. Here's a video of Rushing Through Rutland!

Friday, February 16, 2018

BN Cryogenic Cars

BN 751000-751076 were (converted CB&Q) cryogenic cars (cardon dioxide-cooled reefers), with a 67'8" external length, 15'6" external height and 10-foot doors with a capacity of 4548 cu ft and 80 tons. Built in 1966, as of the 1995 Official Railway Equipment Register, 48 cars remained.

These cars appeared perpetually dirty. It's hard to keep white paint clean. These cars were LONG and were in meat service. Originally BRMX 5200-5299, the cars later received WFCX and BN reporting marks. 

Lots o' links:
Seen here individually or in pairs on CN's Kingston Sub, tracing revealed that the cars were heading to track PG09 in Pointe St Charles or track MT10 in St Laurent, QC. When empty, the cars were billed to Nebraska.

My observations of BN 7510xx-series cars including date, car number and CN train on:
Mar 9/95 751056
Apr 5/96 751012-751035
May 5/96 751062
May 27/96 751068
Oct 26/97 751040-751030 on No 395
Aug 1/98 751061 on No 395
Apr 3/99 751040
May 1/99 751042 (top photo - at CN's Belleville yard)
Nov 13/99 751010
Jan 16/00 751019
Jul 3/00 751061 on No 366
Jul 19/00 751061 on No 365
Oct 1/00 751061-751051 on No 317
Oct 7/00 751001-751070

Though I didn't stray from Athearn's 57-foot mechanical reefer design, I did paint and decal BN 751044 to match this number series. Seen here at my former Vancouver Wharves HO scale layout, the CP switch crew is picking up the car at Pacific Produce:
Thanks to Tim O'Connor, Doug Stark and Lee A. Gautreaux for additional information.

Running extra...

Speaking of modelling, I decided to build some cardstock dumpsters for Sacco Steel on my (now) Green Mountain Lines layout. So I can honestly say....bin there, done that.

Speaking of reefer madness, it's unlikely that the federal government's pot legalization legislation has the legs to be enacted by the proposed July 1, 2018. Justin the nick of time? Hopes may be going up in a puff of smoke, but that doesn't stop our local newspaper from publishing a pot story each and every day! It's as regular and predictable as the crossword! And the word eJblum!

Atlasrescueforumproboards or whatever, checking out this horn-hook coupler nook this week. Some haters, but yes, the owner is happy, north of Lake Erie, thanks very much, y'all! Identities concealed:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Transcon Train Times at Portage la Prairie

Any time was train time while railfanning Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. But not anytime was passenger train time! During my preparation and photo selection for my upcoming Trains and Grains project, this was brought home to me. Certain years, there were next to no VIA train observations or photos. Why? Because the VIA trains sometimes were rather nocturnal! And my trackside train-watching hours were essentially bankers' hours. Straight days. Perusing VIA timetables produced the following table, in which I attempt to track train time at Portage from 1976 to 2013, along with the appropriate transcontinental train numbers:
Here are a few photos that I'll be including in the Trains book of the two-volume set due this spring. In July, 1976 we only caught the train from Churchill (top photo by L.C. Gagnon). In 1978, it was the Super (above) with VIA 6515-6607-6502. And 6515 is still in CN colours! Now we're talking! Not only was the Canadian stopping at the CN station in 1979, (heck, CP ripped out their wooden station platform soon after CN took over the Portage-Winnipeg portion of the run, with a connecting track constructed at Portage and CP's Winnipeg Higgins Street station no longer used) but it was also the zenith of VIA's krazy circus or rainbow (that's more properly an Amtrak-related term) era. CN, CP, blue, red, black, white, yellow, VIA all mixed in together:
One of my VIA highlights...a nearly-three-hour-late No 2 arrives at Portage on August 22, 1979 behind 1409-8558-CP 8519. A lime-stained Southern Railway boxcar and doughty Portage Pool 'B' oversee the scene. VIA's only roadswitcher was second up:
And I can't believe I still read conspiracy theories - more akin to far-out musings on Elvis and JFK - that wonder aloud - did VIA's ex-CP 8558 actually exist! My little somewhat-suboptimal-but-there-recording-the-scene Kodak Hawkeye viewfinder found it. Thank goodness for late-running trains! Running late in 1980, too - VIA 6507-6606-CN 4102 bring a late Super into Portage on June 17, 1980:
The Canadian is again photographable in daylight in 1981. Blue-masked VIA 1418 leads CP 8580 and VIA 1898, one-of-two CP E-8's, sitting on the CP-CN connecting track on August 24, waiting for CN. Less than three months later, the Super would be cancelled during the massive VIA cutbacks that year:
In the shadow of Manitoba Pool Elevators' Portage Pool 'B' elevator, VIA 6501-6620-6603 pause with the Canadian on June 14, 1982:
I didn't make it to Portage in 1983, though my parents did. Watch for more of my Dad's photos of that visit in an upcoming post. Here's one of his photos - baggage being handled on No 2. Quite a trek down the platform for the operator with the baggage cart on this day:
One of my all-time favourites. Another MPE elevator, another Canadian: VIA 6504-6603 lead 12 cars through somnolent MacGregor, MB on May 29, 1984:
One more shot of the connecting track, another CN freight to wait for. This Canadian was actually early. Running one to three hours late in the 80's was serious. But compared to today's 6, 8, 12, 24 or even 38 (this week!) hours late Canadians, three hours was nothing! VIA 6557-6617 wait for lumber empties (of all things!) on CN's Rivers Sub to clear on June 4, 1984:
Back to early morning hours, No 2 with 6512-6621 and a diminutive eight-car consist approach Kearns (Eighth Street) in Portage on June 5, 1986. The following year, the bedraggled, beleaguered and be-gone F-unit fleet would find relief from incoming F40's.
In the nineties, my Mom and Dad prepare to board No 2 Eng 6443 at Portage in 1994. The F40 era had arrived (Wilf Schellenberg photo):
Portage la Prairie was unique in so many ways. Where else would one find two transcontinental streamliners, eventually serving a single, not really urban, station four times a day? And even after one was cancelled, this plethoric prairie preserve hosted, and still hosts, the other.

Running extra...
This week it's the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics. And Valentine's Day. Both are very competitive and full of the thrill of victory, and potentially the agony of defeat. The Dufour-Lapointes show us that Moguls are not just 2-6-0's. Korea's monad is not just for the Northern Pacific. Now for some Valentine's Day jokes: 
  • What did the octopus say to his girlfriend? I want to hold your hand. And your hand. And your hand. And your hand. And your hand. And your hand. And your hand. And your hand.
  • What did the bird say to his girlfriend? Let's be tweethearts.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

McCallister Pea & Seed Cleaners, Portage la Prairie

Allen McCallister came to Manitoba in 1897 from Grey North County, Ontario. He began growing peas in 1924, purchasing the turn-of-the-century commercial property in Portage in 1944 and constructed storage elevators for the family's bean and pea company, later becoming councillor, reeve and leader of various agricultural organizations. Located near 4th St N.E., just north of CP's yard, CP's Portage switcher is seen switching the operation in these photos kindly shared by Fred Clark. Fred photographed CP 6569 switching CPAA 89966 and two other patched Spruce Falls Power & Paper boxcars on July 11, 1984. Notice the peaked brick building at left.
Faithful Trackside Treasure reader Randy O'Brien sent a link to a fine Lawrence Stuckey photo of the operation, captioned 1987. Notice the assortment of new and old walls, pipes and bins. This photo  from Brandon University archives.
August 22, 1978 finds me and CP 8702-4440-4030 in the yard. McCallister was in the background, as it was in so many photos, but rarely in the foreground.

Find McCallister in these Brian Schuff photos: CP 3028 with McCallister elevator in background (above) and CP 8734 working the Speno railgrinding train in the yard with the brick building visible (below):
The multimillion-dollar plant suffered a three-alarm fire on March 29, 1990. As firefighters arrived, an entire wall gave way. Two large silos were damaged but not burned. Also damaged were the processing area, one elevator and a storage quonset. At the time, the plant was named Canadian Pulse Processors Inc, the McCallister family having sold their last remaining shares in 1985. Damage was 1.7 million dollars. At the time, the Campbell's Soup plant and CFB Portage were slated to close, and this was another economic blow to Portage, and the six employes were also affected. The plant, owned by the Great Canadian Bean Company was a large buyer of local seeds, including peas, beans and lentils, buckwheat and grains, processing 10,000-15,000 tonnes per year, processed into export-oriented products like bird seed by Continental Grain.

A handy little booklet entitled Early Architecture of Portage la Prairie, produced by the Manitoba Department of Cultural Affairs and Historical Resources - Historic Resources Branch in 1983 included these two bits of information on McAllister. A description of the original brick building, the Waterloo Manufacturing Company:
and a north-facing photo of the original brick building with elevators behind. On a model layout, this operation would be 'highly modellable'!

Running extra...

Figuratively if not literally, I'm finding myself  'in' Portage la Prairie this week. I'm captioning up to 700 photos for my Trains & Grains two-volume book project. Views of CN, CP and VIA trains from almost every conceivable angle. Grain, hotshot, manifest, coal, roadswitcher and yardswitcher are all represented. You'll even find (OK, just one more) a view of McCallister in the distant background (why didn't I walk over that way at least once, camera in hand??) of this grain train meet on CP, photographed from the Skyline Bridge.
Speaking of the Skyline (easy to remember because it bears the same name as the mid-train Budd-built CPR dome) here's another model/proto photo that Randy shared, just to put to rest rumours that it's not actually officially called Skyline. Thanks, Randy!
My graphics 'expertise' involves pen and paper. It was 1980. My model railway needed a 'brand'. This was back when brands were still used only on cattle. I ended up with seventh row down, second from left, by the way!