Friday, January 17, 2020

Cataraqui Spur Bluebirds, January 2020

On January 8, I took the opportunity to follow CN No 518 as it switched Kingston's Invista plant via the CN Cataraqui Spur. While at the VIA station, an eastbound VIA arrived at 1053, as No 518 hove into view at the west end of Queens south service track, with leased power 'Bluebirds' GMTX 2323-2289 - the same Belleville road/yard power since at least Oct.30 of the last decade! (This changed a week later, finally, when it was GMTX 2323-CN 7081.) The local passed on the south track, heading for Invista after the VIA train cleared the block, at 1105:
I like these GATX (GMTX) Geeps that replace CN GP9's and GP38's on various system locals. Speaking of locals, photographer Paul Wash was photographing from the Princess Street overpass and took this fine overhead photo:
By 1124, 518 had backed off the Kingston Subdivision and into the Cataraqui Spur and made its way east to the Armstrong Road crossing:
The trainman has to ride the first car of the movement, radioing crossing status information to the engineer by radio:
The power eases over the trestle across the Cataraqui Creek...
...before crossing Bath Road a few seconds later:
Unusually, I found four loaded covered hoppers (top photo) spotted on the Cataraqui Spur north of Front Road. I believe this was due to excavation work being carried out by Shea Construction adjacent to the Cataraqui Spur lead. The crew was digging soil out from the north side of the lead, dropping it on the south side, then a Bobcat was carrying it to the main plant entrance for removal. The covered hoppers at the plant were clear of their normal storage location on the lead, down near the plant east entrance road, plus the four cars spotted up the spur! Seemed unusual and the plant must not have been switched on its normal Monday run. At 1139, they'd coupled to the four cars on the Spur and pushed across Front Road:
Now a long delay. Coupling onto the covered hoppers at the plant, stopping and pumping air, an unfortunate Kingston Express bus eastbound on Front Road, plus a school bus westbound had to wait and dared not cross while the crossing signals were flashing as the movement stopped south of the crossing was still activating them.
At 1152, the units resumed entering the plant property and cleared Front Road with the entire assemblage of 20 cars they'd accumulated. This allowed the buses and traffic to move on Front Road, as well as vehicles entering and leaving the east plant entrance. Here's the total consist at this point from the tail-end. All cars are covered hoppers except tankcar TILX 294146. Those with (*) were already at the Invista plant lead. Those with (**) were sitting on the Cataraqui Spur. (L)oads and (E)mpties were on No 518 as I observed it at the station.
MGRX 50094*
KLRX 525048*
KLRX 525004*
TCMX 703424*
KLRX 525076*
MGRX 50264*
MGRX 50047*
INVX 38744*
INVX 38791*
MGRX 50162*
MGRX 50273*
MGRX 50272**
MGRX 50021**
KLRX 525080**
MGRX 50080**
MGRX 50247 L
KLRX 525058 L
SRLX 45062 E
INVX 38611 E
TILX 294146 L
GMTX 2289
GMTX 2323
While the buses and I had waited for the train to move, it gave me an opportunity for some photography of the motive power on the trestle, with Lake Ontario beyond:

Backing back into the plant after Front Road traffic has cleared. Evidence of a recent snow-squall on the traffic sign:
On the plant lead parallel to Front Road:
Duct tape ain't working to hold the number board in place:
Returning to the station, I caught the following VIA trains:
  • 1225 WB: 910L-3474-3308-4117-4122
  • 1307 EB: 908L-5 LRC cars-6416L
  • 1329 WB: 6418-3353F-3331R-3323R-3365F-3469-917
  • 1345 WB: 904L-4005-4119-8117-4118
Being loaded at KIMCO Steel off Lappan's Lane: BISX 30938 grey - BISX 30919 yellow and two gons. BISX = Brandenburg Industrial Service, a company known for remediating soil and contaminants.
Interestingly, while Paul Wash was on the overpass, in a photo of the distant 518 and an eastbound VIA train that just preceded it, he captured your humble blogger on the platform, digitally!
The consist of the eastbound train I'm photographing: 
VIA 920L-3468-3335-3370-6410-3458-3366F-3369-3316F-4111(D&H)

Running extra...

It's not Shark Week, it seems like X2F week! Sunday - a message from Out West kindly offering me some X2F couplers. Tuesday - an envelope of X2F's arrives in my inbox, also from Out West. Tuesday night, a fellow Associated Railroaders of Kingston club member gave me a pair of couplers to say 'thanks' for my presentation that night.
Like he said... fellow Prince Street Terminal blogger's quotable-quote Chris Mears (above). Also, watch for a special blog partner event coming in February.

Some potent-potable TV-watching over the last two weeks - the Greatest of All Time Jeopardy tournament featuring James Holzhauer, Brad Rutter and the eventual winner Ken Jennings. Just the write wrecipe of wry writ wrought by Alex Trebek and the contestants. I really thought Alex might announce his retirement on the final night. What is...This didn't happen?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Turbo Crash at Kingston, December 1968

On December 10, 1968 the first press run of CN Turbo P-201 eastbound at Kingston struck a transport trailer at a signalled, but not gated, crossing at Division Street. This was two days before the inauguration of regular Turbo service, and the incident garnered front-page publicity for CN across Canada. Reporters + photographers + crash = coverage! Maybe it's true that there is no such thing as bad publicity. London Free Press photographer Ernie Lee was aboard the train and snapped the photo of the year. Adrian Lunny of the Montreal Star took this photo from westbound P-204:

It's interesting that Elliott Avenue had crossing gate protection, while Division Street, a main artery to and from Kingston's north end and Highway 401, did not.

Online views of the two Turbos. From trackside (below) and from onboard (above):
The eastbound Turbo was pulled up to the Elliott Avenue crossing where it met its westbound counterpart on its way to Toronto. The above view shows the two halves of the refrigerated transport trailer, clearly showing Windsor Packing lettering on the truck cab door. The driver's name was Don McLean and he walked away, shaken but uninjured! Windsor Packing listing in a 1967 Windsor City Directory (below). The name and phone number are those painted on the door of the truck cab.

Turbo's 3:59 Montreal-Toronto trip time and higher speeds had reduced the time between tripping crossing circuit and reaching the crossing. At the time of the accident, there was a 25 m.p.h. slow order at Division Street due to an earlier accident - a Rapido had struck a cement truck at the same crossing, just one day earlier.  Overpasses were planned here and just over two miles to the west at Princess Street.

Photographer George E.O. Lilley photographed the aftermath of the scene, and his photos are preserved in the George Lilley fonds, Queen's University Archives. Here are photos I took of the negatives, then formatted to a positive, cropped and adjusted slightly. Any imperfections in these images are a result of my efforts, as the negatives are fresh and well-kept in the intervening 50+ years thanks to the efforts of the archives staff. Looking west toward the crossing, we see the rear portion of the destroyed meat trailer:

Stacked boxes of meat on the east side of Division Street. This crossing is signalled, though the CP Kingston Subdivision, which also crossed Division Street just to the north, has only crossbucks (and a wig-wag!). Highway 401, where the truck likely came from, is in the distance.

 Front part of the destroyed trailer pending removal:

Views of the Turbo at the Elliott Ave. crossing, signal- and gate-protected, with one side of the nose having been removed (below). This Turbo was back in service within 36 hours!

Opposite side, with CP Kingston Subdivision embankment crossing over the CN in the distance.

On January 13, George Lilley returned to document the site further. Remnants of the trailer at its new resting place:

Recreating the scene - shots of eastbound Rapido and Turbo (below) as the truck driver would have seen the crossing:

The photographer also walked west nearly a mile along the CN Kingston Subdivision, photographing the track view the engineer might have seen. Just to the left is CP's Kingston Subdivision which approaches, then curves away from the CN as it enters a wide curve and grade to surmount the CN and enter Kingston, between Division and Elliott:

Getting closer...CP in the distance, no traffic on Division Street but nothing to stop someone from just driving across willy-nilly!

In January, 1969, another view of the crossing and CP in the distance. Footings for the re-aligned Division Street are in place, as are gates now protecting the crossing!

The number of level crossings in Kingston continues to shrink - John Counter Boulevard is under construction and will be the next to open. Lots o' links:

  • CRHA Canadian Rail special issue No 207 on the Turbo.

  • Turbo's Unique Technology from Rolly Martin Country - part of an excellent Turbo series on my brother's blog

  • Turbo's Central Station Turbo Maintenance Area and Turbo press clippings also from Rolly Martin Country

  • Running extra:

    Watch for an upcoming blog blast all about favourite photographs taken trackside in the last five years, debuting February 5. (If it debuted just three days sooner, Groundhog Day, would the photos look the same day after day?)

    This dropped recently - Episode 4 of the Platforum. Even though it's not Comedians Going for Coffee in Cars, it could be called Railfans Relaxing Railside over Eggnog.

    Looking forward to Paul Hunter's presentation on the Turbo at our February Associated Railroaders of Kingston meeting. This Tuesday, it's your humble blogger presenting Go Slightly West, Young Man -  Trackside in the West End of Kingston.

    Winter is meme season. In my last post, I highlighted the modelling of Justin Kafal (above). Since he features woods and water in his scenery, the above moniker seemed to fit. Meanwhile, Jason Shron's KingstonSub continues to take shape, and sockets holding down gluing track make more than a few appearances:

    Speaking of the Canadian, there are those who are counting the days until it returns to CP rails:

    Friday, January 3, 2020

    Freedom Thoughts on Model Railroading in 2020

    Freedom from the tyranny of model railroading convention.
    Freedom from the dissatisfaction of not being happy with your efforts.

                                                             A GOLDEN AGE?
    I enjoy keeping one foot in the prototype world and one foot in the model railway world; reading about both worlds and inter-relating them. Reading online descriptions of model railway layout work, I'm struck by the contrast between a few excellent operating layouts, and many who are steadily but frustratingly slowly striving to reach that point. If we are indeed living in a Golden Age in terms of products available to model railroaders, I wonder if we're taking full advantage of those in order to reach a new nirvana of operating enjoyment?

    Reading Kalmbach's Great Model Railroads (GMR) 2020, I was struck by a few candid lines in the description of the layouts profiled therein: 
    • The admission of a very large layout's owner that he had never held an operating session! The layout was 48x72 feet.
    • Another big layout was built by a professional layout builder, though the modeller did add junk in some of the ditches and super-detailed his telegraph poles!
    • One layout employed a nolix. That's a multi-level layout that uses a constant grade throughout the mainline run to achieve the required elevations. The whole layout is on a 2% grade!
    • Meanwhile, in Canada, a respected modeller used an 8-foot straight edge to get his passenger platforms perfectly straight! That's another trend I notice - long, straight, parallel reaches of tracks in layouts under construction. Lots of track!
    There are major exceptional standouts; those who are getting it done. I recently had the opportunity to meet Bob Fallowfield. For quite awhile, I've enjoyed his Galt Sub. Bob and I chatted on a chilly station platform along the Kingston Sub. Listen here: The Platforum Episode 4 - especially if you're having trouble sleeping because my voice is as monotonous as a burbling MLW. Two other Canadian modellers, Justin Kafal (above) and Jason Baxter (below) are doing great work with CN equipment, trackside scenery and backdrops. (Find them on Facebook - where these photos were shared)
    Check out the backdrops and progess on the BArailsystem:
    Nick EH's Algoma Central - that road repair car! (above and below - video captures)

    When I read the current MR press and read social media posts, I feel my own exhilarating rush of counter-cultural freedom. I have declared my Exhilarating Eric Emancipation Proclamation from the following tyrannical concerns:
    • a helix. I'm just not a believer in the sacrifice of much layout room for multi-levels.
    • layout analysis paralysis. Creative tendencies stunted by everlasting construction
    • technology tangles. DCC, switch machines, decoder problems, endless wiring.
    • having to conform. To industry standards. Steel wheelsets, certain couplers.
    • fear of operations. Much is said about the technical. Little about the operational.
    • not enjoying entering the layout room. Should be a 'happy place'.
    • an unclear layout purpose. I've really enjoyed learning about and representing in scale a specific prototype.
    • stops and starts. I've tried to schedule operating time regularly - most weeknights for 30-60 minutes.
    • clutter. After each construction bee, I clear away as many tools and materials as possible, then operate. Tracks are always kept clear!
    And it's been that way for the last few incarnations of my HO scale layout, be it Winnipeg, Vancouver, Vermont or Kingston as modelled locale. 

    Every good opinion piece should end with a call to action! Otherwise it's just words. If you're a fellow modeller and reading this, you may come back with one of the following responses:
    • my layout, my rules - though this is sometimes a way to avoid facing the situation!
    • you're right - I'll consider your thoughts on Freedom!
    • you're wrong - I'm proceeding on a progressive track and I'm enjoying the journey!
    What is holding you back, if anything? Is it something you can let go, work around and forge your own path to freedom? Break free! Think about it and then highball on to modelling enjoyment this coming year!

    I will be here if you need me for anything:

    UPDATE! On a New Year's Whim, I asked about modellers' #1 modelling resolution for 2020. Social media responses came in fast and furious: 20 in the first 20 minutes! 100 in the first two hours! 225 in 24 hours and counting! And they say 'the hobby is dying'...NOT. I was able to group the responses under several headings. The results, tabulated rather unscientifically:
    • 53 Start a new layout - find space
    • 47 Complete existing projects - enlarge, more equipment, more track
    • 41 Specific new projects - bridges, scenery, workbench, weathering, wiring, details, more books, structures, trackwork
    • 38 Spend more time on the layout - get it out of storage, finish, keep working
    • 11 Operate - prototypically, get trains running
    • 11 Enjoy freedom - existing layout, involve family and friends, simplify
    • 6 Spend less (+2 spend more!)
    • 3 Improve realism

    Biggest take-home from the above is the huge number of responses dealing with actually starting a layout! 

    I will be checking back with all these people throughout the year....also NOT. Like any resolution, expressing them aloud theoretically helps us to realize our goals. Note that not all the responses equate with spending more money or acquiring more, as few responses even mentioned any new equipment. Very few specific manufacturers or brands were mentioned. I get the sense that most of us already have lots on hand, and it's just a matter of feeling positive about the hobby we've chosen and being able to allot some time to it. And that is all about FREEDOM (back to top!)

    Running extra...

    After christening previous years as The Year of Photographing the Blisteringly Mundane (2015) and The Year of Revenue-Neutral Modelling (2018), I'm christening 2020 The Year of Model & Railfan Local. I don't mean you can never leave home - instead I'm suggesting you do 'a moustache' and look at what's right under your nose{ 
    • Railfan what's nearby, hiding in plain sight, instead of thinking you have to go all the way to Tehachapi or the Spiral Tunnels. 
    • Model what you know, whether it's your town or local railway, instead of thinking you have to model Horseshoe Curve or Bayview Junction. Unless you really want to. 
    The latter is something I've experienced on my own layout - after changing my modelled locales from Manitoba to British Columbia to Vermont, I'm back to Kingston surrounded by the most available information and the most 'comfort' with what I'm representing in scale.

    When I railfanned Portage la Prairie (definitely not local!) my aunt and uncle would troll the local yards to see what was moving or sitting. My uncle Wilf recently did the same, catching VIA 6445-6425 at Portage, rerailed and coupled to the five cars of VIA No 692 which derailed near Katrime last year - December 31, 2019.


    Friday, December 27, 2019

    Ye Olde History of Rapido Trains Inc.

    Rapido Trains Inc.'s Newsletter issue 119, in addition to the latest product announcements, production schedule, questionable puns and kooky graphics, contained a section entitled 'Looking Back on 15 years of Rapido". I am no fan of staid or stodgy corporate histories, but I found this capsule history interesting because it is a rags-to-bellbottoms story of what it's like to  grow in the Golden Age of Canadian Model Railroading. While I was otherwised engaged hoisting another fruitcake and toasting with another Railway City Brewing Co. beverage, I simply copied and pasted this engaging account into this post then appended my own encounters with Jason over the years. Enjoy:

    Last month marked 15 years since Rapido Trains Inc. was incorporated. In that time we've grown from a one-man-show with one resin kit and some decals to one of the larger model train manufacturers in North America.

    In 2000 I was about to get married and someone asked me what I was going to do with my life. I remember my answer clearly: "I'm going to go to England, get a degree, and teach art history. But what I really want to do is make model trains all day."

    Sidura and I left for Birmingham, England, the next year. I was very unhappy with my career choice. What gave me joy were the stolen moments when I could escape to the sun room to work on my model trains. At one point I told Sidura that model railroading could be a very expensive hobby. She replied, "As long as it pays for itself, it's fine." She meant that I should sell my old stuff on eBay. Instead, I decided to start Rapido. My model railroad in England was on a 7.5" wide shelf in our living room. The two locomotives were old Atlas/Roco FP7s heavily modified into VIA FP9As. 

    In 2004 I was 29 years old. We were back in Canada and I had no degree, no job and no money. Sidura and I realized that we had nothing to lose, so we tried to make the model train business work as a proper company. I spent the winter measuring and drawing an ex-VIA coach and sleeping car. In the snow. In -12C weather.

    After two trips to China on borrowed money, I had found a factory to work with. It took until late 2006 - and a lot more debt - for our first models to finally arrive. I packaged up a CN "E" series sleeper and mailed it to my PhD supervisor in England. "Here's my thesis," the accompanying letter said. "I'm officially withdrawing from the program."

    A number of key milestones allowed Rapido to grow to the successful company it is today. The first was hiring Dan Garcia. With Dan on board I could focus on marketing and product design, because he was handling all of the customer service.

    In 2009, Bill Schneider and Janet Golfman joined the team. Janet has since grown in her position to be a first class CFO - a long way from her original role as a part-time bookkeeper. With Bill I had found a guy who really understood how the model train business worked. Bill also introduced Rapido to the American market. I remember one fateful conversation with him, before he even joined the team: "You know, the New Haven has a lot of really devoted fans. I think you might want to think about making some New Haven models."

    For several years, Rapido was just Dan, Bill, Janet and me. The company struggled to grow. We had great ideas but we were always short of cash and our factory was very busy with a growing client list so they could not deliver all the models we needed.

    In 2013, Bill and I flew to China and convinced our engineer, Huang, to start a new Rapido factory that would just make our stuff. In 2016 our partner, Colin, threw his hat in the ring and started the LRC factory. This solved our supply issues.

    Back at home, we surrounded ourselves with some really talented people who have helped Rapido grow into the success it is today. A lot of people still think Rapido is just me in a garage somewhere designing and shipping out model trains. Far from it. Rapido is a team of amazing people, almost all model railroaders. They are lucky enough to have found careers in their hobby, and they love coming to work every day.

    Rapido has had its fair share of headaches. The first shipment of passenger cars had wobbly floors. We fixed it pretty quickly, but I bet there are still a few guys out there who swore in 2006 that they would never buy another Rapido passenger car and have remained true to their word. Since then every year has brought new challenges.

    The HO scale TurboTrain looked amazing, but ran like a pregnant hippo on crutches. Our Algoma Central coaches somehow migrated from silver to beige. The first run of N scale 1600-series GMD-1s ran THE WRONG WAY on DC track. The first run of mill gondolas had amazing Z channel ribs... which could be found floating around the bottom of the packaging. The list goes on. Today we've got a warranty department staring down an entire bookcase of RS-18 locomotives awaiting motor replacements.

    But still, we soldier on. With each new challenge we get stronger. Mohan is in China right now, working with the factories to implement better quality control practices and improve communication with the assembly team there so they don't make production changes - like changing the colours of rooftop beacons - without checking with us first.

    I will ask anyone who says our hobby is dying to take a look at Rapido as proof that it isn't. Our sales in 2019 were four times our sales in 2013. This shows that there are a lot of railroad modellers (and bus modellers) out there who are eager to upgrade their fleets. Talking with people at shows, it's clear Rapido has also brought some new people into our hobby - especially Canadian modellers who were never inspired to join the hobby because the selection of Canadian prototypes was too narrow before Rapido arrived on the scene. It's nice to see so many new customers at every show.

    Everything I have talked about so far is really just the background to the most important aspect of our 15th anniversary. Rapido's success comes down to one thing: YOU. You, our customers, have shown faith in us and continue to support us. We love that you love our trains, and without you all of this would have just been a pipe dream.

    So thank you to everyone who has bought a Rapido model, given us advice and suggestions, contributed research material, kitbashed our models, photographed and videoed our models, hung out with us at shows, and supported our restoration efforts.

    You guys - our model railroad community - are what it's all about. Thank you so much. We look forward to a great 2020 and another great 15 years! 

    Your humble blogger has had the pleasure of meeting Jason on a few occasions. The first quite by chance - on June 19, 2008 as we headed east to Montreal in VIA1 on VIA train No 52/40. Hearing a conversation ahead of us, a passenger with book in hand was chatting amicably with on-board staff. I put two plus Turbo together and realized it was none other than a certain model train manufacturer doing the kibbitzing. On his way back to his seat up the aisle, it was, "Excuse me, are you Jason Shron?" Surprise! When they were returning from a proto-photo trip to Brockville that November, I met Jason and Dan downtown to talk Kingston Sub modelling.
    Three years later, upon the publication of my first book on VIA Rail, Jason was on a barnstorming tour to the Maritimes. Having been kind enough to pen the foreword, I met him at Kingston on his way west aboard VIA No 61 Eng 6437 (above). Also at Kingston, the Rapido Icons of Canadian Steam launch excursion passed through in October, 2015:
    It would be another eight years until our paths would cross again, on the Platforum podcast. Jason remarked upon my CN 3120 being the only Rapido RS-18 equipped with X2F couplers, possibly in the entire world! In the post welcoming this plucky pollution-plumed performer, I editorialized about the impact of Rapido on the modelling scene in the Running Extra section. I won't further editorialize here, suffice it to say that where two or three Canadian railway modellers are gathered, Rapido will be part of the discussion.
    AVE, VIA!
    Sometimes, Rapido is meme-worthy. I find such memes ably encapsulate a long-winded, somewhat-productive back-and-forth social media debate about some recent Rapido-based issue:
    Or when there's discussion about who's no longer a 'member of the band', who's president of the company now, or just who is the craziest, nerdiest modeller out there. 

    Running extra...

    Happy New Year! Speaking of memes, whatever arrived under your tree this Christmas, may you spend several moments, minutes or hours of enjoyment 'getting away from it' all in your layout room, workbench or motel room while laying-over between runs:
    People say I use 'air quotes' a lot. What do they mean by 'a lot'?

    Speaking of bad jokes, it's time for one more. What did the clock do when he was hungry after his Christmas turkey dinner? He went back four seconds!