Seldom-used branchlines included CN's Pleasant Point Sub 78 miles south to Brandon, and CN's Oakland Sub 53 miles north to Amaranth. Here are two days' action at West Tower from 29 years ago. On June 16, 1980 0916 WB: CN 9155-4132-4321-4305-9197-4235 pass the West Tower sign and cross CP's Carberry Sub (top and below) heading west on the Rivers Sub with grain empties, general freight, and cabooses 76571-79492:
In the previous hour, 0831 WB: CP 5930-5773 bang across the diamond with autoracks and piggybacks. At left is the CN-CP connecting track which carried VIA's Canadian from CN Rivers Sub to CP's Carberry Sub at Portage:
Non-enclosed auto racks carry products from the Big Three automakers west out of the morning sun. CN's Rivers Sub is in the foreground, with a signal shed and grain elevator at right. A motorcar set-off beside the shed made a handy railfan seating area. CN's Gladstone Sub is just under the third autorack. Vans on this train were 434509-434582:
That afternoon, this 45-car train, mostly grain empties is travelling west on the Rivers Sub. Check out those spark arrestors, 1348 WB: CN 1367-1352-1076.
Twenty-five minutes later, an amply-powered CN hotshot approaches West Tower, hauling piggybacks, Showa and Dart containers and Datsuns. The heavy rail of CP's Carberry Sub bears signs of regular lubrication of the diamond trackwork. 1413 EB: CN 5215-9506-9549-9470-5199.
Seven minutes after a westbound CN train of potash empties headed up the Gladstone Sub, this CP westbound heads up the Minnedosa Sub. 1431 WB: CP 5714-5505 I had to hike it across a small field to get this photo, as the CP track is quickly diverging to the north here. The train carried a couple of dimensional loads on CP bulkhead flats, empty grain cars, and vans 434460-434455-434503.
This eastbound grain train passes the few boxcars at the United Grain Growers elevator at Eighth St, while the tailend with 434433 is still crossing CN at West Tower, far left. MLW power was rare but not unheard of west of Winnipeg. 1453 EB: CP 5923-8770.
On June 17, 1980 0837 WB: CN 4308-4326-4227. This general freight is westbound on the Rivers Sub the following morning, with lots of grain empties, a C&NW piggyback trailer, ACR gondola and caboose 79265:
Ten minutes later, two Geeps bring in 19 grain loads from the Gladstone Sub. CP has green flags up for a slow order near the diamond. 0847 EB: CN 4303-4327.
Sixteen minutes behind that short grain train comes a healthier train of grain from the Gladstone Sub, plus a Burlington flatcar, UP covered hopper and caboose 79579. CN Rivers Sub is at left, CP Carberry Sub in foreground. 0903 EB: CN 9652-5027.
Running more than two hours late, VIA's Super Continental passses the West Tower signboard. Instead of a Park Car, Athabasca brings up the markers behind Chateau Vercheres and Chateau Rigaud. A redboard shows on the CP-CN connecting track at right. The eastbound Canadian is not expected soon. 0923 EB: VIA 6507-6606-CN 4102.
The last West Tower train is a westbound hotshot with piggyback, containers, Milwaukee Road boxcar, empty CP stock cars and van 434433. In a few minutes, CN 1076-1352-1367 will return with grain loads less than 24 hours after heading west. The sun has reappeared for another pleasant summer-like morning of trainwatching in Portage. 1002 WB: CP 5630-5637-4710.
Some of the views shown here would not be possible today, as trees have grown up around the West Tower area. Train lengths and horsepower have also grown, although if all the units in some of these photos were online, the number of horsepower would have been considerable then too.
The 30th anniversary of the CP Mississauga derailment generated a lot of interest in my hotbox detector post. Does the phrase "Three bubbles, no troubles" ring a bell? I hadn't heard it before, but it means three zeroes on the display board and the train is safe to continue on its way. AKA "All black back to the hack Jack."
Former Oiler Craig Simpson and perky Olympian Jamie Sale' won CBC's Battle of the Blades. This is a Canadian version of Dancing with the Stars, kinda like Skating with the Scars. Everyone is very polite and there's no trash talk save some amiable bickering for the camera during practice. Canadian reality programming at its finest.
My gawd! A brace of SW1200RS's!
A fantastic post! I thrive hertily off of this, my favorite era of the CN, complete with F-Units, Blackwidow SD40s, Geeps, GMD-1s, and GP40Ls.
Thoes SW1200s were I surprise, I didn't think they qualified for light rail operation. That CP RS18 is pretty neat, too!
Another great post, Eric... it's nice to see some of the history of Portage. Standing there today, you can see it used to be a busier place. It's still busy, though!
I was quite taken by the SW1200RS photo too.
Thanks for your kind comments, Robert, Elijah and Steve. I will be doing more of these "A Day At..." posts from Portage and elsewhere. TRAINS magazine has done these, and they give a really good idea of what trains operated on a given day. This takes away the one-off's and guess-what-I-saw's that are sometimes accepted as reality.
Regarding the SW1200RS's, a quick check of my notes shows I saw them over several years running through Portage:
In 1978, 1367-1369-4129 grain train.
In 1979, 1368-1356 work train to Brandon.
In 1980, 1356-1354-4326 73-car westbound freight, plus 1356-4309-4324, and 1353-1354. I guess they are an underphotographed type, as the GMD-1's got a lot of the photographic limelight.
I've ridden many a mile in the SW1200RS. They ran in pairs as the replacement for steam on the varnish on the Prince Rupert Extension in 1957, and required a steam gen car. While the speed limit was 35 on the Skeena Sub, running long nose forward, the bucking and heaving of the engines was dramatic. The short wheelbase was responsible. They had Flexicoils, MU wiring, and "road" number boards. They only lasted about six months, when CNR outfitted a group of GP-9' with heater car remote controls. You can read all about them on my site: www.oil-electric.com
Great post Eric. Those SW1200RS's were still on road trains in 1980, usually on the Emerson, Pine Falls and Steeprock wayfreights with a GP9 spliced in the middle of the consist to provide a toilet.
Love the shot of the ex MILW super dome bringing up the rear of the SC.
Great stuff, great times, thanks for sharing.
A great series of images from West Tower! Not only have the trees grown up, but so have the "No Tresspassing" signs as well. Since I usually confined my trainwatching to the CN station platfoms, with an occasional quick hike across the field to catch a train on the CP, I don't have many pictures at West Tower, so these are a great reference for the way things used to look. It is amazing how what was once routine is now the "I wish I had been around for..." or "wish I had taken more photos of..." stuff. Thanks again for sharing!
Hi Mark and Tyler, thanks for adding to the discussion. Railfanning Portage on foot was the best way to get different vantage points and camera angles. Once I started driving, although I was able to cover more ground faster, my location was more static and certainly didn't include angles I'd used earlier, such as the Skyview Bridge (for obvious reasons). That bridge sidewalk was the best spot for multi-train action, which was otherwise sometimes blocked at ground level.
Stay tuned for more...I have lots of Portage shots of this vintage and will be posting more based on the positive feedback from you guys. At some point I will pen an ode to my trusty Kodak Hawkeye 110-format Instamatic which captured these 1980 shots. Not the best format, but it's all I had at the time and I'm glad I used it until it died, which necessitated my move to 35 mm.
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