Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CP's Portage Switchers

Each morning in Portage la Prairie, a diminutive diesel coughed to life.  Emerging from a tree-lined grove in the 2x4-framed, green-fenced former CP station garden, it crossed Third Street NE to the yard paralleling the CP Carberry Sub.  Grabbing a cut of cars, it was REV-STOP-KICK, REV-STOP-KICK until the cut was switched out.  Tying onto a wooden end-cupola van, our little train pulled out of the yard and wandered west to the Campbell's Soup plant located northwest of town, off CP's Minnedosa Sub, at 500 15th Street NW.
Working the yard in 1982 (above) as a westbound grain train behind CP 5760-5609 pulled in, setting out two reefers. I had first happened upon S-3 6569 in June, 1976 (L.C. Gagnon photo):
During my visits to Portage over the next several years, it remained the assigned switcher. Can you spot 6569?  Far right, heading past the UGG elevator near West Tower, ducking behind CN's section car shed:
One of CP's last five S-3's, disposed of in June 1986, 6569 could be seen in Winnipeg between March and August, 1986. Passing through Smiths Falls, Ontario on September 24, 1986, the unit was interchanged to CN in October en route to scrapping in Contrecoeur, Quebec.  On June 13, 1982 a westbound coal empties train behind 5792-5533 cross Third Street NE, passing that shady station garden to drop off 6599 after 6569 had been lifted the day before, likely for maintenance in Winnipeg:
Before 1976, CP's switcher in Portage was 6513 now stuffed and mounted in Brandon, and before that a 1957-built DTC (Diesel Torque Converter). DTC's were the last locomotives built by the Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston.  These little pullers weighed in at 44 tons, thus obviating the then-need for a firemen while in light yard service.  Though this was before my time, it would have been neat to see this mighty mouse's siderods spin! Ken Goslett's undated photo from Bill Linley's Morning Sun Books CP Western Lines volume, showing Campbell's water tower behind the script-lettered van:
Besides Campbell's Soup. the Portage switcher tended industries west of the station: UGG and MPE elevators, Cominco Elephant and Engro fertilizer dealerships, and the small storage yard north of the main line.  East of the station, there was the team track/ramp, CN interchange, and McCallister Pea and Seed. 

Here's a history of the Campbell's plant, from the Manitoba Historical Society:
In January 1957, Manitoba premier Douglas L. Campbell announced that the US-based Campbell Soup Company Limited would build a soup manufacturing plant on the west end of Portage la Prairie to supplement its existing plant at Toronto. Construction of the 125,000-square-foot plant, designed by the Winnipeg architectural firm of Green Blankstein Russell and Associates, began in June 1958. It consisted of five one-storey brick buildings, four of which were used for manufacturing, and a separate one-storey brick building for administrative offices, employee cafeteria, executive dining room, and staff changing rooms. 

A railway spur to the plant allowed up to five boxcars at a time to be loaded from its warehouse, and a tower on site provided water for the facility. Completed in mid-1960 at a cost of some $5 million, the plant became fully operational by the Fall of 1960, opening officially on 4 October 1960. It employed 170 people to take large quantities of peas, corn, potatoes, celery, onions, mushrooms, parsley, barley, poultry, and beef to produce 17 of the company’s 21 varieties of soup, as well as frozen food products, macaroni and spaghetti.

In its first decade of operation, the facility was expanded with a freezer-warehouse in 1964, a mushroom-growing farm in 1966, and a product warehouse in 1968. By the latter year, the plant was making 30 varieties of soup, using 90,000 tons of raw materials annually.
In August 1989, the company announced that the plant would close in December 1990, after 30 years of continuous operation, and transfer its production to a much larger plant near Toronto, Ontario. Today, parts of the huge former factory are used for storage by local businesses and private persons, and part is a factory for building materials. The administrative office building is abandoned and overgrown. 

Phil Mason kindly shared two photos of CP switchers at Portage, near their home across from the station:
CP 21 with  Procor tank car on May 24, 1972 (above) and CP 6609 in 1983 (below) with CP station/Portage water tower visible at right:
Portage-assigned end-cupola vans included 437179 in 1976, 437103 in 1979, 437000 in 1981 and 437182 in 1986.  Brian Schuff photo of CP 437000:
In June 1982, an eastbound 129-car freight behind CP 5918-5552 meets a westbound extra behind 5778-8618.  In the yard with insulated car CN 286527 (not visible in this photo) are Portage's end-cupola van and script-letter Controlled Temperature refrigerator car:
A view from Third Street NE north of the CP mainline shows a westbound freight, cuts of grain cars, and the local's van and cars deeper in the yard, at left. (Following colour photos by D.J. Gagnon)  Note the characteristic tall CP switchstand, equipped with reflective marker but target-less, and shorter yard switchstands.
Most commonly seen heading for Campbell's in the morning and afternoon, here are some of the short consists from 1976, mostly CP and CN 40-foot/50-ton and 50-foot/70-ton insulated boxcars.  A major distribution centre for western Canada, Campbell's loaded CP and CN cars, with the latter interchanged to CN in the Portage yard:
  • July 5: CN 291287 canned goods to Saskatoon
  • July 5 1522 WB: 6569-CN 286144-CP 165292-NAHX 166513-CP 437179
  • July 5 1615 EB: 6569-CN 291694-CN 286166-CP 166086-CP 166581-CN 291267-CP 437179
  • July 6 1522 WB: 6569-CP 165055-CP 165190-CN 291635-CN 286523-CP 437179
In summer 1986, SW900 6719 had taken over for 6569, switching grain cars in the yard (above) and departing with van 437182 black-lined for disposition, in tow for Campbell's (below):
In June 1987, 6719 was still at work towing insulated cars around:
CN 86-foot hi-cube boxcars likely brought in canstock to Campbell's. A westbound train of grain empties approaches as CP ore cars fill the small storage yard.  I had the opportunity to tour the plant in 1978.  Free soup!  Campbell's was incorporated in Canada in 1930, the Portage plant opened in 1961, before closing in 1991 as distribution patterns changed.  Though a typical grocery store contains 17,850 different items, a typical Canadian household still contains eight cans of Campbell's soup.
Brian Schuff photographed SW900's 6714 and 6719 across from the CP station. Brian recalls 6569 having a hot-start electrical plug-in as opposed to the more common oil-fuelled watchman heater, as well as a provincial psychiatric facility in Portage's north end that received shipments of coal for heating, that had been switched by CP.

In June, 1988 former Brandon switcher (1983-1986) SW900 6714 was approaching Campbell's:
The SW900's were in turn dealt away by CP after 1990, with 6714 toiling at IPSCO in Regina, Sask.
6719 sans multimark:
Since the last SW's were swept out of town, a CP Geep living behind a chainlink fence enclosure in the yard emerge to switch Portage's large industries west of town: Can-Oat and Simplot as well as the McCain plant, while hauling a windows-welded-over Angus van rider platform.  Here's CP 3106 safely ensconced (Manny Jacob photograph) and well-weathered:
There's more on Portage switchers, potently posted in this postscript.

Running Extra...

Just finished listening to former CNN national security analyst Peter L. Bergen's book Manhunt which tells the story of the years-long hunt for Osama.  This recording would have been better if read by the author, yet tells a ripping good yarn about the back-burnered yet eventually successful operation.  

Best story from the book?  Obama chiding a top military official for not packing a measuring tape to ensure it was six-foot-four Osama's body.  You crashed a sixty million-dollar helicopter in the compound and you couldn't spend $1.99 on a tape measure??  The official was later presented with a gold-painted tape measure mounted on a wall plaque for his oversight.

On a Yahoogroup I belong to, today someone asked the following question..."Does anyone still buy horn-hook couplers or does everyone just throw them out?"  Dude, some of us still use them on our layouts.  Watch for an upcoming post on this very productive and prolific black plastic paradigm. To me,  McHenry is a prototype McDonald's chocolate bar, and Kadees refer to boxes of Kraft dinner.


Zartok-35 said...

Beautiful stuff, as always! Looks like a fascinating operation to observe. It's nice that for awhile ALCo switchers were common place out west, if the "Big Ms" were not. Good to finally see some wooden vans from after the 1970s, too! Thanks for sharing.

Steve Boyko said...

LOVE this, Eric! Such great information.

I gave a bag of horn hook couplers away before I moved to Winnipeg. :)

Eric said...

Thanks, guys, for your kind comments. Frankly, I think I took the little switcher for granted. It had something like its own personality. It knew it owned the place, and would occasionally let visiting freights lift and set. It literally just burbled along throughout the day, always seemingly with something to do.

Elijah, definitely a holdover from an earlier era, especially with the wooden vans!

Thanks too, Steve for your horn-hook memories. I predict I will be the last horn-hooker in Canada! Watch for an upcoming post...


Jason said...

Great post Eric!

Lord Darth McIan said...

Perfect timing Eric! I had just dug out my P2K CP S3 to ponder it's fate. Now it has a home - along with all those insulated boxcars I've been building for some reason.

Now, I need to find another Kaslo plywood sheathe van...

This is pure gold!!

Any idea why the ore cars were in storage in PLaP? Hiding until they took the final run to Mandak?

You really need to do a PLaP book...

Thanks for this post!


Eric said...

Thanks Jason and Ian for your kind comments.

I really have to thank my brother Dave, as well as Brian and Manny for their photo contributions to this post, which really helped update it since my last visit to Portage.

I have two CP S-3's for my Vancouver Wharves layout - one each script and CP Rail red. They are equally at home there as 6569 was in Portage, and were a major factor in my change of modelled locale.

The ore cars? Weird. Don't know, perhaps indeed scrapping, brought in from BC heading to Mandak. During my earlier visits, there were lots of boarding cars stored or in service there; watch for a future post on these CP re-used classics.

I think Portage would make a great switching layout, either CP, CN or both. The interchange would be a logical connection between the two railways, and would generate daily traffic. There are enough industries (mainly on CP) to keep the switcher busy, plus the mainline connections constantly lifting and setting out.

Hey, I could design a layout plan!

Ian, you're not the first to suggest a book on Portage. I really think it was a great time to be there, and you can be sure there will be many future posts on this, the railway (almost longitudinal) centre of Canada!

Thanks again,

Lord Darth McIan said...

Hey Eric;

Ever since this post, I've seriously considered modelling PLaP. My original idea was to do CP from Winnipeg westward, but PLaP is sound more and more intriguing.

I'd love to see a layout plan, with the focus being on CP, but with some CN - after all I need somewhere to run Jason's upcoming GMD1s, and I'd sure like to find a reason to buy some of those Atlas GP40-2Ws and the Athearn GP38-2Ws...


Eric said...

Ian, let's see what's happened since my comment about designing a layout plan...

I dusted off my schematic from the 'Trackside Modelling Portage, 1984' post. I'm completing the schematic east from the Skyview Bridge to East Tower (watch for an upcoming post about East Tower in steam days). I will be adding more CN trackage, including the 5+ interchage tracks with CP.

Using Googlemaps helped with some of the trackage, as did various other resources at hand.

Next steps...designing a layout based on the schematics. You'll be able to choose...since Portage is overwhelmingly straight trackage, a shelf layout of CP or CN, or a larger table-type layout featuring both. The first-ever bisectable track plan, depending on which railway is the modeller's favourite?

Anyway, the enthusiasm this post has generated is palpable, and as I think it's a totally modelable prototype, I think there'll be interest from modellers. Perhaps it'll make it to Canadian Railway Modeller, based in that city located 55 miles east of Portage :)

Thanks to you and the other readers for your comments which have spawned this process...


Anonymous said...

Dear Eric, Im BACK. The PlaP stuff looks great on the blog. Been shooting at Portage since 1981 and have seen some changes. Have Russ Porter slides of CP 11 at Portage in 1959-Aug and remember 6569 like it was yesterday. The MLW chirp and whine sounds can not be dulicated in an Atlas S series 2-3-or4. Of note is Mark Perry article in Mar 2013 TRAINS on the GWWD. As always, Mark has brought attention the western CDA. I have a KASLO CP resin van with plywood sides, possible for sale? Will talk later,I-Spy.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments and memoris of shooting the Portage switchers, Brian.

Good for Mark keeping it Canadian in TRAINS. Yes, we do have interesting rail operations north of the 49th parallel!

I'll be adding some more posts on Portage-area elevators - always something new around the bend!


Tyler said...


Great post!

Now that I have a new basement, I'm redesigning the CP/CN Portage layout plan I had started building in a spare bedroom in my old house to fit the new space. Like one of the other readers who left a comment, my focus is on CP but I'm incorporating CN.

Although Campbell's was gone by 1992, I'm compromising a bit toincorporate an industry to represent the Campbell's/Simplot/McCain activity at Portage. I may also extend the lifespan of MPE B by a few years to capture the unique two-railroad loadout capability.


Eric said...

Hi Tyler,

It's like we share the same brain...

That's exactly the focus I was thinking of for my layout plan. Portage being in such a vegetable-producing area, as well as grain, such an industry be it Campbell's or McCain's is a must-have. As is the joint-service elevator, the only one of its kind that's not a terminal elevator.

We'll have to selectively compress the distances, and I have no problem with blurring timelines slightly as well, to incorporate all the 'good stuff'!

The interchange track would be a good traffic-generator for either modelled railway, CN or CP.

Let the designing begin!
Thanks very much for your comment,

Anonymous said...

hi eric just thought you would like to know cp 6719 is still working today.she shunt scrap steel to are steel factory in selkirk mb and move finished product to our cp main line.i know this because i m the electrician keeping her going len

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, Len. Great to know you're keeping her on the rails!

I gather that your operation gets lots of rail cars for scrapping, and that in years past, large cuts of cars came up from the US for this reason.

Not too many such switchers in service these days!

Thanks for your comment,

Bill said...

My father, Pete Barnett, worked as brakeman/switchman on the little grey-and-purple yard engine ( donkey engine) along with Tom Ward Frank Darling ( hogger) Stan Purdy, hauling new cans to Campbell's and bringing back filled cars.

Eric said...

Thanks for adding that memory of yours, Bill. The Campbell's plant was switched twice a day during my time there, a couple of decades later!