Saturday, July 27, 2013

Model the Prairies' Railway Environment

Railways were the raison d'etre for many Prairie towns. Towns would vie to have their place on the lines that radiated out from Winnipeg in the railway and settlement boom at the turn of the 20th century. Railway structures, their prominent placement, associated facilities and increased train traffic gave towns prestige and employment opportunities, as well as a way to grow as passengers and goods arrived at their doorstep. Still-active stockyards, CP Rail wooden and 'window' stock cars, grain elevator, and station at Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, seen from VIA's Park car on a rainy day in 1986 (below). Read more about the Prairies' Natural Environment and Built Environment.
The grandeur of structures was understandably lacking in many cases, as many towns' railway structures and facilities were built quickly, establishing the railways' presence seemingly overnight.
Preserved Duchess station, at Brooks & District Museum, 1986.
Major junctions and division points grew to include extensive railway infrastructure, including roundhouses, shops, yards, water towers and maintenance facilities. Sometimes these served several branchlines radiating out from a central point on the map. The CP operator in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba hoops up orders to an eastbound grain train powered by CP 5633-5756, Angus van 434539 with markers trails boxcar CP 267199 on July 6, 1976:
By the mid-1980's, when I took most of these photos, the Prairie branch line network was convulsing under the pressure of rationalization, the end of the Crow Rate, and simple geography and economics. Though efforts were still being made to serve the branchline network, many of these were temporary measures to appease farmers' groups, government agencies, railways' finances and the public, who were seeing their way of life morph and slip away.
Remnants of Canadian Pacific presence remain at Rignold, Manitoba (top) and MacGregor, Manitoba (above). Speeder sheds, one-room stations and related structures like privies can still be modelled on a 1980's layout. Needless to say, depending on the era modelled, the number and layout of tracks and lineside buildings would vary. An overhead view of CP's busy Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan yard in 1981 shows a mix of Soo Line cars passing through the yard, CP lumber cars and in the background, new Canadian government covered hoppers mixed with Alberta and Saskatchewan cars:
There's no comparing a small 30,000 bushel elevator with a two-car spot, to an inland terminal of today, capable of loading an entire train on multiple tracks. The former is served by a long, diverging CN siding at Shonts, Alberta as this vestibule view from VIA No 4 shows:
In the modern era, agricultural equipment still arrived at town unloading ramps, including combines, tractors and whatever else would fit on a flat car. John Deere pull-type combine and pickup headers on a Milwaukee Road flat car await unloading at the ramp on CN in Watrous, Saskatchewan:
More often than not, road builders chose to parallel established rail lines. The Trans-Canada Highway parallels the CP mainline in Saskatchewan (below). This closeness led to the lack of economic justification to maintain lightweight branchlines in the late 20th century where road service eventually usurped the railways' monopoly. It was responsible for the abandonment of large sections of the spidery branchline network of the Prairies, while subdivisions capable of supporting heavier cars were rehabilitated, though some of these were also later abandoned.
When it comes to modelling the trains of the Prairies, it's not all grain. Yes, large numbers of grain cars moved daily in grain extras to the Lakehead, Churchill or West Coast for export. Later, this traffic also moved to eastern Canada or south into the US as the Canadian railways expanded.  Unit trains of coal, sulphur, intermodal, lumber and general freight should also be prototypically modelled on mainlines. Branchline trains should include maintenance-of-way equipment, fuel, building materials, and farm machinery. You can find photos of these trains elsewhere on this blog. A CP ballast train heads north on the Minnedosa Sub on its way to rehabilitate a distant branchline, in September 1985:
In terms of locomotives and rolling stock, consider using appropriate prototypes for the trains mentioned above. The Prairies' ubiquitous Geeps and GMD-1's, F's and SD's should make an appearance. Beware of modelling single units trundling down branchlines in the diesel era. Turntables or wyes were needed to turn steam engines, but more often in the diesel era, multiple units and run-around tracks were used upon reaching the end of their run or the end-of-steel.

1913 splice bar/85 lb rail on CP's Colonsay Subdivision (above); storm front along the CP main line west of Medicine Hat, AB (below)
"Onward the track moved, cutting the plains in two.  This had been the Great Lone Land, unfenced and unbridged, which the early explorers had described as if it were on the dark side of the moon.  The line of steel made Butler's phrase obsolete, for the land would never again be lonely.  All that summer it reverberated with the clang of sledge and anvil, the snorting of horses and mules, the hoarse puffing of great engines, the bellowing of section bosses, the curses of thousands of sweating men, and the universal song of the railroad navvies: 'Drill, ye tarriers, drill'." 
- Pierre Berton The National Dream/ The Last Spike
"Government land was free up to a limit of a quarter section; the homesteader who worked it for three years was given title to it and could in addition, pre-empt an adjoining quarter section.  Those immigrants who bought CPR land in the forty-eight-mile belt along the railway paid five dollars an acre.  As many as twenty-five hundred settlers left Winnipeg every week on trains with every car crammed.  The CPR by April was able to take them as far as the tent town of Moose Jaw, four hundred miles to the west.  Both Moose Jaw, with its 'bare, freckled and sunburnt buildings' and Medicine Hat, another canvas town in a coulee of that name, were in the same category: "See one, see all."  The North West of Canada, once so haunting and so mysterious, was being transformed by the onslaught of the rails."
-Pierre Berton  The National Dream / The Last Spike

Running extra...

Another week, another Trackside Treasure poll... 
Since we're looking at modelling the Prairies, would readers consider modelling this beautiful and wide-open part of Canada? Yes, apparently they would. If designing a new model railway, 31% of respondents said the Prairies would be their choice. Farther west, 18% favoured BC, and in the east, 6% each voted for Quebec and the Maritimes. Nobody chose Newfoundland, nor the fictional but ascendent, highly curvy fictional area named Helixland! Ontario squeaked by with the majority: 37%. Thanks to all those who participated.

Speaking of modelling Prairie motive power, Rapido Trains is sponsoring a nearly nationwide tour to promote their new GMD-1. After years of wandering in the wilderness of unsuitable motive power, having to use expensive brass or kitbashed oddities, Jason and the Rapido roustabouts are finally about to right this injustice. Go west, young man!

Welcome Trackside Treasure's newest reader, days-old Prince George of Cambridge! Does it seem like a coincidence to you that George was born at 4:24 pm (a la C-424) and that grandfather Prince Charles visited notable British steamer Mallard to celebrate its 75th anniversary? Here's a steamy photo.

Coming soon, Trackside Treasure's fifth anniversary! Woo-hoo! Along with the customary anniversary blog post, there will be cake in the shape of a blog, blog-shaped cookies, blogger party hats and....Oops, I did it again. I got carried away. There will be a contest however, with the prize being Library-in-a-Box (working title).


Zartok-35 said...

Good to finally see a nice detailed shot of a semi-dismantled combine! Too bad it's so difficult to find scale models of the pull-type units. Mr. Gagnon, have you ever considered doing up a post about all the farm machinery and other unusual equipment you've seen on flatcars? Providing you have enough examples to make such a thing possible.
Looking forward to that 'Trackside treasure prize pack'!

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, Elijah.

I sometimes wonder if one of the design criteria for farm implements that would be rail-delivered was 'must fit on flat car'. Yes, I probably do have enough material to complete a post as you suggest. In addition, I will be doing a series on dimensional loads - there's some crazy stuff!

I trust the prize pack will be arriving there shortly. The Fifth Anniversary contest will soon be upon us, and early indications are that it will not be easy!


Bryan said...

Great shot of the ballast train!

And yes, Prince Charles was indeed railfanning at a museum during the Royal Labour!

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, Bryan.

It is definitely possible to see an entire train on the Prairies, i.e. the ballast train. Of course the repetitive pattern of the cars adds to the effect!

I really am pleased about little Prince George, and a Google search reveals a picture of him and his parents with a map of northern British Columbia!


BArailsystem said...

These photos are priceless. Thank you for sharing them Eric. I especially like that one of the John Deere pull type combine on the flat car. Those combines themselves are becoming a rarity on the prairies. Cool to see one brand spanking new ready to be delivered.

Zartok-35 said...

The Prize pack came in the mail today! Thanks allot, I'm loving the 1978 VIA Timetable!

Eric said...

Hi Ben and Elijah -

Glad the prize pack arrived OK, Elijah - enjoy!

Ben, watch for more implements on rails in an upcoming post. It seems that the ag eqpt industry is now too de-centralized/merged/offshore and that the equipment is too large for these shipments to exist today.
But back in the eighties....

Thanks for your comments,

train50ca said...

Nice finish to your 3 part series on "Modelling the Prairies". As always, informative and inspiring.

Eric said...

Thanks for your kind comments, t50. It was nice to feature some (mainly) non-rail photos, plus engage in my 30+ year interest in the Prairies.

Of course this series will spawn more Prairie-related posts...individual subdivisions (CN's Wainwright Sub is the next one up), Elephant elevators and solitary elevators.