Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sceneramics, Part 2

Sceneramics, Part 1 covered CN's acquisition and use of the ex-Milwaukee Super Domes as Sceneramics. CN even gave cardboard punch-outs of matching A-B F-units, coach and Sceneramic to kids onboard. Speaking of punchouts, looks like there is a fracas in rows 7-8 of the dome, with a different kind of punchout going on. No more red wine for her! More here in this Sceneramic Scequel post!
VIA converted the punch-out artwork for Jasper to their blue & yellow paint scheme from CN's black & white. VIA continued to feature the Sceneramics in their accommodations brochures, albeit with updated passenger fashions. Groovy, baby!
Passengers in Sceneramic dome:
As the cars aged, VIA found the electrical and A/C systems increasingly unreliable and the cars were frequently removed from service. Fraser and Qu'Appelle remained in CN colours until retirement. Athabasca and Columbia were painted in VIA colours (notice the JB initials on the end of the car in the latter photo, denoting sale to J Baldwin - see below) during 1977. At one point, Athabasca even had a crossed-A VIA logo! Jasper and Yellowhead received VIA paint as well.

I reviewed published reports and consists I included in Trackside with VIA: Cross-Canada Compendium Consist Companion. Here is a snapshot of the six Sceneramics' travels during their service careers with CN and VIA in the 1970's, as well as VIA in the 1980's by car, year, location and train number:
1975 Wpg; 1976 Edm No 2; 1977 Jasper No 1; 1980 Vanc No 104; 1980 Jasper No 3;1981 Vanc No 3.
1976 Edm No 2; 1978 Jasper No 1.
1976 Edm No 2; 1976 Wpg No 2; 1978 Edm No 3; 1978 Jasper No 2.
1976 Edm No 1 & 2; 1979 Vanc No 2.
1970 Edm No 1; 1976 Edm No 2.
1972 Jasper No 2; 1976 Edm No 2; 1978 Edm No 2.

I was fortunate to see two Sceneramics in use at Portage la Prairie, MB. A late-running Super (normally due at 0655) happened by eastward at West Tower at 0923 June 17, 1980 with Athabasca bringing up the markers:
On August 25, 1981, a westbound 17-car Super passed through Portage with Columbia trailed by Cabot Manor. This was a fairly common occurrence in 1980: Sceneramic trailing ex-CP sleeper on the Super, likely for safety reasons - providing a vestibule on the trailing car, something the Sceneramics lacked.
This photo from VIA's rainbow era of 1979-1980 shows a CN-painted Sceneramic ahead of a CP-painted Chateau at Edmonton (Brian Schuff collection):
I observed rusting Fraser, in need of repair in CN colours at Winnipeg's East Yard in October, 1980, and again in June 1982 along with Athabasca.
Notice the by-then sorry state of the dome glass: murky, cloudy with various shades of tint. Depending on which seat a passenger sat in, the view would certainly have been 'through a glass darkly'. Lubricants, exhaust and accumulated road grime appeared around the equipment access doors. Here's Fraser (at left) in East Yard in 1982 coupled to Athabasca (at right). (Next four photos by Brian Schuff)
Fraser is rusting away, coupled to an equally rusty ex-CP baggage car 2720, one of another set of coach yard queens - CP smoothside baggage cars that minimal if any service with VIA. Note the tiny lettering at the top left corner of Athabasca's side has been painted out:
Here's another view from the other end of the deadline. Fraser is spending a little time apart from 2720 whose Canadian Pacific-painted number still visible on the end door. Both cars are hemmed in by a cut of covered hoppers - not going anywhere soon!
CN-painted Qu'Appelle also spent some time at East Yard:
In September 1981, just one month before the withdrawal of Sceneramics, Aubrey Mattingly photographed well-weathered (with tiny lettering painted out) Athabasca at Winnipeg (CSTM collection MAT001146) on the station-level tracks:
and CN-painted Qu'Appelle (CSTM collection MAT001143) in East Yard:
Other sidelined Sceneramics included Columbia and a sister, Jasper, in Vancouver in June, 1983.

The cars were removed from service on October 25, 1981 just before the cancellation of the Super on November 15, 1981. The massive November 1981 VIA cuts resulted in the removal of several smaller car series including the Sceneramics, and they were all retired by mid-1982. Athabaska, Qu'Appelle, Columbia and Fraser were sold to Great Western Tours of San Francisco in November, 1983. Jasper and Yellowhead were sold to Tour Alaska in 1984. Dome Lurker's Dome.main for further disposition of the Sceneramics. Interestingly, Jasper, Columbia and Fraser could be found on Amtrak's Auto-Train to and from Florida from 1990 to 1995! Amtrak added dome glass tinting, a dumbwaiter and ventilation to the kitchen, shifted the dining room upstairs while retaining Princess Tours-installed rooftop air-conditioners (this location for A/C was also not problem free).
These two photos show "JB2704" formerly Qu'Appelle, on an excursion in Minnesota in 1984, at Duluth (above-one of the few photos I've seen of a Sceneramic from directly overhead) and Two Harbors (below) (both Tim Vitelli photos). JB apparently refers to J Baldwin, through whom the Sceneramic was conveyed to Great Western Tours.
Interestingly, one car not acquired by CN (ex-MILW 57) returned to Canada for use on BCR's Pacific Starlight Dinner train and Ontario Northland, even having stainless steel side panels added. Check out

I hate to include rumours and unanswered questions, but these cars have spawned more than their share...
  • Did VIA plan to keep the cars in service on CP's scenic mountain route?
  • If so, if the I-series roomettes had indeed caused trouble with tunnel clearance due to their truck centres/grab irons, the Sceneramics would have required tunnel work to increase clearances.Tunnel clearances became an issue with the advent of double-stack containers 15 years later.
  • Was the fifth lounge side window a victin of CN re-design, due to the reconfigured lounge and need for a side loading door?
  • Were the Sceneramics too high for various the Winnipeg Union Station trainshed? At 15'6" maximum height, the cars were four inches shorter than the ex-CP Budd Skylines and Park cars! 
  • Was height an issue when the cars operated in Toronto Union with its trainshed?
  • Did the dome glass become multicoloured shades of grey, green and black due the failure of interior sunproofing film or due to ongoing window pane replacement?
  • What did that tiny, stencilled lettering at the top-left side of each car side actually say??
This tiny lettering has been the source of much discussion among VIAphiles and uberVIAphiles, none of whom have conclusive, definitive proof of what it said. I've just crossed the line from curiosity to obsession, and will be publishing a future post on my theories and some supporting evidence of what it could say.  ****0100 UPDATE: After some late-night sleuthing, I am incredibly ecstatic - I have cracked The Da Sceni Code and all will be revealed in a Postscript later this week. Stay tuned.****
Interior views of VIA Columbia in 1978, reformatted online auction site photos:
 In the upper level (above) and stairs (below)
The Sceneramics added some spice to the consists of CN and VIA. The cars' unique design was a holdover from the last great streamliner era, allowing passengers to see western Canada's trackside scenery from a unique vantage point. (CSTM collection photos CN000549 above, CN002407 below)
It would seem that a combination of design, age, complexity, unique requirements, unconventionality and ultimately a lack of sustainability in an atmosphere of budget cuts led the cars' eventual demise.

Running extra...

It's music time. All this dome car research reminded me of the Hank Snow, Johnny Cash classic I've Been Everywhere. Get the tune in your head then come along with me on this lyrical, glass-covered musical medley across the decades and the continent:

I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere man,
crossed the coach yard bare man, I've breathed that diesel air man,
Dome travel I've had my share man, I've been everywhere.

I've been a Super Dome, Vista Dome, Ultra Dome, Pleasure Dome,
Skyline, Domeliner, dome diner, Superliner
Three-Quarter Dome, Turbo Dome, Princess Dome, Astra Dome,
Great Dome, Big Dome, what the hell's a microtome?
Yoho, Tremblant, Kokanee, Kootenay
Bring your guitar, we're gonna have a hootenanny,

I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere man,
Groovy 70's hair man, purple and bright red chair man,
Why not climb the stairs man, I've been everywhere.

I've been on UP, CP, CN, GN,
eastbound, westbound, northbound, southbound,
Jasper, Casper, Cisco, San Francisco,
Evansburg, Hinton, Alberta sunlight all a-glintin'
Shasta, Hiawatha, Super Con, El Capitan,
On the City of Everywhere, puttin' Brylcreem in my hair

I've served up cocktails, mocktails, pink Pepto-Bismol,
Labatt Blue, Fifty, Canadian Club kinda nifty,
Getting cloudy, VIA needs some glass replacing!
Forward-facing, rear-facing, traffic-pacing, mountain-facing,
Hogtown, Cowtown, Winnipeg windy downtown,
Athabasca, I-tasca, say boy wha'd I ask ya?

Yes, I've been ev-ery-where...strum!


Sir said...

Thank you for all your great work on this blog Eric....


Zartok-35 said...

It's nice to finally see the manor-bracketed Columbia in color! I guess they were trying hard to combine sleeping accommodations and dome lounge in place of an actual Park car that morning.

Oh, and your song lyrics are fabulous! E-series844 should perform that sometime.

Eric said...

Warren, thanks for your kind words. Work, but fun work, actually mostly fun.

Elijah, definitely a Park car stand-in, but I think the point about no vestibule exit was also important. The Skyviews/Skytops were removed from operation because there was only one exit.

The dome song? About 26 minutes of work there, but fun work.

Thanks for your comments,

One Man Committee said...

Wonderful post. I have vague childhood memories of seeing Sceneramic cars stored at Winnipeg's East Yard but unfortunately never had the chance to ride them before VIA sold them off. I was always curious about them...even though the dome appears to have a lower profile than the Budd ex-CP domes, I still think they would have been an interesting way to experience the passing landscape!

Eric said...

Thanks, OMC. They were indeed coach yard queens at the end of their careers. I don't think I ever rode one, not even in '68 when we went Montreal-Vancouver on CN.

That East Yard, boy there was a place where one never knew what would show up next. I couldn't get off the train fast enough during the layover to get down in there!


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this Eric. I really liked the Sceneramics. I first saw them as part of a display train at Transcona with Pierre Delagrave there in 1964. I rode in them from Edmonton to Vancouver in 1964 on the Panorama all the way from Jasper to Vancouver in daylight. The view out the sides was good as can be seen in some of your pictures, but not as good a forward view as the small domes.
I like the picture of the interior of the 2nd layout. A story I heard was the first trip of a car with these couches there were some coach? passengers who slept there and trashed the cars.
I have pictures of my wife and son and my dad and I in the third layout. This was a very nice lounge and always right next to the diner. There seemed to be some kind of coating on some of the windows and caused glare.
Milwaukee had a 32 volt electrical system and CN put in 220 volt enginators. I don't know if they were the same enginators as in the dinette and sleeper-lounge cars.

Barry Williams
Mission BC

Eric said...

My pleasure, Barry. Great to have you aboard, and I appreciate your comments and experience with these unique cars.

Certainly they weren't known for their view quality, but there was a ton of passenger capacity compared to Skylines or Parks.


Dan Garcia said...

Eric, I don't think that exits from the Superdomes were an issue at all. There were at least two - one at either end of the car. And they were certainly far from the only cars in the fleet without vestibules as well - consider all of the various dining cars, or rebuilt equipment such as the café-coach-lounges.

The Skytops, on the other hand, had no exits whatsoever from their trailing ends. Short of breaking a window, there was no way to exit from the tail end of the car other than running to the forward end.

Eric said...

Hi Dan,
I raise it as a possibility because the Manor car trailing the Sceneramic apparently happened fairly regularly in the late VIA era. During the CN/VIA mid-train era, there were indeed vestibules nearby.

Worst case scenario...dome and lounge full of passengers, fire, blocked end doors...check out Randy Z's comments in Part 1 about the conflicting door openings from the bathroom! Perhaps the Skyview situation spooked VIA. At least Park cars had a rear door.

Thanks for your comment, Dan, and watch for more on the tiny lettering next post!

David said...

Great post. Just wondering if you have seen a better photo
of Jasper in Via colors. Saw Jasper in CN colors in June
1980 in Vancouver on # 3.


Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, David. Very kind of you, and I'll answer your question with a question...did you photograph Jasper on No 3 in CN colours in 1980? I don't have Jasper in VIA at all.


David said...

Yes do have photo. How to get to you.

Okotoks AB

Eric said...

Hi David,

Superb. Can you email me a scan at:

Thanks very much,

Anonymous said...

Someone should ask Dan Garcia what its like working for Jason S. It must be utter hell to be "under" that tyrant....can you imagine the demands ??

Mike Vallee

Eric said...

Hi Mike,

I'll reply to your comment because I believe in engaging in a conversation about anything even tangentially related to this blog, though I can't really see myself getting in too deep on the subject of personalities.

I've met both Dan and Jason, and they seem to be earnest, enthusiastic and well-adjusted fellows to my untrained eye. Whether we might agree with Jason's ways or not, he is taking a risk and doing his thing, which a lot of people are thankful for that.

If I could work for a company that dealt with model trains, I would think I'd landed a dream job. I've worked with some tyrants in my time, in non-dream jobs, and they made some demands, too.

Two sayings come to mind...
"The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on", and there seem to be a lot of dogs barking at the Rapido Trains caravan; and "An army needs a general, but a general also needs an army". No-one who owns a business of Rapido's scope can do it all himself.

I have Dan's email address, and would be happy to send it to you.