Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CN Countdown 6218, July 1971

Having experienced more than a few fantrips in my post-steam era young life, the importance was lost on me of the 'Countdown 6218' fantrips that operated in Quebec and Ontario, before 6218's subsequent preservation in Fort Erie, ON. Five other fantrip locomotives had operated more than 150 fantrips during the 11 years of CN's steam excursion program: 5107, 6153, 6167 and 6218.
These fantrips ranged across CN's eastern network, from the Grand Trunk Western, through Ontario and Quebec, into New England. Returning from Essex Junction, VT, 6218's train pauses on Montreal's South Shore in May, 1966 (L.C. Gagnon photo - above. - he also photographed 6218 during locomotive exchanges in 1964, posted on my brother's blog here.).  Railway enthusiast clubs that organized the trips, such as Toronto's Upper Canada Railway Society, had a regular mailing list, sending out brochures on upcoming trips:
Regular use of steam on CN had ended in April, 1960, but on July 10 of that year, 6167 operated an Upper Canada Railway Society fantrip to Niagara Falls. Susequently, 6167 operated in Ontario, 6153 in Quebec, and 6218 was the last CN steam locomotive overhauled at Stratford, making her debut in the fall of 1964. I was a few months old. Boiler extensions for 6218 continued to become shorter, and CN decided to operate the final excursions to usher out what appeared to be end of their steam fantrip era.
Countdown 6218 the name given to the program orchestrated by the Montreal-based St Lawrence Region Department of Public Relations. On June 26, a Montreal-Ottawa trip was operated, with another fantrip held between Montreal-Victoriaville the next day. The following weekend, July 3 and 4 would find Belleville the site of 6218's final runs.
Consists for the Belleville-Anson Junction 40-mile round trip comprised heavyweight commuter coaches from Montreal, along with 110-volt outlet-equipped baggage car 9241 for tape recording-making railfans in the pre-cassette era.  CN documents discovered at Belleville, pertaining to the Montreal-Belleville movement give some indication of the precision, attention to detail, and just plain class that CN operated with at the time, being very much in the public eye and wanting to put on a good show in the railway town of Belleville:

The trip from Montreal to Belleville was not uneventful. Just west of Kingston, 6218 encountered stoker trouble, as the Kingston Whig-Standard reported:
There were five trips made on the day we rode, July 3: departing 0800, 1045, 1330, 1715 and 2000. The 12-car train was wyed at Anson Junction before its return to Belleville. (Interestingly, the Montreal excursions included CC&F 1950-54 coaches refurbished at Pointe St Charles and Transcona Shops, plus dinette car 427.)The first run was adorned with a banner on 6218's pilot for the retirement of engineer Ralph Turner, as pictured in the September, 1971 TRAINS magazine:
On July 4, 0800 and 1045 trips were made before official ceremonies held at 1600. The cars used in 6218's Sunday very last blast west out of Belleville were baggage car, sleeping car Preston and out-of-retirement business car Pacific. Although wearing CN black and white, Pacific would reappear in 1973 in the striking green, gold-lettered, wafer-adorned CNR scheme. In both cases, she hosted a memorabilia shop for numerous fans who had travelled from all over the eastern US and Canada. During his remarks from the rear platform of a CN observation car, likely Bedford, parked opposite the three-car official train at Belleville, CN Vice-President Transportation and Maintenance Keith Hunt, representing NJ MacMillan, Chairman and President of CN, intimated that CN would investigate another restored steam locomotive for fantrip use! Two years later, CNR 6060 would do just that, operating its premiere fantrip on September 15, 1973, the beginning of a successful 7+ year excursion career in Ontario and Quebec that would see me riding behind her Vanderbilt tender at least three times, including my fifth-ever Trackside Treasure post about our September, 1979 ride north of Toronto.
From the collection of Keith Hunt, via his daughter Lynn (Hunt) Beach, here are the clearance (above) and train order (below) for 6218's last run. These were handed from Mr Hunt to engineer Carmen Guest, who then ascended to 6218's cab, reversing the three-car train to Belleville East and rearing up for a roaring runpast through the yard into the afternoon sun and the sunset of this venerable locomotive's service career.
Kingston's Liz Reid kindly shared a Bill Reid photo taken on the Countdown weekend - they were there, too! Can you find the billboard consist? Hint - it's not the RS18 with its headlight on.
A list of UCRS steam, diesel and transit fantrips appeared in the June, 1983 UCRS Newsletter. Accounts of the last runs at Belleville appeared in the July, 1971 UCRS Newsletter and the July-Aug 1996 BRS Branchline.

This is the first of a three-part series. Watch for subsequent posts on a family account of the Countdown 6218 fantrip as well as the unique billboard cars that CN displayed on that eventful weekend.

Randy O'Brien of Niagara Falls sent a link to some photos of himself with two subsequent generations visiting 6218 - now preserved at the Fort Erie Railway Museum.

Running extra...

Well, it's not smoke from a steam locomotive, it's a GE in the springtime sun! CN No 376 with 8903-2522 and DPU IC 2700 smokily approaches Mi 178 Kingston Sub on April 11*

*Remember Leanin' Tree Christmas Cards? How about leanin' pole - the current state of CN's vintage S&C infrastructure on the Kingston Sub.

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