Saturday, October 22, 2016

40 Years Trackside AND 40 Years of VIA!

On February 20, 2016 my wife and I drove three miles west of Kingston to the Amherstview sports field at adjacent to Mi 182 of CN's Kingston Sub. I brought with me a 126-format black & white print that my Dad had taken back on my first day of number-taking, way back on February 19, 1976. The trees on the embankment near the water tower have sure grown in! Here's a November 4, 1978 view of this same location, with fellow rail enthusiast Drew Makepeace perched on fencepost at left to get a good view of CN 4518 and a short westbound wayfreight:
As I mentioned in an earlier post on my 40 years of number-taking, February 19, 1976 was not the first day I'd spent trackside, but it was the first day I'd made a point of recording locomotive, car, coach and caboose numbers! So it seemed fitting to mark the anniversary there and my wife graciously agreed to snap a photo for prosperity:
CN did not see fit to sent a juicy eastbound freight through during our visit, as they had 40 years earlier when my Dad snapped me in number-taking action  near the right-of-way fence:
So what has happened since that first day of number-taking? I included some photos in the previous post showing how I'd initially transcribed, recorded and organized those numbers I'd collected. I have the primary data ("notepads") and the secondary data ("Scribblers") available to me. The notepads contain date, time and direction as well as any other data I noted at the time. The scribblers and binders I have maintained since then are time capsules that are easier to review than notepads and scraps of paper! Graphics guru and Portage modeller Randy O'Brien took those images and made this one, which I sepia-toned to make it look 'vintage'! Randy left my dropped mittens intact... well as putting the 12 year-old and 51-year old versions of me together. Why would I turn my back on a PC-BN-SP freight consist, though? Better to look over my own shoulder at the fleeting freight! And boy, do I wish trains were as interesting to watch now as they were then, instead of endless private owner Railboxes, tanks and hoppers - mainly mundane...
Memories get cloudy. Facts get fuzzy. Recollections relegate reality to the backseat. Data properly recorded and maintained continues to give useful, substantive information for years afterwards. Photos show what happened, but not necessarily what and where. Notes can do that. Handwritten, they are ideally accurate as the hand-eye coordination of the recorder. The number of folks that I've met that DO keep detailed number records, either cross-referenced to their photographs or just as numbers, I can count on one hand. Notwithstanding the business-like documentation styles of some of my family  members - see below!

Since 1976, my transcription has matured to include more detail on each train, and more sophisticated format. I can thereby add information to photos beyond what can be visually gleaned from squinting at the photo itself. But except for the books above, everything remains handwritten. While I can't document every train every day, I have documented large swaths of my trainwatching activities. Most of all, it's the collective, collected data transcribed by one person on his journey along Canadian tracks down through four decades.

And it's not too late for you to start taking down numbers and other facts you observe. Spreadsheets, smart phones and social media do a lot of the work for you. Or just start scribbling in a notepad! I did!

Back in 2010, uberVIAphile Jakob Mueller read some of my VIA consists posted on Trackside Treasure and wondered if I could make photocopies of them. It seemed at least difficult, and at most impracticable due to logistics and the volume involved. So I created a book. Well, not overnight. Around October 2010, I posted an initial post on a blog created to track the progress of this book, then two others. With the constant encouragement and co-operation of Jakob and Jason Shron, the book sold over 500 copies. One purchaser commented to me that it was "just a book of train numbers" and that's exactly what I wanted. Then there were two more:

Arguments - settled! Conflicts - avoided! Truth told, backed up and substantiated! These books serve as bulwarks of realism to the pie-eyed watercolours we sometimes ascribe to the past. Their numbers bolster the unreality of the most undocumented memory. I should also have created a book on the CN freight consists observed over the years. But no-one has asked for one of those, though there has been interest in consists documented in Portage la Prairie, MB during my visits there.

Sometimes out of loss can come great joy. When I created my first book, Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Years, I knew I was missing a few months of consists. Perhaps a notebook had gone astray in the 30+ years between recording the consists and preparing the 73-page spreadsheet of 2,700 consists that comprised this premiere volume in my series on VIA Rail. VIA's Canadian was running between Montreal and Toronto on CN's Kingston Sub, but between December 20, 1981 and May 12, 1982 - I had nothing. The first Canadians I observed were on November 16, 1981.

Exactly two years ago, discovering four consist books that my Dad maintained has been quite a revelation. There are 31 new Canadian consists from the missing months! And a ton of other consists, because the books span the years 1981 to 1986, after the end of the Canadians on the Kingston Sub! Including the elusive "two LRC locomotives leading the Canadian"! VIA 6902-6901 hauled a 13-car No 1/55 on July 22, 1982, returning east with a 15-car No 2/44/54 on July 23, 1982. Then, a couple of weeks later on August 5, CN 9583 rescued No 1/55, with stalled 6900-6625 leading 6863 and 13 cars at Kingston!

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm digesting these newly-discovered consists, formatting them into a fourth book that I am currently creating. As well as these scintillating consists, the rest of the book will include research, recollections and reflection on the 40th anniversary of VIA. Where else would you find this stuff!!?!

Running extra...

Watch for updates on this exciting new book project!


Canadian Train Geek said...

Congratulations on 40 years of taking notes, and here's to 40 more!

Still writing in books... the mind boggles. I would find that maddening but I hardly write anything down now.

I punch it all into the computer for easy searchability. Want a photo of CN 2411? I can tell you I've seen it three times, where and when.

However, I think your notes are far more detailed than mine and certainly go decades further back. I never paid a lot of attention to freight cars until recently, and I credit you for inspiring me to look at freight cars more. The hobby deepens..

Eric said...

Thanks for those supportive sentiments, Steve!

Your advantage is that photos are linked to a searchable computer database. My searchable database sounds like this 'flip, flip, flip...' Your system works for you - that's the main thing.

The breadth of boxcars, the depth of depressed centres and the gamut of gondolas - even though I miss the plethora of RR schemes and the rise of leased cars, it's economics and I still look for something less mundane to photograph and note trackside.

Book creation taking place in...coil-bound notebooks, at least before inputting.

Jeffrey said...

Congratulations, Eric, on your 40 years!

I used to be really good about recording information, when taking slides. Each slide, when received back from processing, was labelled with a date stamper, and location and other information.

I tried to maintain this with digital, putting data into a spreadsheet, but soon fell behind, and haven't done anything with it in probably 12 years. I still try to main folder names, so I know more or less where/when photos were taken, but it's very hard to search for anything any more. Bring back slide trays, I say!

Anyway, all the best!

Eric said...

I feel your pain, Jeffrey. I have photos living 'on' my digital card for months and I haven't been going to WalMart or Costco to print them on good ol' paper.

With the number of trains I see and data I record, they're still fairly 'searchable' on paper! Now if I were to go trainwatching more, I would probably be swamped, too!

While our own attempts at documentation seem unsustainable, I still like our chances better than our fellow railfans who don't photograph nor take numbers. Couldn't do it!

Thanks for your comment,

Michael said...

I share your lament about the lack of variety in freight cars these days. It's inspired me to shoot anything remotely interesting on the rails before the old relics disappear. Congrats on 40 years. It may not seem like an important thing to record numbers, but this is how history is recorded.

Eric said...

Great stuff, Michael. Must maintain the mundaneness of freight cars for posterity! Same for numbers, although I really question the wisdom of same during my next post. GO Transit car numbers can seem blisteringly mundane to the max!!
Thanks for your comment,

Drew Makepeace said...

I just stumbled upon this post today. How interesting to see that I made a cameo appearance. On my next trip to Kingston (whenever that is), I should go to Amherstview and try to recreate this scene and perhaps snap a phote of a train if I'm lucky.

Eric said...

We spent quite a few hours there!

Do it!

Thanks for your comment, Drew.