Friday, January 5, 2018

CP's Imperial Tobacco Spur

Canadian Pacific's three-track route between Montreal's Windsor Station and Glen Yard included a unique and seldom-seen model railway-like device: a switchback. Switchbacks are perhaps an overused device in scale, but on the prototype are used to conquer a vertical separation over a narrow, confined horizontal distance. Like in mountain logging regions, iron ore mines, and in faraway places like the Andes of South America. But on a Canadian Class 1?? This one descended 80 feet below the CP mainline, to serve nine team tracks, a freight shed and a number of industrial sidings. Chief among these was the large Imperial Tobacco cigarette factory, hence the name of the trackage - the Imperial Tobacco spur.
Faced with a challenge of serving customers well below the aforementioned three tracks, CP constructed a switchback in 1910, diverging off the south track westerly, from a switch immediately west of Greene Avenue. (CP had already built a small yard with a freight shed north of their trackage in Westmount in 1907, though most industries that would ship using the CP were in St-Henri, below the escarpment. Too steep for horse-drawn wagons to negotiate the grade up to Westmount, the Grand Trunk Railway - later CN - knew this, all the while promoting and exploiting its presence in the area.)

Initially, a freight transfer between the main CP freight yard and St-Henri handled the operation. In later years, the Glen switcher served St-Henri, following the evening commuter rush. This job was colloquially known as 'The Peanut'. After completing its work, the cars were taken to CP's main yard and the power returned to the Glen.
Full disclosure - my involvement and experience with this spur is next to nil. I rode past it on VIA's Dayliner to Lachute in 1981 (opposite side of the train!) and over a decade later when our family rode an MUCTC commuter out-and-back run to Valois. But access to the spur is so well-camouflaged - tunnel-like -  as to be nearly invisible from onboard. When the 720 Expressway (apparently now being demolished) was built in the same alignment that CP used to carry its lines, the switchback was even  more invisible to the naked commuter eye. (That's naked eye, not naked commuter- Ed.)

My minimal connection to this spur reached an unexpected, zealous zenith back in 1989, via a chance purchase of a copy of the June 1989 issue of Model Railroading magazine which appeared to have Canadian content (top photo) - CP and ONR. Showing the issue to my Dad, little did I know that this obscure line was actually something that loomed large in his past, since he had grown up in Westmount and travelled on CP West Island commuter trains between Westmount and Windsor Station. On the cover of this new-found printed periodical pearl, he penned, "C.P. St. Henry (English spelling) Siding Westmount-Windsor Station Special Issue see P. 58" on the cover. On page 58, another inscription: "Eric happened on this magazine and I am grateful to him. Canadian Pacific had earlier ignored two letters I had written requesting data on this unusual switchback."

A 1947 aerial photograph shows CP's tracks at top, the pre-expressway switchback just below it, then the St-Henri yard that served CP's St Antoine freight house, just above St Antoine St., circled:
CP's 1960's Atlantic Region, Montreal Terminals Division, Westmount Subdivision employee timetable footnotes stipulated: 

In Switching Imperial Tobacco Company's Track, St. Henry, BTC [Board of Transport Commissioners]  Order 53086 restricts switching to night hours - 6.30 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. - no car to be allowed to stand on portion of track on St. Antoine Street. Before any car or engine shall cross St. Antoine Street, or move along Bourget Street, the Yard Foreman will precede the movement to see that streets are clear before giving Engineman signal to porceed. Movements over such streets must be protected by a member of the crew. 

A 1949 land-use map shows the same area:
Also interleaved by my Dad in the issue: 
  • January 1998 BRS Branchline photocopied photo of CP Glen Yard denizen 2-8-0 3642 dragging Standard model Jordan spreader CP 402807 up the switchback. Scroll to page 17 of the pdf here.
  • January 1998 letter to Montreal rail subject author Michel Leduc in which Michel notes, "The St-Henri Lead is no longer used by CP. It has been over a year since I saw any action along it. The last time I walked the line was in 1995, and only CFS [Refractories] was being served. In the list of abandonments filed by CP, St-Henri spur was included. If no-one bought it, CP would tear it up. I cannot see a shortline operator taking it over, so its days are numbered."
  • April 1999 Montreal Gazette article detailling a $60-million investment in the plant by Imperial Tobacco: 20% more cigarettes! Each worker would produce 40,000 cigarettes an hour. My Dad noted at top: "At end of former C.P.R. switchback on the St. Antoine St." 
Interestingly, the Imperial Tobacco buildings have been 'repurposed' into a sustainable residential complex.

Embedded deep in my email Inbox were some messages pertaining to the Imperial Tobacco spur, obtained through Bruce Chapman's supreme network of contacts:

In the early and mid 1950s I rode the St. Henry Transfer on several occasions and the routine was always the same. The diesel loco (usually 7034 and occasionally 7013) would proceed with the van down the switchback to St. Henry.  There was a significant freight shed and team track located there and these would be switched out as well as the cars of cigarettes from Imperial Tobacco. Once this work was done the cars would be taken up the switchback to the main line third (south) track. This operation was frequently done in two or three moves as there were over 20 heavy cars involved. The van was, of course, kept on the east end. If any switching was required at other industries in the area, this was done at the end.

These were "hot" cars making connections with evening freights to Toronto and Western Canada so no time was lost and the train was usually sandwiched between two passenger trains.

Until 1950 its destination was Sortin Yard but after St. Luc opened it went to Ballantyne where the cars were added to the head end of outgoing freights. I recall that in steam days the engine of choice on this Transfer was 3642. The cigarettes on the Transfer were attractive to thieves and for this reason a CPR Police Officer accompanied the train throughout. This was a named train  and during its existence was known as "The Peanut". Don't ask me why.
-Ron Ritchie

I have no idea why we all called it the "peanut". But, back in the mid to late 50's when I worked as a leverman at Glen tower, I remember the peanut's conductor (yard foreman) was a guy by the name of Roger Plante. He looked like the late tough guy actor Edward G. Robinson....same stature (about 5'5")...same scowl....and always the cigar, lit or unlit. Despite his diminutive size, he didn't just walk; he strutted. Plante was a really nice guy and what I remember in particular about him is that, when he came up the hill with his consist, he'd pick up the dispatcher's (or traffic supervisor's) phone and shout "peanuts, popcorn, chocolate, gum, ice cream bars"!  It was the signal that he was ready to throw the switch, take the third track and head for St.Luc.
Dick Inwood

There was an extension of one of the St. Henri yard tracks that went south of St. Antoine but it only ran for about a quarter block on Bourget Street between two buildings of the tobacco plant. You can also see on the photo another track that diverged near the yard throat that went west, and then south to serve a plant. The spur looks like an "s" Another spur diverges from the switchback further west and heads straight west along the embankment before turning south to serve industries on the east side of Lenoir Street. (The RCA plant was there.) The west side of the street was part of the Montreal Tramways carbarn complex. There is another spur that is a continuation of the western leg of the switchback. Although it ends just behind and north of the carbarn complex, there is no connection between the two systems and they are at two elevations.

-Jim McGraw

Back issues of Model Railroading are hosted by TrainLife, with the article beginning here. My 'redneck scans' of the five-page article by David B. Frost follow:

Running extra...
I was lucky enough to receive a Railway City Brewing Co. (St Thomas) gift pack for Christmas. The Cranberry Festive Lager was, well, festive. But this Sunday will be the moment to savour the Dead Elephant Ale, during the Nature of Things episode about Jumbo the Elephant - Life of an Elephant Superstar. This Sunday, January 7 at 8 p.m. Jumbo was the biggest elephant in the B&B Circus. (B&B - that's Barnum & Bailey, not Bridges and Buildings!)


Mark Z said...

Thanks for this! I have an art photo of the Imperial Tobacco buildings on my wall but I had no idea there was interesting railroad history to go with it.

B&B: Bedford & Billerica :-)

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Mark.

As you can probably tell, I enjoy pursuing these little details, these interesting niches and nooks of Canadian railroading that 'nobody knows about'.


Vspec said...

How were the facing spurs switched if the train reversed into the switchback? I could not see a run around.

Eric said...

Great question, Vspec. Click on page 61 of the article and you'll read a mention of a short runaround track used to switch CFS. Sounds like normally the locomotive led downhill, such that a trailing point switching of the yard tracks and Imperial Tobacco could take place.

Thanks for your comment,

Michael said...

Wow, fascinating little bit of history. It would have been a real treat to watch the locals negotiating this piece of trackage.

Eric said...

I really have to credit my Dad for getting me interested in the Imperial Tobacco operation. Imagine riding past it daily on CPR and seeing the cars down there being loaded, unloaded and switched!

A piece of Montreal history superseded, removed, and remaining vestiges gentrified.
Thanks for your comment, Michael.

Michael Berry said...

Just ran into your blog post on this line, which has always fascinated me. When I rode the commuter train downtown in the late 1990's, I noticed a railway line steeply leaving the main line and had no idea what it was about, now I know! The tracks were still in place then.

In 2005 I walked along the ROW, with the tracks now gone. With the autoroute above it being demolished recently, the old ROW is surely gone.

Some photos I took in 2005:

Eric said...

Thanks for the additional information and photo links, Michael. My Dad was fascinated by the Imperial Tobacco spur as you were! The graffiti took over when the tracks were gone, for sure!

We lived in Montreal only till I was five, so I don't remember too much of the railroading there myself. This always seemed to be an interesting operation!