Friday, January 12, 2018

First Visits to Portage la Prairie!

My first memories of being trackside on the Prairies were formed on a sunlit evening trackside in Portage, during that 'golden hour'. The last of the day's sunrays glinted off CNWX-lettered Government of Canada aluminum covered hoppers, in the shadows of Portage's towering elevators. The calm of the evening was descending. GMD-1's chanted. The nearness and number of long freight trains on CN and CP made a huge impression on me. It was 1976. Was I the only one who felt instantly impressed with Portage? Apparently not. 

Now, with 2018 laid out before us, I am really looking forward to sharing my observations and photographs of years of railfanning at Portage in my upcoming project Trains and Grains. Photo editing continues apace. Proceeding through the years' visits from 1976, I just made it to my photos taken in 1984! So much neat stuff:

I relived those first days of excitement vicariously through the eyes of Winnipeg rail enthusiast and photographer Jack Hykaway, when he recently posted his first visit to Portage. It appears he was under a similar spell during his first visit in 2010 - thirty-four years after mine. Jack was 11, and I was 12! Jack kindly shared his account and photos which are presented here in italics:

I remember my very first railfan trip like it was yesterday. It was fall 2010, and I had recommended visiting Portage La Prairie for some railfanning to my dad. He was all for the idea, and we made plans to go on the next nice day. I wanted to visit PlaP because of an article I had read earlier that week in "Railfan Canada" magazine. A group of railfans traveled out to PlaP for the day, travelling to/from Winnipeg on VIA trains 1 and 2. Even though they were only in town for a few hours, they caught a huge amount of trains.
So, that weekend, we were off. The whole family piled into the car, though I'm not sure everyone wanted to...the hours that lay ahead were full of promise - I was hoping to catch an endless parade of trains, just like the railfans who wrote the article in RFC had.
Arriving in Portage, I had my camera ready. That was lucky - I stepped out of the car just as the 3rd St. Crossing was activated by a CP train. It had 3 GP38-2's leading. Soon after the train's passing, my mom and sister had already had enough of the railfanning experience, and went to find a thrift shop along Saskatchewan Avenue.
My dad and I decided to leave the car, and we walked down Pacific Avenue until we saw another headlight on the eastern horizon. It was VIA No 1, running right on time. The train stopped briefly at the station, oddly on the north track, then pulled forward to the signals near 8th Street. The train stopped, and waited on an eastbound CN freight to clear the line, before continuing west.
The engineer in lead unit 6404 kindly invited Jack up into the cab, resulting in the view westward at Kearns (above).

Just as No 1 was pulling out, a westbound CP train came through, heading north-west out of town on the Minnedosa Sub. Both trains were moving - I didn't know where to point the camera!
Walking back to the station, it was CN's turn again. A Westbound Intermodal sped through town, with two GEVO's leading. Moving from the station to the Tupper Street overpass, I made it on the bridge with only seconds to spare to film another Westbound Intermodal, led by a single Dash-9. An SD70M-2 was the rear DPU.
It was getting late, so dad and I moved back towards the car to head home. Just before setting off, CP ran another train through town: Intermodal/Autorack traffic heading to Winnipeg.
When the tail end disappeared around the corner, we went to pick up my sister and mom (who were still busy in the thrift shop) and we headed home.That railfanning trip to PlaP is one of my favourite railfanning memories. I have to thank my family for that. 

My thanks to Jack for sharing his early Portage experiences. Jack's words, "I didn't know where to point the camera..." resonated with me. When things happen at Portage, they are fast and furious! Recently, while scanning photo prints for Trains & Grains, I came across photos my Dad took of me during our first visit to Portage in 1976 (top and below). I was not yet old enough to take my own photos...
At the CP station (above) while the platform was still in place for CP's Canadian as S-3 6569 idled:
CN's train from Gladstone is eastbound past CN's station mid-morning. We were firmly in the pre-VIA era. I get some of my first consist observations on paper:
Running extra...

We have not seen the last of Jack's photography! In fact, his equipment and skills have produced some amazing images in the intervening years since 2010. Consider these two varying views of Winnipeg wow factor along the Seine River, that Jack took in 2016. One of shoreline, foliage and colour; the other contrasting view of vintage, slug and smoke:


Anonymous said...

Jack who????? wants to come up in the cab....


Eric said...

M A P, you are first off the mark here. Reminiscent of the TRAINS magazine caption bubbles. Though I didn't necessarily mention it in the post, your influence on Jack is recognizable, although of course he has his own style.

Thanks for your comment,

Red River Rail Productions said...

Looks great, Eric! Thanks for sharing my story.

I've been fortunate to visit several times in the years after my first experience, yet PlaP never gets old. There's always something to shoot, from the occasional local yard job to the abundance of tonnage rolling on both mainlines -- visiting railfans are spoiled for choice!

Your photos make me wish I was trackside with you, to witness F units and elevators through my lens...


Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Jack. I suppose every generation wishes they had been there earlier...transition era to steam, 70s to transition era, etc.

Portage continues to be a railfan mecca for fans of both railways. Of course I am biased, but the 70s and 80s were pretty cool. My wish is that I'd been a bit luckier at catching the Canadian at the CP Rail station - the timing just never worked out and before we knew it, CP Rail ripped up the wooden platform once the train moved over to the CN station. Passenger service was a hot potato neither CN nor CP really wanter. Enter VIA...

It's really great to have your story as part of the Trackside Treasure memories machine. Here's looking forward to seeing more of your work online and in print in the future!


Zartok-35 said...

That looks like a wonderful trip to Portage you had back then, Eric! You even got to pose on the porch of a brand-new Thundercow!

Zartok-35 said...

And the shot from 1984 with the partially-dismantled Deere Combine and the F-units is great too! Gotta find a way to model that! We need more Pull-types in 1/87.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Elijah.

As combines were getting larger, pull-types could still fit on flatcars! That pairing was awesomeness - F for F-unit and F for Farm machinery! It was on a day marred meteorologically by what my brother called Portage 'vacation weather'.

The Thundercows idled there for about five days and we knew not why. And no CN cops ever in sight to say 'Get off the power!'. We got photos from several angles of such co-operative photo subjects. Of course it'll be in Trains and Grains. Well, the Trains part, at least!


Michael said...

I have rarely had those "I didn't know where to point the camera" moments, but it's fun to read about the experience. Looking forward to more posts and material about this.

Eric said...

Having just gone through over 400+ of my Portage photos, Michael, there were quite a few of those moments with multiple movements at the same time!

At times, there were four daily VIA transcons during daylight, now only a few times a week. There have been other changes, but it's still a hotspot.

Glad you enjoyed Jack's and my accounts of those moments as they occurred.
Thanks for your comment,

Jason Paul Sailer said...

Nice Eric! Reminds me of my first visit to Portage la Prairie in 2014... though I wasn't lucky with a cab visit ;) (like Jack encountered on his visit). To see things then and now is a great comparison. Thanks for sharing!

Eric said...

Glad you enjoyed the Portage visits, real and virtual, Jason!
Thanks very much for your comment.

Tyler said...

I also made my first visit to Portage to watch trains when I was 12! I think I was able to convince my parents by suggesting it could be coupled with a strawberry-picking expedition.
Unfortunately it was summer 1990, right after the VIA cuts dramatically reduced the number of passenger trains. The two UGG elevators were still around but not for long. It was still a great place to visit with lots of trains. I visited many times between that first visit in 1990 and 1999 when I moved away from Winnipeg. I still try to head out to Portage for an afternoon whenever I'm back in town! (and still try to pick up some berries for Connery's berry farm)

Eric said...

There seems to be a Portage-appropriate age for our first visits!

The elevatorless Portage is OK but much different from the elevator-filled Portage. Sight lines improved. Of course I should have taken more photos of the cars they were loading!

Thanks for your comments, Tyler.