Friday, July 5, 2019

Kingston-Edmonton Round Trip Aboard VIA, 26 Days in 26 Photos

I'd read that most recent retirees do most of their travelling within the ensuing three years. As a fresh retiree myself, why buck the trend? On the first official day of said retirement, it was down to Kingston's VIA station to get our tickets. While we didn't exactly sleep with them under our pillows, it was good to have them in hand (top photo). Over 1,500 photos would follow on this trip. Having said I would not subject Trackside Treasure's long-suffering readership to a multi-part trip account (that would preclude me from doing other things I enjoy, like presenting posts that allow me to wallow in nostalgia) I decided that I would instead present our trip as a-photo-a-day. Granted, rainy Edmonton provided us with several days of indoor activities, but let's stick with the concept! Let's get to those 26 photos in 26 days, starting of course on Day 1, which was also conveniently June 1...
June 1 found us again at Kingston's VIA station, ready to begin a cross-country journey aboard VIA Rail. My brother and sister-in-law were kind enough to drop by the station at departure time, as our daughter and her fiancee deposited us on the platform. Soon enough, on-time VIA No 63 arrived and we boarded the train for Toronto. Before our train pulled out, my wife gazed out the window for her first trackside view of many we'd share (above). This was not my first time making this trip, but it was our first time together. It was also my wife's first visit to British Columbia, and the longest stretch of uninterrupted time she and I had spent together. And we're still together!! 
June 2 - staying in Toronto overnight to start and end one trip, we were up, breakfasted and down to Union Station's Panorama Lounge shortly after 8 a.m. for our 0945 departure. While going to check luggage on the lower level, I paused to snap the Departures board (above). We were fortunate to meet Mark Sampson, one of my book contributors, in his role as VIA Rail service manager! Before long, we were refreshed and ready to board our accommodation for the trip west - Bedroom E of Cabot Manor.
Jessica from Winnipeg was in charge of activities on the way west. This dome view shows newlyweds, Australian itinerant lady traveller ("Do you know if this train goes through the Rocky Mountains? - Yes it does. Are we out of Ontario yet? No we're not  - nine more hours!") Also Chicago  (toting BRS Trackside Guide) and parents, and New Jersey IT guy, among others.  I should note that this trip was never intended to be The Definitive Railfan Experience of the Canadian West or even Trainwatching Thrills in the Rockies but more of a holistic, allgemeine getaway - something for everyone. Having said that, we all know about Mountain Rule One: Where there are roads in mountains, tracks are never far away, don't we?? All's well at Ruel as the sun sets on our first day on the Canadian.
June 3 finds us at the twin towns (definitely not the Twin Cities) of Armstrong and Collins. A large number of passengers has boarded, and now we wait for CN to get out of the way. This was a VERY common occurrence and no, I did not photograph nor note every number on every CN freight we met because not only were they delaying us, there were simply too many of them! As with most other such CN yards, the days of neat stuff on the back track were gone. No bunk cars, snowplows, flangers or cabooses, just pieces of rail and other piles of materiel remain.
A most pleasant evening was spent with my wife (of course), Chicago grad, Laptop Guy and Ivan. We quickly developed nicknames for all our fellow travellers - the Italian Couples, Mr and Mrs. Downs (don't ask), the newlyweds, the Smoker (well who should I contact to let me know when and where we'll be stopping long enough for a cigarette break??) - though Ivan truly is his real name! Anyway, through one of five tunnels, the last before reaching the Rockies, at sunset at about Mi 135 of CN's Redditt Sub:
June 4 - up at Yarbo, with converging potash mine spurs and grain elevators. As usual, morning routine was showers - mere feet away in our Manor car - continental breakfast taken up to the dome and let the sightseeing begin. Sometimes there was a wait for dome seats, largely due to nappers, book-readers or only single seats available. Usually, Skyline-seat-bingo meant that seats freed up fairly quickly. Saskatchewan means grain elevators! Most wooden elevators were privately-owned, used for storage and/or not rail-served. Still wearing Saskatchewan Wheat Pool brown, Hubbard's elevator is lettered for Bryck Farms, not SWP, just east of Ituna:
June 7 - after three days with family in Edmonton, it was time for our 2,000-mile rental car round-up to begin! Hertz painlessly gave us a very good deal, less than $300 for ten days and unlimited mileage. Our first day's longest stop was in Jasper, where from the Maligne Canyon trail lookout, it was possible to see CN freights jockeying for position into and out of Jasper yard. The sheer volume of CN freights on streetcar-like headways west of Manitoba was staggering, especially between Edmonton and Jasper, and earlier west of Melville.
As we already know, CNR 6015 took over in Jasper when CNR 6060 left town for restoration in Montreal.
June 8 and 9  - two nights on a Valemount dude ranch included trail riding (horse name Duke, coccyx pain minimal) and breakfast brought to our cabin by the owner, in pickup truck and cowboy boots. Fresh-baked bread? You had me at butter!! A day trip into nearby Valemount let us sample some local craft beer and pick up some barbecue items for supper. We tarried not long at Valemount's VIA non-station. The owner had earlier told us, "We tell our summer staff not to take the train - there's nothing there and no-one to meet you when you arrive!"
June 10 - from Valemount, it was east and south along the Icefields Parkway. Considering Jasper and Banff too pricey and busy, we used Valemount, Canmore, Golden and Hinton as bases outside those main tourist towns. Upon checking in at the Canmore Rocky Mountain Inn, Mountain Rule One came into effect. CP westbounds fleeted through around work blocks (four in 45 minutes on June 11 - below), and cab numbers could be gleaned from the balcony while enjoying a cold beverage, before the nightly inn wine-and-cheese reception, which in turn was before dinner at Patrino's, recommended by the hotel clerk and did not disappoint (Mountain Rule One was in effect there, too!) with two trains after dinner. As with most CP freights, BNSF, UP or leased ex-CSX and Bluebird power was in evidence.
June 11 - Seeing the scenic wonders of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. 'No trains there, and both towns' railway stations are cloyingly referred to as 'Heritage Rail Stations'.

June 12 - Banff, AB population 7,000. In summer, double it! Arriving at the 'Heritage Rail Station' at 0815, Bluebird CEFX 1033-UP 5228 were waiting to take CP grain loads west, following the dearly-departed and scenery-monopolizing Rocky Mountaineer. Then it was back to Canmore for wing night at Patrino's, with two trains passing while enjoying beer 'n' wings.
June 13 - up the Bow Valley Parkway, past a CP eastbound in the hole, ballast cars and large machine gang and Jimbo tie handler south of Lake Louise. No trains at Morant's Curve (below) but shortly thereafter, passing an eastbound would normally have meant a 180 U-turn and pursuit. But British Columbia awaited, so a more-tree, less-train nonetheless-spectacular view would have to do. The good news is that Parks Canada has done a nice job with signage, railings, walkways, albeit a small parking lot on this highly significant CPR site!
June 14 - After visiting more family in verdant Vernon, BC, Mountain Rule One came into effect again. An airhorn delayed car-repacking at The Castle at Swan Lake - this best-of-trip complimentary breakfast and best amenities for best price, as this just-retired non-sprinter sprinted downhill through the parking lot to see just what traversed those silvery rails along Swan Lake. CN, that's what! CN 2608-2567 trundled south with thirty covered hoppers at 0945:
Then, at noon...hmmm...if you were go to Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, it would be a near-religious experience. If the choir started singing and the organ was in full cry, THAT would be a religious experience. If you go to Craigellachie and CP sends two trains through, THAT is a religious experience. Even without such an experience, it would be a nice park, well cared-for grounds and a gift shop. Just being there makes you want to hammer something home. But when the tiny sign adjacent to the mocked-up track says, "Please - Do Not Hammer Spikes" it is like giving out blindfolds and earplugs at the aforementioned basilica. So I mocked up my hammer-swing:
June 15 - After our first night in Golden, we drove east to explore Field and its mothballed station. The same station into which my VIA Canadian slid back in the 80's. An outgoing freight crew was waiting on the platform, not speaking, their facial expressions a mix of grit, determination, disinterest, fear and bravado that I can still see in my mind's eye. But now, it's posted 'No Trespassing' so it was viewed from the town, up the hill:
Back to Golden in the afternoon, there, hiding among the underbrush, being fuelled by Petro-Canada, is the Royal Canadian Pacific consist. Forget feeding or approaching wildlife, here I had to forget properly photographing or approaching the F-units. Anyway, peering furtively like a frightened doe or a wary mountain goat, there it was:
June 16 - Upon leaving Golden we made an impulse stop at the largely-visually-blocked Spiral Tunnels lookout. But like the shy wildlife, an eastbound grain train can be seen among the trees if one just waits, peers, and perseveres long enough. As the head-end emerges from the Lower Spiral Tunnel (2), grain cars continue to enter the Lower's portal (1) as the train's tail-end (3) exits from the Upper Spiral Tunnel, the entrance to which is uphill behind us.
Returning to Edmonton via Jasper (for more Tims and t-shirts), puffy clouds crown the plumped-up late on-time performance of VIA's Skeena, seen here at the station as inexorable intermodal invaders continue to roll:
June 17 - back in Edmonton, the sun shone a little more, and we entered Edmonton through Spruce Grove, as this adorable aquamarine apparition greeted us. Eighties Me thought - hey, an elevator! New Millennium Me thought - hey, didn't AWP become Agricore then Agricore United and hey, an elevator! still in AWP colours. Stop the car! Always one of the most aesthetically-pleasing schemes, this Spruce Grove museum elevator looks positively regal perched along the road into town.
Our next few days in Edmonton were plagued by unusually wet weather. June 19 - The Old Strathcona Antique Mall hosted several marker lamps and a set of crossing flashers on offer. My suitcase was simply too small. A drive downton on June 20 yielded ETS LRT in YEG:
June 21 - Sunny. Near South Edmonton/Strathcona, this end-cupola CP Rail caboose marks the location where my RDC from Calgary once terminated. Now it's a playground for adult trespassers making bad choices. Does the trespasser think it's time to 'going back to turn some stemwinders as we descend the Big Hill' or some other obscure historical CPR reference? I doubt it. 
June 22 - After an impressively-late arrival and departure [Winnipegers Brian and Mark, I feel your pain as you watch a tiny icon move across the station television screen. I did the same in Edmonton] during which I thought "I can switch out two passenger cars and cut in one much, much faster in HO scale" I was reminded that as Model Railroader used to tell us, "Passenger trains can switch, too!". Switch slowly, VIA, switch slowly. Diner Kent was cut in as the Panorama car 1721 and Jarvis Manor were switched out. Departure 4 hours, 30 minutes down.

June 23 - The next day gave a glowingly golden gamut of Prairies, ending in the Park car with other non-Prestige passengers as we are allowed 'to go back there' after 4 p.m. Snapping photos of the Uno trestle out Glacier Park's bullet lounge windows (below). Through Portage la Prairie and into Winnipeg 2 hours, 30 minutes late.
June 24 - this day was largely characterized by rain, trees, more rain and dinner! Sioux Lookout, ON was reached 4 hours late. Our tablemates from Wyoming and Venezuela popped their eyes out, as did I, when this delicious, juicy beef burger arrived on my towel-cushioned, white-tableclothed and flower-bedecked table at lunchtime of a long day. Not normally given to photographing my meals (no smart phone and no Instagram) I just had to. I mean, look at this prodigious display of high-caloric goodness! Beware - there be vegetables!
June 25 - The sun beamed brightly as it desperately tried to permeate CN's tree-tunnelled right-of-way, which was a consistent architectural feature of our trackside vistas throughout northern Ontario. Twigs touching FRA glazing in Parry Sound! Birches leaning precariously trackward! But two hours late at Parry Sound magically became one hour early into Toronto Union!
From Jack Astor's fourth floor patio at Yonge-Dundas Square, we heard horns honking, misters misting and nacho cheese sizzling.

June 26 - On board VIA No 64 for a quick trip down CN's Kingston Sub, here passing over the Don River at 1150. Downstream were the Don Rapids and possibly the Don Rickles. Anyway, our quest was at an end as limestone hove into view and we disembarked with suitcases full of  complimentary hotel toiletries, and hearts and minds full of mountain memories!
Watch for an upcoming post on 'Life Aboard VIA's Canadian'!

Running extra...

While heading west, we were pleased to meet while onboard:
  • Minneapolis' Tim, who kindly sent a link to his blog and his Black Wing and Western Branch layout while we were still aboard. It's always enjoyable to meet a fellow enthusiast in his natural environment and discuss prototype and model railroading.
  • Vancouver's Ivan, a winner of VIA's 40th anniversary contest. I'd seen Ivan's posts on social media, never dreaming we would be on the same westbound Canadian. We spoke of the opportunities Canada presents, life in Vancouver, and how many photos we were taking!  
  • Wininpeg's Steve Boyko, who kindly waited until well past his bedtime to greet us and give a quick tour of the Winnipeg depot environs. Honourable mentions to Brian Schuff and Mark Perry for staying as late as time permitted!
    Speaking of Winnipeg, the Prairie Dog Central currently has two ex-CPR G5's on the property, sent north from Virginia in 2015. My uncle's brother shared these photos taken recently.


Sir said...

Sure seems like a wonderful trip you both had.. You are very lucky, although only 1,500 photos taken I think I would have taken many more...

Happy for you Eric..


Steve Boyko said...

It sounds like a wonderful trip, Eric! I was a little disappointed to see no Manitoba photos until the Uno photo, but then again, VIA goes out of its way to run trains through in darkness these days...

I'm glad you spotted glimpses of a train at the Spiral Tunnels. Parks Canada really needs to get the chainsaws out there and at Morant's Curve.

I was really impressed by the Jasper area when we visited last year and I'd love to go back. I almost like it better than Banff-Lake Louise and that's saying something!

It was a pleasure to meet you and your wife at the station.


Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Warren and Steve.

I was still quite selective about photo-taking, so 1,500 is still a lot for me!

Re: Manitoba, all in darkness westbound. Eastbound, only light till Rivers. I'm going to get out your book, as I have with several other reference works on the area...after the fact!

Terrible for pictures as a province, thanks to VIA, but I really enjoyed staying up to watch all the Winnipeg-Portage la Prairie trackage I could, especially noting those CN station steps where I spent so much time on hot summer days!