Friday, July 29, 2011

BNSF and Ballast in Saskatchewan

Guest photographer Ken McCutcheon: photographer, BC Rail RTC and Railfan & Railroad magazine editor's western Canadian railfan guide shares some unusual photos taken in Saskatchewan this June with Trackside Treasure.
On June 14, CP switcher K31 (using the term switcher loosely here because the power is three SD90MAC's: 9101-9153-9140) left Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan heading for Assiniboia. A dimensional load of pipe for Shaunavon, a Saskatchewan green grain car, and JLCX SD40-2 5643 headed to Sherritt Coal's Prairie Mines at Poplar River are among the consist. It looks like a train one might see on a model railway, except that's one heck of a scenic backdrop.The Fife Lake Railway, from Assiniboia to Coronach is the route 5643 would have to follow. Problem is, there's a 200-foot sinkhole along the line. PRMX 6973 needs rebuilding, and will be replaced by 5643. To facilitate the switch, 6973 headed north from Coronach to Scout Lake on June 15 with five ballast cars of CN lineage of three different types. The two orange ones are former slabside CN covered hoppers. After running around the empty cars, they were pushed to the sinkhole site. The empties traversed the sinkhole, but since a locomotive couldn't tiptoe over, another crew had deadheaded south from Assiniboia with ex-BNSF B30-8W 575 to pick them up on the other side of the sinkhole.
Is this a shortline in Saskatchewan or BNSF in South Dakota? Turns out 6973 did cross the site gingerly, and later in the day 5643 made it to Coronach for delivery to Prairie Mines. The ballast cars and 575 pass through a verdant, rain-swelled prairie landscape.
On June 16, 575 and the now-loaded ballast cars are dumping ballast at Mi 15 Shaunavon Sub in the Land of Living Skies.
Big sky country, BNSF and ballast...only in Saskatchewan.

Running extra...

And who said Saskatchewan is flat and boring? There's more to those wide-open spaces than meets the eye. While the number of branchlines and grain elevators have dwindled, new shortlines are springing up and working hard to wring income from their inherited trackage and previously-owned equipment. Thanks again to Ken for keeping track of these operations and sharing his knowledge and photographs of them with those of us who live elsewhere.

Watch for Trackside Treasure's third anniversary contest, coming soon. You could win a somewhat-coveted Trackside Treasure prize pack containing some unique items, the nature of which I haven't exactly narrowed down yet. But I will, loyal readers. I'll be schlepping over to the prize bin and picking out some goodies you'll give your eye teeth to win. Get those thinking caps ready...

Posting some lighter fare, since it's summertime and the livin' is easy. How is it possible to gain weight while camping? I thought I did all the right things: kayaking to burn calories, limiting myself to one (1) can of beer a day, and not roasting too many marshmallows. Oh, and relaxing in a lawn chair reading railway magazines by beautiful Lake Ontario. Maybe too many magazines...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Sale

It's summer train show season. That means I need to clean out some items to make room for more items. Following on the heels of Trackside Treasure's successful Spring Cleaning sale, I'm offering more: CN, CP, GMD, AAR and modelling items. You can tell it's summer - I photographed the items on my patio furniture! Scroll down, take a look - first email received for each item at mile179kingstonATyahooDOTca ... it's yours upon receipt of payment. Shipping cost will be actual postage; payment of total by cheque or postal money order. Please refer to ITEM # for items when ordering.
ITEMS SOLD SO FAR: 7, 14; 10, 11, 13, 16; 18.
ITEM 1: 1871 The Railways of Canada, 1974 reprint, softcover 200+ pages of line descriptions, history, facts and figures and period advertisements. $5
ITEM 2: 1892 CPR Annotated Timetable, Railfare reprint, softcover 70 pages $5
ITEM 3: CNR Engine Crew Mechanical Examinations 1955, $3
ITEM 4: CN Form 696 General Operating Instructions 1990, $3
ITEM 5: CN Form 891 Air Brake Rules 1971, $3
ITEM 6: CN Bilingual Form 8915B 1986, $3
ITEM 7: CN Pointe St-Charles bilingual Car Control Diagram includes Bickerdike, Lachine, St Henri, coilbound 40 pages 1981, $5
ITEM 8: Canadian Rail Operating Rules, RAC softcover 175 pages 1990, $4
ITEM 9: Association of American Railroads Standard Code of Operating Rules, 1980 revision, 112+ pages, with Manitoba Western Railway stamp, screwbound $4
ITEM 10: CN Great Lakes Region employee timetable 1990, $3
ITEM 11: CN bilingual St Lawrence Region employee timetable 1988, $3
ITEM 12: An amusing, informative look at Canadianizing VIA Rail F-units by Rik Berryere and Tim Reid. Privately published in Kingston in 1997. Original, 8 pages $3
ITEM 13: 1984 CP Rail Motive Power Summary lists all locomotive classes, roster-style with basic data and technical data for each class, also lists robot cars, steam generator car, air repeater car, TH&B and RDC specifications, rebuilt & renumbered units, and rebuild program. 12 pages, $9
ITEM 14: CN bilingual St Lawrence Region employee timetable 1987, $3
ITEM 15: 1957 GMDL GP-9 operating manual, printed by General Motors in London, Coilbound, 126 pages with photos, drawings, schematic and colour diagram, $8
ITEM 16: CN Train Register book from Brent, Ontario located deep within Algonquin Provincial Park. Covering the period from August 16, 1953 to October 3, 1953, this hard-to-find 100-page cardboard-cover book lists every train through Brent during the above period, including train number, engine number, signals, crew, time, cars, tons and other details. A nice mix of steam and diesel locomotives, including excursion engine 6060 on Train 1 (sample page above, cover photo below). This item is in good shape for its age. Most such registers were discarded. $20.
And last but not least, from the first photo:
ITEM 17: Heirs to a Dream, 18-page CN full-colour softcover book on the Montreal electric equipment, with period and current photographs 1995, $5
ITEM 18: Enchanting Horizons, 98-page VIA full-colour softcover book with mile-by-mile details of the Canadian, Hudson Bay, Skeena and Malahat services, with fold-out colour map 1995, $10

Friday, July 15, 2011

Then and Now: Portage la Prairie 1980-2010 Part 2

For this second post on Then and Now: Portage, Winnipeg's Paul Sincerny has graciously supplied the Now photos, and I've found Then photos taken on various railfanning trips to Portage, taken from approximately the same location.

Then: A CP freight waits at the signal east of West Tower's diamonds as a westbound 2-unit CN freight of empty lumber cars passes the CN to CP connecting track for VIA trains in 1986.

Now: SD70M-2 8889 leads CN double-stack train 101 on Hallowe'en 2010.
More of Paul's fine photography can be found on Trackside Treasure flip-fun: click on each Then and Now photo, opening each in a new tab, then toggle between them. Views from the Skyview bridge, with grain elevators and associated trackage still in place, later gone.
Then: 9535-9452 eastbound on August 24, 1978 with air dump cars behind the power (above). CPWX grain cars at Portage Pool 'A' and CP Service cars beyond.

Now: From the same location, another eastbound on May 15, 2011 as CN train 302 passes some new ties trackside, behind engine 8812. Track work is also in progress on the CP line in background, and in an interesting nod to the past, CP is still using 40-foot boxcars as Service cars.

CN served two of Portage's former grain elevators, as well as other grain elevators east of Portage on the Rivers Sub. Just east of CN's station, at the Third St NW crossing,

Then: 9569-9575-9612-9502 haul piggyback at 50 mph past the station at 1154 June 17, 1980...

Now: CN ES44DC 2224 leads three other units on train 314 on June 14, 2009.

CP westbounds, taken from the north side of CP's trackage which becomes the Minnedosa Sub and Carberry Sub just west of this location.

Then: CP 8626-8806 with 31 ballast cars for the Minnedosa Sub, beside 6053-5809-3017 with mixed freight on a rainy afternoon in June, 1984.

Now: CP 9653 accelerates with two other units on an intermodal train on Canada Day 2010. CN's station is visible in the background. Paul's photo is taken slightly east of mine.

CP Eastbounds cross CN's Gladstone and Rivers Subs at West Tower

Then: 2 SD's approach the diamond with an eastbound on CP's Carberry Sub in 1981.

Now: Former CP Holiday Train unit 9824 brings CP train 112 across the diamonds at West Tower on October 9, 2010.

VIA Rail still serves Portage. The rolling stock has changed...somewhat.

Then: With ditch-lights rigged, 6507-6603 bring VIA train 2 into Portage in June, 1984 with a mix of ex-CN blue & yellow cars and stainless steel ex-CP cars.

Now: In September 2010, VIA train 2 is led by 6418. The blue & yellow cars are gone, but the former CP Canadian cars labour on, and are on their second refurbishing since my photo was taken.

Running extra...
Even though this post is titled 1980-2010, it actually covers 1978-2010. Close enough. I'm considering a second volume from Trackside Treasure Publications, featuring photography and train information from Portage la Prairie. This would be handy for any modellers interested in replicating the rail mecca that is P la P.

Summertime reading: back copies of Railroad Model Craftsman and Model Railroader. While a trip down memory lane shows how far model railroad products have come, it is also frustrating to see all the foobies, fakes and fallacies that were perpetuated based on the products that were available. Sounds like a future blog post, eh?
Summertime viewing: CBS's reality show Big Brother is back for another 'season'. Other sluggish, mindless entertainment on these clammy summer evenings includes Rookie Blue and Combat Hospital. Another season of American Pickers on the History Channel can't be far off.

The Bay is featuring Amelia Earhart luggage at 50-70% off. Amelia Earhart luggage? Seriously? Your luggage gets lost, and stays lost.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kingston Platform Scenes

Recently, railfan and VIAphile Matt Soknacki arranged to meet me at Kingston's VIA station. Matt was travelling on VIA train 54, and used the station stop to pick up his copies of my new book on VIA Rail . During our conversation before train 54 headed east, Matt mentioned that he'd never railfanned from the platform at Kingston. Having done a fair bit of that myself, Matt's comment got me thinking. What about a post in which I'd share some photos and thoughts about railfanning from that very platform and the plethora of interesting and diverse CN Kingston Sub sights I'd seen there? Here we go:

RS-18 3123 scampers by on the south track with two covered hoppers and three tank cars, from Queens to the DuPont nylon plant on the Cataraqui Spur (top) in spring, 1985. CN 4-8-2 6060 stomps smokily into Kingston with a fantrip on a stormy October 14, 1978 (above). Motorists are to be forgiven for thinking they've momentarily time-travelled back 20 years. The expanse of grass next to the north track gives an overall view of the station which was built on swamp land. To clean up an August 1986 derailment CN auxiliary crane 50397 and the rest of the auxiliary train head east on the north track:

CN 9634-2033-2014 slam a westbound freight through during the evening VIA rush on July 15, 1991. Kingston's distinctive hockey-stick platform lights frame the scene. It's difficult to get a photo at Kingston without them somewhere in the frame, or framing the train:

A VIA FPA4-FPB-4 have brought a long westbound VIA consist into Kingston in this undated photo. The red CN-noodled, slanted yellow nose unit has stopped much farther west than its F40 or P42 brethren with their relatively shorter trains do today. Ample parking, long platforms for walking, washrooms, refreshments and generous sight lines make this a great spot to railfan no matter the era.

An LRC locomotive and 5 VIA Tempo cars comprise the early train to Toronto I'm about to board on March 9, 1985. The sun has yet to peek over the horizon. In 1985, did LRC's haul Tempo cars east of Toronto? Looks like they did:

Slightly more conventionally-equipped nine-car trains meet on December 21, 1984. Ex-CP coach 108 is in use on the westbound behind 6762-6865, and the eastbound is powered by 6530-6864. The boarding building on the south track (track 2) is reached via escalator through a damp, subterranean tunnel.

Another meet, this one on April 14, 1991. Midday conventional trains 62 and 63 have just met, and train 63 with 6442, an SGU and 5 cars accelerates westward under the Princess Street overpass. Train 62 behind plain-grey, small-flagged 6438, an SGU and 4 cars is braking to a stop on the south track. The overpass gives a panoramic view, but it's quite a climb and busy.

Matt, you would have been surprised by this - one of my top-ten wackiest VIA consists ever seen. The date is July 3, Y2K and at dusk, VIA train 68 has 6417, 3 LRC cars, 3 HEP2 cars, and three (yes, I said three) F40's on the tail-end. Western unit 6451 is dead, but colourful Kool-Aid bedecked 6405-6411 are online and pushing hard eastward. The dark sky activated my camera flash, reflectorizing a nearby Blazer's turn indicator light and the marker lights and Kool-Aid logos on both units:

The following angle only works in winter: accumulated snow from the platforms and parking lot has been dumped to form a lofty snowbank, just west of the station. An eastbound freight approaches and passes by on the south track behind 6016 (ex-5026)-9665-9664 on February 15, 1997:

A gang of sectionmen was heading east on the south track on May 8, 1998. This International hirail truck might put off at the nearby Counter Street crossing:

On October 18, 1997 nine new Amtrak express cars built by Nova Scotia's TrentonWorks are heading for Chicago. An early part of the 100-car order AMTK 71000-71199, these cars later had a wide blue and narrow red stripes above the reporting marks. Benches located under the eaves on both tracks make handy rest spots for railfans during lulls between trains.

This post only scratches the surface of the pile of Kingston platform scenes I've photographed. Watch for future posts spanning the last 35 years, when this station was Kingston's CN, then VIA stop, plus a nice place to watch trains any time of day.

Running extra...

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or as we call them, Will and Kate, left Calgary yesterday at the end of their 9-day Canadian tour of red-and-white Ottawa, stately Quebec, down-home PEI, wild North West Territories and yee-hah Alberta. There'll be no walkabouts with the public in Hollywood, where you'll have to pay to watch William play polo. Marco!

Also wrapping up a tour is Jason Shron of Rapido Trains. Having toured Canada on VIA Rail from coast-to-coast, Jason is now home and Rapido is entering the blogosphere. Watch for Rapido Trains' blog with the lastest post by Bill Schneider during the National Train Show in California's capitol with photos by someone called Dashing, Dangerous Dan.

Just finished listening to CEO of the Sofa by P.J. O'Rourke. The unabridged version, and it felt like it. Tiresome section on wine-tasting, endless Clinton-bashing, but a hilarious passage on winter driving lessons to P.J.'s godson Nick.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Introducing the C-P-R Principle

Question: Did it ever happen? A question often posed by unsure modellers and railfans, regarding the railways' use of a particular piece of equipment or a particular operating practice.

Answer: Yes it did, or no it didn't. Based on what, though? I've been thinking about something I will call the "C-P-R Principle", to help answer specific variations of the above question, where:

C = Context. When and where? Define what era and what location you're considering. This has to be answered before moving on to the other two parts of the principle.

P = Probability. How likely and how often? If it was just a one-off, probability is low. If it was an everyday occurrence, probability is high.

R = Records. Can we prove it happened? How much proof is there, in what format, and how reliable is it? The more proof, the more relevant and reproducible the model can be.

With the plethora of prototype-specific models, including era-specific detailing on Rapido Trains' FP-9 , those wishing to model increasingly realistic scenes may wish to use the C-P-R principle as they invest and place such models in realistically-detailed scenes.

Let's consider three sample questions to which we'll apply the principle:
1. Did VIA F-units ever operate in the same power consist as CN chop-nosed Geeps?
C = Anytime, anywhere.
P = Unlikely, right off the top.
R = One photo. The Kingston-Belleville wayfreight with GP9RM's 4120-4121 has lifted FP9ARM 6309 which was bad-ordered on the early-morning VIA train, heading west from Queens to Belleville on March 30, 1992. (Top) But wait! More proof from an unlikely source found twenty years later: an online auction slide dated 1992 showing 6309 beside the Belleville roundhouse (above)

The wide-open context, low probability and very little photographic evidence give this answer a low modelling relevance.
2. Did CP Rail MLW's ever operate west of Ontario?
C = 1980's, Winnipeg and west.
P = Most of us usually assume the MLW's were mainly used in eastern Canada.
R = Photos of MLW's in BC coal service in the 1970's abound, but by the 1980's the Centuries were pushed aside by new SD40-2's. I took several photos of Centuries and C424's west of Winnipeg, including 4214-8508 and 106 grain cars westbound at Portage la Prairie on August 28, 1981.

The decade-wide context, low probability but ample photographic evidence give this answer a moderate relevance to modellers.
3. Did CN ever operate GP40-2W's in twos or threes? (OK, this is an easy one, just to test the principle.)
C = Any era, system-wide.
P = With a large fleet over 250 units in three classes built between 1974 and 1976, probability is high.
R = A photo at West Tower, Portage la Prairie on August 28, 1981 with 9401-9624-9407 and 112 cars of TOFC/COFC eastbound, dusty from having run on fresh ballast, one of many photos of members of this type operating together, from almost anywhere on CN lines after 1974.

Wide context, a large number of units and ample photographic evidence give this answer a high relevance for modelling. That's likely why Atlas recently released this model.

Railmodel Journal magazine addressed this issue in an article entitled Operation Evolution: Do scale models deserve "scale operation" in November 1989: The next time you buy a model railroad product, you will not find instructions inside the box about how the railroad is supposed to be operated. The operation of a real railroad is perhaps the greatest intangible hurdle the modeller has to overcome. And, wouldn't you know it, this is probably the largest information void we have from which to draw our operating schemes. The manufacturers offer no help, and the magazines are just beginning to touch on the realities of operation. We have a long way to go , but learning the how's and why's of railroading is far from impossible. So how can we conduct accurate research?

Charles Cooper's Railway Pages list potential sources of records including photographs, track diagrams, railway magazines, railway books, hobby shows, and railway publications, which "interpret the railway scene and place it in its correct historical context as to time, place and function". The authors of these works have often gone to considerable trouble to source the information presented from archives, museums, former railway archives and engineering departments, retired railroaders, and long-standing photograph collections." Charles only briefly mentions the internet, which can include re-posted and incorrectly dated or otherwise altered information and photographs.

For number-crunchers, here's how I would put some relative if approximate numbers on the C-P-R Principle. Treat each part of the principle as a percentage, by estimating:

C-value: Narrow timeframe can still give a high C-value, especially if practice occurred frequently. For instance, 20 incidents in one year or in ten years can still be 100%.

P-value: The actual probability or likely number of events in a given time period. Probability may improve as more research is done. For instance, a daily event (365/year) = 100%, rare event (i.e. 3/year) = 1%.

R-value: As more research is done, the number of records may increase. Statistically, more records give a more relevant and higher R-value. For instance, 1 record = 1%, 10+ records = 100%.

(C-value + P-value + R-value) divided by 3 = Relevance Factor %. If the relevance factor is an acceptably high percentage to you, it will help you decide if the equipment or practice is worth pursuing in model form.

(Or, toss it all out and do what you want - it's your layout and there has to be some fun and spontaneity involved. Run that Royal Hudson with an LRC consist! Tack an ETU onto your 1940's freight train! Yes, I intended to run an RPO and combine on my double-stack train!)