Friday, September 30, 2011

A Tug on the Coupler

A train trip always starts with a tug on the coupler.

Sometimes almost imperceptible, sometimes not. The station platform starts to slide away, and our journey has begun. It doesn't matter whether we're sitting in a coach on a day trip into the city, or in a sleeper beginning a transcontinental tour. The power throttles up - GM's gallop, MLW's burble, and GE's chug. The countryside moves past the window, like Fred Flintstone running through the repetitive background of one of his cartoons. Who knows how many hours and miles until we reach our destination. Who knows what sights we'll see or what other trains we might spot. It will be a trip to remember.

And it all started with a tug on the coupler.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Railfan Vehicles

Do you live beside the tracks? If not, to go railfanning you need a railfan vehicle of some sort. Anything with two to four wheels will get you there, but what makes the ideal railfan vehicle? It should be all-weather, roomy, well-appointed and look good in trackside photos. Here are a few examples I've been fortunate to spend time driving around in. Ailing VIA 6409 and an LRC consist are assisted by CN 9551 in the North America map scheme at Kingston on June 5, 1999 (above). Railfan vehicle 'Vanna Blue' in foreground, contributes a few horsepower to the scene.

Volkswagens as railfan vehicles? Not known for their heaters but with a spare engine in back, here's a 1976 Beetle at Napanee in February, 1985. At least the low, late afternoon sun provided some heat while waiting for this eastbound CN freight behind 9465-2332-2335. Near the Bath Spur, I once tried to shoehorn a too-long decommissioned wooden whistle post into a too-short Beetle. Spiderweb-like cracks instantly spread across the windshield. Before long, I was leaving Speedy Auto Glass after unloading the whistle post and adding a new windshield. My sister was amazed at how 'clean' I'd gotten the windshield since last time she drove it.

1961 Beetle meets 1973 GM (above). CN 5513-5565-5518 at Mi 184 Kingston Sub on a cloudy August 22, 1976. Sixteen years old and still running. Just don't kick its running boards, because it would result in a manna-like dropping of rust flakes on the asphalt. 1979 VW Rabbit at Napanee (below) with the tailend of an eastbound freight behind 9634-2547-2583-9588 and caboose 79555 in 1986. Lots of 'giddy-up' when chasing fast-moving trains.

Import-ant. My aunt and uncle's Datsun hatchback shown at CP's Portage la Prairie station, witnessing an eastbound behind 5852-8657 with 100 grain loads. A westbound with 5928-5904 waits in the yard in September 1985. This little gem was easy on gas, plus I could drive it like it was stolen... er...borrowed.

Chasing CP 5796-4202 north out of Portage on the Minnedosa Sub, I was able to get ahead of the train, then skid to a stop in the wet gravel to get this shot:

Also in 1985, I was temporarily lost between Montmartre and Francis, Saskatchewan. I decided to prop my camera on a nearby fencepost to capture a photo for posterity. My rented Tilden Chrysler Fifth Avenue is showing a little road grime after a morning of prairie backroad southeast of Regina:
Interior view of the Fifth Avenue. Note overturned floormat to keep Saskatchewan mud off the plush, velour carpeting. On the power seats, note zoom lens, obligatory ballcap and fast food bag. Definitely Railfan Mobile One - and giving 'the wave' to every vehicle I met along the way.
Luxury on the Lewvan Sub. All cleaned up and ready to return to Tilden. A new metal-clad elevator at Rowatt (pictured in Steve Boyko's recent post here) with grain boxcars spotted serves as a backdrop for a power-washed, now-shiny Fifth Avenue (hey, it was full-size at a compact price):

A much more practical alternative, a Chevy Cavalier took me to an evening visit at Sovereign, Saskatchewan in 1986. Rented from Hertz in Saskatoon, I drove this plucky people-mover 1000 miles in 3 days for $35.99 a day. It even survived a dead porcupine strike near Wartime. Speaking of Cavaliers, my current backup railfan vehicle is an '01 Cavalier painted Soo Line white.

Another Chevy compact, and the only 'Vette I'll likely ever own, this racing-striped 1981 Chevette watches 6914 and 4 LRC cars whiz through Napanee. When the hatchback cylinder finally failed, a propped-up snowbrush did the trick. It's February 1989 and that CN brush-cutter will be weed-whackin' soon:

Compact car, compact train. CN 4101 brings a pike-sized turn comprising 2 cars and 79691 down the Belleville Yard ladder track, returning from Port Hope and Trenton on April 30, 1990. In the foreground is our 1984 Chevette. The rear-window baby blanket shields a budding six month-old railfan from the afternoon sun. Photo taken from a sizeable ballast pile perch:
Olds + old wheels. CN 49483 hauls replaced wheels at the end of CN train 321, westbound at Kingston station on March 9, 2001. 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham definitely qualified for pimpmobile status - power everything. Leaky fuel line sealed its fate and its date with the scrapper. It passed this same location on Counter Street, heading for Kimco Steel's crusher, as a four-wheeled fire hazard.Perfect for railfanning with a crew, this 1994 Voyager offered lots of glass through which to watch the action. Back it in, pop the hatch, spread a blanket on the liftgate, spread out the lawnchairs and you've got a sun-proof, weather-resistant railfan tailgate party. Dining car steward prepares the bar service at White's Road in Trenton between CN and CP (in background) main lines:
I'm currently driving a 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan, with Ontario plates BCNR XXX (not personalized, but railfan-themed). It's a big, silver umbrella at Shannonville, Ontario on a drizzly September 27, 2008, as CN 2250-2628 carry containers into Belleville. Tinted glass and double sliding doors mean covert viewing and quick exits.
Running extra...

Saturday, September 24 is George's Trains' annual customer appreciation day and charity BBQ. I've been invited to sign copies of my new book. We'll be donating $5 from each copy sold to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. There will be a variety of vendors and manufacturers at the event in Markham, plus a huge operating layout, all adjacent to CN's main line. Lots to see and do - hope to see you there!

Travelled Kingston-Toronto round trip yesterday aboard VIA Nos 651/68. Note to Kingston VIA station users who show up for No 651: ticket sales counter now not staffed until 0700. Use the self-serve ticket kiosks (and earn 25 VIA Preference points). VIA Rail has a new capital investments page on their website - full of useful information on recent capital project involving "trains, tracks and stations".

Perhaps the ideal railfan vehicle would be a Roadtrek van conversion. All the comforts of home, looks good trackside, and would certainly meet the criteria mentioned in the opening of this post. Somewhat sporty, definitely functional.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trackside Modelling: Engro Fertilizer Dealer

Bulk fertilizer is an essential component of modern agriculture. In an earlier post on trackside details in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, one of the trackside industries I featured was the Esso/Engro fertilizer bulk distribution facility, very visibly situated between the CN and CP main lines. The facility was not staffed, but often saw the arrival and departure of all sizes of trucks and farm vehicles when fertilizer was being loaded.
Delivery of bulk fertilizer was by rail - a spur off CP's switching lead, parallel to their Carberry Sub, served the fertilizer shed at its rear, north side. The bulk fertilizer was received in covered hopper cars, with CP, CPLX and private owner reporting marks. In 1984-1986, I observed mostly cylindrical covered hoppers, delivered singly by CP's Portage switcher. The cars were unloaded by opening the hopper bottom and allowing the fertilizer to drop by gravity into the pan of a stationary auger, with the inevitable spillage. Carried upwards to the top of the shed, the fertilizer then dropped into divided storage bins inside the shed.
I photographed similar Esso/Engro oil/fertilizer distribution facilities in Macgregor:
and Don Strong's in Carberry, both served by CP's Carberry Sub, west of Portage.
I photographed this covered hopper in Kingston, Ontario, but it's similar to those used in fertilizer service:
The car-unloading auger at the Portage facility is visible above the shed (below). The agent would drive over from the nearby Esso dealership to oversee transfer of fertilizer to trucks by conveyor/auger or Bobcat loader kept inside the shed, or the loading and pickup of spreaders.
If the fertilizer requires blending before use, the ingredients can be loaded into a receiving hopper, then moved to a mixer (like that used on concrete mixer trucks) before being loaded via conveyor. Here's such a facility operated by Cargill in Sidney, Manitoba, also on CP's Carberry Sub:
These facilities are easily modelled, and guarantee a slow but steady trickle of loaded cars for delivery and unloading on your layout. Spilled whitish powder to represent fertilizer, safety equipment, a variety of vehicles and a few hard-working figures complete the modelled scene. Fertilizer dealers would be at home at any agricultural centre on the Prairies, often co-located with oil dealerships on the town business track. Ammonia tanks are a related industry, such as this one east of Bassano, Alberta, taken from aboard VIA train 1:
Outstanding in its field: a road-hogging Versatile 895 tractor hauls a one-pass cultivator and ammonia nurse tank, parallel to CN's Wainwright Sub:
I scratch-built an HO version of the shed, delivery trucks, and anhydrous ammonia tank. Logos were taken from agricultural magazines:
Running extra...

Saturday, September 24 is George's Trains' annual customer appreciation day and charity BBQ. I've been invited to sign copies of my new book. We'll be donating $5 from each copy sold to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. There will be a variety of vendors and manufacturers at the event in Markham, plus a huge operating layout, all adjacent to CN's main line. Lots to see and do - hope to see you there!

Tonight, I watched Michael Buble (that's pronounced BOOB-lay, not BUB-ul, and he is my daughter's favourite solo artist) live at the Concert Hall on Bravo. Classics like 'All of Me' and 'Til Somebody Loves You', plus Michael introduces each member of his horn section AND his hometown, all in an inimitable Burnaby-Bronx accent.

Also on TV tonight, American Pickers on History Channel. Frank and Mike are freestylin' in upstate New York - and one pick includes a funny Blair Witch Project segment to boot. Just when it looked like there was no railroad content - two BNSF units haul a freight over a crossing in front of the Antique Archaeology van. BNSF in New York? That is scary.

Monday, September 5, 2011

VIA Trip to Ottawa

VIA's 50% off sale encouraged us to book a couple of Corridor trips this summer. On Labour Day weekend, my wife, daughter and I were off to Ottawa to take in the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival, thanks to our son's radio contest winning ways. Prior to boarding VIA train 44 at Kingston, three VIA trains arrived and left. Excellent railfanning opportunity. Trains were running "wrong main" this Friday afternoon. The first westbound was VIA train 61: 906-3474-3367-3354-3345-3320, arriving on time at 1420 (above).
VIA train 55 was next, having waited for the signal at Queens West behind train 45 to run time, running just a few minutes late. Train 50 was running about 15 minutes late, and slid into the station on the north track, obscuring train 55(above), although I caught 904-8618-3463 ahead of five more LRC coaches. Train 60's consist was 6434-8612-4001-4000-4109-8104-4108-8101-4112. It's always nice to see the original Canadian cars with their solid blue stripe, original car number slides (i.e. 005), holes where the beaver shields used to be, and nice wide windows.
VIA train 44 arrived about 20 minutes late. Passenger loads seemed heavy, since the long weekend was starting - lots of kids, and their parents sending them off to college. Train 44 was being operated by engineer Jordan McCallum, who'd picked up his copy of my new book on VIA Rail at Kingston in June. Former Wisconsin Central, ex-Algoma Central NSC-built class HMA ballast car SSAM 208006 was on a spur in Brockville yard (above). Also in the yard were Corn Products tank cars and covered hoppers for CASCO in Cardinal, plus ingot flat cars and boxcars and CNLX covered hoppers.
Now that the new VIA station is open in Smiths Falls, we highballed the former ex-CP station, although a slow transit of CP's Smiths Falls trackage allowed some roster photography of some cars in the yard: CSXT 260975 (above), BNSF 485071 and CP switch panel flat car 421887 (below):

The new VIA station at former station board CN Smiths Falls East is viadorable - a very, very small version of Kingston's station, with a parking lot looking a little inadequate - already packed with cars. Some impressive signalification and passing tracks have been built on CP's and VIA's trackage between Brockville and Ottawa - sidings at Fallowfield, Richmond, Dwyer Hill, Montague, Jasper and Bellamy.
On arrival in Ottawa, 6440-3458-3304-3332 was on track 4, and engine 909 arrived on train 59. After a nice weekend in Ottawa and the Outouais, we headed to Ottawa Union Station to board VIA train 59. The departures and arrivals boards looked fairly full, with some trains cancelled for the Labour day statutory holiday:

My wife recognized none other than Jordan McCallum as he arrived with his mate, engineers on train 59. Also riding train 59 would be "viahogger" Terry Brennan, who though dead-heading even offered to don a vest for this photo. Not necessary, Terry. These two fellows are active on Yahoogroups, as well as being VIA engineers and enthusiastic VIAphiles to boot. We talked VIA equipment, rosters, history, and recently-published books while we waited for the substituted Renaissance consist to arrive.
We boarded VIA's Ren consist only a few minutes late, as it waited glinting in the late afternoon sun - lots of baggage and passengers aboard. Jordan mentioned that his baggage-handling skills were put to use on 170 bags handled earlier in the weekend. Train 59's consist: 6431-7002-7218-7307-7103-7205-7206-712x.
Also in the station was VIA train 44's consist: 901-8621-3460-3473-3306-3357-3322:
Accelerating through the sweeping curve just west of Ottawa Union Station, Renaissance unit 6431 got our train underway, through the suburbs, then into the unforgiving swamps and cedar bush of eastern Ontario:
No stops at Smiths Falls tonight, but I was able to get a few photos of CP's yard throat, and power at the former roundhouse site, 8209 and golden beaver 3031. No CP freights in the Falls either way, and only one visible on CN's Kingston Sub on the way home.

Our train arrived in Kingston about 15 minutes late, though VIA's arrival and departure status webpage shows the train 49 minutes late out of Oshawa, with Toronto arrival shown as 0508, a little off the advertised 2134, due to an unfortunate trespasser fatality at Danforth on the preceding VIA train 65.

Running extra...

We sat in a group of four seats both ways, which means we get the emergency exit spiel. This wasn't lost on me, especially when we passed the Kott Lumber spur near Fallowfield where a VIA train, 6901 and four LRC cars, ran through an open switch into the spur on Moodie Drive on June 21, 1984, resulting in 27 injuries.

The first of The Valiants, a grouping of 14 busts of Canadian war heroes near Parliament Hill, that I came to was Fleet Air Arm Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray, VC. A Vought Corsair and other warbirds were at Kingston airport recently to commemmorate Gray who trained here, and to mark the 70th anniversary of the BCATP. Blog partner Steve Boyko mentioned that his school in Shearwater, NS was named for Gray.

It's back-to-school time, and the kids are using the word "epic" a lot, as in "my weekend was epic." I doubt that. I also hear the words "grainy cellphone video" a lot. One phrase I hardly ever hear is "killed in a horrific lawn-bowling accident". I'm just sayin' (kids say that a lot too).