Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sceneramics, Part 2

Sceneramics, Part 1 covered CN's acquisition and use of the ex-Milwaukee Super Domes as Sceneramics. CN even gave cardboard punch-outs of matching A-B F-units, coach and Sceneramic to kids onboard. Speaking of punchouts, looks like there is a fracas in rows 7-8 of the dome, with a different kind of punchout going on. No more red wine for her! More here in this Sceneramic Scequel post!
VIA converted the punch-out artwork for Jasper to their blue & yellow paint scheme from CN's black & white. VIA continued to feature the Sceneramics in their accommodations brochures, albeit with updated passenger fashions. Groovy, baby!
Passengers in Sceneramic dome:
As the cars aged, VIA found the electrical and A/C systems increasingly unreliable and the cars were frequently removed from service. Fraser and Qu'Appelle remained in CN colours until retirement. Athabasca and Columbia were painted in VIA colours (notice the JB initials on the end of the car in the latter photo, denoting sale to J Baldwin - see below) during 1977. At one point, Athabasca even had a crossed-A VIA logo! Jasper and Yellowhead received VIA paint as well.

I reviewed published reports and consists I included in Trackside with VIA: Cross-Canada Compendium Consist Companion. Here is a snapshot of the six Sceneramics' travels during their service careers with CN and VIA in the 1970's, as well as VIA in the 1980's by car, year, location and train number:
1975 Wpg; 1976 Edm No 2; 1977 Jasper No 1; 1980 Vanc No 104; 1980 Jasper No 3;1981 Vanc No 3.
1976 Edm No 2; 1978 Jasper No 1.
1976 Edm No 2; 1976 Wpg No 2; 1978 Edm No 3; 1978 Jasper No 2.
1976 Edm No 1 & 2; 1979 Vanc No 2.
1970 Edm No 1; 1976 Edm No 2.
1972 Jasper No 2; 1976 Edm No 2; 1978 Edm No 2.

I was fortunate to see two Sceneramics in use at Portage la Prairie, MB. A late-running Super (normally due at 0655) happened by eastward at West Tower at 0923 June 17, 1980 with Athabasca bringing up the markers:
On August 25, 1981, a westbound 17-car Super passed through Portage with Columbia trailed by Cabot Manor. This was a fairly common occurrence in 1980: Sceneramic trailing ex-CP sleeper on the Super, likely for safety reasons - providing a vestibule on the trailing car, something the Sceneramics lacked.
This photo from VIA's rainbow era of 1979-1980 shows a CN-painted Sceneramic ahead of a CP-painted Chateau at Edmonton (Brian Schuff collection):
I observed rusting Fraser, in need of repair in CN colours at Winnipeg's East Yard in October, 1980, and again in June 1982 along with Athabasca.
Notice the by-then sorry state of the dome glass: murky, cloudy with various shades of tint. Depending on which seat a passenger sat in, the view would certainly have been 'through a glass darkly'. Lubricants, exhaust and accumulated road grime appeared around the equipment access doors. Here's Fraser (at left) in East Yard in 1982 coupled to Athabasca (at right). (Next four photos by Brian Schuff)
Fraser is rusting away, coupled to an equally rusty ex-CP baggage car 2720, one of another set of coach yard queens - CP smoothside baggage cars that minimal if any service with VIA. Note the tiny lettering at the top left corner of Athabasca's side has been painted out:
Here's another view from the other end of the deadline. Fraser is spending a little time apart from 2720 whose Canadian Pacific-painted number still visible on the end door. Both cars are hemmed in by a cut of covered hoppers - not going anywhere soon!
CN-painted Qu'Appelle also spent some time at East Yard:
In September 1981, just one month before the withdrawal of Sceneramics, Aubrey Mattingly photographed well-weathered (with tiny lettering painted out) Athabasca at Winnipeg (CSTM collection MAT001146) on the station-level tracks:
and CN-painted Qu'Appelle (CSTM collection MAT001143) in East Yard:
Other sidelined Sceneramics included Columbia and a sister, Jasper, in Vancouver in June, 1983.

The cars were removed from service on October 25, 1981 just before the cancellation of the Super on November 15, 1981. The massive November 1981 VIA cuts resulted in the removal of several smaller car series including the Sceneramics, and they were all retired by mid-1982. Athabaska, Qu'Appelle, Columbia and Fraser were sold to Great Western Tours of San Francisco in November, 1983. Jasper and Yellowhead were sold to Tour Alaska in 1984. Dome Lurker's Dome.main for further disposition of the Sceneramics. Interestingly, Jasper, Columbia and Fraser could be found on Amtrak's Auto-Train to and from Florida from 1990 to 1995! Amtrak added dome glass tinting, a dumbwaiter and ventilation to the kitchen, shifted the dining room upstairs while retaining Princess Tours-installed rooftop air-conditioners (this location for A/C was also not problem free).
These two photos show "JB2704" formerly Qu'Appelle, on an excursion in Minnesota in 1984, at Duluth (above-one of the few photos I've seen of a Sceneramic from directly overhead) and Two Harbors (below) (both Tim Vitelli photos). JB apparently refers to J Baldwin, through whom the Sceneramic was conveyed to Great Western Tours.
Interestingly, one car not acquired by CN (ex-MILW 57) returned to Canada for use on BCR's Pacific Starlight Dinner train and Ontario Northland, even having stainless steel side panels added. Check out

I hate to include rumours and unanswered questions, but these cars have spawned more than their share...
  • Did VIA plan to keep the cars in service on CP's scenic mountain route?
  • If so, if the I-series roomettes had indeed caused trouble with tunnel clearance due to their truck centres/grab irons, the Sceneramics would have required tunnel work to increase clearances.Tunnel clearances became an issue with the advent of double-stack containers 15 years later.
  • Was the fifth lounge side window a victin of CN re-design, due to the reconfigured lounge and need for a side loading door?
  • Were the Sceneramics too high for various the Winnipeg Union Station trainshed? At 15'6" maximum height, the cars were four inches shorter than the ex-CP Budd Skylines and Park cars! 
  • Was height an issue when the cars operated in Toronto Union with its trainshed?
  • Did the dome glass become multicoloured shades of grey, green and black due the failure of interior sunproofing film or due to ongoing window pane replacement?
  • What did that tiny, stencilled lettering at the top-left side of each car side actually say??
This tiny lettering has been the source of much discussion among VIAphiles and uberVIAphiles, none of whom have conclusive, definitive proof of what it said. I've just crossed the line from curiosity to obsession, and will be publishing a future post on my theories and some supporting evidence of what it could say.  ****0100 UPDATE: After some late-night sleuthing, I am incredibly ecstatic - I have cracked The Da Sceni Code and all will be revealed in a Postscript later this week. Stay tuned.****
Interior views of VIA Columbia in 1978, reformatted online auction site photos:
 In the upper level (above) and stairs (below)
The Sceneramics added some spice to the consists of CN and VIA. The cars' unique design was a holdover from the last great streamliner era, allowing passengers to see western Canada's trackside scenery from a unique vantage point. (CSTM collection photos CN000549 above, CN002407 below)
It would seem that a combination of design, age, complexity, unique requirements, unconventionality and ultimately a lack of sustainability in an atmosphere of budget cuts led the cars' eventual demise.

Running extra...

It's music time. All this dome car research reminded me of the Hank Snow, Johnny Cash classic I've Been Everywhere. Get the tune in your head then come along with me on this lyrical, glass-covered musical medley across the decades and the continent:

I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere man,
crossed the coach yard bare man, I've breathed that diesel air man,
Dome travel I've had my share man, I've been everywhere.

I've been a Super Dome, Vista Dome, Ultra Dome, Pleasure Dome,
Skyline, Domeliner, dome diner, Superliner
Three-Quarter Dome, Turbo Dome, Princess Dome, Astra Dome,
Great Dome, Big Dome, what the hell's a microtome?
Yoho, Tremblant, Kokanee, Kootenay
Bring your guitar, we're gonna have a hootenanny,

I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere man,
Groovy 70's hair man, purple and bright red chair man,
Why not climb the stairs man, I've been everywhere.

I've been on UP, CP, CN, GN,
eastbound, westbound, northbound, southbound,
Jasper, Casper, Cisco, San Francisco,
Evansburg, Hinton, Alberta sunlight all a-glintin'
Shasta, Hiawatha, Super Con, El Capitan,
On the City of Everywhere, puttin' Brylcreem in my hair

I've served up cocktails, mocktails, pink Pepto-Bismol,
Labatt Blue, Fifty, Canadian Club kinda nifty,
Getting cloudy, VIA needs some glass replacing!
Forward-facing, rear-facing, traffic-pacing, mountain-facing,
Hogtown, Cowtown, Winnipeg windy downtown,
Athabasca, I-tasca, say boy wha'd I ask ya?

Yes, I've been ev-ery-where...strum!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sceneramics, Part 1

Ten 'Sceneramics' were built by Pullman Standard for Milwaukee Road, numbered 50 to 59 and were delivered in 1952 at a cost of $325,000 each. Originally christened Super-Domes*, the cars were painted in Milwaukee's attractive harvest orange, royal maroon and black passenger scheme. The Sceneramics are often confused with other specialty dome cars, so let's get some definitions out of the way:
  • Sceneramic - a full-length dome, built as Super-Domes for Milwaukee Road in 1952, retired by VIA in 1982,  used mainly between Winnipeg-Edmonton-Vancouver (*I'll use the term Sceneramic throughout this series for clarity)
  • Skytop (Skyview in CN service) - an 8 double-bedroom, round-end bar lounge car, built for Milwaukee Road in 1949, refurbished by CN at Pointe St Charles in 1965, retired by CN in 1977, used mainly in Eastern Canada, the Corridor and Jasper-Prince Rupert
  • Skyline - a mid-train dome, built for CP in 1955, still in service with VIA, used in Eastern and Western Canada
The Sceneramic design was unique for its time, involving three-level construction:

51" from railhead car-end entrance level (no vestibules) with one washroom at each end, two Waukesha DC enginators (generators) and electrical equipment at one end, A/C unit, compressor and water tanks at other end. Placement of this heavy equipment was necessitated by the drop-floor design of the car, and essentially made the car mechanically independent from the rest of the train. The entrances led to side passageways that were open to dome level, leading down three stairs to:
23" from railhead 28-seat lounge and stainless steel kitchen/bar in centre of car below:
104" from railhead 68-seat full length dome reached by six stairs up.
There was no centre sill, instead two 24-foot girder-type General Steel castings at each car end met with side sills that were load-bearing in the centre of the car. General also produced the 6-wheel, 11-foot wheelbase Timken roller bearing trucks with 36 1/2" wheels and large outboard springs, each weighing 33,275 pounds, to maintain the 15'6" external height cars' stability. The Trane A/C plant had a 20-ton capacity to keep the car and its 625 sq.ft. glass dome comfortably cool, the refrigeration equipment capable of producing 20 tons of ice per day. The 21 rubber-mounted double-glazed dome glass panels measured 3x5 feet and were lightly tinted. Manufactured by Adams & Westlake, the outer layer was 1/4-inch Pittsburgh Plate Glass Solex heat-resistant plate glass, with a 3/8-inch laminated Solex safety plate glass inside, separated by a 28-inch steel roof panel. Two Waukesha Motor Co. 25 kW diesel generators rated at 40 volts DC rested on pull-out tracks for servicing, also accessible from inside. The 85-foot car, with supplies and passenger load at 224,080 lbs. total weight.

In Milwaukee Road service, the cars were called Super Domes, initially used on the Chicago-Tacoma Olympian Hiawatha and Chicago-Minneapolis Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas.
After 1957, the Sceneramics were deemed surplus to the needs of the Milwaukee Road. Acquired by CN in 1964-65 intended for use by sleeping car passengers, the cars were named after western Canadian rivers upon shopping:
  • 2700 Jasper, ex-MILW 50, acquired by CN in 1964
  • 2701 Athabasca, ex-MILW 53, acquired 1964
  • 2702 Yellowhead, ex-MILW 54, acquired 1964
  • 2703 Fraser, ex-MILW 56, acquired 1964
  • 2704 Qu'Appelle, ex-MILW 51, acquired 1965
  • 2705 Columbia, ex-MILW 52, acquired 1965 
Initially numbered in the 2400-series, the cars were renumbered into the 2700-series in 1974. Names were visible on car sides, with numbers on ends. Existing CN parlour car car 573-Athabaska was renamed Great Slave Lake to prevent a conflict. (Columbia at Jasper, above. Jasper at Vancouver, below. Both photos - Brian Schuff collection)
The first four cars entered service by July 1964 after shopping at Transcona. CN replaced 39 centre-dome seats with lounge seating in twos and threes plus revolving single club car seats in 1971. In 1973, the entire upper level was modified with all lounge furniture in red/purple/blue/green with a total capacity of 54 seats.
Modifications were also made to the kitchen, lounge, passageway and a dome serving area was added. The attendant is getting ready to 'highball' in more ways than one. Numerous ashtrays on tables make one wonder about a smoke-filled dome. Notice the clear plastic bound covers on the magazines at right for passengers who have given up on getting a decent view out the dome windows and are tired of looking at their own reflection - 1974 interior photo (Brian Schuff collection):
Some early limitations of the cars' design was the mildly comfortable seating and the minimal forward view from the dome. CN passenger angling for a shot of mountains:
CN passengers made the most of the Sceneramics. A British family travelled across Canada in July 1964, at the dawn of CN's Sceneramic fleet. Their candid photos reveal views of a family exploring our great nation aboard CN's newest passenger cars: dome view of Hell's Gate, dome interior, lower level lounge, single dome seats and passageway and the difficulties of Sceneramic phorward photography, even on a curve! Single CN SW shepherds Sceneramic shadowed by spruce and surprisingly sheer, snow-capped sierra:
For a spine-tingling Sceneramic saga at Jasper, check out Bruce Harvey's Runaway Super-Dome. Thanks to Elijah Hall for the link! Yellowhead in service, 1974 (this and bottom photo, Brian Schuff collection):
CN featured the cars in several brochures from the mid-60's to the early-70's:
John Hardy spent some time in a Sceneramic aboard the Super, heading west from Winnipeg in 1973, from his book Canadian Rail Travel
     "On this trip, the train had a full length Sceneramic dome car in which I rode for much of the afternoon. This car had been purchased used from an American railway as part of CN's passenger marketing strategy. The upper, glassed level of the monstrous car was laid out as an observation lounge with a bar in the middle portion. The lower section contained a lounge, kitchen and generators. Only three passengers and the bar attendant occupied the observation lounge. By moving to the front of the car, I was able to photograph a couple of stations as the train passed through rural Manitoba. Riding up in the warmth of the dome car, I felt insulated from the harsh winter which gripped the Canadian Prairie outside."
Initially, in 1964 the cars were to be serviced in Jasper, but maintenance facilities there proved inadequate, resulting in movement to Edmonton on the Super Continental. Until 1968, the Sceneramics were used on the Super Continental and Panorama. In 1969 they operated year-round on the Super only, though in 1970 they interestingly operated out of Toronto. 1972 CN onboard brochure:
Though I should have known this while writing this post, I did have an opportunity to ride in a Sceneramic on CN's Super Continental. Okay, I was four. L.C. Gagnon photos (three, below) of our family in the dome. We appear larger than life in the reflections!
Two Sceneramics at Jasper. Perhaps one was the Sceneramic added to our train at Jasper.
Our train is stopped at an outlook to view majestic Mount Robson. Check the CN logo on the car ahead, the stepbox and the natty porter's uniform.
From 1970-78 the cars operated Winnipeg-Vancouver from September-June, and Saskatoon-Jasper-Edmonton-Vancouver in summer, except 1976 used Winnipeg-Vancouver year-round. From 1978, the cars operated Edmonton-Vancouver only, except from October 1979-January 1980 operation was Vancouver to Winnipeg. Here's Qu'Appelle at Edmonton:
This 1974 end view at Edmonton shows the cars' lack of vestibules and black end doors with silver push bar complete with car name. This photo brings us to the 'end' of Part 1. Read more about the cars in VIA service in Part 2.
Derek Henderson kindly shared this photo of Fraser taken at Jasper eastbound in February, 1977, still in CN paint:

Running extra...

Though I consider this post on VIA's Canadian in 1984 my favourite Trackside Treasure post due it's F-unit-laden photo subject matter, I feel like I have given birth to this Sceneramic series. I've been able to cobble together more information and photos (many through the generous co-operation of Winnipeg's Brian Schuff) than I've found in any other single location. Loaded with links, click away to discover more Sceneramics! It seems  that once passengers got off the train in a place like Jasper, they proceeded to take photos of the biggest thing around, be it the mountains, a totem pole, Jasper the Bear or a CN Sceneramic!

Speaking of the biggest thing around, check out Ben Alain's Youtube video of the Alberta Free-Mo event. The shooting took three hours, and the editing really lets you enjoy the various Free-Mo modules, meets, rolling stock and even off-layout happenings. Very enjoyable to watch - better than those hokey fish tank screensavers. Imagine yourself riding the pilot of the unit on this train! A model railway in a hockey arena - very Canadian!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Outdoor Layout: The MMPP&BTCo

What did I do on my summer vacation? I found myself in a cornfield meet confluence of three trains of thought:
Why remain consigned to the catacombed confines of the layout room when shady afternoons and cool evenings await, on the front step? I'd long wanted to build another layout, perhaps a northeast US layout based on the Rutland RR in their namesake city.
The micro-layout blog led me to the Harlem Station layout trackplan. This car ferry-team track-freight shed design got me thinking. Picking up a piece of 1/2 plywood measuring 24 by 39 inches, I grabbed some flex-track to lay the first curve. Perhaps not surprisingly, in HO scale, on a random, smallish piece of plywood, there is no way such a curve was going to happen, though an ardent micro-layouter has condensed it to 48x30 inches albeit it with curved turnouts and Fleischmann min-radius flextrack! A radius this tight would only support a layout dominated by scale-test cars or perhaps ore jennies. With thoughts of Harlem dashed on the rocks of radial irrationality and impossibility, I continued laying track until this plan emerged:
The Harlem Station layout involves all trailing-point switches. Not this one...track-level view:
I'm not one for formal, drawn trackplans, using CAD or any type of software. I prefer to get out the track and the Robertson wood screws and get at it. The switching tracks were a series of switchbacks leading from two nominal interchange tracks at right to two industries at left. Industry 2 can receive cars if no switching moves are required into Industry 3. Otherwise, the front run-around tracks are used for switching moves; these are left open. Each non-industry tail track can handle one car and one locomotive. The nearest interchange track can only handle one locomotive. The run-around tracks can handle two cars. I have left the industries numbered; un-named to keep things flexible.
While flipping through a stack of Kalmbach's Model Railroad Planning annuals, I paused at the 2011 edition, in which renowned track planner Byron Henderson planned Westcott Terminal paid homage to late Model Railroader Linn Westcott's classic Switchman's Nightmare trackplan (below). In a generously ginormous 4x8-foot trackplan, Henderson employed interchange/industries/runaround elements - coincidentally, the same elements I had incorporated in my unplanned trackplan.
I added the non-contiguous three-track staging yard because I realized I'd created enough switchbacks already, plus there was no way to realistically get more trackage into the top-right portion of the layout. Nominally leading to yard trackage and staging for the interchange, these tracks provide a convenient holding area to display rolling stock just departed or soon to arrive on the layout, pushed by the 0-5-0 switcher onto the interchange tracks.
Before scenery or structures were in place, my impetuous nature led me to operating with a CP S-3, the shortest-wheelbase unit I had. With a vaguely northeast US prototype in mind (as opposed to my basement Canadian prototype) I limited myself to 40-foot cars. Once in a while a 50-footer makes an appearance.
As the cardinals chirped, the squirrels scampered and the sun slowly set, I installed my humble micro-layout on a small folding table on our front step. I arranged an extension cord from the garage, power pack and feed wires to the track, and the evening air soon resonated to the clickety-clack of HO-scale wheelsets over switchpoints. With little in the way of an operating plan, I was happy with the prospect of operation.
Though the S-3 has a wheelbase that works on this layout, Chris Mears of Prince Street Terminal (see Chris' blog in sidebar) kindly sent a 44-tonner. Little MEC 15, a Bachmann product, is easily able to nimbly negotiate the trackage. Chris rescued this unit from his Pigeons Inlet Pinsly-like deadline. This unit had arrived via Seth Neumann in California, so it has certainly criss-crossed North America to its current home! I prepared a sky/industrial backdrop on foam core, held in place with push pins. The staging yard is fairly full (below), there are three ice reefers spotted at Industry 3, a Mobilgas tank car at Industry 2, two covered hoppers at Industry 1 and two more reefers are in a run-around move with MEC 15.
A name emerged: The Mulligatawny, Mears Piers, Pears & Beers Terminal Co. (The MMPP&BTCo, also known as the Alphabet Soup Route or the Consonant Line). Genesis of the name:
  • Mulligatawny is a weird soup name that I'd often seen on the soup and salad bar where I work. (Italian Wedding is another one, but hard to work into a name for a believable railway). A mulligan, by definition, is golf do-over allowed to reduce frustration and increase enjoyment of the game. On my layout, if a few feet are lacking to complete a move, the 0-5-0 switcher can gently lift the car truck to move the points over, hence a mulligan!
  • Mears Piers are small, black L-shaped plates at the edge of the layout I installed to prevent Chris Mears' 44-tonner from plunging to an untimely demise from the interchange tracks to the concrete front step below! These tracks nominally lead to piers for a carferry/float service.
  • Pears & Beers? The original owners of the line served a pear-importing business and a brewery. Plus, it nearly rhymes!
  • Terminal...well, just look at the track plan. If a piece of rolling stock rolls off, it's terminal!
  •'s nice to have my wife's company, sitting with me on the front step during operation. I would have tried to come up with a layout name based on her comments, but couldn't think of a railway name from the letters WTF.
Scenery was sprayed on, products purchased at Michaels:
  • Krylon Fusion #42438 Satin Khaki, to cover plywood.
  • Plasti-Kote Fleck Stone #9465 Ancient Ruins for roadways.
  • Design Master Color Tex One-Step #868 Mossy for vegetation.
Staged photo (above) showing how full the tracks might get. MEC 15 brings PRR boxcar and Santa Fe ice reefers to the run-around. :
Now that the weather is a little cooler, the layout has made its way just inside the front door, the rolling stock packed away until a warm late-summer day or spring arrives, whichever comes first!

Running extra...

The latest issue of the Bytown Railway Society Branchline a highly readable and enjoyable article by John 'Canyon' Cowan profiling his experiences aboard Vancouver's West Coast Express. John includes many entertaining anecdotes as well as lots of operational detail about commuter operations on the left coast. They even have Capuccino cars in each consist!

Speaking of double-doubles, early reports of a second refurbished 2+1 seating VIA Business Class car in Corridor service remain to be confirmed. 

I'm looking forward to the Canadian Walk of Fame celebrations next weekend honouring Alan Thicke and the late Oscar Peterson, among others. I just wish all the Thicke-Cyrus VMA controversy would die down. What's next, the duo's version of that railway classic "I've been Twerking on the Railroad"?