Friday, May 1, 2015

CN Billboard Cars, 1971

CN posed a train of newly-painted billboard cars across from its station in Belleville, Ontario during the Countdown 6218 fantrips to Anson Junction on July 3-4, 1971 (L.C. Gagnon photos - above and below). The billboard train was led by new M-636 2335 with caboose 79460 on the tail-end. CN painted the cars at Pointe St Charles shops in late 1970, denoted by their stencilled shop dates of H-Q 9-70.
The train was part of a marketing effort to show that CN freight service was an innovative developer of resources in the Canadian economy, including photos of the cars in a marketing brochure (below). This post will tell you everything you want to know about these cars, their unique paint schemes, their travels, and a personal connection with the train as we observed it in Belleville. Notice that the cars shown in the brochure have no numbers, dimensional data nor ACI labels applied as shown in the brochure. To include reporting marks, a brown band was applied to the newsprint car, obscuring some letters of the mastheads:
CN 401527 is a cushion underframe-equipped newsprint boxcar built in December, 1966. Each Canadian city newspaper masthead image on the car side was reproduced two feet high. Notice how the modernistic French-language mastheads near the car door really stand out among the largely Gothic-lettered mastheads. One of my not-so-great moments in railfanning (subject of a future post!) was seeing this car coming around the bend out of CN's Hamilton yard in 1981, me waiting at Bayview Junction to photograph it, and it never appearing. BECAUSE THE BILLBOARD SCHEMES WERE ON ONE SIDE ONLY! Ouch.
Cylindrical covered hopper CN 370708 was also built in December, 1966. Decorated with a rainbow (ROYGBIV) spectrum of colours representing different chemicals, the car was adorned with the chemical formula for hexamethylene di-isocyanate.
CN 283032 was built in April, 1965. 
An insulated boxcar intended for shipping of foodstuffs, the especially eye-catching apple scheme would catch my eye on February 17, 1992, while it was awaiting to ignominious conversion to MoW storage car CN 73728 again at Belleville, 21 years later!
Earlier, I'd seen the apple car during a visit to Winnipeg's CN Symington Yard in 1979, in the company of a freshly-painted mechanical reefer CN 235242.
Mechanical reefer CN 235091 was the youngest billboard car, built in August, 1969 and equipped with meat rails.
Here's a fascinating sidelight to the billboard train at the typewritten account of the day's fantrip at Belleville that my Mom had written: "Laurie had picked up from the ground, the train orders of the billboard train that had come up the night before." Indeed, my Dad's meticulously-filed train orders revealed this to be true:
OK'd at 1939 on July 2, Extra 2335 West was cleared at Brockville to Belleville with train order 554 by dispatcher JJM noting "extreme caution when approaching and passing through Belleville and be prepared to stop if necessary account Countdown 6218 steam special train passengers and other people who may be standing on or near tracks" copied by Operator Gagnon at 1912:
Interestingly, CN Brockville operator Philippe Gagnon has recently confirmed that it was he that copied the order, and that the Dispatcher was Johnny Marshall, from Napanee! A bulletin attached to the orders to Extra 2335 West: "Deliver [sic - delier] Unit 2335 to shop on arrival at Belleville" perhaps for cleaning prior to display the next day.
The cars formed a backdrop of interest for photographers waiting around Belleville station between fantrips, even if they were not steam-era vintage. Here are a couple of photos credited to Derek Henderson that offer some nice views of the billboard cars:
CNR 6218 pulls in to steal the cars' limelight:
It appears the cars stayed together throughout July, making a stopover in Winnipeg's Polo Park neighbourhood, then being photographed in Calgary on July 17, 1971 and a prior visit to Hamilton, ON in April 1971 (see below). Interestingly, the CNRHA included a photo of 2335 at Belleville on the cover of the second book in their incomparable CN diesel series. In Jim Shaughnessy's photo, the opposite side of CN 283032 is just visible - the photo must have been taken later in the day. 
The four colour individual car photos (starting with third photo from top - above) were taken by Peter Macdonald, purchased from Liz Reid in March 2015. Peter's photos also appear to have been taken late in the day when the sun had passed to the other side of the cars.
While at Belleville, the cars were also photographed by Jim Shaughnessy, John Thompson, Bob Sandusky, Tom Hood, Dave More, Gary Zuters, Paul Tatham, Phil Mason and John Reay:
Made available online through the CSTM Picturing the Past collection, here are Aubry Mattingly photos of the billboard train (CSTM Collection photos MAT007312-MAT007319)

Dave Pottinger kindly shared his stellar set of scanned slides of the billboard cars in two Belleville and Hamilton. Is it obvious that I cannot get enough photos of these cars? I really like the way the lines of CN's James Street station in Hamilton highlight the lines of the cars, even in the fading evening light when Dave photographed them. Later, this station was relegated to RIP track repairs in the 1980's. Interestingly, the Hamilton photos show snow! Hmmmm.
CN 283032 (above and CN 235091 (below):
CN 401527 (above) and CN 370708 (below):
Hamilton in April! Months before Belleville in July. More of Dave's photos, taken during the Countdown 6218 weekend at Belleville are unique, because they were taken from aboard 6218's train, including that infamous 370708-blocking semaphore signal!

And here is the best part of Dave's photos...the top and opposite side of the billboard cars are clearly shown at Hamilton, from the station over-track walkway:
...oh, and a Burro crane...
Someone else ventured to the 'dark side' of the billboard consist at Belleville in 1971 - online auction site heavily-unwatermarked photo:
Here's another, via Tim Reid from the same vantage point and in colour:
Michael de Soi Sr posted a March 1978 photo of CN 401527 in Philadelphia to the Freight Cars Photos Facebook group. Surrounded by Amtrak!
CN 401527 was eastbound in a CN freight Mi 183 Kingston Sub in early 1985. (D.J. Gagnon photo):

This concludes the Countdown 6218 three-part least for now :) Previous posts covered the Countdown 6218 fantrips and a family account of the fantrip we rode.

Running extra...
I say, check this out, old boy! This Tri-Ang page contains some interesting photos - a British prototype car with the newspaper mastheads and cow graphic, and a rare 1971 photo of newsprint car CN 401527's  OTHER side. The one I saw at Bayview Jct! Also the other side of 235091. Life-Like even applied the mastheads to their unusual 'all-door' boxcar.

From 'ville to 'ville...the Friendly City to the City of the Thousand Islands, that is. Brockville's VIA station has recently been renovated. Here's my 'before' photo from June 2013:
Ottawa's Henk van Zijl kindly sent a couple of photos of Prestige Class Prince Albert Park trimly trailing VIA No 65 on April 25, destined for Prestige Class on the Canadian west of Toronto. Thanks, Henk!


BArailsystem said...

Super cool Eric! What a great compilation of photos and the explanation of each car. Really enjoyed this post. Great reference for guys modeling that era and want to model this unique train.


Eric said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Ben. I've found some recent Trackside Treasure posts have become just that - reference. I often want to refer to this information, and I guess others will, too! Dave Pottinger, who supplied the Hamilton and Belleville photos has also modelled the cars! His are better than the Tri-Ang ones I've linked to, for sure!

My initial aim for Trackside Treasure was to feature my railfanning, and this is still the case. However, once in a while, a railfan post (the 6218 fantrips when I was 7 years old!) morphs into more. Such is the case here.

I've listed this post in my CCFC (Classic Canadian Freight Cars) list in my sidebar. As you know, I'm a bit of a freight car-phile!


Michael said...

Where to start? There's treasure everywhere in this post. I didn't know the history behind these cars. I had the HO version of the apple car. I've seen the rainbow car at hobby shops often. Nice to know they were based on real life cars.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Michael. I didn't get into the debate about the Intermountain rainbow car being the wrong cubic footage etc. Rolling stock rivet-counting is just as bad as loco rivet-counting to me!

However, the billboard cars have been the source of many foobies, as the links in the post clearly show.

This series really has been a ten degrees of separation:

1. Somebody online mentioned CN's Billboard Cars.
2. Remembering we were there in July,1971 for the Belleville steam fantrip, I checked my Dad's photo album.
3. Finding photos, also a typewritten account by my Mom, which I enjoyed reading.
4. The account mentioned train orders my Dad picked up from the Belleville ballast, discarded by the crew of the billboard train. [I have no problem picking up such items from the ballast; my Mom thought it was yucky]
5. Checked my Dad's train order files.
6. Finding the train orders, noticed order no. 554 was signed by operator Gagnon.
7. Scanned and posted them to my blog, Trackside Treasure as part of a three-part series on the Countdown 6218 fantrip weekend, plus Facebook If You Work(ed) On the Railroad group.
8. Group member P.M. commented that the signature belonged to former CN operator Philippe Gagnon.
9. I remembered I've emailed Philippe occasionally - we share the same surname.
10. Philippe said that was a significant year for him - asked for scans of the order and clearance which I was happy to share.

And, I have engaged in the British publication concept of serialization, to keep readers coming back for more! Actually, it's because I don't want interminably-long blog posts, and I could NOT cram all this good stuff into one!


elruddick said...

I just stumbled upon this site. Have been working on an N scale train wit these 1971 special cars. Thanks for adding to my "research".
Lindley Ruddick

Eric said...

Glad to hear it, Lindley! A uNique project!
Thanks for your comment,

Unknown said...

wow thank you for this post, I never new about this train before. I have seen the rainbow hopper many times in HO and bought the Rapido version last year. Now I need to build this train hahaha. I have the caboose ready to build TLT undecorated, the engine is coming home soon. Now in search on the 3 box cars. I now the newsprint has been done by Proto P1K, would you know if the apple and beef where done properly or close to?

Eric said...

Great to hear from you, Robin!

I'm glad to hear Trackside Treasure is helping with your project. The apple and beef cars were done a long, long time ago by Bachmann. More recently, not that I know of in HO.

The billboard cars were a unique publicity opportunity for CN. One that they haven't repeated since, and perhaps should!


Unknown said...

yes they should! with their 100th year, they have the opportunity to do so! but the only thing I saw was that big red square CN 100 on some engines :(