Saturday, December 2, 2017

Kingston-Portage la Prairie aboard VIA, 1981

On August 22, 1981 I departed Kingston aboard the morning RDC run to Toronto to begin a trip to Portage la Prairie, MB to visit relatives and of course, to watch trains. On this trip I would head west from Toronto on CN lines, as I had previously in 1978, returning east on CP lines from Calgary. As usual, I made notes on the scenery and activities observed trackside, using a log book I'd prepared with station names, subdivisions, mileages and dates prior to my trip, as well as my usual consists and numbers with pencil and notepad.

Rising at an early 0520, I boarded the waiting RDC consist at 0646, settling in window-seat 2 in VIA-painted RDC-1 6116. Anticipating a busy run, VIA had also assigned 6003-6135-6356 behind 6116, for a solid four-Railiner brace. Family members were trackside at Mi 182 to wave me off westward. Down six minutes at after crossing to the south track at Ernestown for our stop in Napanee, it was back to the north track, now ten minutes late into Belleville. We met an eastbound VIA train behind a VIA-painted FPA4 and striped CN RS18, arriving at Coboug 20 minutes late, with end-cupola wooden caboose CN 78245 on a yard track. Bear in mind this was track-work season on the busy, double-track CN Kingston Sub. We would stay 20 minutes late all the way into Toronto. I noted culverts stamped with the years 1912 and 1925 while paralleling CP's Belleville Sub. Our train was on the north track for our Oshawa stop. Being the eighties, Oshawa yard was still full of a plethora of brightly-coloured 86-foot auto boxcars: GT, CR, ATSF, PC, Southern, SP, MP, IC, C&EI as well as auto racks from many of the same US railroads.

Having 12+ hours' layover in Toronto, I made the usual stop at CN's Spadina shops to check out VIA motive power as well as passing trains: 7 MLW and 9 GM passenger units, 2 CN passenger Geeps, 7 CN RS-18's, 21 RDC's and a host of CN switcher-led consists, as well as Amtrak, Ontario Northland and GO equipment in the afternoon and evening. CP switchers bustled about with transfers and industrial-switching assignments, including CP C-424 4203 with 15 flat cars and vans 437076, 436991, 437229, 436993, 438591, 438536 and 437124. Boarding VIA No 3 at 2245, I continued watching inbound VIA trains. Prior to departure, I made a point of walking the entire length of the train to get the complete ex-CN consist: 6510-6606-6628-9663-Iroquois-5441-5500-761-5723-5725-Enterprise-Evangeline-Green Lane-1354-Reverie-Elliston-Ernestown-Eastport-9480. I travelled in Ernestown's roomette 8. The overnight Cavalier was also in the station: 6775-9613-5425-5226-5494-3024-108-Fortune Bay-Chateau Latour.

Our locomotives were being refuelled the next morning in Capreol and I went up to the head-end just in time to see them being coupled on to our train. We departed Capreol at 0835 and I stayed in the vestibule of Eastport which was now the last car, baggage-coach 9480 having been set off in Capreol. This was not to last - a barely-English-speaking porter spotted me and ended my Dutch door reverie 14 miles out of Capreol (top photo). We met two eastbound CN 3-unit, 80+ car freight trains between Capreol and Laforest, ON led by CN 9595-9404-9622 and 9419-9648-9563. Napped through a rainy Gogama.

The day was spent traversing northern Ontario's wilderness. The first sitting at 1215 - a good lunch and such good service that I noted 'everything was served slightly prematurely' but the waiter still received a princely 25-cent tip! Hornepayne was another refuelling stop (three photos - below), taking up 30 minutes before our departure at 1720, about 45 minutes late. The town's Hudson's Bay store, coaling tower and assortment of CN work equipment in the yard was on display. A long string of boarding cars, a concrete-tie-laying machine and a one-unit Jordan spreader/ballast car work train were on sidings. Interestingly, CN wooden end-cupola cabooses were in use: 79146 at Capreol, 78362, 75885, 78781, 78501 at Hornepayne and 78491 at Nakina. CN GP9 4569 was switching Longlac. At Armstrong we were 40 minutes late, departing at 2345. The Hornepayne Auxiliary train was moving cars around, including two smashed piggyback trailers on flat cars. 
CN 9521-9587 led an eastbound drag that was being serviced at Hornepayne (above)
 Head-end and tail-end views at Hornepayne
On August 24, our 0700 arrival at Minaki saw us 90 minutes late. Throughout the morning we made up some time, arriving 45 minutes late into Winnipeg at 0902. Of course this trip involved some Portage la Prairie trainwatching. VIA's Canadian and Super Continental as well as VIA No 90 from Thompson behind VIA 6506 on August 28:
Travelling to Calgary by car thence a return trip to Edmonton by RDC, it was now time to head back east in roomette 4 of Butler Manor. Fast-forward to September 3, boarding at Calgary at 2349 during the hour-long stop from 2323-0023. I noted that the station was 'very nice but a bit small'. Also noted 'CP cars mch better engineered than CN's, though the beds are smaller'. No 2 was well over 2 hours late. I was able to walk the train for the train's entire consist: 1407-CP 8516-1898-604-Innes-109-113-3218-512-5711-5746-Butler Manor-Osler Manor-Emerald-Wolfe Manor-Erwood-Elgin-Elderbank-Strathcona Park. 

CP 8634, one of the early 'chop-nose' (actually a replacement short hood) units was one of many CP Geeps working Calgary's yards east of downtown, as were many CP wooden end-cupola vans: 437182, 436985, and 436988. Waking up around Gull Lake, SK I headed back to Strathcona Park. Now we were operating three hours late. East of Moose Jaw, the dome was about two-thirds full. There were derailed boxcars, without trucks, at Qu'Appelle. The station at Indian Head was boarded up. CP was loading scrap into an eastward-facing train using two cranes near Wolseley, SK. Elevator workers came out at Grenfell to watch our train pass at 1213. 

Now two hours down at Broadview, we met a CP westbound with units 5969-4510-4217. Grain elevators were lettered for Parrish & Heimbecker, Cargill, United Grain Growers, Inter-Ocean Grain, Federal, Paterson and Sask Pool. Farm implement dealerships and fertilizer dealers also marked each town. Many towns rated three elevators, though Grenfell and Whitewood each rated five. Crossing into Manitoba just before 1300, we were miraculously only one hour late. Near Griswold, there was another of CP's unique hotbox detectors, and a CP track patrol started to push their speeder back onto the track immediately after our train passed. At Brandon, only five passengers were in the dome. Passing through Virden at 1408 on September 4:
The harvest was underway, and we passed large combining gangs working the fields as well as combines in transit on adjacent roads. We met our westbound counterpart just east of Austin: three locomotives and 15 cars. Gaining CN rails at Portage la Prairie, we met a westbound CN train of potash covered hoppers. Now on time, we actually had to wait five minutes to let our schedule catch up to us! I occupied the vestibule from the Portage station to East Tower to see my railfanning haunts from aboard the train, instead of trackside. VIA 1898 our third unit from Calgary to Sudbury. Here is one of Canada's two E-8's during our Winnipeg layover:
Arrival at Winnipeg was right on the advertised, and after our two-and-a-half hour layover, our departure at 2030 would be on time as well. Our three E-series sleepers were exchanged for three CP sleepers at Winnipeg, as was our diner: Emerald for Annapolis. Ex-CN power was evident: 6504-6603-CN 4104. We departed only after the loud, perfunctory public address system salutations which emanated from track-level loudspeakers: "Attention! VIA train No 2 heading eastward. Would all porters close vestibule doors! Conductor on train No 2! Your train is OK! All aboard!" We were now a pure stainless steel consist, save two Dayniters, with the same three CP engines still leading us.

Departing on time, we travelled through the maze of large interlockings and diamonds to reach CP rails. Meeting a three-unit hotshot west of Ingolf, we soon stopped for two minutes at Ingolf near its picturesque inn and bay. A wry line in my notes pertains to the urban non-sprawl of Kenora: 'reached outskirts of town 2325. Reached inskirts 2328.'

The morning of September 5 began at Thunder Bay, 30 minutes late. Brand-new orange-gold-brown Saskatchewan SKPX covered hoppers lined the tracks as brand-new bright blue ALPX cars had in Calgary. CN GMD-1's 1916, 1912, 1909, 1914 and 1915 hustled about. Three 'salties' waited in the harbour to load grain, while Algoma Central Marine V.W. Scully was tied up; lakers T.R. McLagan and George M. Carl were at Port Arthur Shipbuilders. Near Red Rock, ON we met a westbound three-unit CP freight carrying cars of Stelco pipe, then we scooped an eastbound work train, stationary track machines and strings of wood chip cars before meeting a CP autorack train at Nipigon. It was a thrill to ride through the tunnel two miles east of Cavers in the vestibule, and again at Schreiber, where the national flag, Ontario flag and CP Rail flags flew from the station. Sharp curve east of Jackfish:
A big meal in diner Annapolis left me 'thoroughly stuffed'. Probably could've done without the butterscotch sundae! The 415-foot, 1974-built tanker Leon Simard was at the dock in Marathon, ON. I'd seen this vessel in late August at the dock in Millhaven, just west of Kingston. An afternoon nap ended at White River, where two CP units were switching paper cars. The steward came through at 1530 to make dining car reservations for dinner. We passed the Algoma Central-CP diamond and interchange at Franz an hour late, where I noted 'new CP sidings'.

At Dalton, a rusting Plymouth locomotive on a short segment of disused track and another locomotive in a ramshackle, tin-clad engine house were visible. These likely marked the site of the former interchange between the three-mile narrow-gauge railway linking the lumber operation at Dalton Mills on the Skikwamkwa River to the CP main line. In the 1920's, this was the largest lumber yard in northern Ontario. At Wayland, we took the siding for a westbound CP freight which held the main, and CP 6014-5720 were in the siding with a single box car and a van. 

Chapleau yard hosted wood chip cars, the auxiliary train with all its cars in a 'brand new paint job', an eastbound four-unit freight behind 4553-5572-5799-5964 with piggyback traffic, and four wrecked cars: a flat car with a damaged deck and three crushed CP script reefers without doors, each revealing McCain Foods products. In an attempt to make up time, we were doing 65 mph out of Chapleau before 'cooling down to 60'. Bingo in the dining car around Cartier included some fiercely-competitive passengers. At Sudbury, a westbound CP freight included 14 cars of Stelco pipe on the head-end. The Sudbury van track held ten vans, only the last two centre-cupola: 434028-434033-434026-434030-434063-434027-434044-434025-434597-434728. Only 40 minutes late, I got some fresh air on the platform while new power 6542-6633 was placed on our head-end.
A rainy, overnight run put us into Carleton Place, ON on time at 0650. The interesting track arrangement between CP's Chalk River and Carleton Place Subdivisions hosted a CP freight with units 5953-4226-5016. Pulling into Ottawa, we met CP Dayliner 9066, perhaps headingfor CP's Lachute Subdivision. I also took a walk to the head-end (above) at Ottawa - this was the only time I'd travel from west to east through Ottawa aboard VIA. The red-and-white Discovery Train consist was parked across from the station. 

We continued to Montreal on CP's M&O Subdivision, on time at Vankleek Hill and five minutes late reaching Rigaud, the latter featuring a large Catholic cathedral, Depanneur Laberge, a wye, CP single-level and gallery car commuter consists.  We hit 73 mph before Hudson, where there was a large CP station and Studebaker service shop! At Vaudreuil, four commuter trains were lined up behind CP F-units 4040, 4070, 4075 and 4072, along with a CP snowplow and Burro crane outfit.

Parallelling the CN mainline, we were doing 60 mph at Beaconsfield, meeting a four-car VIA train led by 6532 at 0955 and a two-car train at Dorval. We passed two New Jersey Transit coach buses on the parallel highway before backing up 'about a mile' at 30 mph onto the CN at Dorval. We stopped on CN's north track at Dorval before continuing east for an on-time 1030 arrival. A two-hour layover in Montreal preceded boarding my train to Kingston Imagine my surprise - reading in my notes that I travelled in exx-Reading Crusader car 303, occupying seat 26. Now knowing how rare these ex-CN cars were, I should have expended more film during my ride! Heading west now at Dorval, we also made this station stop on the north track, soon hitting 83 mph at Ste Anne's, QC.

At Coteau, we met an eastbound passenger train and passed several CN MLW units and cabooses: 76603, 79700, 79638 and 79879. Tracks at Regis were full of CNIS and DWC International Service bulkhead flat cars. Meets were plentiful this day on CN's busy Kingston Subdivision. On time at Cornwall, we met an eastbound VIA train, then an eastbound three-unit CN freight just east of Brockville. Another eastbound VIA west of Brockville had two units and seven cars. Then an eastbound four-unit CN freight at Mallorytown, . An eastbound local freight passed by just east of Kingston, perhaps CN Toronto-Montreal No 318 pulled by 2517-3240-3707-1310. We paralleled Highway 401 doing 90 mph for an on-time arrival back in Kingston. 

Massive cuts to VIA's network loomed, taking effect a scant two months after my trip. I was indeed fortunate to experience this CN-out, CP-back routing while it was still provided by VIA.

Running extra...

It's taken a while to get some of these 1980's trips aboard VIA Rail documented. Guess Im a slow starter! But finally, finally, 36 years later, here we are. This is the value of book and other projects that force me to properly document notes and scan photo prints. Check the top of my right sidebar for my fall & winter project. Predicted to appeal to ten people, the number is now up to over thirteen! Can sixteen be far off?

Arctic Crossing is a unique two-person show featuring Canada's Susan Aglukark and Survivorman Les Stroud. Highlighting some visuals of wild country and proud people, both performers sang and spoke of our Arctic wilderness and its effect on them as artists. Susan is humble and soft-spoken, though a powerful singer. Les is energetic and used to have hair. He plays a mean harmonica and a powerful acoustic guitar. Recommended!


Michael said...

Nice shot in Ottawa. That view will change in the coming months when this station gets higher accessible platforms. I suppose passengers' gain will be the photographer's loss. Also, some interesting observations from Carleton Place, once a hub of CP's Eastern Ontario operations, now but a memory.

Eric said...

Thanks, Michael. Indeed, there haven't been too many changes to the Ottawa scene since that station was built. You have your finger on the pulse there, though.

This was just about the best of both worlds - back on CP and out on CN. Back when we had a choice of routes!


Canadian Train Geek said...

Love that blue and yellow!

I wish I had been a railfan earlier... so much that I missed. But in 1982 I was still in high school and definitely not interested in trains.

Thanks for capturing all of this and especially thanks for sharing it.

Eric said...

It's even difficult for me to conceive of those pure blue & yellow consists now, Steve. We're so used to the Budd ex-Canadian cars!

Interestingly, I was just leaving high school in 1982, though my parents had sent me out on the train solo when I was 16 and 17. Even more surprising was that I wandered around railfanning Portage at that age. Certainly no worries at the time.

Thanks for your comments,

Zartok-35 said...

Great photos and coverage as always, Eric! You put out this wonderful VIA post on my birthday, and I didn't even notice until later! I must've been distracted visiting the Rocky Ridge train club of Martensville Sk. Recent HO scale locomotive acquisitions have provided me all the assets needed to faithfully recreate your eastbound voyage, and with luck, I may be able to run it on a club layout instead of on the carpet! Also getting another Ex-CN "Yellowhead" F9B. I'll run that Toronto-Winnipeg Super Connie for you eventually! Just need a few more meal service cars.

Eric said...

No more Cat & Carpet Continentals? No more Broadloom Blue & Yellow? Oh well, I know yours are VIA consists in HO that are in the correctly marshalled order!

Of course it was your birthday - Happy Birthday post!

If I knew then what I know now, I would have been all over that E at Winnipeg!!

Thanks for your kind comments,