Friday, November 16, 2018

Consider Consists

I must admit - it never struck me that I shouldn't be writing down every car and locomotive number that I could when I started compulsive note-taking back in 1976. Of course, short (but fast) passenger trains were one thing...eighty-car freight consists were another, especially when zooming by at track speed. I was able to note a few consists when in a yard and the train was moving slowly. 

Consists (I pronounce it KAWN-sists) are about order - the order a train is marshalled in. The order of the locomotives and/or cars. These can be just numbers, or we can dress the consist up with other auxiliary but important information:
  • time
  • date
  • place
  • direction of travel
  • reporting marks
  • equipment types
  • other notes/remarks/information
While all this information-taking stayed second-nature to me, it wasn't until I claimed my corner of cyberspace, Trackside Treasure in 2008, that it dawned on me - this information was not only interesting to me, but perhaps others as well. Consists were easily-documented, reformatted and eminently shareable!


Most consist-takers take notes for their own purposes. Occasionally shared, if a particularly interesting train is concerned, but the majority are seen as interesting just to 'me'. We just sit on them. Mine were in notepads in a shoebox, or transcribed into scribbler notebooks.
But why, you may ask? Rail enthusiasts have a long history of sharing photos and swapping slides. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a consist might be worth a hundred. Consists are a snapshot just as a photo is. But for every hundred photographers, you might find one to five consist-takers! So the opportunities for sharing seem limited.

I'm the most compulsive notetaker that I know. Do you know of any? David Morris is right up there capturing passenger consists in Atlantic Canada back to CPR days. But it wasn't till I started posting Krazy Konsists at Kingston, then consists from all eras of VIA to Trackside Treasure that another consist enthusiast (consisthusiast?) took the bibliophilic bait on my line. 

It was Jakob Mueller of Ottawa, who was working on a specific project - CN and CP to VIA paint transition data and would take all the consists I could get for him, especially where paint scheme was noted. Thus was born Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Years. I included my consists and Jakob was kind enough to share his paint transition data in this, my first book on VIA Rail. One purchaser derisively defined this book of 2,700+ VIA consists from 1976-2011 as 'just a bunch of numbers'. On the same day of that pithy opinion, an enthusiastic fellow sent a supportive postcard that I've kept ever since - to mark the day when the value of consists vanquished that victim of vitriol!


So one book of consists led to another book: Trackside with VIA: Cross-Canada Compendium which simply grew too large for all the cross-Canada consists I wanted to include. Thus was born the Consist Companion. And when a third major book on VIA followed five years later, I was proud to include consists that my Dad recorded in separate scribbler notebooks, beginning with the debut of VIA's Corridor Canadians, thirty-seven years ago in November, 1981. My Dad was so fascinated by the ex-CPR Budd-built consists that he tried documenting their passage eastward and westward across Canada, and the changes, additions, subtractions and variations along the way. (This is where we can topple over the consist abyss, entering the world acted by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind!)...
But in printed form?  It wasn't until after the VIA cuts of 1990 that the Bytown Railway Society Branchline newsletter began sharing consists monthly, in the June 1991 issue, which they still do.
So, I've found books to be ideal for sharing consists. But like consist-takers, there are very few consists books. Blogs or webpages can be ideal for sharing platforms. In sharing consists, it's ideal to have a permanent, searchable function to truly translate their tantalizing data into indelible information.


When I recently had the pleasure of meeting fellow blogger Chris Mears, my Dartmouth Doppelganger, my Haligonian Half-Brother, my Scotian Soulmate (OK, perhaps putting too fine a point on it, here!) I brought two special documents to our caffeine-fuelled sharing session. One was The Binder, (above) encapsulating all the notes I'd taken from 1976-1981, and the other was my Dad's Canadian Pacific "The Canadian" scribbler #3 (below):
The scribbler included some of the abyss-edging consists my Dad began analyzing. I knew Chris valued consists, like those of David Morris and my Dad, and that he'd enjoy seeing in person the secondary stage of consist data collection. 


Perhaps none of the above is of even the slightest interest to you. Not your cup of tea, you say. So it's time for you to say, "Cheque, please!" Clear the dishes and head for the door. Start the car! So I'll leave you with the following maxims:

  • Consists are snapshots. We keep snapshots for decades.
  • Consists are fact-filled. Facts matter and stand the test of time.
  • Consists settle arguments. Objective data. Quarrels quelled.
  • Consists are interesting. Variety of order, time, place.
  • Consists are valuable. Irreplaceable, really.
  • Consists should be shared. Preserve and disseminate all the above.
Consists are still happening. 
As long as there are trains, there will be consists. 
And I don't regret scribbling down a single one!

Running extra...

Next Saturday, it's Kingston's new train show: Rail Fair hosted by the Associated Railroaders of Kingston. More information here.

Not as happy an occasion, November, 1981: last VIA System Timetable issued before cuts (left) and after (right):
Pssst....started new blog.

No comments: