Thursday, July 25, 2019

An Afternoon at Portage la Prairie, 1981

My first trainwatching day of my 1981 trip to Portage was August 24. Arriving in Winnipeg 45 minutes late, my aunt met the train at the station and used the layover time to get us back to Portage for lunch at the Dairy Queen! This post describes the trip, west from Toronto aboard the Super Continental, and east from Calgary via Ottawa to Montreal on the Canadian. Work cars on CN, the Super, wayfreight and loaded CP grain boxcars at one of Portage's four grain elevators show how busy a place Portage could be all at once! This post comprises my observations on that busy afternoon - new in town!

1313 W CP 5924-4434 potash empties with three vans: 434486-434464-434370, unphotographed.

1333 W VIA No 3 Engs 6505-6610-CN 4105 leading the Super Continental with 16 cars (below). CN 1353-1354 had pulled up to the station at 1311 and are seen spotting covered hoppers at Portage Pool 'B' taken from the Skyline bridge (top photo). Three cars a-loading at Pool 'B': brown & yellow CNWX 100191- silver & yellow 108218-Canadian Wheat Board 395121. Both trains will be in Portage for awhile!
1428 E CP 5954-4551-5970 with 134 grain loads and van 434373 cleared West Tower before VIA No 3 could proceed west on CN. VIA No 3 has crept up to the light at Eighth Street, and will have spent a whole hour in Portage!
1453 W VIA No 1 Engs 6550-1961-CP 8514 and 15 cars, including Riviere Rouge crew sleeper still in CN colours. I was able to photograph the westbound Canadian and Super Continental on several occasions.
In the consist of this Canadian was ex-CN E-series sleeper Ernestown, the car I'd travelled to Winnipeg in, now part of the Winnipeg Sleeper Swap.

1512 E CP 8806-4431-8493 from Carberry Sub with manifest freight and van 434455. VIA No 1 also had to wait at Portage - for this freight to clear West Tower - before heading west on CP.
1529 E CP 5788-8494 brought a manifest east 17 minutes later, with van 434567.
1538 W CN 9450-9557-9576 headed a westbound manifest tailed by caboose 79527. This freight set out a BCR boxcar on the CN-CP interchange and is returning to the train in the yard.
1559 W CN 1353-1354 finally head west after nearly two hours in Portage with 28 grain empties: 24 cylindrical covered hoppers and four boxcars then caboose 79435. Three passenger trains waiting for three different freights? Yep, this grain peddler would end up making VIA No 2 wait on the CN-CP connecting track at West Tower! I'd catch it the following morning, returning east at West Tower with grain cars and boxcar MPA 39846 in the consist! Notice how clean the Saskatchewan and Alberta cars are, only months old:
1615 W CN 9401-9407-9624, unphotographed but included flatcar BLE 4865, bulkhead flats SLSF 4110-4180, box NAR 050160 and THB flatcar 1846 ahead of caboose 79579!

1630 E VIA No 2 Engs 1418-CP 8580-1898 and 16 cars on the now-gone connecting track, including crew sleeper Margaree River in CN colours, and sleepers Edmonton and Edson for the Winnipeg sleeper swap!
Ex-CP E-8 1898 - essentially just another VIA locomotive to me at the time? No! I did note 'an E-8!!')

Running extra...

I am fortunate to still have my original notes to refer to for the observations I made on these visits. If you're hungry for more, faster than I can publish them here (!) (see right sidebar for more) and in a more finished format, check out my professionally-printed books Trains & Grains, a two-volume set of my photos and observations  made over 11 years' visits to Portage, preserved for print posterity in perpetuity.
We're closing in on 600 published posts here on Trackside Treasure. Penultimate posts will lead up to this round figure on this blog's 11th anniversary. Something to celebrate! Steve Lucas photo (above) with my version of CN 100 anniversary logo gracing some of its newest locomotives, like CN 3241 westbound through Kingston this week:

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Winnipeg Sleeper Swap

Some of VIA's operations required switching en route. Switching operations at Winnipeg were of special interest during VIA's early era, not only due to Winnipeg's geographic location as a western Canadian railway crossroads, but also because it was a location at which VIA's transcontinental swapped cars between trains, especially sleepers. This resulted in mixed consists -  ex-CN blue & yellow blended with ex-CP stainless steel cars. Stainless sunset – the setting sun glints off Thompson Manor on Corridor Canadian No 1/55 at Kingston on May 26, 1984, just before I boarded for Manitoba. (top photo by L.C. Gagnon photo)


In the late 1970's, the Canadian and Super Continental operated over CP and CN trackage, respectively, as they had before VIA. Montreal and Toronto sections of each train were joined (westward; split eastward) at Sudbury or Capreol, respectively. Then, in October 1978, with the integration of CP's transcontinental services into VIA, the Canadian began operating as one through train Toronto-Vancouver; the Super Continental also operating as one through train, Montreal-Vancouver, trading eastern originating cities with the June 1979 timetable. Here is a compilation of the iterations of VIA's western services west of Montreal and Toronto:
Both trains now stopped at the CN station in Winnipeg, the Canadian having transferred over from the Higgins Avenue CP station. The two trains now met in Winnipeg, exchanging one through sleeper. VIA's October 1978 Western Transcontinental Services timetable page included the following: "Interline Transfers - Winnipeg: This is the main transfer point for passengers boarding the train on one route but destined to points on the other route. Sleeping car passengers enjoy through service: their car is transferred from one train to the other. Coach and Dayniter passengers transferring must change trains". (The same text also appeared in the June 1979 timetable.) Summer 1979 consists west of Winnipeg show one to three E-series sleepers on the Canadian and one or two CP sleepers on the Super Continental. After October, consists show only one of each.

In October 1979, a one-hour scheduled layover was added, to allow passengers time to transfer between the (at that time) joined Sudbury-Winnipeg train and the Winnipeg-Vancouver Super Continental. Passengers continuing west on the Winnipeg-Vancouver Canadian remained aboard at Winnipeg. 

Interestingly, VIA published a revised October 28, 1979 system timetable including the following message on the Canadian and Super Continental Winnipeg-Vancouver schedule tables: "Through sleeping car service to and from Montreal", and this revised text accompanying a schematic diagram of Low-Season Western Transcontinental Service: "Westbound - in Winnipeg, the Super Continental is made up again for passengers destined to points on the north route through Saskatoon and Edmonton. Sleeping car passengers enjoy through service and remain on their car as it is switched to this train. Eastbound - sleeping cars are switched ensuring through service for these passengers" [at Winnipeg]. Coach and Dayniter passengers had to change trains themselves. My brother travelled Toronto to Vancouver westbound on CN, including Winnipeg to Saskatoon, then eastbound on CP Vancouver to Winnipeg thence Winnipeg to Montreal. CN GMD-1 1902 pulls CP Rail-lettered diner, Chateau Maisonneuve and Kootenay Park over the Assiniboine River at Winnipeg during switching moves in November, 1979. (below - David Gagnon photo)
In June 1980, one-and-a-half hours was allocated for the Winnipeg layover westbound. (Interestingly, a separate April 27 to June 7 schedule was included in the timetable, since one train Sudbury-Winnipeg became two for high season that year.) An interesting article in the July-August, 2018 Bytown Railway Society Branchline includes sleeper-swap consists at Sudbury that show VIA No 1 giving a 100-series coach, Dayniter and three ex-CP sleepers to No 3, which in turn donates an ex-CN coach, Dayniter and two E-series (and one ex-CP Chateau!) to No 1. In late-September 1980, VIA changed from a three-night transcontinental schedule to four nights, going back to operating only one transcontinental train between Sudbury and Winnipeg. This made for a four-hour layover in Winnipeg, and more reasonable departure and arrival times at end points. The change also made more time for inter-switching if one train was late. 
During my trip in October 1980, VIA train No 103 was on another station track at Winnipeg and our No 1 donated Erwood and Chateau Jolliet, behind its CN-painted Eldorado, as the eighth and ninth cars on its train before the two trains left Winnipeg, departing at 1215 and 1330, behind VIA 6505 and 1432, respectively (above). On August 22, 1981, my sleeper Ernestown has been switched from No 1 to No 3 at Winnipeg. Here it slides, sandwiched between similarly swapped Elliston and Eastport, through Portage la Prairie, MB:


Most passengers were not as interested in the Winnipeg inter-switching as I was! On the platform, a 1900-series GMD-1 or switcher shuffled cars, while cases of beer and pop, snacks and other menu items were loaded through small doors in the meal service cars. Tractors and baggage wagons brought linen and baggage, low wagons laden with ice blocks for the older cars' cooling systems, and water tanks were filled. Windows were cleaned by a four-man crew, and car-knockers tapped every pipe, wheel and anything else they could hit with a ball-peen hammer under a passenger car. Rail enthusiasts might be able to piece together its results by examining consists east and west of Winnipeg, but before November 1981 I was able to gather first-hand data on the Winnipeg switching and sleeper swapping. A snow-crusted stainless steel and blue & yelow Canadian consist disappears under the trainshed at Toronto Union station on January 25, 1982. (below - Dave More photo, Mark Sampson collection)


Then, when the 'Corridor Canadian' began operating between Montreal and Toronto in November 1981, I was able to also gather consist-based data on cars added or removed at Toronto for the trip to Western Canada. With the Super Continental cancelled, there was no longer any need for inter-switching at Winnipeg. I was, however, able to photograph the Canadian and the Super Continental in August, 1981 before the latter's cancellation three months later. Interestingly, the Corridor Canadian was switched en route - at Brockville, ON.


The consist data for the Corridor Canadian and west-of-Toronto Canadian is presented side-by-side chronologically within each of the following groups of consists: starting with westbound consists from my 1982 trip, eastbound 1982 consists, consists from my parents’ 1983 trip, ending with some consists east/west of Winnipeg from 1981. Asterisks (*) denote inter-switched cars or locomotive/car changes:

I’m able to draw several conclusions from the above consists…


In 1982-83, crew cars west of Toronto included one Chateau, two Rivers, nine I-series, one Mount, one Green, and possibly one Dayniter! Deadheaded cars between locomotives and baggage car included two baggage-dorms, one E-series, one ex-CP diner and one Dayniter. Cars removed/swapped at Toronto or Winnipeg were two diners and two sleepers - perhaps these cars were bad-ordered. Generally, cars added to the westbound Corridor Canadian at Toronto, and removed from the eastbound Canadian for its Corridor trip east, were blue & yellow: three to four E-series, a crew car and an ex-CN diner. Also at Toronto, one to four coaches (No 55) were removed from the Corridor Canadian, with four or five coaches (Nos 44/54) added for the Corridor Canadian’s trip east of Toronto.

In August of 1981 at Winnipeg, three E-series sleepers were transferred from Toronto-Vancouver (on CN) No 3 to Montreal-Vancouver No 1 (on CP), and three ex-CP sleepers swapped from No 1 to No 3.  The ex-CP diner was swapped out for a new (fully-stocked) ex-CP diner at Winnipeg. On the August 24 east/west of Winnipeg consists of No 3 that I recorded, the cafĂ©-lounge was swapped out for an extra ex-CN diner and Skyline .

Once again, the value of consists comes through. I find this kind of data so interesting, and the information it provides, in this instance on VIA's inter-switching, is valuable. Today's passengers on the Canadian smoothly slide through Winnipeg, unaware of the coupling and shuffling that once took place under that trainshed!

Running extra...

VIA paid some high-priced ad agency a high price to create this campaign. To show a good return on taxpayers' money, I've incorporated it in part of this Trackside Treasure campaign (below). All that's missing is the leggy model with the bright yellow pants!
Fellow Kingston railfan Paul Hunter kindly shared another photo of VIA 906 with its 'love the way/la voie qu'on aime' lettering at Kingston on July 15. Love that P42!
Summertime is a great time for a cool beverage. Try an illuminating lager, a winsome wheat beer, a popular pale ale, or a refreshing radler. I went on a 'bender' recently in this muggy Southern Ontario weather and doubled my beer consumption. Yup, I had two in one day! Cheers!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Riding VIA's Canadian, June 2019

It's a rare treat to travel on VIA's ex-CP Canadian. Even non-enthusiasts marvel at the enduring nature of Budd's 1950's design and the stainless steel elan that the Canadian still conveys. This post shows the car's interiors and gives a glimpse of what it's like travelling on the Canadian today. VIA's Customer Delivery Manager Mark Sampson was a man of his word (as well as an expert on the Canadian and a valuable book contributor), meeting us on the platform at Toronto Union. We would also meet Mark on our eastward trip about VIA No 2. When we had a chance to talk, Mark asked me a question that really got me thinking...."So, how does this compare to riding this train in the 1980's?"
One thing that has not changed is the genteel nature of train travel, the daily highlight of eating in a moving restaurant - on No 1, the ex-CP diner Emerald - and the unsurpassed quality of the meals served. Impressive on land, but unparallelled when created in a moving, rolling box of a galley kitchen. Dominique, our car attendant from Cabot Manor is also in the diner as we sit down to our first brunch of our trip, near Washago, ON (above). Lunch and dinner each comprised two sittings, roughly 1730 and 1900, with reservations made in the Panorama lounge at Toronto by the dining car steward, then for the next day's meal while in the diner. Brunch menu:
Every day it was the Transcontinental for me. Hard to beat. I can order it the same at Ramekins Restaurant here in Kingston, at Denny's, or on the Canadian: Scrambled-Sausage-White Toast (SSW - I just think of the Cotton Belt!) The toast was always just right and jam-ready, and the coffee full-bodied and hot. My wife and I at brunch (below). On our No 1, continental breakfast was available in the lower level of the Skyline or the diner 0630-0830 or later, with brunch 0930-1400 then two dinner sittings. Since brunch was on a relaxed schedule, the diner was not full. But for lunch and dinner, it always was, and we would be seated with an array of fellow passengers, usually another couple. The unfortunate IT guy from Trenton, NJ was seated at one meal with three non-English-speakers. Quiet. Just look at that toast:
Fun fact: the tablecloth is always set on a large white towel, to cushion the surface. Cream is always in a pitcher, and salt & pepper always require at least one good knock on the table to get them flowing. Across the aisle we can glimpse limpid lakes among the endless evergreens and the occasional outcrops of igneous rock (below). With meals included in fare, there is no settling up with the steward after each meal, except for liquor purchases. This greatly speeds up sittings, and without internet coverage, how could I pay by Square anyway? Nor do I have to write my order down on paper. Tipping is still allowed, though the 25-cent tip is long gone.
We are in Skyline 8501 with The Smoker - daydreaming about her next, distant smoke break - and Ivan, whose onboard posts from his VIA No 2 I had enjoyed before leaving home. We're enjoying a Caesar for my wife and Steamwhistle, brewed in Toronto's ex-CP John Street roundhouse, for me, both from the under-dome bar. Surprisingly, this bar service is not highlighted or even mentioned to passengers. Fun fact: neither Skyline had been remotely recently refurbished, with bad-order seatback tables and fraying upholstery.
Skyline activity near Washago, ON (below). The Italians, IT guy, the BC political Granny and The Smoker enjoy the sunlight. There are three printed exhortations, of various eras, reminding passengers not to hog the dome seating. Thinking back to Mark's initial question, on my earlier trips, VIA had not reversed the Skyline direction-of-travel yet, so there was no previewing of who was in the dome or who was coming upstairs. One could appear surreptitiously at the back of the dome and scope out your seat. Not any more! Some glass panels have also been replaced with seizure-inducing wavy glass. So not all seats are created equal, and ample air-conditioning also make one pick one's seat, so to speak.
The activity co-ordinator onboard updates the lower-level activity board in each Skyline. In our case, we were the first Sleeper Class Skyline, there also being an Economy Class Skyline ahead, a second Sleeper Class Skyline behind, and finally the Prestige Class Park car. The Three-Class Canadian was upon us. In the 1980's, there were no such distinctions and no lettering on various car end-doors warning off-Class passengers from going any farther. I 'get' that VIA is offering more luxury for Prestige passengers at a higher price, but we all travel together, are all as late as one another, and all cluster around the baggage carousel together. Unlike the 1980's, there was a functioning PA system, though notices of time changes and announcements regarding passing sights were not always given.
Continental breakfast on our second morning (below). Yes, we're still in Ontario, near Auden on CN's Caramat Sub. We've got juice, coffee, muffin and bagel, with fruit and endless Christie cookies available all day downstairs. The Railroader From France is also up with the chickens! Awakening to the non-functioning 'space-toilet' in our Double Bedroom (er, Cabin for 2 - there's another change since the 1980's) we left a note for Dominique and the train rider reset or otherwise remedied the pesky plumbing problem. Train riders were riding both our trains - a positive change from, "The carman will probably look at it at Winnipeg."
Hey Smoker, it's smoke time!! Walking the non-platform at Sioux Lookout with the Chicago Grad's parents and many others - only the second major stop since Toronto, the first being Capreol while we were enjoying our Prime Rib in Emerald last evening, then Hornepayne in the wee hours of the morning. In the wake of Greyhound's reduction of service throughout Western Canada, VIA is left to provide a modicum of inter-city transportation. Twice-a-week is not what I'd call reliably convenient, or even conveniently reliable. But it's something. Most of the Economy Class folks seem to be inter-city travellers. Meanwhile, in Sleeper Plus Class, we only met one other Ontarian, and not many more Canadians. Two words: land-cruise. For all, a great opportunity to appreciate the awesome Rapido Trains-like underbody detail of VIA's Canadian:
Car wraps were not a thing back in the 1980's. This one on Emerald, promoting Churchill was actually eye-catching. Roster shot by my wife. Of the diner, not me. I took a deep breath entering the kitchen end of the diner everytime. Hoping for that hot food/damp air/cigarette smoke/steam table smell of years past, and only inhaled one of the four!
Patient and persevering, fellow blogger Steve Boyko waited for us to possibly emerge into the Beaux-Arts beauty of Winnipeg depot - which we did. Steve did yeoman service touring us around the street-side and trackside of the Depot. I related to Steve that in the 1980's, I would disembark into the depot, then not-so-surreptitiously slip through under the tracks into East Yard and up at track level to see the wonders of VIA (and the hulks of CN and CP passenger service) on display. Not anymore. The servicing stop looked frenetic, especially since we were running late, and I suggested Steve not run any later, since for one of us the next day, duty called. I heartily recommend Steve's book Passing a Half Century, an essential part of my post-trip armchair travel research!
For the inquisitive boarding passenger, eager to find his or her place in the Canadian milieu, there are these schematic boards at major VIA stations. This one is nearly anatomically correct, with our No 1 having three locomotives and six, not five, mid-train Manor cars. The 'Not in Service' car actually represents a Chateau car (Closse on our train) in crew-sleeper service. Fun fact: Porters/car attendants also requisitioned space in unoccupied Sleeper Class accommodations. Also note the impressive bulk of your humble blogger's reflection and the innards of the depot in the reflection, as well as an enlarged vintage black & white photo of the station environs in an much earlier-than-the -1980's era!
Crossing the wilds of Alberta, on-board entertainers enthrall in the lower level of the Skyline. A nice change to break up the monotony of Saskatchewan or the somnolence of Manitoba. On No 1, a pair of folk singers with various Canadian animal puppets and accessible percussion instruments. On No 2, the virtuosity of David Shewchuk the violinist. The VIA website notes artists' meals may or may not be included, but David should not only NOT be asked to wash the dishes, he should be given a cab ride for his unbelievable onboard stringed-instrument skill! All-ages view from the dome:
Another smoke break, this one at Saskatoon. Vestiges of tracks for Railiner runs to other Western cities remain in foreground, while the station itself basks in 1980's lettering and graphics near the ticket counter. Unlike the 1980's, there is no escaping steam, and refuelling is done direct from on-call local tank trucks. But rail enthusiasts are not encouraged to watch, and passengers are warned in advance not to go near the locomotives or cross any tracks. Safety Second, Risk-Aversity First!
On June 22, we watch VIA No 2 'back' into Edmonton's station, located in the hinterlands, south of CN's Walker Yard. Or in VIA terms, Bottleneck Yard. A classy train, in my opinion, does not require a back-up move, though these were made variously at Edmonton, Saskatoon and even Armstrong. Gone are the days of waiting in the bottom of CN's Edmonton tower, and definitely Calgary's basement waiting room. But stay behind the fences, here and in Jasper, little sheep. My interior shot was photo-bombed by a well-attired, long lens-toting rail enthusiast, at right:
Our early-evening, lurching 15-car pied-a-terre pedestrian-pinball-procession to Glacier Park let us enjoy the Prestige treatment at the non-airhorn end of the train. We actually travelled both ways inside, eschewing a platform walk to get us there one way. A crew member wisely advised Three Points of Contact at all times. This can apparently include one foot, an elbow and a forehead, in my case. As early-evening turns to evening, the car is momentarily empty. In the 1980's, those pedestal drink caddy/ashtrays seemed to be in the way, and the single chairs did not encourage as much canoodling. These sofas are downright comfy and my wife even approved:
Not the 1980's anymore - riding in the vestibule, angling out a Dutch door. Not only is this practice strictly forbidden, it's often impossible due to storage of bags and boxes for removal. No more taking in three senses simultaneously. Stairway to Heaven: taken on our one-and-only trip to get some receding shots near Rivers, here is the stairway to the Park car dome. I missed having snacks and junk food available beneath the Skyline dome. Though included-in-fare meals more than mashed my melancholy. Coffee and refreshments available at right:
Sections are still around. And part of me still wants to try one. Though a larger part of me asks, "Are you crazy?" They are the widest berths on the train. Thirty years ago, pamphlet racks along these aisles held a variety of VIA promotional literature. Getaway to Chatham, Get to Know your Service Manager, and the like. The Long Walk - Sections section. On today's Canadian, many of the on-board staff (either they're getting younger, or...they must be getting younger) refer to the number of 'seasons' they've been aboard, working only high-season summer trains. One mentioned that there about 400 that bid on these jobs. While some of the 1980's porters and waiters were younger, some were definitely seasoned veterans who must have come across from CN or CP. Service was not always their number-one priority. Each porter now seems to be responsible for one-and-a-half sleepers.
At the end of a rollicking dome and diner day, it was actually a relief to climb right in here. Even my wife, who was fearing Sleeping on a Train, (as well as Snakes on a Plane) quickly acclimatizzzzzzz. The little box for Lames Utilisees/Used Blades is gone, and the spring-loaded refuse receptacle under the sink - replaced with a plastic bag-lined dollar-store garbage can. No more pulling out stinky banana peels and who-knows-what for the car cleaners. Harking historically back to a bygone era, I burrowed under the duvet (whaddya mean no more CN Maple Leaf Ayers blankets, made in Lachute, QC??), and before shutting off the 1950's light fixture, revelled in thoughts including, but not limited to:
  • Everything in railroading is heavy and made to last. Look at the rollers holding my bed in position!
  • My (unshineable) shoes are safely waiting in the aisle-accessible shoe locker, but the porter named Roosevelt or George was no longer there to stealthily shine them and return them while I slumber.
  • I'm glad I don't have to wear a suit because I can barely fold my jeans for tomorrow in the close confines of this space!
  • Portage la Prairie in darkness? Scheduling guru, you screwed up!
  • ALL three S's in the morning!

Running extra...

Fellow Kingston railfan Paul Hunter kindly shared his photo of tonight's VIA No 68 with VIA 906 with the new 'Love the Way' lettering through Kingston behind 6407, then four LRC cars, then VIA 6438-6428 elephant-style on the tail-end:
You won't find a plethora of mountain majesties on here - this is not Instagram nor a travelogue. Okay, just one. The non-$20 bill view of Moraine Lake:
Just watched 'Barney's Version' with the versatile Paul Giamatti, based on the novel by Mordecai Richler. And I'm richer for it. Not to mention cameos by Bruce Greenwood, David Cronenberg, the Laurentians and Central Station, where Barney meets love interest Miriam (Rosamund Pike), dashing onto ex-CP stainless steel coaches from the vestibule-level platforms. Conductor with CN blazer and Amtrak hat!