Thursday, August 27, 2020

Postscript: CN's Portage la Prairie Operators

A key function of railway station agent/operators was the copying and delivery of train orders to train crews. In my previous post, the long service of Portage la Prairie's CN operators was highlighted. I searched through my collection of train orders to see if I had any of the ephemeral work of these men, and lo and behold, I had a few examples! Opr William Wynes copied the clearance for VIA No 90 on June 19. 1981. I railfanned in Portage in August of that year. Opr Bill Cook had copied the top train order, number No 2087 (top photo). Six days later, on the afternoon of his day shift, Opr Wynes copied the clearance for Extra 9174 East:
Opr Bill Cook copied train order No 2087. Here's a clearer view:
The following year, I was at Portage in June, but away from the station on June 12 and 13 weekend. Opr Jack Darling was working and here are the clearance and train orders that VIA No 2 received from him that Sunday:
Heading west from Portage, VIA No 1 took to CP Rail trackage via the CN-CP connecting track at West    Tower - a location known as Shepp. An interesting wrinkle, but not an unusual one, in which a CN operator copies a CP clearance! Opr Bill Cook copied the clearance about half an hour before VIA No 1 made its appearance.
CP's operators in Portage were still working in August, 1984. The previous post noted that CP's operators were finished in July. This 19R belies that date:
Speaking of CP, check out these vintage orders copied by CP Operator Jack Corbett at the height of wartime traffic. On February 10, 1945 a freight was running late on the Minnedosa Sub (this order delivered to trains North):
CP No 2 was operating in two sections, and specific timing was incorporated to get it into Winnipeg in a predictable fashion in just over an hour on December 12, 1944:
The above orders show the excellent writing and typewriting skills needed by operators. So much information to pass along in a short time. And it had to be correct and read-back to be marked Complete! My aunt and uncle from Portage knew Jack Corbett. He was a Mason and referred to my uncle as 'Doc'. He also had a large collection of Lionel trains!

Running extra...

VIA has posted its most recent return-from-shutdown system timetable, effective September 1. Everyone's favourite train, the Canadian, is still slated for return in some form on November 1.

Conventional wisdom not needed for conventions. Having watched the U.S. Democratic and Republican versions in a pandemic era, there is no confetti, sign-hoisting and thankfully no pauses for applause three words into a speech, and every three words therafter. All we can ask is that both sides respect reality. If I dropped out of the sky and was asked to watch each convention separately, I would have a vastly different mind-picture of what America was really like.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Portage la Prairie's CN Operators

On December 31, 1986 CN's operator positions at Portage la Prairie, MB were abolished. Bill Cook, (above), age 56 at the time spent 39 years with CN, 35 of them at Portage. Bill Wynes 43 years with CN, 38 at Portage. Jack Darling spent 35 of his 39 CN years at Portage. 'Newbie' Gordon Fidler was at Portage for 9 of his 35 years. In an earlier post, I profiled the duties of CN East Tower and Portage operator Glenn Carlson in the 1950's and 60's. Here's a postscript with some of the orders and clearances, and here's a post on my brother's Rolly Martin Country showing 1982 hoop-ups.
Regarding the work of the Portage operators for CN and CP, technological change had an impact - radios replaced telegraph and telephone, train order territory was superseded by Centralized Traffic Control. CP's four Portage operators' positions were phased out as of July 28, 1984. On June 19, 1980 the CP operator stood on what was left of CP's passenger train wooden platform hoops up orders to the head-end trainman of an eastbound grain train waiting on the 'front porch' (above). With a major part of their job being transmitting train orders for Minnedosa Subdivision trains, those were to be transmitted by radio from Winnipeg. The four CP operators were offered the option of bumping elsewhere. An all-weather function: CN operator handing orders to VIA's 6506 cab-floor level, 1980:
Another reason for the change was the takeover of the station by VIA in May, 1986. Ticket sales were being suspended as of July 1. According to the Portage Daily Graphic newspaper article (bottom), VIA paid CN agents to sell their tickets. Instead, VIA would rely on travel agents to sell those same tickets. The operators knew this had to affect their jobs. Two August 17, 1978 photos showing the CN operator delivering their precious paper:
Handin'em up into an F-unit cab on a westbound with lumber empties. Two sets of orders for four trains meant four hoops. I suppose that's the reason for the between-track delivery:
Waiting with orders for the caboose of the rearmost westbound, while the potash empties on the near track must be heading through town on the Rivers Sub, 1979:
CN Prairie Region telegrapher seniority list excerpts showing the four operators' assignments and seniority dates (middle of each excerpt):
 Wynes (above), Cook (below)

Darling (above), Fidler (below). My aunt and uncle, with whom I stayed, knew Jack Darling personally. He was one of their patients!
During my time railfanning in Portage, Bill Wynes seemed to work days most often, with Bill Cook coming in for the evening shift. It was common for operators to park their personal vehicle right on the platform, just below the operator's bay window, 1984:
Between trains, I'd sit in the cool shadow of the CN station eaves, on the steps to the passenger waiting room. I was only a few feet from the operator's bay. It was easy to hear the operator receiving and typing train orders and clearances dictated by the Winnipeg dispatcher. Each one was repeated back to the dispatcher, with numbers, locations, directions and mileages spelled out letter-by-letter. Sometimes this was still happening when I could see the approaching train. They still had to be stapled, wrapped and strung on the train-order 'hoops' (Y's, actually.) This resulted in the operator hustling out onto the platform to hand up the orders to the head-end crew! Other times, the operator would have the train order hoops ready and leaning against the wall by his operator's door to the platform. Then I could get into position to photograph that soon-approaching train. Two GMD-1's lead eastbound grain while the engineer multi-tasks non-ergonomically to grab his orders on August 25, 1979:
While I went into the station occasionally, I did not want to make a pest of myself, knowing I'd be there for several days in a row during each of my summer visits
All four operators opted for early retirement rather than bumping into other positions elsewhere. CN's station would still host a 'freight terminal' and VIA passengers would have access to the waiting room one hour prior to train time. Bill Cook treated his last day like any other, "I'll be here until four o'clock, then Jack Darling comes in. And at midnight, Jack will close up, and that'll be it. At midnight, our jobs are terminated." Some 1976 train order deliveries recorded by my Dad, L.C. Gagnon:
Orders for head-end and tail-end.

Golden Hour deliveries on CN and CP.

Running extra...

My son and grandson and I did some platform-pounding this past week. The rain held off and so did the trains until CN No 376 put in an appearance. Thanks to Andrew who generously provided the Timmies. As we know, there's nothing like Fast Food and Trains! The little fellow put in several two year-old scale miles on the platform. When that train came he covered his ears, and his eyes were like tennis balls at Wimbledon watching the cars pass. And so it begins.
Working with Amie, Myriam and Charlotte of Montreal's Sid Lee agency since September, 2018 my own modest contributions to CN's 100th anniversary book finally made it to print. And now the book has made it to my front porch, just today. First, copies were mailed to employees, pensioners and corporate accounts and now contributors. It is a masterful and modern look at CN's rich history, and it is presented in a finished product of high quality and bold graphics that still manage to convey much varied and valuable historical information. A not-too-humid day with a not-at-all-boring history book! Bravo!
Oh, the places blogging will take you. To the fine print on the credits page!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Trackside Treasure's Twelfth Anniversary

For this Twelfth Anniversary, I was bard one afternoon. Played out. Scene better days. I had the shakes, peer pressure. What to do to mark this auspicious occasion? Well, to speak commemoratively, of course. In ways yet unheard and words yet unseen. Shakespeare! All the world's a stage! So here, in twelve bullet points, are a Dirty Dozen Trackside Treasure points to ponder, based on that famous play, Twelfth Night! (Absolutely hated the bard's scrawlings in high school, this one included, but survived!)

Part the First

  • “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Well, I don't know about great, I'm happy to achieve some goodness by blogging here!
  • “If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die." It's been an easy challenge to continue the blog lo these dozen years. That's 686 posts, 31 in draft form, and 3,120 comments - and that's just the appetizer. I haven't yet entered the entree.
  • “Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.” Trying to keep it light, while still providing useful information. Taking the job seriously, though not quite taking myself seriously.
  • “Journeys end in lovers meeting.” That's how we ended up here, talking in the previous post about arriving back home aboard VIA Rail in 1986 to greet my future wife. Exeunt!
Pictures like this one make me want to blog. CN 4364 leads westbound VIA No 1/55 
under a Beaconsfield, QC overpass in April, 1984. At this time, the Park and Skyline
operated out of Toronto only, but look at those five former club-buffet-lounges behind
the mix of power! Kevin Day photo shared with permission.

Part the Second
  • “I say there is no darkness but ignorance.”And my blog partners spread light through their blogs and websites in my sidebar: Dave, Steve, John, Ed, Chris, Don/Peter/George, Matthieu, Bernard, Marc and Michael. I enjoy reading their latest.
  • “O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me t'untie.” I like a challenge. Sometimes post ideas marinate for awhile in point form, partial form or perhaps-never form. Some take time sometimes.
  • “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent.” I have time on my side here. I can work away and come back and publish when ready. But ask me something OTOH? That's what the top-left search box is for, for me.
  • “Them that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton.” I idly dally daily, ideally. I like words. But a picture is worth a thousand of 'em. That's why this you'll never find text passages on Trackside Treasure that are any longer than my attention span.
My new winter workspace - family heirloom drop-down desk.
Here I will write drop-down lists.

Part the Tailend
  • “He does it with a better grace, but I do it more natural." I thought, talked and blogged about putting launching some or all of Trackside Treasure on other social media. Too much work right now; one-stop shopping right here.
  • ”But that’s all one, our play is done, And we’ll strive to please you every day." You have my word on it that the play value will continue here. If one person out in cyberspace gets something out of this, my day is complete. 
  • “Why, this is very midsummer madness." It was the summer doldrums when I furnished this little one-bedroom cyberspace apartment called Trackside Treasure. So it's only fitting that we are all annuitants of an annual anniversary annal. Thanks for reading, for commenting, for suggesting, for sharing, for searching and for coming back weekly for more. I couldn't do it without you. Well I could, but it would be a lot less fun!
Running extra...

A rapid rash of Rapido Trains Inc. product announcements made this week - RSC-14. RS-18u and re-do of the Angus van. Apparently not in Conrail colours this time! How much can Canadian prototype modellers handle, you know what I mean? Meanwhile:
Quarantinewhile, Stephen Colbert's A Late Show is back after a hiatus. Sometime I'll search out his former-Meanwhile word-salad intros. There's no masking the best political/current events satire right now, presented with lots of thought stipped-down with minimal pandemic production value.

Post-COVID haircut time. I've been Edwardscissorhanding my own since March. Picture this: This barber gave the customer a comb as he was leaving the barbershop. The customer thanked him but asked why? The barber said that the comb was a parting gift!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Vestibule View of Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1986

Aboard VIA train No. 4 east from Vancouver following SteamExpo86, we're arriving in the west end of Edmonton on May 30. Riding in coach, passing the Alberta Terminals Limited's 134-silo elevator at 127th Ave. at 130th St NW. Built in 1924 for government use, to the provincial government in 1978 then then sold to Cargill in 1991, it still stands. You won't find all those cylindricals there today, and even if you did find a gaggle of them, it would be a graffiti'd gaggle.
Speaking of Expo, right outside my window I was lucky to catch EXPO86-painted CN 5334, along with 5122 and 5438 at the Calder (since renamed Walker) Yard locomotive shop (above). Also on the ready tracks were CN switcher 7949 and 9101, one of CN's blind mice:
Heading east, we meet this westbound freight 5096-9598-4216 at the west end of Clover Bar Yard. Ahead in our train is VIA 6512-6621-9668-5483-5748-3224 and I'm in the vestibule of Skyline 502. To the rear are Chateau Papineau-Endeavour-Escuminac. I remained in the vestibule from Edmonton to Holden and Bruce. Interestingly, the year before, I'd been in the dome photographing elevators from Holden east to Landis, SK. This following year, I resumed photography at Biggar, so both posts cover almost the whole trip from Edmonton to Saskatoon. Covering the route again last June, I did some grain elevator photography from the dome, but it just wasn't the same. Watch for an upcoming post.
The air conditioning in my coach didn't work between Vancouver and Kamloops the day before, though I did have two seats to myself to stretch out to sleep overnight! Meeting VIA No 3 at speed with 6519 in the lead with 7 cars at 1420, possibly Tofield:
Out on the Wainwright Sub, at Mi. 226.2 we're passing through Tofield:
Tofield had three Alberta Wheat Pool elevators (above and below):

Shonts' privately-owned  Killean Farms brown-painted elevator (above and below):
Another westbound freight near Ryley with 9453 and two more locomotives. My note-taking was taking a real hit on this trip! A probable reason is suggested at the end of this post.
Tail end passing Ryley 214.7, also three AWP elevators, though the passing train must have made their photography quite difficult:
National elevator, privately-owned. Location not noted, but I believe it's at Poe, AB:
Holden, at Mi 205.9 had an AWP fertilizer elevator, as well as United Grain Growers, Cargill and two AWP. On paralleling Highway 14, we met a Versatile 895 tractor
Holden elevator row up close:
At Mi. 196.7, we reached Bruce. AWP #1:
Very shortly thereafter, Bruce AWP #2:
No more photos until BIGgar, SK. The dome had been busy departing Edmonton, but after Bruce I found room and even napped a little. Coach A/C was acting up again, so it was back in the vestibule at Mi 0.0 Wainwright Sub, Mi 247.3 Watrous Sub, we're meeting westbound with three units, newish CN 5416 in the lead:
Biggar Pioneer and UGG elevators. The Pioneer elevator burned June 7, 1988 after a lightning strike, with the fire endangering the town. A $3 million dollar value of grain and elevator. Twenty years old, the elevator was upgraded 1986-87, in fact fresh excavation can be seen in my photo:
A news clipping of the aftermath:
Biggar Cargill and Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in the gathering dusk:

SWP sunset: two photos at Leney, Mi 227.6 Watrous Sub (above and below):
Kinley B at Mi 222.1. Near here, a fast moving deer bolted out of the tall grass!
We were running 90 minutes late. That lateness, combined with the time of year and the nicer evening weather, allowed some more easterly elevator photography than the year before. Asquith A at Mi 212.5:
Then it was back to my seat to get ready to disembark at Saskatoon for the night, before heading out for elevator exploration the next morning. Apparently a long ride in from the non-central station, sharing a taxi with a 'weird couple' to the Parktown Motor Hotel with a pleasant view of the South Saskatchewan River. Located on Spadina Crescent, just a few blocks from the Bessborough Hotel, if I'd visited the lobby, I might have found some Spadina Shops! I was running short of film and money. This, in the era before widespread digital photography and credit or debit card use.
Running extra...

Thanks to the anonymous poster providing plethoric postcards of Montreal and Delson. No return address, so if it's you, many thanks!

Reading over this post, I was reminded that blogging is often equated with writing, "Oh, you're a blogger, you must be a writer!" Perhaps I'm more of a captioner. Imagine a blog post without the photos. Most of my posts would not be very interesting to read on their own. They ain't no essays, and essay is actually French for 'trying'!  However, a blog post without photos would be BORING and I'm much more of a visual guy, so photo-based it will remain. Very rarely do I have trouble finding photos for a post, as most posts stem from a set of photos. 

Watch for an upcoming post celebrating Trackside Treasure's Twelfth Anniversary. It will follow a Shakespearean theme, based on his Twelfth Night. "Journeys end in lovers meeting; Every wise man's son doth know". This is also the reason for my poor note-taking on this trip. Return home ended in me proposing marriage. Destination anticipation preoccupation! (I have unclasp'd to thee the book even of my secret soul.)