Monday, June 28, 2021

Canada Day 2021

Craigellachie cairn

It's time to once again mark our national day*, Canada Day. Here are three excerpts from articles on Canada's relationship with its railways. These seem to fit the occasion, and are presented with photos from our 2019 trip west aboard VIA Rail.

The Romance of the Railways: A Canadian Journey. 
By Martin O'Malley, from the Imperial Oil Review, 1983:

By the time I am in the Rockies, marvelling at them, and having come this far across Canada, I begin to wonder if the subdued Canadian personality might have resulted from the recognition of the impoliteness of boasting. It is such a huge country, and so often such a beautiful country, and there are so few of us to lay claim to it that I wonder if perhaps we are reluctant to be strident about it for fear someone will come along and take it away.

Morant's Curve

"Train travel isn't what it used to be 25 years ago," the retired dentist says, looking up the length of the dining car as the waiters serve dinner. "You wouldn't even have thought of sitting down for dinner without wearing a suit and tie. There were roses in snifters on the table, fresh white inen, the silver was polished, and at every sitting after the meal there would be a finger bowl."

...nothing could be finer

Canada and the Train: Inseparable.

By Pierre Berton, from the Reader's Digest condensed from Maclean's, January 1990:

This common love affair with the railway - or, more properly, with the idea of the railway - is as old as Confederation. If we have been shaped by the railway, it is because we are shaped like a railway - a 6,400-kilometre population strip along the border, for the most part no more than 320 kilometres thick. No other country faces this kind of problem. The railway has held us together, spanning a bleak Precambrian desert, an angry ocean of plumed mountains, a chill wasteland of muskeg, to give us the unity we could not otherwise have achieved.

Westbound at Butze, Alberta

Railways and Canadian nationalism [not Canadian National-ism - Ed.] have been inseparable since the days of the Intercolonial system that preceded the CPR in the Maritimes. After the turn of the century, Canada went railway-mad. One transcontinental line would not do. Two would not do. Three were scarcely enough. Railways, it was held, spelled prosperity; the very promise of a branchline sent real-estate values soaring. 

Junction in Saskatchewan

We have lost both the nerve and the pride that ushered in the Golden Age of Steel. If we lose the railway, we lose more than our heritage, and the day will come when we will welcome it back as an old and trusted friend.

Manor view, northern Ontario

Glances From A Train: Are Canada's railways poised for a second golden age? 
By Monte Paulson, from Canadian Geographic, July-August 2011:

Deer leap from the snow-covered tracks as we gain speed. My mind leaps, too, as the train click-clacks forward. I recall a grainy black-and-white photograph of men in top hats driving the Last Spike at Craigellachie, BC. I hear Gordon Lightfoot singing about "an iron road running from the sea to the sea". And I smell the paste of schoolroom dioramas about "The Wedding Band of Confederation". That thin, steel strip that crosses this country is the most important thing we have in Canada when it comes to trade. Vancouver is an Asia-Pacific gateway only because we have a national railway system. If we didn't, Vancouver would be just some backwater fishing village.

Where it all began. Canadian Pacific - Craigellachie

The train at times glides along at a leisurely 30 miles per hour, which is slow enough to get a long look at wildlife we pass. There are no billboards, fast-foot joints or roadside trash to clutter the view - just a rolling panorama of wilderness, with the two gleaming rails pointing the way forward.

Waiting. Uno, Manitoba

Happy Canada Day!

Running extra...

*I'm prepared to engage only minimally in discussion in current events sinceTrackside Treasure is, after all, a Canadian railway blog. But in light of current events, I'd like to quote Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. "I would never tell someone what to, and what not to, celebrate. I'm a proud Canadian. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action."

Friday, June 18, 2021

2021 Front Patio Layout: Lyttle-Redd Caboose Co.

Each summer I enjoy having a sit on my front porch, step or patio or stoop. (Actually, I only stoop when I'm having a nap out there.) This year, as I watched folks passing by, walking their 'pandemic puppies' and young families doing family stuff (hey, remember going for bike rides together?) I also conjured up mental images of a small, easily-operable outdoor HO layout. As I do most summers. And this year was no different.

This year's concept involved a layout that would fit on the arms of my patio-set chair. No need for benchwork, posts, sticks, support legs and the like. I found a piece of 1970's turquoise kitchen counter-top from my parents' kitchen. It used to sit between the stove and the fridge. Now it's inverted and sits between the arms of my chair! As happens each summer, I monkeyed around with various pieces of track, trying to find something that made sense in such a small space.

Immediately my thoughts went to 12x2 feet! Focus, man! One of the only ways to make any kind of operation viable on something so narrow is to use switchbacks. So I did. Needed...a concept! What's a believable one for a switchback layout? Mining operation with Shay locomotives? Mountain logging with Heisler locomotives? With little room for scenery, this would be open-concept. That means I'm open to any concept! Drone footage of a trial run with a 44-tonner (below). Tools at the ready, I was sure to include 'Mears piers' at the end of every track to prevent runaways!

Switchbacks means tail tracks and on something this narrow, tail tracks are short. That means short equipment. I'm used to using 44-tonners and Alco switchers, but this year everything needs to be short! So 44-tonners, a Tyco Shifter 0-4-0T and short freight cars. And what's the shortest freight car on every road? A caboose! That's it! Welcome to the Lyttle-Redd Caboose Co. I added an initial backdrop and of course I've got a beverage in place:

What's the story? It all began when little B'y Lyttle was born (cute-ola concept spoiler alert!) on his family's Angus beef ranch. He was the youngest, bringing up the rear of his family. He was always last to the dinner table, bath time and his parents mostly forgot he was there. Which was crummy of them. After college (his mother and father, both conductors ((of orchestras)) parentally (and parenthetically!) wondered where he'd got to for four years) he met Wellington Redd. His friends called him Well Redd. Born with a sprig of red hair at the tail-end of a road on Carrot-top Mountain in Kentucky, he left school at the age of 12. He lived in a van. Down by the river, though the van had a bay-window. He played hack-ey sack a lot at his out-of-the-way-car. Lyttle and Redd went into business together. Their collaboration gave them a coll-boost and they excelled at manufacturing things that came last, and were coloured red. Cabooses seemed like a natural coupling. So the Lyttle-Redd Caboose Co. was born!

With Redd wanting to get away from it all, and Lyttle late therefore missing the meeting, they soon found their factory built at the top of Cabin Mountain. With an air of affability, they churned out BBC's (Brain-Box Cars) at the rate of one every six months! This was their big brake and business was good, for an under-achiever and a high school drop-out! They used tiny locomotives to take each car down the mountain to the mainline for furtherance to the ordering railroad. Gotta go answer the phone - it's my Front Porch Layout concept calling! I added this view-block. The finished cabooses are stored on the rear-most track prior to pick-up by the plucky locomotive! Did I mention beverages?

Now for my annual shamless it time for you to consider your own outdoor model railroad for this summer? It's not too late! The summer is young and so are we! To the scrap lumber pile, mes amis! Storm the ramparts of conventional indoor model railroading! Get outdoors to hear the swans honk, the loons plaintively wail and the chickadees chick. Grab a beverage. My laptop transformer powers a Walthers self-propelled crane as it brings another finished product of the Lyttle-Redd Caboose Company out to the mainline after an (imagined) tortoise-paced tortuous trip down the mountain! I may do more scenicking. I may not. I like the wood grain of that old inverted countertop!

The ghost of layouts past. I tend not to completely disassemble each summer's layout, so it's possible to have a rather impractical "Free-Mo" module session of sorts, this photo from 2017. This post includes links to several of my earlier front-of-house productions!

Running extra...

I would never enjoy a meal in my layout room, but it's quite likely I'll enjoy a meal or snack on the front porch. Check out Great Lakes ship cook Catherine Schmuck's upcoming book. If you like tantalizing, original recipes mixed with stories from the galley, your ship may be about to come in!

Recipe for disaster. Acrimony continues here in Kingston as symbols take a hit in the name of a progressive interpretation of history. Largely driven by social media, our city has reacted much as the Taliban did to the Buddhas of Bamiyan: Cancel Culture is an over-used term, as it appears that Topple Culture has set in. What is really needed is constructive dialogue leading to action at the real problems faced by all Canadians. That's all Canadians.

In the words of Rodney King, "Can we all get along?"

That, too, is my wish as we approach Canada Day.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Spent Pot-Lining COFC

It's hard to miss these half-height containers on flat cars (COFC) that travel in cuts of one to five on CN Kingston Sub freights. I note them as 'RADIO FL' because I thought they were RADIOactive material FLat cars! The name stuck. But that's not what's in them. Here's what they're carrying...SPL!


Spent Pot-Lining (SPL) is a by-product of aluminum smelting electrolysis during production. The electric reduction of aluminum oxide, alumina, to the metal is done in the presence of sodium fluoride. The pots this is done in are lined with a refractory ceramic layer, and then a hard high carbon pitch layer. After several months this lining breaks down, and the resulting mess is stripped out. It's grey-brown and can be as tiny as fine dust or come out in big chunks.

Each year, 1.6 million tonnes of SPL is produced world-wide, at a rate of 25 kg per tonne of aluminum produced. Canada is the world's fourth-largest aluminum producer, with companies making progress in extending production cell lifespan thereby reducing the amount of SPL produced by 30%. Cement, steel and mineral wool production can potentially all use recycled SPL as a feedstock.  As a last resort, it can be sent to landfill, albeit with leachable toxic contents - fluorides and cyanide - so attention must be paid to landfill lining and leachate management.  It has a shipping name of ‘’UN 3170, ALUMINUM SMELTING BY_PRODUCTS (Spent Potlining), Class 4.3, Packing Group III’’. Here's a view of the removal of SPL from an aluminum cell cathode: 


Rio Tinto (formerly ALCAN) has a SPL treatment facility in Jonquiere, QC using a process pioneered by its research department. Low Caustic Leaching & Liming, in use since 2008, reducing the need to landfill about 20,000 to 30,000 tons per year. The facility was also expected to handle SPL from Kitimat, BC and other smelters in Quebec, up to 60,000 tons per year in 530 carloads. As a result, no SPL container cars seem to be coming from the Arvida area along with the usual aluminum ingots on RTAX or HPJX flat cars.

I briefly traced such a car on May 15, 1997- VTTX 97660. Observed eastbound on CN No 306, it arrived in Mont-Joli, QC on Montreal-Moncton CN train No 312. Then it travelled to Baie-Comeau on "00121" on May 22, where it spent a month. Arriving in Matane, QC on June 22 on "00122" thence Montreal on No 311, CN train No 395 took the car west along the Kingston Sub on June 24 on its way to interchange with Union Pacific at Chicago thence Gum Springs, AR. 

In the late-90's, cars used in SPL container service were TrailerTrain flat cars witih ATTX, TTCX or VTTX reporting marks and CN 89-foot flat cars. CN and TTCX cars were heading to Gum Spring, the site of a longtime Alcoa SPL waste treatment facility - Elemental Environmental Services - five miles south of Arkdadelphia, AR. (Reminds me of the recent Tragically Hip release of Saskadelphia!) Here, the SPL is processed and buried. This site was bought last year by Veolia North America, to take that side business off Alcoa's hands, and fold it in with their expanding hazardous materials disposal business. Googlemaps view of the ALCOA Primary Metals site showing flat cars and containers:

Without car tracing, online reports suggest the cars currently seen here on the CN Kingston Sub come from Aluminerie Alouette at Pointe Noire/Sept-Iles or Aluminerie Alcoa de Baie-Comeau. Rail service to both sites crosses the lower St Lawrence via CN's COGEMA rail ferry service from Matane.

In 2019, Aluminerie Alouette, which began production in 1992, generated 20,000 tons of SPL. Just over 15,000 tons were buried in authorized sites, the remainder recycled or valorized. There are three main car fleets in this service that I see here. In 2019, Aluminerie Alcoa de Baie-Comeau had its SPL pre-treated and buried.


In the last few years, an interesting collection of leasing-company flat cars have been used to carry SPL containers. There are three main fleets that have been in SPL container service since 2014:

  • AEQX 60-foot blue flat car (3 containers) of ATEL Capital Group. The cars were formerly owned by Southern Pacific.
  • HESX 43 89-foot flat car (4 containers) of Heritage Environmental Services, built by Trenton Works in 2000 and formerly owned by Florida East Coast.
The Pic 360 intermodal 'sludge' containers are used to transport solid or semi-solid waste for a range of industries. They're 21.5 cu. ft. and 20 feet long, with a 4-ton tare weight and 50,000-pound capacity, with aluminum lids, welded interior seams and high-visibility placards and lettering. The airtight containers are top-loading, end-dumping explosion-proof, since SPL can react with water. (A ship-loading incident at La Baie, QC in 1990 killed two workers.) The containers always display at least UN3170 placards and are usually grey, yellow or even green, and I'll watch for sometimes-seen SFLU blue containers. Here's the Pic Leasing yard in Arkadelphia, AR across from the ALCOA facility at Gum Springs:
The containers often seen on SOXX cars are from MHF Services, a logistics outfit specializing in radioactive, hazardous, and non-hazardous wastes. Recently, I've also seen eastbound movements of double-stacked containers, presumably empty. SOXX 20374 on CN No 376 on May 2, 2021 shows this versatility:
VTTX 97615 also shows the double-stacking option, seen on CN No 372 - December 17, 2022 (image courtesy Railstream, LLC):
A minority player is Rio Tinto, fielding a handful of (?ex-BC Rail Marine Industries-built) bulkhead flatcars like RTAX 10003, with stencilled reporting marks, seen on a Youtube video heading to northern Quebec in May, 2023.

Here are my observations of these SPL container flats since 1997. Interspersed with photos, my sightings show date, car number, CN car train was on, notes:

  • 8/12/97 TTCX 98120 on CN No 395 Dest. Gum Springs, AR
  • 14/2/98 CN 639331 on No 395 Dest. Gum Springs, AR.
  • 15/5/98 VTTX 97660 on No 306 Dest. Baie Comeau, QC 
  • 15/7/98 TTCX 90265 on No 395
  • 18/9/98 FEC 2891, TTCX 90524 on No 301
  • 12/9/98 VTTX 92636 and 97698, TTCX 98033 on No 306
  • 13/11/98 VTTX 97513 on No 301
  • 20/9/99 TTCX 90521 on No 306
  • 27/9/99 VTTX 92206 and 91968 on No 306 Dest. Riviere du Loup/Chemin de fer Baie des Chaleurs (CBC)
  • 9/7/00 CP 251095, ATTX 91114 on No 310 Dest. Baie Comeau (CBC)
  • 31/8/03 CN 638078 on No 369
  • 2/11/03 ATTX 97597 on No 306
  • 5/7/04 ATTX 95169 on No 306 (below):
  • 27/3/10 VTTX 93385 on No 309
  • 12/3/11 VTTX 91956 and ATTX 92635 on No 309
  • 8/10/16 AEQX 242 wih container PLRU 02320 and HESX 54 with Pic Leasing container PLRU 023056 on No 306
  • 11/8/2017 SOXX 20515 (top photo) with 20411 and 20291 (MHF Services MHFU containers) on No 369
  • 30/9/17 AEQX 160 on No 368: 
  • 15/5/18 AEQX 220 on No 306
  • 6/11/19 SOXX 20516 and 20188 on No 369 (below), plus AEQX 243 empty on No 368:
  • 12/4/20 AEQX 262 on No 368
  • 5/6/20 AEQX 204 and 242 with VTTX 97574 on No 305:
  • 19/6/20 SOXX 20522, 20533, 20529, 20525, 20275, 20420 on No 368: 
  • 18/7/20 SOXX 20541 and 20222, AEQX 160, 204 and 213, and HESX 45 on No 306:

  • 27/10/20 AEQX 141 and HESX 43 on No 369:

  • 27/10/20 HESX 60 
I trust this post will answer some questions about these unusual, oft-photographed, but seldom-described SPL container cars. Maybe it will prove to be an argument-smelter, er, argument-settler! Thanks to Rob Archer for additional information.

Running extra...

My uncle in Portage sent this item along. Before there were grain elevators, there were horizontal (bagged) grain storage buildings such as this one in Brookdale. Located along the CP Varcoe Sub, it is heading to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin:
With the resumption of VIA Nos 1 and 2 between Toronto and Winnipeg, I've been keeping rough track* of them in this continuing post on deadhead ex-CP movements. CFMG403 posted a Youtube video showing VIA diner Annapolis, wearing new two-tone colours, being returned from Rail GD (screen capture, below). Empress, Emerald and Frontenac have headed east for refurbishment, and possibly later Alexandra, Kent and York. Frontenac was westbound for Vancouver in November, 2022 after interior refurbishing. Since these colours are supposedly indicative of Corridor equipment, let's start a rumour that diners are coming to Corridor trains!
*pun intended

VIA is resuming some Corridor trains on June 22. People just want haircuts. People just want to drink on a patio. People don't want full ICU's. As Ontario 'opens up' after lockdown, I've wrapped up my nightly trumpet tributes from my front porch, opening up the space for my annual front porch layout project. The Last Note to the Last Spike!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Winnipeg Layover, June 2019

Confessions of a Train Rider? My wife and I were travelling west to Edmonton on VIA No 1. I hadn't been to Winnipeg since 1986, and this was the first time we travelled together for this long by train. Having left Toronto on Sunday, June 2, we arrived in Winnipeg on Monday, June 3, 2019. On Time arrival would have been 1930, with a leisurely layover of two hours for servicing and On-Board Service crew change. 

We had hoped to meet the Manitoba Mafia: 'Mayor of Diamond' Brian Schuff, Mark 'the Hoople' Perry and Steve 'Confessions' Boyko. Due to the late hour, and something about working the next day, Steve had heard that Brian had wisely called it a night, and had not seen Mark. Both of them had stayed as late as they could, and that was appreciated! 

We were glad to meet Steve (top photo with your humble blogger, below with my wife), having only 'met' online previously. We also had a few railfans on No 1: Ivan (winner of a VIA40 trip from Vancouver - Toronto return), Eric from the US on a graduation trip with his parents, and 'Laptop Guy' who was heading to a wedding in BC. My wife enjoyed hanging out with them in the Skyline dome as we neared Winnipeg, so what's a few more railfans once we arrive?
But, as they say, late trains get later. Ontario was not the province of punctuality for us:
  • Savant Lake, 2' 30" late
  • Sioux Lookout, 2' late
  • Hudson, waited three hours over a delicious dinner for a CN freight with air problems hog-lawing, another freight and VIA No 2
  • Arrived Winnipeg 3' 45" late
  • Departed Winnipeg 3' 15' late at 0045
We arrived at 2315. Steve kindly took time to reacquaint me with the station environs. Broadway and Main intersection (above), without a tripod but with a lamp-post! Last time I was here, the forks were what you had on your table with the knives. Now it's a tourist attraction, formerly known as CN's East Yard. In that incarnation, it was a great place to spend a Winnipeg layover!
Steve shows us the layout of the Forks today which now includes the human rights museum, ballpark, event space and only a couple of pieces of preserved rolling stock. Steve then took us to the premium railfan spot at the west end of the trainshed, now carefully fenced, up some stairs from the Forks.
That's our train in the foreground, led by VIA 6421-6426-6435, with a second west-facing consist in the background with 6448-6455.
Back at ground level behind the station before heading back in. It was a nice night and if we had time, we could have hung out longer and watched the passing CN freights!
Preparing to queue up and re-board in the below-tracks departure level:
You are here! The station looks a little different on VIA's TV screen.
The pre-VIA vista I'm perhaps more familiar with - when all station tracks were in use, and there was lots of good stuff to explore down in East Yard - captioned 1956:
Our consist ex-Toronto was VIA 6421-6426-6435-8604-8103-8123-8516-Bayfield, Monck and Grant Manors-8501-Emerald-Cabot, Hearne, Craig, Lorne, Butler and Cornwall Manors-8517-Frontenac- Chateau Closse, and Prestige cars Chateau Varennes-Chateau Maisonneuve-Kootenay Park. Our consist, graphically missing the sixth Manor:

We re-boarded at 0015. The Skyline dome windows had been washed. By the next morning's arrival in Melville, SK we would be over two hours late.
On the next track, facing east: 6456-6404-86xx-8120-8504-Chateau Latour-Chateau Radisson and perhaps the Churchill train facing west: 6448-6455-8616-8105-8125-85xx-Chateau Vercheres.

Thanks to Steve for his tour-guiding during our brief stop in the 'Peg!

Running extra...
Too little to constitute publishing a postscript post, but too much not to mention! Steve Bradley kindly shared his site photos of the VIA 1405 derailment (above). He was there in the aftermath! One of those little VIA mysteries that occasionally pop up. These newly-shared photos add substantially to the initial post on this 1979 derailment. Thanks, Steve!

Watch for an upcoming post on my 2021 Front Porch Layout. At our June Associated Railroaders of Kingston members' night, I prepared this short presentation that might be inspirational. And by inspirational, I also mean respirational, getting some fresh air into our lungs outdoors again! It shows behind-the-scenes details on my 2013-2021 Front Porch Layouts. 

Other presentations that night were Doug's organized operations scheme, Bob's super structure modelling and Greg's pending Bay of Quinte redux. Our discussion challenged the usual layout trajectory of room prep, benchwork, scenery, tracklaying, wiring, operation. Operations can come earlier!