Thursday, April 28, 2022

Kingston-Portage Road Trip, 1979 - Part 1

My brother David and I were heading to Portage la Prairie to visit our aunt and uncle in August, 1979. Of course, a big part of the trip, plus the journey, involved train-watching.  I was packed on Thursday, and we didn’t leave until 0615 on Saturday! We packed lots of food and drink in his Volkswagen Rabbit GTI. And my Kodak Hawkeye 110 format 'instamatic' camera, of course!

On August 18, we drove all day reaching Cochrane, ON at 1700. Dave had decided to drive the more northerly of the two northern Ontario routes. He was a driver who didn’t dawdle. At North Bay, we cased the Ontario Northland Railway (ONR) yards and shop. Temiskaming & Northern Ontario 2-8-2 503 was preserved and fenced in North Bay City Park (above). Kitty-corner to the park was ONR’s expansive shops complex. GP38-2 1803, SD40-2’s 1732-1736, and Northlander power unit 1982 were visible (below). We also found ONR’s former Wabash/Norfolk & Western business car Onakawana/400 (top photo). Also at North Bay: CN 9553-9449-5579 and 1387.

At the Cochrane station, ONR RS-10 1400 was switching, and 1730-1802-1521 were powering a freight. 

Also at Cochrane’s station were VIA 6787-6778-9644 in CN colours-Manitou-5492 in CN colours-5569-4884-ONR 812. Normetal-lettered 4-6-0 219 was at the shop, with its cab windows boarded up. ONR National Steel Car coaches 805-806 in green paint, and white/yellow/two-tone blue 801 were nearby, as were ONR cabooses 95 and 96. CN-painted VIA 6518 was with baggage car 9641 and coach 5193 at the station.

August 19 found us leaving Cochrane at 0545, keeping a sharp eye out for moose on the highway. We kept track of times mileages and speeds using a cassette tape recorder, with occasional comedy improv bits thrown in. At Kapuskasing’s VIA/ONR station, former fantrip star CNR 4-6-2 5107 was preserved. On the other side of the station was the Spruce Falls Power & Paper plant. A small Jordan spreader, orange boxcar 321 and transformer-laden depressed-centre flatcar were part of their captive rolling stock fleet visible beyond the CN yard. Their switcher slumbered in the shop:

At Hearst, we found an Algoma Central Railway passenger train at the ACR station at 0815, led by GP-9’s 100-164. Content to wait for the train to pass us by so I could record the consist, imagine our surprise as it inexorably backed away from us, ever so slowly. Beyond steam-generator car 74 were ex-troop sleeper baggage-express cars 203-205. The identity of the baggage car and three coaches will forever remain a mystery. It was a not-so-great moment in Canadian railfanning!

We made it to our next stopover at Schreiber around 1500. CP 4508-5905 were in the yard (below), as were 4711, 5799, 5023 and switcher 7090. CP 8709 had a Speno rail-grinding train in the yard, and vans 437147 end-cupola, 434580 and Jordan spreader 402890 were there, too.

Superintendent’s car 10 sat across from the station with the Speno train behind:
Freights past the station that evening: Eastbound at 1642: 5531-5019; eastbound at 1853 (below): 5621-4509-4567-5557 priority train with van 434432; eastbound at 2120: 5671-5694-5757 priority train; westbound at 2138: 5722-5730-5662-5726 with van 434559.
Departing Schreiber on August 20 at 0545, we breakfasted in Thunder Bay and made it to Portage at 1700. Of course, our first visit to the CN and CP yards was that evening, and we caught three trains there.  Our first full day, we were back at the tracks netting 12+ trains. It was the height of VIA’s circus train era, with CP fully signing over their western passenger operations the previous October. Cars and locomotives were in CP red and VIA blue stripes. CN and VIA paint adorned ex-CN cars. One-of-a-kind blue & yellow ex-CP 8558 was the middle unit on one morning’s VIA No 2!
Also on August 21, we located a scrap switchstand at Helston, where CN’s branchline was being pulled up (above). More station trainwatching ensued on August 22, the afternoon of the 23rd and 24th, morning of the 27th and afternoon of the 29th. Other excursions we made with our aunt and uncle: Winnipeg’s Rainbow Stage production of ‘Desert Song’, the Manitoba Agricultural Museum at Austin, a ride on the Prairie Dog Central (below) wyeing at Grosse Isle with your humble blogger, and paddlewheeler cruise in Winnipeg, the Mennonite Museum in Steinbach and Portage’s Fort la Reine Museum, and St. Ambrose Provincial Beach. On August 25 we returned to Helston to salvage collector’s items including the abandoned switchstand, which would depress the GTI’s rear suspension all the way back to Kingston!

Winnipeg's Paul Newsome, now a published author with his new book on the PDC, noted that local farmer Arnold Borthistle is at right! In Part 2 we head back east, again tracing the shore of Lake Superior and partaking in some CP sights and sites.

Running extra...

I'm honoured to have a diorama in this upcoming exhibit at Kingston's Pumphouse Museum. I'm looking forward to seeing the amassed artifacts and displays on planes, trains, and automobiles, and ships, and more! 'On the Move' opened this past Friday and runs until November.

If you like grain boxcars, check out this video. It's got 14,000+ views in three days! AmtrakGuy365 (Jared) asked back in December, 2021 to feature my photos, and feature them he did! Four months ago, it was Incentive Per Diem boxcars. These videos make me feel...historic!
I came across a photo of the Concordia, KS flour mill this week and got a little obsessed by this structure. It is treasure that is located trackside, so it might become a post. Even though it's American. But it's not the first American subject featured on here. I'm just going back to the daily blogging grind and we'll see if a flour grows. Who know wheat will happen.


Lord Darth McIan said...

Hey Eric,

Any links on where to purchase Paul's PDC book?


Eric said...

Prairie Dog Central's Freight Shed is the only seller I've heard of.


Canadian Train Geek said...

Ah, Helston... love that elevator. It's far more overgrown now, with a lot of, um, junk around the base of it. I took one of my favourite elevator photos there.

Was that a video camera you were holding while standing on the prow of PDC #3?

Eric said...

Hi Steve,

My uncle's family farm was at Helston, and he had a painting of the station with an impressive cloud sky in their livingroom.

That summer, my brother was the 'official videographer' for a family reunion in Lachute, Quebec. He was contracted to record the festivities, and it looks like we took the camera (perhaps it was a SONY 8 mm) with us later in the summer on this trip. He did complete editing and splicing at home, I believe it was for my great-uncle. For quite awhile, I saved the tiny stripes of discarded film and they were used for gondola scrap loads. Imagine, tiny flakes of family history riding around and around the layout.

Thanks for your comment,