Thursday, March 16, 2023

Looking Back down the Track at the Pandemic

This week marked the nexus, at least for your humble blogger, of the pandemic receding down the track and a new post-pandemic era on the track ahead. Although we can all recall the uncertainty, isolation and turmoil the pandemic caused, this past week has allowed me to look back in a rail-based retrospective at where we're going and where we've been in the past three years.

As the year 2020 began, I posted my usual New Year's greeting (top photo), unaware of what it would pandemically portend. Perhaps as a prescient premonition, I'd self-proclaimed 2020 as the year to 'Model and Railfan Local'. Little did I know that January that truer words were never spoken!
In mid-March we were secreted at a cabin north of Kingston, perhaps sentiently sequestered, slowly watching the world wind down. I was ensconced with warm and cold drinks (above), and not enough railroad reading to do.
As we returned home that week, we were all asked to stay home. We learned that certain activities were safe. Walking, staying at home, and train-watching. A CN Cataraqui Spur derailment with No 518's cars rolling off a rolled rail at Bath Road (above) comprised one railfan outing (above) Anything that one didn't have at home was difficult to get. Fortunately, my wife and I have many interests and hobbies and seemingly adequate supplies, This enabled me to continue model railroading and even more more model railroading. And blogging was completely safe, though I did indulge in some philosophical distillation in some posts.

For the model railroader/railfan, there were changes. VIA reduced its Corridor service to sad little shuttle trains, and the Canadian's service was truncated. There were to be no more train shows. In fact, the March 14-15, 2020 Kingston Rail-O-Rama was the first thing that got cancelled therefore despite my anticipation, I could not attend. Hobby shops temporarily closed. Like many other retailers that the pandemic affected, shops that did not have an online presence suffered. Those that did flourished. Train clubs like the Associated Railroaders of Kingston (ARK) went to Zoom meetings. Actually, I was able to attend Zoom presentation across Canada - only available pre-pandemic by attending in person. I also published two books, making deliveries or porch pick-ups. ARK Zoom attendees - May, 2020:

Restaurants were hard hit, of course. We have been to exactly one restaurant, four times, in three years. Drive-thrus were safe enough. Oh, we also went to one patio one time one summer. Hallowe'en (below), birthdays and Christmas celebrations were all distanced or remote. A family wedding was held, albeit with much-reduced attendance, as was a family funeral. My very last visit with my Mom on the day we returned from the cabin. Two hours later, her long-term care locked down. Both of our kids' jobs are in healthcare, and we can only imagine the stress and uncertainty. Politics somehow got mixed in with healthcare, and those two fields should have remained separate. But this post is about trains, not about politics or the wider societal effects of the pandemic.
This past week, I went to the Napanee Train Sale. I wore my mask. It felt safe and was well-attended. My birthday also falls this time of year, so my wife had given me enough birthday money to buy a couple of bags of goodies. And I did, finding lots of kitbashing and scratchbuilding stock. No magazines, no books. Only three little hopper cars. Never enough hopper cars of coal on my Hanley Spur layout!
In the same week, I had an email from ARK member Grant LeDrew, suggesting that a visit to my layout would provide him with some modelling inspiration. Grant has built several modules incorporating local history: the Kingston Shipyards, Kingston Mills locks and now Portsmouth harbour. I had a good visit with Grant, and he took a few photos of scenes he liked.
Another ARK member, Paul Hunter was holding a home layout open house. Fellow attendees were three generations of Paul's family, neighbours, and fellow ARK members including Grant. Paul arranged a screening of the Rocky Mountain Express IMAX video featuring CPR 2816, aoo in the same common room! I also took a few photos of Paul's tidy layout:
I haven't been to ARK meetings because they are held in a restaurant, and as I mentioned earlier, we haven't been frequenting restaurants. Speaking of Zoom meetings, I've had four invitations to contribute presentations on my Kingston's Hanley Spur layout, books and related topics. At least two of the groups are operating in hybrid format: Zoom and live. One of these hybrid meetings is scheduled for June in Ottawa, and I think that might feel safe to attend in person. Also last week, The CRHA Toronto & York Division just held their first hybrid format meeting:

We've been slowly emerging from the pandemic. I would be happy in the next year(s) to never hear about the pandemic again. We experience it, we survived it, I trust that in various ways we grew from it, and learned from it. The experts tell us there will be further pandemics. Until then, life goes on. Trackside and in the layout room, online and at club meetings, we'll continue to look down the track to the future!

I must add - my wife and I have come to enjoy our time together, albeit completely unsensational and not Instagram-friendly. We are not zip-lining in Belize, touring the grottoes of Spain, not 'living our best life'. But we believe we are living our best life. For real. The pandemic has slowed all this down for us and brought it into sharper focus. We often comment to each other that this is one positive thing that has emerged from our pandemic experience.

Running extra...

The Oscars - I watched the Red Carpet, which was actually champagne-coloured, and the ceremony, which was actually viewable. The high-angle camera angle in front of the podium added immediacy. Everything was Everywhere and All at Once! 

Sir Brian May - We will, we will, dub you1! Seventy-five year-old Queen guitarist Brian May always appears level-headed, engaging and intelligent in any interview. Speaking of red carpet, the King just knighted him. "King Charles the Third has a Knightship Set Aside for You.....for You....for Yooooouuuuu!"

CP+KC - everyone's on the bandwagon chipping in on the CP+KC end-to-end merger. Needless to say, when I hear about this, all I can think of is incorporating Kansas City and the band of steel linking Canada to the Gulf of Mexico with its warmth and sunshine. I want to call it KC and the Sunshine Band. "That's the way I like it!"

Friday, March 10, 2023

VIA Reverses its Skylines - Enhanced Post

A  question often asked by VIAphiles is ‘when did VIA reverse their Skylines?’ The term ‘Skyline’ was likely chosen by Canadian Pacific for the 1955 launch of The Canadian to reflect the Skyline Trail Hikers of the Canadian Rockies. Beginning in 1933, these amateur mountaineers with roots in CPR’s publicity department held an annual Rocky Mountain hike, and the Rockies were part of the allure of the railway's passenger service. Even during the CP Rail era, the Skyline was advertised in brochures as an integral part of The Canadian Experience (top photo) when sensible ascending of the Skyline stairs was from the rear of the dome.

Although I originally published some of this material in January, 2022 you're reading an enhanced post. My general goal is to elucidate the genesis of the exodus from vestibule-forward to the vestibule-rear 'directionality'. To clarify just when VIA reversed its Skylines. But's the executive summary:



As delivered, CP’s Skylines had 26 coach seats in their front (longer) section, contiguous with the 100-series coach(es) that were usually marshalled immediately ahead of the Skyline. According to an October, 1954 article and diagram (below) from  Canadian Transportation: "Each of the dome-buffet-lounge cars presents an unusual combination of facilities, and is really three cars in one. The forward 26-passenger coach section, ahead of the dome, features seating similar to the first class coaches. At the end of the coach section, two steps lead down to a passageway under the dome. Off the passageway there is a kitchen from which snacks and beverages are prepared and served. This kitchen is finished in stainless steel throughout and features a combination three-gallon coffee urn and six-gallon hot water boiler, an automatic dishwasher, a combination ice cream and frozen food compartment and a general storage refrigerator among other kitchen facilites. Beyond the kitchen and occupying the remainder of the under-dome area, there is a six-passenger buffet section. This is separated from the passageway by clear glass panels on either side of the entrance, a large mirror being on the right wall and a mural on the left transverse wall. Two steps lead up to a 17-passenger buffet section with a combination of curved settees, banquette seats and tables. From this section, seven steps lead up to the dome, which seats 24 passengers."  The Skyline's direction of travel is to the right in this diagram:
Some have opined that the Canadian looked better this way - Skylines and Park cars matching with short lounge section at rear. CP’s design for the Budd cars was contrary to most other railroads' Budd-built mid-train domes of that era. Those domes operated with the shorter section forward. When CP Rail paint was applied in 1969, the multimark appeared on the Action Red letterboard at the normal 'rear’ of the car. Sandwiched between VIA coaches 102 (blue-striped) and 5629 still in CN colours, is Skyline 501 (above) with CP Rail markings on a four hours-late VIA No 2 stopped at Portage la Prairie, MB on August 21, 1979.


With the drastic cuts to VIA Rail in November 1981, there was less demand for a full diner during the off-season. In fact, the Canadian often ran without a diner in winter, with the train’s Skyline providing food service. An eastbound Corridor Canadian consist photographed at Kingston in early 1982 (below) shows a Skyline operating with the long section forward (train departing to the left of photo). Around 1982, VIA redesigned the Skylines, replacing the below-dome buffet seating with a take-out snack bar, replacing the coach section with tables and chairs seating 24 in the now-rear section, with lounge seating in the short section leading to the dome. The dome seats were reversed, so that the car operated lounge forward. Some refer to this conversion as a dome-coach to dome-coffee shop transition. Since these were non-revenue cars, and only served passengers assigned to other revenue cars, VIA did not see fit to include seating diagrams in their timetables or other publications of the reversed Skylines. A low-resolution diagram from the current VIA website will have to suffice (above) with direction of travel to right.

Since there would have been minimal leg room at the new front of the reversed dome, the first pairs of seats were left facing rearwards and two game tables were installed in the resulting four-seaters. Some say this eliminated the 'best seats in the dome' for forward-facing dome travel and photography. Stairs to the dome now ascended toward the front of the dome and the rear of the train. Some contend this floods late-night dome denizens with unwanted light pollution. It certainly makes it obvious that you're searching for a vacant seat as one ascends the stairs. The redesigned Skyline now separated extra-fare passengers in Dayniters and sleepers from the Canadian’s coach passengers. 
The ‘onion’ domes of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brandon, MB form a stately backdrop for VIA No 2’s Skyline 516, its dome nearly empty on June 2, 1984. Even at this relatively late date in the reversing program, 516 is still operating vestibule-forward!
The reversed configuration is still in use 40 years later. When Skylines served as diners, as they did on the Chaleur and Hudson Bay, this configuration made sense, with the tables closest to the sleepers. As close as we get to a Park car in the Corridor these days: Rapido Trains Inc. aficianados en route to a product launch at Exporail in St-Constant, QC, Reversed Skyline 8501 trails No 62/52 approaching Kingston on October 11, 2015 (video capture by Erika Gagnon):
During the pandemic suspension of the Canadian, VIA deadheaded some stainless steel equipment to Montreal. Then, prior to resumption of the Canadian in May, 2021 there was another series of deadhead movements. On April 18, 2021 Skyline 8507 trails No 66 through Kingston from Toronto (below) vestibule-forward reminiscent of the original CP pre-reversal era, which was also 'befour' four digit numbers. Skylines 8503 and 8516 also headed east the same week.


VIA publicized their reconfigured Skylines in early-1984. Other than that, the entire 1983-84 period during the reversing of the Skylines continues to be an under-reported and under-documented time. Railfan pubications of the time did not contain that level of detailed car coverage. VIA had lots of other stories to publicize at that time, some good: new maintenance centres, new LRC's and the possibility of obtaining Superliners, and some bad: a disastrous winter and increasingly unreliable locomotives. Few, if any, internal VIA documents, confirmed shop dates or captioned in-process conversion photos have ever surfaced. Perhaps they never will, now that forty years have come and gone.

Surprisingly, the best-known VIA publications are silent on this topic: BRMNA, Morning Sun, Hungry Wolf and Coo, as were the industry and railfan magazines of the time. Rail Canada's VIA Volume 4, covering the VIA fleet from 1976 to 1983, comes with a caveat: "Modifications and lesser rebuilds to cars since 1979 that we have not been able to obtain drawings of", were not included as of January 1983 when the book's introduction was written. Author Donald C. Lewis correctly noted, "One of VIA's first major tasks was to renovate and upgrade the interiors of the ex-CP cars". CP Rail had not exactly been diligent while delaying to divest. The pre-reversal, vestibule-forward Skyline diagram from Lewis' volume, complete with measurements in millimetres: 
In the fresh People Moving People, Kevin J. Holland makes four references to the Skylines being modified for expanded food service by VIA in the 'early 1980s', noting the disappearance of the two-table alcove under the dome during the interior reconfiguration, explaining "These changes were made to improve fleet compatibility and to align the Skylines' on-board service standards with VIA's former CN cafe-lounge cars", and that "it was the need to operate this new table area adjacent to one of the Canadian's dining-car kitchens during peak traffic times that dictated this reversal."

Wait, could this be a smoking gun? In a footnote supporting the above, Kevin refers to a VIA System Circular No.46 issued February 19, 1980, entitled Standard of Service 'Skyline' Coffee Shop Cars which advised that The 'Skyline' coffee-shop series of cars will be undergoing a major modification program, which in due course [!] will enable VIA to provide meal, take-out and bar service on these cars, consistent with that provided on [former CN] cafe-lounge cars. This is a valuable and critical citation - a nod to an original VIA document that makes a direct connection to the reversing of the Skylines.

Without internal VIA plans or documents to which to refer, some rail enthuiasts have their own ideas. Why were coach seats removed? It does seem that dining and lounge space was more important than coach seating space. Some have opined that the Skylines operate vestibule-rear to improve air flow through the multi-use car. Others have suggested that the Skylines were turned to provide overflow seating when marshalled next to a diner, the sit-down dining section serving as an additional dining area for extra-fare passengers.

Last summer, VIA's Customer Delivery Manager Western Services/Chef Expérience Client, Service Ouest Mark Sampson posted on social media last summer that, "in 1983 when the cars were turned, there was no intention to run them next to a diner. No train on a regular basis had a Skyline marshalled next to a diner at the time. The re-design of the cars was to allow it to operate as a stand-alone food-service car".

VIA's 1982 annual report noted that $40 million had been spent on refurbishing older equipment. By the end of the year, over 80% of the fleet inherited by VIA had been completely refurbished to contemporary standards. The 1983 annual report touted a 90% fleet refurbishment rate. VIA annual reports from 1980 to 1985 also make no mention of the Skyline refurbishing, not that of any other specific car series.

CN had made a habit of refurbishing older equipment, unlike CP. In 1972, CN produced 39 Dayniters from coaches and surplus sleepers. VIA followed, converting 14 more surplus sleepers to Dayniters in 1978-79. This was VIA's first foray into rebuilding programs. In 1982, VIA rebuilt its Mount cars, actually dropping the 'Mount' from the car name as the rebuilt cars exited the shops as 3 double-bedroom buffet-lounges. From 1980-83, VIA converted 32 surplus coaches to 3200-series snack bar coaches.


I decided to hone in on conclusive reversal dates using two sources I had in hand: consists and photos. The trifecta of evidential excellence triangulated from these dual sources would ideally include all three of the following criteria: 
  • correct date captioning
  • visibility of car number, and
  • discernible directionality. 
(This is not a safe way to discern directionality (screen shot from the movie Narrow Margin, filmed atop a Roaring Forks Group faux-Skylines 7031-7032 on BCR between North Vancouver and Prince George, BC in the summer of 1989! - below)


Building a table of all the Skylines that my Dad or I recorded on the Corridor Canadian during its Montreal-Toronto routing, the list comprised consists between mid-November of 1981 until March, 1984. That March break marked the reassignment of maintenance of the ex-CP equipment from the ex-CP Glen Yard in Westmount, just west of downtown Montreal, to Toronto's Spadina. Final observations of full stainless steel equipment to/from Montreal:
  • The last two Skylines I observed here were 511 on March 9 and 513 on March 31, 1984. 
  • Diners had come off much earlier, by August 1, 1982 - the last one observed was Palliser on July 31, 1982. 
  • Park cars also came off the Corridor Canadian beginning March 31, 1984 - the last one I observed was Kokanee Park on April 8, 1984. 
  • The last Corridor Canadian consist I collected was May 19, 1985 - 12 days prior to the reinstatement of Toronto-Vancouver operation of the Canadian on June 1, 1985.
In the table, I looked for breaks in observations, setting a lower limit at 12 days, just above the usual nine-day timeframe for a Montreal-Vancouver-Montreal round trip by a Skyline. I grouped the breaks as 12-30 days, and big breaks exceeding 30 days, reasoning that the shop-days required for the reversing might be somewhere between 30-100 days.

Having two uberVIAphiles to consult, both Jakob Mueller and Jason Shron believe that the reversal work wouldn't have taken an extended period. Not requiring extensive rewiring, nor major plumbing to be done. Mainly furnishings in the dome, lounge and table areas, and some galley work - one month, or two months at the outside, with more than one car being worked on at a time. Jason suggested that a prototype may have been done during a big break first, with the others following the prototype in the ensuing months.

Two limitations to my consist-crunching (the only consists I've found anywhere, included in my books on VIA Rail) were that sightings tended to be fewer in the winter months (cold Corridor Canadians) and, that I had no way of accounting for the breaks. Out of service? Sitting in a coach-yard somewhere on the system? Missed the train that day? In the shops? Surprisingly, there were some cars that were observed consistently over long periods, while others had several consecutive big breaks. Unfortunately, my consists give no indication of directionality of the Skylines. I just wasn't aware of which end the vestibule was facing, and therefore didn't note it at the time

Interestingly, in terms of consisting on the Corridor Canadians, the Skylines could usually be found between one or two ex-CP 100-series coaches and a Dayniter, until the end of 1982. Beginning in 1983, the Skylines could be found ahead of a single winter-consist 100-series coach or Chateau and following a 3200-series snack bar coach. Some examples:
  • Jan 20/83 3242-502-Chateau
  • Feb 5/83 3208-505-Chateau
  • Feb 12/83 3228-511-110-Chateau
  • Feb 13/83 3221-503-104-Chateau
  • Feb 20/83 3230-500-118-Chateau
  • Feb 27/83 3222-512-116
  • Mar 5/83 3232-506-125
  • Mar 6/83 3220-509-124
  • Mar 14/83 501-3224-Chateau
and a couple of exceptions:
  • Mar 13/83 112-505-Chateau
  • Apr 23/83 101-509-Chateau
Summary of observations of each Skyline by car number - year/years, (number of observations):
  • 500 - 81/82 (22), 83/84 (17)
  • 501 - 82 (17), 83 (14)
  • 502 - 82 (15), 83 (15)
  • 503 - 82 (18), 83 (8)
  • 504 - 81/82 (20), 83 (10)
  • 505 - 81/82 (17), 83/84 (15)
  • 506 - 81/82 (20), 83 (11)
  • 507 - 81/82 (17), 83 (8)
  • 508 - wrecked while CP
  • 509 - 81/82 (21), 83/84 (14)
  • 510 - 81/82 (10), 83/84 (13)
  • 511 - 81/82 (9), 83/84 (11)
  • 512 - 81/82 (6), 83/84 (19)
  • 513 - 82 (17), 83/84 (9)
  • 514 - 82 (18), 83/84 (7)
  • 515 - 82 (8), 83 (12)
  • 516 - 81/82 (16), 83 (16)
  • 517 - 81/82 (18), 83 (12)
Unfortunately, winter 1983-84 and the 1984 removal of Skylines from the Corridor Canadians make conclusive shop date discernment difficult for what was likely the time that the Skylines were being rebuilt and reversed! So aside from doing some interesting data-crunching, it was difficult for me to make this data into useable information.


There are several factors that make it difficult for Budding Skyline spotters to ascertain dates by which specific Skylines were reversed, based solely on photographs: 
  • Skylines are marshalled too far back in the consist to discern reversal without significant squinting, major magnifcation and a certain amount of guessing.
  • Skyline close-up photos make it difficult to ascertain directionality, and Jakob suggested that Skylines in photos may be marshalled backwards.
  • Few Skyline photo captions seem to include the car number and the date.
The online auction site image (below) is captioned VIA 512 in 1983. It seems to be going-away from the camera, based on the blue & yellow car's vestibule ahead and the ex-CP car behind, which should mean that 512 is genuinely operating vestibule-forward. Good news! A second similar slide shows Kootenay Park bringing up the rear of this train, confirming the directionality and its unreversed state at that date!
Fortunately, my photos, as well as those of my Dad (below), brother David and others, taken in the Corridor and in Western Canada, helped to pin down additional data-points. Fortunately, most of these photos are supported by consists and/or reliable dates - two-thirds of the trifecta! Unfortunately, 1983 was the only year in the early-1980's that I didn't head west. If I'd known at the time that it would help solve this reversing mystery years later, I would have made different plans! Fortunately, my parents were in Manitoba that summer to gather some data-points.
Rather than re-posting photos I've already published in other posts, links to those photos are included below:
Based on the above photo evidence, it can be proven that, at least:
  • VIA 502 was reversed sometime between August 19/83 and and June 1/84!
  • VIA 516 was still not reversed by June 2/84 (passengers' directionality in dome) so the reversal program must have extended into the second half of the year.


In John Hardy's book Canadian Rail Travel an unknown Skyline in 1983 is vestibule-forward, while another in 1984 is vestibule-rear. In my brother's blog post on his May, 1984 Canadian trip, the Skyline is running vestibule-rear, as is another Skyline in this second post at Calgary and the Spiral Tunnels.


Mark Sampson and I compared VIA marshalling-of-trains documents as a source of reversing dates. Therein, marhsalling instructions from October 1983 and June 1985 (below) show the transitional timespan between vestibule forward ('83 - VEST. FWD) and vestibule rear ('85 - VEST. REAR). Realizing that every car couldn't be converted at the same time, it would seem reasonable that 1984 marshalling document (sadly unavailable) or at latest, the 1985 phase-in date, surely would mark the end of the reversing of all the Skylines. 

So somewhere in between the release of these two documents - October 1983 and June 1985 - the Skylines had been reversed.


Based on all of the above, I'm confident that we can safely conclude the following:



It's cloyingly concerning that although we stood on the platform beside, rode in, rejoiced in the presence of in the Corridor, and even took a few photos of the Skylines, we seem in retrospect to have been completely oblivious at the time to their now-obvious reversing. Thus, this nearly-forensic analysis and conclusion-reaching has now been attempted, I believe successfuly, 40 years on. Technically, this slowly-evolving post has been in the works since this first Yahoogroups message I posted back in June, 2014: 

"Regrettably, while the Canadian was running on CN's Kingston Sub between 1981-1984, and though I observed something like 200 consists that included Skylines, I was at the time unaware of the switching-around of the Skylines, so didn't record details like these - plus the fact that the train was usually pushing 80 mph when it passed me and I was lucky to get the consist! However, since the normal direction of travel from vestibule forward/'long hood' forward became vestibule rear/'short hood' forward after the reconfiguration, a survey of photos from 1982-1984 might yield some valuable results as to the reconfiguration dates. This would rely on two factors: accurately dated photos (increasingly unreliable as time marches on) and being able to ascertain interior layout/direction of travel from the photos." Well said, self, but the road to reversal was apparently paved only with good intentions 'til now! Better late than never.

This could conclusively be the second dome denouement - a long-unsolved VIA mystery solved for uberVIAphiles. The first was the serendipitous solving of the Sceneramic tiny lettering, the tail-end of a four-part series on the scintillating ex-CN Sceneramics! Another dome-dotted VIA post remains one of my favourites - VIA's Canadian at Portage, 1981.

This post will have to do for now, until further vital VIA documents, confirmed shop dates or captioned in-process conversion photos surface. I'm going to pour myself a cup of joe and wait. And wait. If and when it happens, it will definitely be a rewarding reversal of our fortuitous fortunes. Let's conclude this retrospective repast of the past not with a fortune cookie, but an after-dinner  meme:

Running extra...

Ride the Siemens train with Todd - this video gives a good appreciation of the weekly Tuesday VIA Montreal-Ottawa round trip. Long after VIA reversed its Skylines, everything old is new again, including this whole train. It's reversible - no wyeing or loop tracks required. Old/new stuff? Open luggage racks on CN/CP coaches then airline-style LRC overhead lockers - back to open luggage racks! Half-and-half seating in the original LRC then one-direction - back to half-and-half!

Is this a prison train? Where have the soft seat cushions and warm, welcoming carpeting gone? The Siemens train can be cleaned with one mop - floors, seats, walls. Uniformly grey -- looks like Kingston without the limestone. Seatback handgrips, check. Shallow cup holders, slosh!

VIA's Siemens Set 2 made a test round-trip from the MMC to the TMC this past Wednesday-Thursday, as VIA No 627 westbound and VIA No 656 eastbound, in light and darkness, respectively. The Wednesday train passed Kingston at 1300, Thursday's nocturnal eastbound passed at 2230. There were no passengers and few visible VIA staff or crew onboard.

Friday, March 3, 2023

CN IPO25 Heritage Units

On a sunny, 4-degree Celsius Sunday in early February, I got word that BCOL 3115 was coming east down the Kingston Subdivision on CN train No 372. Not snowing, no wind, nothing on my agenda, nice morning sunlight - of course I headed out to Mi 180 Kingston Sub, along the Kingston Railfan Walking Trail to photograph my fifth and last CN Heritage unit. I wondered why it had taken me so long to finally have such an opportunity - a combination of luck, weather, timing, and where CN had stashed 3115 since it was painted in this retro scheme, way back in 2020!

Canadian National celebrated the 25th anniversary of its November 17, 1995 Initial Public Offering (IPO), a very visible way. Five locomotives were painted in heritage schemes, depicting the railways CN acquired since the IPO. These were:

  • Grand Trunk Western 8952 light blue with red nose and GT 'wet-noodle'
  • Wisconsin Central 3069 in 'Burkhardt' maroon with yellow stripe 
  • Illinois Central 3008 in the black 'deathstar' scheme
  • British Columbia Railway 3115 in the red, white and blue 'hockey stick' scheme
  • Elgin, Joliet & Eastern 3023 orange with green-ball scheme
  • CN 8898 in the CN website scheme - not considered a true heritage unit and will be sadly ignored by your humble blogger for the remainder of this post.
GTW 8952 and CN 8898 were SD70M-2's, all the others were ET44AC's. Each unit bore a small nose logo signifying CN's transition from a Crown corporation to a publicly-traded company. Small enough to be overlooked, and cryptic enough for those viewing it to wonder what IPO25 was - perhaps a speed restriction? Technically, these are CN units with numbers that match CN number series, albeit totally non-sequential! I colloquially refer to them by their identities i.e. GTW 8952. Some say that not using a CN prefix is like breaking a basic railway rule. I also came up with my own three rules for Heritage units. These are called Eric's Three Heritage Unit Rules. 

Heritage Rule #1: It's Only Heritage When It Leads.
Heritage Rule #2: CN 8898 is not a True Heritage Unit.
Heritage Rule #3: Veterans Units CN 3015/3233, blue BC Rail units and crappy old GTW Geeps still in their original paint do not qualify as Heritage units. *

The six units were painted at non-CN shops, reportedly the former Illinois Central shop in Centralia, IL, Quality Rail Service in Madison, IL with GTW 8952 painted at AMP in Dansville NY on Oct. 11, 2020.

The papered-over WC, IC, EJ&E and BCOL units deadheaded east on train 396, arriving Battle Creek MI on Octoer 24, 2020 on their way to Montreal. Rumours had been circulating for weeks, and as they often do, railfans compiled a 'real' fantasy list of 25 paint schemes that CN just had had to do - ranging from Central Vermont to Gulf Mobile & Ohio! "I'm happy to see the GM&O is being made", typed one rabid-but-not-realistic railfan. Hey, what about Northern Alberta Railway? A sketchy sketch showing some imaginative images made the rounds on social media: 
The six units were arranged on adjacent tracks at Montreal on adjacent tracks for the media on November 10, 2020. CN's CEO J.J. Ruest - Railway Age's 2019 Railroader of the Year -  posed with the units (and fresh rock dust spread everywhere! - reformatted Pascale Simard/Alpha Press photo):
The six units deadheaded west on CN No 105 on November 14, 2020. A stoppage and recrewing at Shannonville instantly converted the sleepy village on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory into a railfan mecca, with scads of camera-toting Ontario railfans going trackside, sometimes on CN property, to get photos while the units were stationary for most of the day. Like shooting fish in the proverbial pickle barrel. Then the CN Police showed up!

Minty BCOL 3115 led CN No 376 east down the Kingston Sub on November 15. The units entered service across the CN system, with WC 3069 reported in Vancouver on November 27, EJ&E 3023 in Kamloops on December 23, and BCOL 3115 in New Westminster on December 29.

I made a semi-serious quest to pursue and photograph these five units locally. Success would depend on several factors: time of day, weather, direction of travel, leading or trailing, my very relaxed schedule and just plain luck. With this past Sunday's snagging of BCOL 3115, my set of five is complete! So it took awhile...and while you've seen my results in Trackside Treasure header photos, this is the first time they've been featured in their own post. On an overcast, flurry-filled April 21, 2021 it was EJ&E 3023 leading CN No 376 at Mi. 180 Kingston Sub:
The green cab numerals don't contrast well with the orange body, especially under snowy, overcast skies:
An earlier photo of this or the BCOL unit would have shown their minty, silver trucks and underframe. Long-begrimed.
May 2, 2021 at 1610 - GTW 8952 led CN No 376 at Mi 180 in sunny weather just a few days later. 
More recently, GTW 8952 languished in the shops at Dansville, NY from April, 2022 to January 31, 2023 when it was sprung loose to grace the Kingston Sub, before taking up residency as the 'yard-switcher' in Truro, NS.
CN 2606 and Geep 7204 in the CN 'website' scheme completed the locomotive consist:
Hey, 7204! Your heritage is showing!
January 26, 2022 at a bright, snowy 0941, IC 3008 trailed on CN No 377 at Mi 179
I was actually out to catch GTW 2264 leading CN No 518 west, so this was a complete surprise! Behind leader CN 2955, and then a bush:
April 2, 2022  at 0909, WC 3069 led CN intermodal No 149 at Mi. 179 with fleetmate 3067:

Yes to a yen or a yearning for yellow?
February 12, 2023 at 1112, BCOL 3115 trailed on CN No 372 at Mi 180 (hey, better late than never).
I was so lackadaisically late to the fifth-unit party that I willingly broke my own Heritage Rule #1!
It's easy to find a raft of stunning, colourful photos of these Heritage units on photo-sharing sites. Like the Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific Heritage units, they just call out to be photographed! Even the crews notice a difference when they're leading a train with any special-scheme units - it brings out the overpass-and-shoulder-of-the-road crowd to get photographs! 

*I have made efforts to photograph CN's military units as well, however! CN 3233 on CN No 306 - March 18, 2021:

Lots o' links:

Running extra...

CANDO's Steve Bradley kindly shared a couple of photos of a recent trip up the former CN Millhaven Spur, now switched by CANDO. At the mainline, there is a storage yard and a connection to the CN Kingston Sub, regularly switched by the now-nocturnal CN No 519 Belleville-Kingston turn.
Looking east (above) and west (below). The CN mainline is at right:
Speaking of shortlines, Lesley Bernard emailed to say she had read my post about her Dad, Julian Bernard. She was inspired to start a blog of her own. I continue to believe this is the best way to share great stories, information and history, so I'm wishing Lesley well on this new venture!

I don't often watch Lance Mindheim CSX Downtown Spur operations videos, but when I do, it's this one.

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Bridges of Yarker

The Napanee, Tamworth & Quebec (NT&Q) Railway Co. was granted its charter on May 15, 1879. From a connection with the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) at Napanee, up through the Napanee River valley via Newburgh and Yarker to Tamworth, with an option to extend towards the Ottawa River near Renfrew via Arden. Iron ore deposits had been discovered near Tamworth that year. The 28-mile NT&Q route would be U-shaped, from Napanee to Napanee Mills (Strathcona), Camden East, Yarker, Moscow, Enterprise and Tamworth.

Early construction costs led to financial difficulties in 1882. New management in 1883 included chief investor Edward W Rathbun of Deseronto. Rathbun, a local business magnate, already had a Napanee-Deseronto line, the Bay of Quinte Railway (BQR). Napanee would therefore become merely a way station of Rathbun's newly-envisioned extension west to Tweed, and east to the Kingston & Pembroke (K&P) line. Lennox Member of Parliament John A. Macdonald may have been instrumental in securing Dominion government subsidies of $3,200 per mile. Rail was laid to Newburgh by November 17, 1883; Yarker by the first week of December; and near Moscow by Christmas that year. Additional rock work at Yarker would be required to reduce the grade. North and west of Yarker, the line turned progressively from farmland to Canadian Shield. Maximum speed on the new line was 25 mph. The inaugural train traversed the line departing Napanee on August 4, 1884. Two views of the Yarker station, showing the 'Wagar family' and the other looking toward Napanee:
A Kingston extension was proposed, to be a bridge line to bring material to Kingston: minerals, grain timber and ore. The first proposed extension to be built to Kingston would go through Wilton, Odessa, Westbrook, Collins Bay, and Portsmouth. Instead, in 1888, Rathbun applied to build a seven-mile branch from Yarker to Harrowsmith thence Kingston via running rights over the K&P. (The proposed line to reach the K&P would have saved 25 minutes of time and six miles of distance, compared to the NT&Q's eventual route to Harrowsmith.) A 22-mile extension to Tweed, later extended to Bannockburn after 1903, was also proposed, all intended to extend Rathbun's commmercial reach. Extensions to Harrowsmith and Bannockburn were secured by 1889. 

Yarker was chosen as the Napanee-Tweed mainline departure point for the NT&Q extension to Harrowsmith, three miles shorter than the originally surveyed point near Moscow. The branch to Harrowsmith did not incorporate a direct connection for traffic between Kingston and Napanee. This would save the expense of building another bridge across the Napanee River at Yarker. For expediency, the departure point was set just north of Yarker station. Harrowsmith-Yarker-Napanee traffic would be handled via a wye at the junction.  The only available location for the wye was west of the mainline at Yarker, just past the connection to the Harrowsmith branchline, due to the proximity of the Napanee River. Additional land had to be secured for the wye to be built. The wye required a seesaw movement of east-west traffic, for example from Napanee north past the station, back the train into the wye, exit south leg of wye and head east on branchline. Two trains having negotiated the wye, head east across the original bridge toward Harrowsmith. The second and third views are vintage photos, the second is from a vintage postcard captioned 1908:
A westbound train traverses the bridge in the opposite direction, heading into Yarker: 
Cut stone abutments and the single pier for the two-span deck plate girder bridge began in the spring of 1889, spanning the connection running from just north of Yarker station thence eastward. The bridge was completed by November, 1889 (shown below in 1895).  The Harrowsmith branchline was fit for use by November 19. 1889, laid with 56-lb rail. The first train operated between Tweed and Deseronto on December 1, 1889, and the first Tweed-Kingston train operated December 2. 
The NT&Q changed its name to the Kingston, Napanee & Western Railway Co. on April 24, 1890. Traffic flow was Tweed-Deseronto, through two daily trains each way Tweed to Kingston, and one daily Deseronto-Yarker train each way. The K&NW was leased to the Bay of Quinte Railway on Sept. 24, 1891 then incorporated in to the BQR on January 1, 1897. When Rathbun died in 1903 at age 61, his empire rapidly disintegrated. 

In turn, the BQR was acquired by MacKenzie, Mann & Co. as part of their Canadian Northern (CNoR) Toronto-Ottawa line. They installed the missing link at Yarker, building a deck girder bridge across the Napanee River in 1912. This direct link, which left the mainline farther south, finally eliminated the time-consuming switching movements required by trains heading east to Harrowsmith. Two photos of the construction - bridge pier forms (Pinterest image) and installation of spans:
MacKenzie and Mann also realigned their line through Newburgh, moving it north away from the Napanee River in 1914. This realignment may have been due to potential flooding, or to bypass the town, though it definitely reduced the grade eastbound. BQR became part of the their Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) on January 5, 1914, bought at 70% of its original value. Two schedules from the June, 1916 Official Guide of the Railways: Kingston-Yarker; Toronto-Ottawa; Deseronto-Yarker:
Kingston-Yarker; Tweed-Deseronto; Deseronto-Bannockburn:
CNoR's poor financial straits saw its progressive amalgamation into Canadian National Railways from 1917 to 1923. As a result, the NT&Q, K&NW, BQR disappeared into the national railway. CN abandoned the Yarker-Tweed segment in 1941, and the Yarker-Smiths Falls (extended via subsequent extensions from Harrowsmith to Sydenham and east) in 1986. I'm not sure when the first bridge's spans were removed, but it's likely they were reused elsewhere on the system.
Approach to the second bridge, in 1958 (above). Unless otherwise noted, photos in this post, most originally from the Lennox & Addington County Archives published in the excellent book: Lost Horizons - The Story of the Rathbun Railway Company and the Bay of Quinte Railway - by Donald Wilson, Mika Publishing, 1983.

Undated (likely late 1940's, early 1950s) aerial views Queen's University Archives, George Lilley Fonds: V25.5-48-78/79 Yarker; V25.5-48-69 Strathcona; V25.5-48-53 Newburgh:
Yarker (above) showing the second bridge at centre, road overpass and first bridge abutments, and the curve at left heading north to Colebrook. A second view of Yarker (top photo) shows the second bridge, with the right-of-way of the former Harrowsmith extension just visible, curving up to left.
Strathcona (above) with several CN boxcars at the mill and the siding along the line. Newburgh, with two boxcars just visible near top of photo on the relocated ex-CNoR line and the Napanee River at near bottom:
My son and family took a recent stroll along the Cataraqui Trail and across the bridge, which sparked my interest in finally putting in the work to research this well-known local bridge and its interesting story. As with all other railway engineering, nature is always vying for supremacy - grapevines spread their tentacles over the side fencing along the bridge deck. I wonder if my four year-old grandson, walking with my son, could imagine CNoR steam-hauled passenger trains speeding across the bridge a century ago? From here looking upstream, the central pier of the first bridge is still visible:

Lots o' links:
Lesley Bernard kindly shared this view of the piers and abutments of the first Yarker bridge circa 2007. Lesley knows a thing or two about the Tweed extension! 

Running extra...

On March 26, the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders are holding a model train event a.k.a. flea market Sun: 9am to 5pm at the Hellenic Centre, 1315 Prince of Wales Drive in Ottawa. Admission $5. Table prices: $20 for OVAR Members, $25 Non-Members.

This is Trackside Treasure's 800th post, and this blog's 15th August anniversary arrives this summer! The same day, I reached 800 follower on Pinterest. Pinteresting coincidence.

If only that 40-mile Communist convoy, presenting such a fat target, and a pathetic picture of poor military planning, on its illegal invasion incursion into Ukaine, could have been destroyed one year ago. I'll continue to raise my Ukraine flag in our front window each day until the final Victory. 

Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava! Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!