Wednesday, May 31, 2023

CSX Coal to Becancour

For some time now, a cut of CSX hoppers has periodically made its way down the CN Kingston Subdivision heading towards Montreal. When seen, there are usually 2-10 cars, but as the only such shipments past here, the cars often raised questions. Who receives loads of coal these days? Where were they headed, and what was the source? Admittedly, among the 700,000 carloads of coal that CSX generates annually, this is a tiny little piece of the pie-graph. Here at Trackside Treasure, such mysteries exist only to be solved! CSXT 811992 (top photo) and 836410 (below, with DPU 8895 eastbound on January 29, 2017. My photos in this post are taken from my in-laws' fifth-floor apartment/balcony near Mi 179 Kingston Sub unless otherwise noted.

This question has intrigued me for awhile. Some have suggested that the destination is  an  aluminum smelter at Becancour, but a googlemaps inspection of the plant shows bulkhead flatcars for loading and boxcar traffic. No sign of coal. But Googlemaps showed me this facility just a few hundred metres away.

It's Silicium Quebec, a silicon producer, having operated under different names in the plant's 40-year history, such as Becancour Silicon.  With its annual production of 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes of metallic silicon, Silicium Québec has 175 employees. Half of Bécancour's production goes to the United States. Half is used in the aluminum sector, while 35% of the silicon produced is used by the chemical industry. Solar energy production uses the rest, or 15%, an area that is experiencing double-digit growth..Located near the port of Becancour, the facility is 100 miles northeast of Montreal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It's served by CN, located at Mi. 23.5 of the 25 mile-long Becancour Subdivision that leaves the CN Drummondville Sub at Aston Junction.

The facility had a large materials yard. There appears to be a car-dumping spot beside the materials yard then room for maybe 10 cars at the end of their spur. No cars were on the spur the day the satellite flew over, unfortunately. CN's designation for this track is G120 - Becancour Silicon. The plant seems to be served by three (plus one?) spurs, adjacent to an industry support yard. Two spurs go to covered hopper indoor-loading locations, and the the tail-end one is for our cars of interest.

The coal originates in or is handled through the Walbridge, OH area. It's possible that it's coke, not coal, but don't even bother Googling 'coke shipments from Ohio' because that only directs you to law enforcement websites! I obviously have more to learn about these unique shipments, but this post has been a good start, definitely adding fuel to the fire!
Empties are passed by an eastbound VIA train led by 6436 on May 4, 2018 (above) and loads eastbound on CN No 368 on June 16, 2020 (below).
CSXT 836529-835586 and about 10 other loads including HKRX and MWNX cars are eastbound at Belleville on November 7, 2022 (image courtesy of Railstream, LLC):
My observations: Date, car number(s), CN train car was on. I checked my notes as far back as October 2014 to present, and the shipments I first noted were in January, 2017. The CN trains shown below originate, terminate or lift at Montreal yard:

  • Jan 29/17 CSXT 811992, 836410 + others
  • Feb 19/17 CSXT ? on 368
  • Apr 22/17 CSXT 835989 on 377
  • Jun 5/17: three CSXT on 377
  • Sep 17/17: 837051, 836031 + 10 more on 373
  • May 4/18: 835349, 837407, 836991, 835516, 835942 on 377
  • Apr 12/19:810310, 835994 + 2 more on 373
  • Nov 2/19: 836050, 835683 + 2 more on 373
  • Jun 16/20: 837509, 835432, 835956 + 10 more on 368 

Running extra:

Our local branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library has a never-ending book sale. Not having visited since the start of the pandemic(!) I noticed that prices for used books are no longer marked - they're by donation only. A month ago, while there with my good wife who was picking up some reserved Amish romance (who knew?) I wandered over and found a couple of books on Canadian railway subjects. A library volunteer indicated that someone had dropped off 'this many' [carton load] train books and that they would be put out over the next little while.

Several return trips netted several more Amish romances but no new railway books. I settled for a quick one-day read about the ill-fated Newfoundland Regiment attack on Beaumont Hamel: No Man's Land  by Kevin Major. Just when I'd given up hope (on train books, not on the romantic ardour of the Amish which seemed to fill several bookshelves) I encountered another, very helpful volunteer. Upon mentioning the train books, she quickly disappeared, assuring me she'd be back in three minutes. And she was, with a cart and a stack of railway 'books by the pound'. Wow! Mostly a "Got 'im, got 'im", but there were a couple of "Need 'ims" namely The Railroaders by Stuart Leuthner, and the apocryphal Train Wrecks by Robert C. Reed. The former is an interesting compendium of first-person remembrances, the latter is more destructive and grisly. Plus, my wife and the volunteer got to talk about rhubarb and recipes during today's visit! It was...A Tale of Two...Volunteers!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Ten Ways I Added Play-Value to the Hanley Spur

In a previous operations post on this blog and a similar running trains post on my Kingston's Hanley Spur blog, I discussed how operations on my HO-scale home layout work. Those post were published after building my current layout iteration and operating it for awhile. While wanting to publish some recent wrinkles in operation to my Hanley Spur blog, I decided the details fit better on this blog. The Hanley Spur blog is history, research and the results in my modelling, but here on Trackside Treasure, it's 100% trains, 100% of the time. So here we are. Check out that CN baggage car spotted at the CN Express building, near the Montreal Street CN Outer Station (top photo).

Just as I'd like to call my model railway a 'vast transportation empire concerned with the timely movement of goods in and out of 1970's Kingston' let's face it. We're playing trains. And just as I'd like to describe the layout's operations as a 'carefully choreographed movement of trains and cars serving shippers and connecting to a vast regional and national network' let's be real. We're playing trains. So while playing trains, shouldn't we be concerned with 'continually enhancing and revising operations to suit shippers, make train runs more efficient and drive down the operating ratio' let's just say we'd like to add more play-value.

Hanley Spur operations do not involve a coal mine or terminal grain elevator with long strings of cars. It's loose-car or single-car railroading. Put-and-takes, one in/one out. This can get a little mindless, even for someone who likes operations. An earlier operational wrinkle for the six spots at the CN freight shed was a "great new deal". Here are ten new ways I've added play value recently, with photos and descriptions following:

1. Off-spot cars on CP siding.
2. Add-a-car to longer spurs.
3. Choose cars from CN interchange.
4. Make a run to CN interchange.
5. Deal out an industry from the CP sequence.
6. Lift an industry without setting-out.
7. Check the CN yard for what's needed.
8. Reload home road empties for back-haul.
9. Make cars appear from unmodelled industries.
10. Set-out two short cars in a one-car spot.

Some CP industries have loads in (MacCosham, Anglin) while others have loads out (Cohen, Woolen Mill). If those loads arrive in home-road CP cars, I will give them loads as back-haul. While waiting for their next spot to load, I stash them in the CP run-around track and write "Off-Spot" on their car card. Once spotted, I cross that out. This also happens if more than one car is brought in by CP for an industry with one car spot.

To break the one in/one out cycle, on spurs that can accommodate more than one car, I'll sometimes set out one and not lift the previous one, leaving two on the spur. They'll both be lifted from Imperial Oil's limestone warehouse next trip.

Rather than setting out and lifting all cars to/from mainline CN freights  at the 'interchange', I will sometimes lift fewer than I set out. 'Cherry-picking' needed cars, such as the SP gon, not it and the CN car of steel, adds play value.

Rather than lifting and setting-out from the CN mainline at the interchange on a regular switching run, sometimes I'll make a special run. In addition to the normal switching cycle, here's an interchange run arriving back at the Outer Station yard.

I can only switch half to a third of my CP industries due to space constraints on the run-around track. So I switch the industries in sequence, say the top five industries' cars in the CP Industries pile of cards. Sometimes I'll reshuffle the top card or two to the back. In this way, I'm not switching the very same five or six industries repeatedly in exactly the same sequence.

I normally decide which industries to switch by having one car to lift, with one to set out. If I don't have one to set out, I'll sometimes lift the car regardless. Two cars of minerals are heading to Frontenac Floor & Wall Tile, without a CP car to lift from this jointly-switched CN/CP industry.

Just as a car-checker used to wander the yard with a pad and pencil, I'll sometimes go through the CN Yard card-pile with a post-it note stuck alongside the CN industry list. Hashmarks denote the number of cars in the yard waiting to be spotted at an industry. Horizontal dashes mean there's none. Those dashes alert me to which cars I need to grab for the next draft of cars to be set-out from the mainline to the Hanley Spur!

Just as I mentioned the CP Off-Spot cars held on the CP siding above, CN industries that bring in home-road car loads like Presland Steel or CN Express make empties. Those empties are stored in the CN yard, or switched at once to nearby industries that generate loads, like the tannery (above) or the CN Freight shed.

I don't have room to model the full length of the Hanley Spur, so the lead further downtown ends at the freight shed. It's one of the only tracks without a stopblock. Sometimes, cars with Really Big Things or finished locomotives appear at the end of this track, to be lifted by the next CN run downtown. Normally, empties are set out for the Shipyards or CLC, but not always!

Once I realized that the 1970's (and earlier) involved lots of tank cars and still more coal hoppers, I needed more of both. I made an online purchase for seven of these diminutive Proto tank cars. They're so short that two of them fit into a one-car spot!

I'm sure I'll find some more play-value pieces of the puzzle as I go along. I'm actively looking for them. These are not the traditional 'set out a bad-order car' or 'run a circus train' event cars that some big layouts use to generate different movements. These are an a much smaller, micro scale. That's the nature of single-car railroading in Kingston, back in the day!

Running extra...
The end of the buffer car era is at hand. Speaking of the end, check out uberVIAphile Mark Sampson's photo of the first unbuffered No 1 about to depart Toronto Union on Sunday the 21st, classic VIA drumhead and all (well, try not to look at the 'paddle'). In case you're not interested or aware, VIA was mandated by a Transport Canada ministerial order to operated unoccupied cars on either end of HEP stainless-steel consists, way back in mid-October. I'm proud, though bemused, to say this was Trackside Treasure's longest-running, continuously-updated post

Boy, have I ever seen this screen a lot:
Frankly, I was deathly afraid of deleting this long-running post inadvertently. Every time the post was open, and I was documenting another buffer car on another VIA train, I realized that I was always one or two keystrokes away from zapping the whole post. A wrinkle in Blogger's software, the backing-up time is down to milliseconds. I suppose I could continually save it as a Draft. But instead, I copied and pasted into an article that is slated to appear in Bytown Railway Society's Branchline magazine in the coming months!
Though there were complaints about the needlessness/cost/political agenda nature of the buffer-car implementation, I think that once the Siemens trains are operating in the Corridor, unendingly, we will wallow in nostalgia of this just-past era. Just for fun, here is a visual reminder of the End Times, when the red-shaded cars were being removed from Corridor HEP sets on May 17th: To paraphrase an old expression, now it's just 'Buffer Down the Well'.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Railstream Webcam Highlights, Part 5

Sectionmen jack-hammering low spots - April 19

Now that the warm weather is just about here, it'll be time to head outside more and enjoy the great outdoors. That means less time virtually railfanning via the Belleville Railstream webcam. As a wintry wrap-up and spring segue, here are some trackside goodies courtesy Railstream, LLC from mid-March to the end of April! Part 4 contains links to the highlights of October 2022 to mid-March 2023. There was just so much good stuff to see on both CN and VIA! That included a hi-rail-boom truck using a length of rail to clean out a culvert north of the tracks at the Geddes Street crossing, jack-hammering (top photo) and manual tie replacement using a backhoe.

CCBX 59615 ElastoFlo with VeganFlo graffiti on CN No 372 - March 20

Ex-BN leaser FWDX 1868 on No 372 - March 21

IC 2466 - mismatched hood and all - on No 121 - March 21

On the UP and UP - heritage reporting marks SSW 91080 and CMO 10437 No 306 -March 21

Pole car empties from Brookfield NS AOKX 44092 and 44091 on No 305 - March 22

BCOL 3115 Heritage Unit leading No 122 - March 22

VWCX 5030-5037-5057-5061 sodium cyanide containers (mining) on No  372 - March 23

12 cars of MSVS heading for Ex Maple Resolve in Wainwright on No 305 - March 26...

...and 16 cars of APC's following

VWCX 5063 sodium cyanide containers (mining) on No  372 - March 27

Heritage Unit GTW 8952 trails on No 305 - March 29

Another "Heritage unit" CN 8898 on No 377 - March 29

Now the new GTW's like 406660 are getting the wet-noodle logo on No 377 - March 29

Graffiti-free UP 700232-TBOX 633706-LRS 137881 on No 377 - March 29

Mind your Manors, pup, as Craig Manor tails No 50 - March 30

Half of ONR's 4-car fleet ONT 6003-6000 haul soybeans to Viterra Becancour on No 372 - March 31

Pole car load for Brookfield NS AOKX 44135 on No 306 - April 3

A different kind of heritage on this unit - CN 4726 on No 377 - April 3

Blue BC Rail 4652 is the DPU on CN No 372... - April 11

...and returning west as a tail-end DPU on a westbound intermodal - April 19

VIA baggage car 8608 trailing No 42 after coming east on No 2 - April 28

Not new, but my first 'sighting' of these K+S potash cars: KSPX 5106-5040 - April 29

Running extra...

One can never watch too many Youtube videos of the Canadian, although this one is the less-common west-to-east version. And when it's DownieLive, you know it will be enjoyable.

Wish me luck - or a broken leg? Tonight I'm leading off the Railway Modellers Meet of BC's Virtual Prologue. I've got 80 PowerPoint slides in 30 minutes. I'll probably be like a caffeinated auctioneer! Mine is the first of a program of four presentations, so room for everyone! The group runs a tight ship and it's a pleasure to be asked to participate! The presentation went well and my favourite comment in the Zoom chat section: 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Industry Profile: Biscotasing Store

Admittedly, this is not really an on-line, railway-served industry - the usual criteria for an 'industry profile' Trackside Treasure post. But two factors have led me to research and publish this post on the long-standing store in Biscotasing, ON, located hard by the now-demolished CPR station at Mile 54.4 of the Nemegos Subdivision. 

The first factor was discussion of this photo (below) that I took of the classic scene at 'Bisco' from the front, right dome seat of Prince Albert Park on Sunday May 27, 1984. The VIA (ex-CP) station and parking lot for the station and store are visible at centre. Scheduled to arrive at 1035, our actual stop here was at 1105. (Eastbound we were scheduled in at 1950, arriving at 2057. And two years earlier, a late-running VIA No 1 got us there at 1115.) We made up time, running at 50-55 mph, arriving 11 minutes early into Chapleau. I was travelling west from Kingston to Winnipeg aboard VIA No 1, in roomette 2 of Thompson Manor, which I'd occupied since Kingston. Only two Montreal sleepers, Thompson Manor and Chateau Vercheres were on the train when I boarded, with Prince Albert Park (but no Skyline) added in Toronto. In fact, only five of the twelve cars at Kingston continued west beyond Toronto, with seven new cars added while stopped in Toronto Union! But I digress!
The second factor was interest in the Sudbury-White River route, sparked by my previous post on modelling Northern Ontario, as well as the recent TRIPPING Train 185 TVO documentary. I wanted to learn more about Biscotasing, its history and that store and station. I was fortunate to find an excellent selection of photos in the "Biscotasing, Ontario" Facebook group, albeit mostly undated and uncaptioned. All photos in this post are from this group unless otherwise noted. Individual photographers are not acknowledged because many of the photos are historic in nature, and others do not list the photographer, only the poster. (If you are the photographer of one or more of these photos, I will gladly credit you personally!) This post follows one on modelling CP in Northern Ontario.

Biscotasing is an indigenous word meaning 'a body of water with long arms'. Biscotasi Lake leads to the Spanish River, which flows all the way to Lake Huron near Webbwood, ON. Although a comprehensive history of Biscotasing is beyond the scope of this post, the settlement was established on the shores of Lake Biscotasi by the CPR as early as 1882. While 470 acres were set aside for the CPR, only 30 were cleared. Described alternatively as a construction town or a divisional point, Biscotasing was clearly a major point with a large station and freight shed, though its importance plummeted upon the establishment of Chapleau to the west as a CP yard and shops.
The Hudson's Bay Co. established a trading post in 1887. Sudlen & O'Neil's lumber mill operated from 1894-1898, before being purchased by Booth & Shannon. The post was destroyed by fire, as was the lumber mill in 1913. Both operations were closed down in 1927, the former experiencing another fire, the latter having been sold to lumbermen Pratt and Shanacy. Most of the area's valuable lumber had already been harvested by 1920. A between-the-wars view of the townsite from across the lake:
A store was first established here by J.A. Wright in 1885. I believe this is the current false-front store under construction:

The steps up to the front door had a retractable awning over them. Two different-sized display windows flanked the front door:
A CPR crane lifts the small logging locomotive that was used between the CPR and the mill. Taken to Algonquin Park, it still forms part of the exhibit on logging there. It was donated by David Pratt, son of the original lumberman, in 1958.
Of course, there was more to Biscotasing than the store. A small community that varied in population from hundreds in summertime to as few as 20 in the long winter months, it also featured the large CPR station, two churches and many houses. A school was opened in 1906 and an Ontario Forestry office in 1907. Old-timey photos show simply 'BISCO' painted on the first station, with passengers and bundles of trapped furs piled high on the platform. Here's the station in my 1984 photo, at this point in a two-tone paint scheme, probably grey- or tan-and boxcar red:
The arrival of the diesel era, with CP 4051 and a road repair car or idler car drawing the attention of townspeople in this undated photo:
Now we enter the colour era! The store was clad in wood siding, but later received the ubiquitous Insulbrick covering (below). Note the church at left:
More modern signage and once again, wood siding:
The store functioned as a grocery, hardware, liquor outlet and post office. 

The agent's door to the platform, with local residents of the two-legged and four-legged variety:
Dated 1969, with the station and store still Insulbricked:

A busy time in the parking lot (above). This aerial view shows the relative locations of store, CP station footprint and the R[oman] C[atholic] church:
St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church is visible in this screenshot of the TRIPPING documentary, its silver steeple poking through the trees. VIA No 185 is arriving, and this view clearly shows the juxtaposition of the CP mainline with the townsite to the south, the store to the north and beyond it, the former site of the station (below) in what has to be a unique nexus of lake, station and town anywhere in Canada. This would look great on a model railway!

Both churches in Biscotasing are located on hilly land south of the tracks. St. Paul's is now abandoned, though St John the Evangelist [Anglican] Church is still holding services. Over the years, the front stairs were removed, with access through both sides of the rear of the church.
A cold winter's day (above) and St. Paul's as it currently stands, privately-owned and decaying:
That nexus: station, store, rails and lake shown from the south side of the mainline:
The station looking worse for wear, on the day before its demolition...
...and day of...
Check out my brother's blog Rolly Martin Country for a compendium of schedules and a ton of other information on the Sudbury-White River CPR passenger services. The station closed in 1966 and town's school was closed in 1972. Some websites insist on calling it a ghost town. As to our 1984 station stop - it's hard to tell if we're actually stopped in my photo, but we were. Up until 1981, VIA system timetables show Biscotasing denoted by Reference Mark 62: "Stops to detrain revenue passengers and on advance notice stops to entrain revenue passengers.", one of ten such stops between Sudbury and Winnipeg. Most other stops were denoted by Reference Mark 9: "Stops on signal.", in other words a flag stop.

After 1981, Biscotasing became a Reference Mark 9 but was a scheduled stop for the June to September RDC runs i.e. VIA Nos 185/186. In the summer schedule, most of No 1/2's stops were transferred to 185/186, then reverting to Nos 1/2 for the fall, winter and spring. The nearest scheduled stops were Cartier and Chapleau.
Today, the store is called the Trading Post and the site gives water access to Biscotasi Lake Park, a provincial backcountry park for canoeists and campers. A popular canoe route follows part of the 338 km Spanish River from here to Agnew Lake near Espanola - 164 kilometres of paddling over six or seven days'.
A modern-day aerial view:
The false front of the store has been obscured by an architecturally glommy patio addition with awning. The transport trailer parked next door, likely for storage, does nothing to redeem its architectural value. The tiny VIA stop (white box beside tracks between store and tracks) nor the current store will warrant further photographical depiction in this post. We will instead wallow in the nostalgia of Biscotasing in its earlier glory days!

Running extra...

An 11-car VIA No 40 headed east from Toronto on May 2. Five deadhead cars trailed the usual six-car buffer car-equipped consist. Now, if only the once-a-week HEP No 45 had been two minutes later, it would have been a stainless-steel symphony or silvery sandwich! Here's the link where you can VIAcariously enjoy the video shot from the Bayridge Drive overpass. It was a no frills shoot!
I'm fortunate to be able to participate in the Railway Modellers Meet of British Columbia Virtual Prologue by ZOOM tonight, along with more than 80 other modellers. Two weeks rom now, I'll be presenting at the second session, "Blog, Paper, Scribblers!'" describing my modelling journey on the learning curve of Kingston's Hanley Spur.

Rehearsals have been going on all week in London and a former airfield. All in preparation for King Charles III's coronation procession. CBC and CNN coverage begin as early as 0400 ET Saturday morning. It should be an occasion fit fo a king! This photo at the airfield reminds me of the Waterloo movie for some reason:
Long Live the King!