Friday, September 15, 2023

CP's Portal Subdivision, 1985 - Part 1

In September, 1985 I was exploring western Canada with a $230 VIA Rail Canrailpass, riding in coach. My itinerary included Kingston-Montreal-three days in Portage la Prairie-Vancouver-Edmonton-Prince Rupert-Winnipeg-Regina. After spending two days driving and exploring various CN and CP branchlines south of Regina, I made my way to Weyburn, SK to spend the night before returning to Regina the next day to head home to Kingston via Toronto.  I overnighted at Weyburn's Big J Motel. From the window of my room I photographed the only train of the weekend (above): CP 5840-5610-3032-8707, van 434673. It was running on CP's Portal Subdivision, right across from the motel - the subdivision I largely planned to follow north-west the next morning. The next day was Sunday, September 29, 1985 was overcast. And cold. And wet. Again.
One wonders, years later, why while munching on my McDonald's drive-thru breakfast, I neglected to make my way any further down Weyburn's elevator track (above), nor to the Inland Terminal. Young and impetuous, I was eager to get my 21 year-old self on the road to adventure, I guess! The CP Portal Subdivision ran south-east from Pasqua, SK near Moose Jaw to Estevan thence the North Dakota border at Portal, ND where it connected with the Soo Line - a major CP artery into the US, eventfully extending eventually to Minneapolis. Interestingly, quantities of lignite coal for use in CP stationary boiler-houses at roundhouses in Fort William, Ignace, Kenora, Winnipeg, Brandon and more were carried on the Portal Sub, as described in this 1957 Supreme Court of Canada case!
McTaggart, at Mile 75.9 of the Portal Sub had seen better, more prosperous days. None of these elevators had received any additions, attention or annexes, except for one brown wartime annex. But then, in the mid-80's, what were the chances of coming across three simple elevators like these? (I found at least three the following year!)
McTaggart and Yellow Grass once rated day the steam era. I positioned myself across a harvested field (on the current road SK-621) for the shot of Yellow Grass' expansive and elongated elevator row at Mi. 67.3. The 1985 harvest was reported to be the worst in the previous 30 years, with drought assistance provided by the Saskatchewan provincial government and farmers spraying for a grasshopper infestation. Thee conditions may have led to the near-total absence of any grain cars spotted for loading at any of these elevators. It was easy to see cold, dead grasshopper bodies in fields like these:
Unfortunately, the town's elevators were all gone by 2014, with the United Grain Growers' modernized plant, later owned by Viterra, the last one to go. All the remains is this Prairie View Historical Site at the corner of Souris Street and Highway 39. I liked the UGG's new look, with high yellow skylights, new grey and sky-blue tin, plus the smaller, now attached, logos. UGG was already leading the way to multiple track spots and enhanced drying capacity on their revamped shipping points like Yellow Grass:
I was so inspired by this design that I built an HO-scale model upon returning home. 
The track side of the UGG elevator:
It was not uncommon to find various tractors, augers, trucks or other agricultural implements around the backs of the elevators. In transit or used for odd jobs, they added some detail and hinted at the workaday existence of these small, Saskatchewan towns. Spot the sign to the nearest Mountie (I'll give you a hint, it Maintains The Right side of the road).
Lang (above and below) was my next stop, 12 miles east at Mi. 55.3. Accounting for the unusual gap, more than the expected 6-8 miles between towns is the former shipping point of Ibsen, named for the author of A Doll's House. I have fond memories of this play, my only remembered though otherwise seemingly-obscure work of the notable Norwegian playwright, because I shouted it out as a question once during Jeopardy. Immediately my wife shouted back, "How do you KNOW THIS STUFF?" Well, I didn't know any of Henrik Ibsen's other plays, so it was a good guess! But let's get back on track - Ibsen was just a portable station and three elevators built between 1911 and 1928, with Sask Pool No. 740 the last to be demolished in 1975. Ibsen also once rated a 78-car siding. Again in Lang, a roadside slough and a moment of sun permitted me a rare interlude of artsiness:
Here's a calendar view of Lang in wintertime. Something I'd never to - venture into the wilds of Saskatchewan anytime after well, the end of September! Note that Inter-Ocean became the Pioneer elevator.

One of NM Paterson and Sons' squared-off, tin-clad diamond-logo elevators along with the open-door policy of my Tilden Chrysler Fifth Avenue rental car. I mean, who was even on the road this early on a Sunday morning out here? (below) By contrast, many of my other photos from the road were lazily taken through the lowered power window. Not only because I was quite comfortable in the warm and plush interior, and there was occasional drizzle, but because I didn't want to sully the blue upholstery (above - note overturned floormat, hat and lens on seat) of my sweet ride with puddle- and stubble-jumper bootprints!
Sask Pool's augmented elevator in Lang proudly portrayed the Centennial logo applied in 1967. The distant annex was removed by 2001.
This was a successful morning of elevator photography. Though the cloud persisted, I continued making my way to the eventual sunny evening, enjoying elevator rows while watching the gas needle drop like a sunset. In Part 2, we'll continue along the Portal Sub on the way back to The Queen City.

Running extra...

Mike is an avid cyclist, artist and railfan who shared this Youtube video of a Kingston-Napanee area ride last week. I've been on most of these roads (maybe not the same Napanee-Odessa ones. Mike found all the good locations that I've contrasted in this post from 2010 that compares and contrasts some of those locations with 1976 views. Be sure to check out Mike's Youtube page for an expansive variety of topics and settings!

The set of four large-yellow-VIA-wrapped LRC cars (3476-3361-3350-3338) has been together since at least mid-August. But the sighting specialness shoots stratospheric when a wrapped locomotive is at the head-end! After capturing such a set on August 31 with VIA 907, it continued to head the consist until September 10. Wrapped VIA 6416, one of only 8 wraps of the nearly 50+ F40 fleet, took its place, and the quest to capture a differently-led all-wrapped set was on!

Thanks to Paul Hunter for the heads-up, and with additional assistance from Jordan McCallum, I was able to catch VIA No 40 on a grimy but dry September 14 (video capture - below). I'll try to get better results, both photographically and meteorologically. The kinetic keystone to a komplete konsist is one-of-a-kind Business Class car 3476, marshalled behind the power! Here's a youtube video link! UPDATE: The F40 era is over! Saturday's No 52 revealed 904 in the lead.


Mike said...

Thanks for the mention of my video Eric! I'm checking out your 2010 post about these locations - this is interesting stuff.



Eric said...

My pleasure, Mike. My brother and I roamed those roads quite a bit. We were in a Volkswagen, not a bike. Not nearly as much exertion (or immersiveness!), but just as much excitement. Watching CN-painted first-generation MLW and GM units hit those crossings at speed was quite a sight!

Great to see all your videos, travels and artwork!

Brian said...

Perhaps the UGG elevator at Yellow Grass was the last iteration of the wood elevator before concrete started taking over. The composite construction, as opposed to having a separate annex, the length of the truck unloading bay, and two track railcar loading make we think that UGG must have been contemplating a higher throughput for this elevator, compared to other wood elevators.

It's also interesting how the UGG elevator siding at Weyburn appears to be single ended, as opposed to double ended. The tops of the ties serving as wheel stops are just visible at the bottom of the picture. I don't think that single ended elevator sidings were all that common. It's more work for the crew to use a run around track for the facing points switch.

I'm looking forward to the next installment, Eric.

Eric said...

I believe you're correct on all counts, Brian.

MPE was also building large wooden structures at that time, not quite ready to make the jump to concrete, but that new technology was just around the bend!

Also, much less painting for the painters hanging down on stages painting all that lettering. Separately attached letters and logos were also part of the plans!

Thanks for your comment, and I think you'll like my visit to Dog River in Part 2.

Eric May said...

I'd forgotten about velour seats in "luxury" cars. Good luck keeping them clean.

Eric said...

Having been given that luxury car with its plush upholstery, I revelled in every moment that I was not bumping across rural Saskatchewan in a Dodge Omni, my intended ride.

It cleaned up real good, too!

Thanks for your comment, Eric.

JasonPaulSailer said...

Lovely shots! Such a great snapshot in time of the old wooden grain elevators on the backroads!

Eric said...

I'm thanking my much younger self for taking the opportunity to go west and get 'lost' in Saskatchewan!

Thanks for your comment, Jason.