Friday, July 04, 2014

Railfanning Prince George, Part 1

I had to fly to Prince George, British Columbia last week for work. I knew I would be working long hours, but I knew it was just about the longest days of the year, so there would be plenty of light for railfanning!

I flew out of Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon, June 22. As we climbed out of the city, I saw the Prairie Dog Central passenger train approaching their home station at Inkster Junction. Too bad I couldn't reach my camera! The flight to Vancouver was comfortable and uneventful. I spent my time in YVR in the Air Canada lounge, typing away on my laptop and watching a Lufthansa 747 get loaded and taxi out.
Lufthansa 747 at Vancouver Airport (YVR)
I hopped onto the little prop plane for Prince George, and in just over an hour, we were there. It was around 8:30 PM by the time I picked up my wee Ford Fiesta and drove into town. I could see the big Grand Trunk Pacific bridge and sprawling CN yard from the hill overlooking the city, but I didn't spend any time railfanning.

On Monday morning (June 23), as I drove past the CN yard to the mill I was working at, I spotted the two VIA Rail Skeena trains parked nose to nose at the northwest end of the yard.
VIA Rail Skeenas in Prince George
VIA Rail Skeenas in Prince George
The Skeena (aka VIA trains 5 and 6) runs three times/week between Jasper and Prince Rupert. The trains in both directions lay over in Prince George overnight.

After work on Monday, I did some serious railfanning. Let's look at the map for Prince George.

The CN yard runs east-west with a bit of a tilt. 1st Avenue parallels the south side of the yard for its entire length, so it's pretty easy to see it. At the east ("right") end, River Road goes over the tracks between the yard and the long GTP bridge over the Fraser River. At the west ("left") end Cameron Street crosses over the end of the yard. This is nice for railfans as you can see down both ends of the yard.

The north side of the yard is taken up with industries as well as the CN Intermodal Facility. A lot of containers are stuffed with lumber products to be taken to Prince Rupert for shipment to Asia. I saw a container picker truck working pretty much non-stop.

The VIA Rail station is located a few blocks east of the intersection of highway 16 and 1st Avenue and it shares the building with the BC Tourism office.

Back to Monday evening. The first train I spotted was a CN grain train heading east. It rolled through the yard and stopped at the east end for refueling and a crew change.
CN 5407 in Prince George
CN 5407 in Prince George
I drove over to River Road and found a nice parking spot near the Grand Trunk Pacific bridge. A very brief walk took me to the overpass over the tracks, and a nice view of the yard.
The CN Prince George yard, viewed from the east
There's CN 5407 on the left. In front of that train is a short spur that goes to a scrapyard. To the right (north) of CN 5407's train is the main yard ladder, mostly empty at this time. On the far right is the intermodal terminal, and one of the two tracks directly in front of the camera contains a yard shunter that was approaching me. Note the blue flag protecting the intermodal yard.

That yard shunter rolled closer and closer, and I was interested to see that it had a slug as well as a Wisconsin Central engine.
CN 7231 in Prince George
CN 7231 in Prince George
I'm pretty sure the guy in the green vest was a trainee. They threw the switch behind the WC engine and went back up the yard.

After a while, they came back again and I had relocated to 1st Avenue to shoot them from the side, having tired of shooting toward the setting sun! This provided a good side view of WC 2003.
WC 2003 in Prince George
Wisconsin Central 2003 in Prince George
They carried right on past me and onto the magnificent Grand Trunk Pacific bridge over the Fraser.

This magnificent structure stretches 810 metres over the Fraser River. Construction began in August 1913 and the bridge was completed in 1915. The bridge has a single track with a roadway on each side. These roadways were used for cars and pedestrians from 1915 until 1987 when the Yellowhead Highway bridge was completed. The roadway is still used by CN, as I saw a hi-rail pickup zoom across it.

After the short train rolled across, I went down to the nearby river walk and took a few photos of the bridge.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bridge in Prince George, BC
The far end has a rare lift system that was briefly used to allow river traffic to pass. This is a direct lift system where it could lift one span vertically. Most railway bridges that open either swing the span horizontally or tilt it up, but this one lifted the span straight up. It appears it was not used after the early 1920s and in 1954 it was fixed in place.
CN 5745
Lift section of Prince George railway bridge
Note CN 5745 preparing to run light, long hood forward, across the bridge.

I decided I had to go to the other side of the bridge to see what was there. There's quite a junction there on Pickering Road.
The CN yard is on the left, a large sawmill is in the top right, and I believe the track running from bottom left to the right is a former BC Rail subdivision... presumably the Prince George subdivision.

There are a few interesting details around. There's a scanner nearby to read the ID tags on freight cars, there's a rail lubrication site to lube the curves, and a few abandoned buildings nearby. I noted the prominent CN "private property - no trespassing - violators will be prosecuted" signs where the road crosses the many tracks, so I didn't go there... too bad, because I'd like to see how all that complex track works.

While I was looking around, a CN local came rolling by, pulling a lot of wood chip cars.
CN 7257 in Prince George
CN 7257 and company in Prince George
Note the crew standing on the front of CN 7257. They had a good look at me as they went by. They were presumably returning to the former BC Rail yard, as they didn't cross the bridge. The slug was CN 260 and the trailing engine was CN 4714.

The wood chip cars were a motley mix of CN cars, BC Rail cars, and these "Eurocan" cars lettered for CN.
Eurocan wood chip car in Prince George
Eurocan was a mill in Kitimat, BC that closed in early 2010. There are quite a few of these cars in Prince George, feeding the local mills.

I noted Loram grinder LMIX-608 was in the siding nearby. I went back to the yard and spotted an intermodal rolling through the yard, led by CN 2668 and CN 2324. By then I was beat and I headed back to my hotel for the night. It was a long day!

Coming up... more slugs, a GMD1, the other end of the CN yard, a road freight, the railway museum, and more Skeenas!

PS - check out this great blog about a BC Rail model layout under construction.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

110 Years of the Ocean

VIA Rail's Ocean
VIA Rail's Ocean crosses the Miramichi River - buy this print
VIA Rail has announced that they will be commemorating the 110th anniversary of the Ocean on July 3. The VIA president and CEO, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, and his executive team will ride the train to Halifax where there will be a commemorative event at the station. They will also be available at Moncton for media interviews. (EDIT: the event at 6 PM is cancelled because the Ocean was delayed leaving Montreal. There will be a reception at the station upon arrival, around 9 PM)

I wonder if they will fly back to Montreal, or take Friday's Ocean back? ;)

The Intercolonial's Ocean Limited began on July 3, 1904 as a limited train to supplement the existing Maritime Express train. Over time the "Limited" was dropped, and with the abolishment of the other Montreal-Halifax trains (the Maritime Express, the Scotian, and the Atlantic) it became the sole rail connection between the two largest* eastern Canadian cities.

I'm sad that Jay Underwood is not around to see this. Jay was a tireless advocate for trains in the Maritimes and he repeatedly asked VIA to note anniversaries of the Ocean. He would have been very happy to see that VIA is finally taking note.

For more information on the Ocean, may I recommend the excellent The Ocean Limited: A Centennial Tribute by Douglas N.W. Smith. It's out of print but used copies may be available the author tells me he has a few copies. Email me if you would like the contact information.

* OK, Quebec is larger than Halifax, but it's on the Ocean route as well

Monday, June 30, 2014

Very Well Done

A Winnipeg student named Jack "O" wrote me a very nice letter to tell me about his Social Studies project. His project was a video on the railways of Winnipeg and how they helped shape the development of the city, and it is showcased on as one of a select few from Manitoba. The top six videos will be premiered at Canada's History Forum in Ottawa and the students will meet the Governor General.

His video is really well done. I encourage you to check his video out, and if you like it, vote for his video using the link at the top right. Thanks!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hudson Bay Railway to Re-Open

Hudson Bay Railway 3001 in Thompson
HBRY 3001 in Thompson, Manitoba
After a derailment on June 3, the Hudson Bay Railway closed the rail line between Gillam and Churchill. Omnitrax, the owner-operator of the line (and the port of Churchill), said that permafrost had damaged the line and they were making repairs and hope to re-open within the first week of July. They had briefly re-opened the line to freight service but had to suspend it again.

VIA 8228 in Thompson
VIA Rail in Thompson, Manitoba
VIA Rail last sent a train to Churchill on May 30. The company said they will not send VIA 692/693 over the line until they are satisfied that it is safe for passengers. In the meantime, passengers intending to use the train have had to find alternate arrangements (aka "fly").

This closure has really impacted the people of Churchill, as they depend on the railway for the majority of shipments into the town. The only alternative is to fly fuel, food and other supplies in at a greatly increased cost. Hopefully the line will be re-opened when Omnitrax says it will.

This might really make people question whether they should still be considering shipping oil by rail.

UPDATE: has posted an update.

Friday, June 20, 2014

In Search of Grain Elevators, Part 2

The Oberon grain elevator
The Oberon grain elevator. Buy this print!
In part 1 of my May 31 grain elevator tour, I visited Elie, Tucker, Katrime (new), Steele Bridge (new), Gladstone, Helston (new), and Arden (new), and saw two CN and one CP trains... not bad!

After Arden, I headed west to Neepawa for some gas, then south on highway 5. I intended to visit Mentmore first, followed by Brookdale and Oberon, but my GPS had other ideas and it took me to the Oberon grain elevator first. No complaints!

As you can see, the Oberon elevator is quite weathered. The town of Oberon has basically disappeared, with the school closing a couple of decades ago and the elevator falling into disuse.

I carried on west on highway 353 to Brookdale. There is one elevator left here, the former Manitoba Pool elevator. The UGG elevator came down quite recently but I missed it.
Brookdale grain elevator
The Brookdale grain elevator
Oberon and Brookdale were both on the CP Varcoe subdivision, which closed in 1978, I believe.

There is an old "horizontal grain elevator" in Brookdale that I failed to photograph. Before grain elevators, grain was stored in warehouses. Few have survived but this one has.

After photographing Brookdale, I headed north on a dirt road to Mentmore. The elevator is off in a field, so I parked on the side of the road and walked over to photograph it.
Mentmore grain elevator
The Mentmore grain elevator
After circling the elevator to take my photos, I walked back down the driveway to my car. Just as I was opening my door, a pickup truck pulled up.

"Looking for something?"

I explained that I was touring the province, photographing grain elevators.

"Ever been in a grain elevator?"
"No, never."
"Do you want to see one?"

Heck, YES.

It turns out that he was the owner of the Mentmore elevator and noticed I was walking around. We went down to the elevator and spent the next 45 minutes or so touring the elevator. He explained how the elevator worked and operated the leg to show the little buckets zipping up. We peeked in a few bins and looked at the truck scale and the scale that was used to weigh outbound grain. We also visited the office visible in the right of the photo above. It was fascinating.

Visit my page on the Mentmore grain elevator for more photos and information, including a photo of a Fairbanks-Morse scale!

I really appreciated the chance to tour the elevator. I'm sending him a print of his elevator as thanks for the time he spent.

After that excitement, it was time to move on. The last two elevators I had on my list of targets were Harte and Gregg. Both of these are on the CN Rivers subdivision so I was hoping for trains!

Harte grain elevator
The Harte grain elevator
The Harte grain elevator is an active elevator, owned by a nearby farm. There are prominent NO TRESPASSING signs so I did not get very close to it.

Note the nearby overpass. That would be a great place to photograph westbound trains from in the afternoon and evening!

The Gregg grain elevator is just down the line to the east.
Gregg grain elevator
Gregg Grain Elevator
Sadly, no trains came along while I was photographing these two elevators.

I headed south to the Trans-Canada and headed east back toward Winnipeg. I had a little time, so I decided I would stop in at Austin and photograph the elevator there again. I photographed it (and a CP train) back in July 2010 in pouring rain, so it was time for a few shots in nicer weather.

As I was driving past the elevator to get to the sun side, I spotted a headlight off to the east. TRAIN! I parked and sprinted to get a decent location to shoot the oncoming stack train.
CP 8806 at Austin
CP 8806 in Austin, Manitoba
CP 8806 at Austin
CP train at the Austin grain elevator
That was exciting!

After the train passed, I continued on east on the Trans-Canada. As I approached Portage la Prairie, I spotted CN 405 heading out on the CN Gladstone subdivision. I hurried as much as I safely could to get the shot near West Tower before the power disappeared from view.
CN 405 in Portage la Prairie. That's the CP Carberry subdivision in the foreground.
There was an interesting freight car on this train, carrying some parts for CN's 1:1 scale train set.
1:1 scale track
I grabbed a late lunch at A&W and continued on toward the Portage downtown. As I approached, I spotted another CN train. This was CN 101.
CN 2671 in Portage la Prairie
CN 2671 leading train 101 in Portage la Prairie
Another Dash-9, CN 2692, was pushing on the rear. You can see I was near West Tower, this time on the east side of it.
CN 2692 in Portage la Prairie
CN 2692 near West Tower in Portage la Prairie, MB
I drove around Portage a little bit, and a CP train came rolling west but I was not in a good position to capture it. It had CP 8542 and CP 8904.

I knew VIA 1 should be rolling along any time, but I was running short on time so I elected to head out and try to catch them somewhere on the way. As it turned out, I spotted them crossing under the TCH approaching East Tower. I quickly pulled over after the crossing, ran back over, and took position as the lights went on and the gates came down.
VIA 6438 near Portage
VIA 6438 near Portage la Prairie Manitoba
Nice to see the Canadian again.

I headed out onto the TCH and drove back to Winnipeg. I took a quick shot of the former Oakville elevator, now on a farm, from the highway but I hope to get back to photograph it better. I also spotted an elevator north of Elie, in a Hutterite colony I believe. Another one to investigate further...

I decided to leave the TCH before Headingley and cut up to the CN Rivers subdivision on the off chance I could squeeze one more train in. I was lucky and got this one around mile 17 or so.
CN 5760 outside Winnipeg
CN 5760 near Winnipeg
Lots of grain elevators and lots of trains... a great combination!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In Search of Grain Elevators, Part 1

Sunrise photo, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, 2014/5/31
Back in April I mentioned that my 2014 project is to photograph as many Manitoba grain elevators as I can. I now have a web site/blog just for that, At the time I said I'd photographed almost 40 elevators. Today I'm up to 78.

I've captured pretty much every elevator in easy driving distance of Winnipeg. The bulk of the remaining 100 or so are either in the southwestern part of Manitoba or in the north. Late last month, I decided to do a little road trip to capture eight elevators in one long morning. After the go-ahead from my loving wife ("Do I have to come? Knock yourself out") meticulous planning (thank you, Google Maps and Excel), and a good weather forecast, I set the alarm for "stupid early" on May 30th and went to bed.

"Stupid early" was 03:30 on May 31. Keep in mind this was the end of May so sunrise was pretty early. I was out of the house and on the road before 4 and even then there was a bit of light in the sky. I drove up from south Winnipeg to the Trans-Canada Highway and headed west. My target area was north of the TCH in the triangle between Portage la Prairie, Carberry and Gladstone.

As I passed Elie, I decided to photograph the elevator there against the lightening sky.
Elie grain elevator
Elie grain elevator
Sadly no train came along, and I didn't have time to wait. I continued on to Portage, photographing the Viterra elevator at Tucker just east of Portage on the CP Carberry subdivision. Still no sun!
Viterra grain elevator at Tucker
Tucker grain elevator
I drove through Portage, since I hadn't seen the CP station since they placed the caboose there. It looked nice in the poor light... although the sun was almost up.
CP station in Portage la Prairie
CP Station in Portage la Prairie
I knew they had a caboose (CP 434560) but I didn't realize they had a baggage-express car (CP 404231). According to this page, the car was scrapped in Brandon, but obviously it was not.

When I finished photographing the station, I noticed a headlight off to the west. It turned out to be a CN eastbound and I had to try to photograph it passing the station. At 5:15 AM you have to be creative. I set the shutter speed to 1/20s, locked onto the station and waited for the train to come into the frame.
CN 8003 in Portage la Prairie
CN 8003 in Portage la Prairie
I did a pan shot, mostly to capture the engine number. It actually worked out pretty well, I think.
CN 8003 in Portage la Prairie
CN 8003 Pan
This was not my first sighting of CN 8003!

That was fun, but I had elevators to photograph! I headed out of town but very shortly I saw a train rolling east against the rising sun, which had finally ascended above the horizon. I pulled over to the side of the highway and took a little silhouette photo - the lead photo of this post. Techniques for taking sunrise/sunset photos is probably the subject for another post. You can't just point your camera at the sun and shoot, because the sun will be over-exposed and just be a big white hole in the photo. The essential thing is to crank the exposure compensation way down to ensure the sun isn't blown out.

At MacGregor, I turned north on "highway" 650 and headed toward the Katrime grain elevator. It's a dirt road but it was in pretty good condition. Shortly before Katrime, I crossed the CN Gladstone subdivision at mile 21.98.

The town of Katrime is a pretty small community, basically just a few houses and a grain elevator. The elevator is a former Manitoba Pool elevator. It looks like it may be in private use but it has no rail access, as the siding was removed some time ago and it doesn't show up on CN timetables any more.

I have posts for each of the elevators up on the site, but here's a photo for Katrime.
Katrime grain elevator
Katrime grain elevator
After I documented that thoroughly, I continued north on "highway" 650 toward Gladstone. This section of road was terrible. I was driving my Honda Civic and it was clearly not the right vehicle for the heavy ruts in this road. It was touch and go to avoid bottoming out, but fortunately I made it out without any scraping.

Once on the Yellowhead (highway 16), it was clear sailing toward Gladstone. I spotted an unknown-to-me elevator at a farm (the Steele Bridge Farm elevator) and photographed it, then carried on toward Gladstone.

Very soon after that, I spotted a headlight in the distance. Could it be... a train? Very soon it became obvious that it was indeed a Canadian Pacific train on the CP Minnedosa subdivision - my first. I picked a spot and pulled over to wait for it to come to me.
CP 9752 near Gladstone
CP 9752 near Gladstone
I was feeling pretty good - three trains and two new grain elevators so far!

I went into Gladstone to photograph the elevator there. CN and CP parallel each other here, much like Portage la Prairie, except of course both the CN Gladstone and CP Minnedosa subdivisions are fairly low traffic lines. There's even a diamond in town, just like Portage.

Anyway, I wasn't there for railfanning, so I shot the elevator and got out of Happy Rock.
Gladstone grain elevator
Shark's Teeth - buy this print
From Gladstone I set off for the grain elevator at Helston. This is an old elevator that was on the CN Neepawa subdivision. I stayed on pavement on highway 34 until I had to turn west. A few turns here and there on dirt roads (thank you, GPS) found me in the small community of Helston. After dodging a (live) skunk, I parked and walked about five minutes in to see the lovely old Pool elevator.
Helston grain elevator
Come Into the Light - buy this print
There's more information in my post about Helston. It appears to be unused, except perhaps for target practice - there are quite a few spent shotgun shells around. A few of the doors are open but I did not go in.

I really enjoyed this elevator. It's beautiful and the light was just great. The only problem were the many, many black flies. Guess who forgot their bug spray? I was wearing a hoodie in the selfie below for the flies, not the temperature!
Helston Grain Elevator Selfie
After Helston, I went back north to Arden. The former Manitoba Pool grain elevator at Arden is on the CP Minnedosa subdivision. I don't think the elevator is active, although it still has a siding.
Arden grain elevator
Arden grain elevator
After that, it was back south to head to Oberon, Brookdale, Mentmore and more and more!

Part 2 to come...

Friday, June 06, 2014

For Sale - Timetables, Magazines, Model Train Stuff

I've been going through some stuff in my train room and I found some things that are surplus. I'm listing them here to you first, dear readers. If they don't sell, they're going on eBay or waiting for a model train show.

If you want them, please email me at, first come first served. Shipping is extra and at cost.

Timetables and Magazines

  1. VIA Rail public timetable, April 27, 1986, Atlantic Canada Services - $0.50
  2. VIA Rail public timetable, April 27, 1986, Quebec/Ontario Services - $0.50
  3. VIA Rail public timetable, April 30, 1989, Atlantic Canada Services - $0.50 (each, 2 copies available)
  4. VIA Rail public timetable, January 15, 1990, National - $5
  5. VIA Rail public timetable, October 30, 1994, National - $5 (each, 2 copies available)
  6. CN Lines, Volume 15, Number 1 (Hudson Bay Railway, Northern Manitoba in the 1950s, PA-1s, Hawkesbury-Glen Robertson Mixed, CNR's Mountain Observation Cars) - $4
  7. Model Railroad Planning 2003 - $4

HO Scale Track and Switches

  1. Peco medium radius Electrofrog switch, left, code 100, painted brown - $12
  2. Peco medium radius Electrofrog switch, right, code 100 - $14
  3. Peco small radius Electrofrog switch, right, code 100, painted brown - $12
  4. Peco double-slip Insulfrog switch, code 100 - $30
  5. Atlas #6 "super" switch, left, code 83 - $8
  6. Atlas #6 "super" switch, right, code 83 - $8
  7. Atlas #4 "custom line" switch, right, code 100 - $1
  8. Atlas snap switch, right, code 100 - $1
  9. Life-Like switch, right, code 100 - $1

HO Scale Freight Cars

  1. Southern Pacific open tri-level autorack, SP 514002, Accuready/Accurail - in box - $20
  2. CP Rail refrigerated boxcar, CP 165199 - $4
  3. BC Rail extra-height boxcar, BCOL T-20120 - $4
  4. BC Rail boxcar, BCOL 4079 - $3
  5. Boston and Maine open 4-bay hopper, BM 71741 - $3
  6. Boston and Maine open 4-bay hopper, BM 71744, Athearn in blue box - $3
  7. CN open 2-bay hopper, CN 139789 - HH - $1
  8. CN open 2-bay hopper, CN 117575 - HH - $2
  9. Virginian open 4-bay hopper, VGN 2610 - $2 each (2 available)
  10. Swift boxcar, SRLX 1020 - $1
  11. Carleton Eastern Road covered 4-bay hopper, 1512 - $1
  12. SOO Line covered 4-bay hopper, SOO 74088 - $5
  13. CN wooden caboose, Model Power, CN 79017 in box - $2
  14. CP boxcar "Spans the World", CP 241039, Athearn in blue box - $2
  15. DuPont tank car, SHPX 3246, Athearn in blue box - $2 each (2 available)
  16. Dow tank car, DOW X-38373, Athearn in blue box - $2
  17. Undecorated black tank car - $1 each (3 available)
  18. Undecorated shortie pulpwood car, Athearn in blue box - $1
  19. CN refrigerated boxcar, weathered, NIRX 232001 - $2 each (2 available)
  20. CP Rail boxcar with multimark, one coupler needs to be glued back on, CP 88400 - $1
  21. CN boxcar with black door, CN 486520, Athearn in blue box - $3
All cars have Kadee-compatible couplers except the two marked "HH" with horn-hook couplers.