Sunday, October 22, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 3) - Into the Crowsnest

For my 50th birthday, my wife and I drove through Alberta and British Columbia. You can start at the beginning here.

I’m not the kind of man
Who tends to socialize
I seem to lean on old familiar ways
"Still Crazy After All These Years", Paul Simon
My wife and I woke up at a reasonable hour (7?) on our second day of my 50th birthday trip.

The plan for day 2 of my birthday trip was to travel to Cranbrook and visit the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, with a side trip to Creston to see the grain elevators there. (see the whole plan)

After enjoying the breakfast at the Ramada hotel in Pincher Creek, Alberta, we hit the road... and very quickly I left the road again.

Strap in... this is going to be a long post.

Fire Fighting

Pincher Creek has a small airfield and it was chock full of aircraft!
Three of Alberta's four CL-215T "Scoopers" (201, 203, 204)
There were several water bombers and several helicopters, all because of the nearby wildfires. Three Alberta Canadair CL-215T water bombers and an Air Spray Lockheed L188 Electra were there.

I've seen those Electras in Kamloops and Prince George.

Security was there, too! These photos were taken from the public road near the airport.

Return to Lundbreck Falls

We went back to Lundbreck Falls to photograph them in better light. I can't say it was much better than the night before.
Lundbreck Falls
Another 45-60 minutes would have been a lot better for light, but we didn't have that time.

I tried a few angles. Wouldn't the photo below be even better with a train in the background?
Another view of Lundbreck Falls
We returned to the highway. On the way I noted an odd thing, a wheelset by the side of the road near the tracks.

It turns out there was a derailment here on July 7th! Six cars derailed and there was a minor fire.

Apparently this is a popular spot for derailments... there was a larger one in the same area on November 9, 2014.

I'm sure someone will pick that up eventually...

Into the Crowsnest Pass

Municipality of Crowsnest Pass sign... oh, and a mountain
We carried on into the Crowsnest Pass.

The pass crosses the Continental Divide (a half decent movie) through the Rockies. The Canadian Pacific Railway built through here in 1897-1898 to access the vast mineral resources, and to cut the American competition off. The line is still important today as a secondary main line.

We stopped at the Frank Slide, the location of a terrible avalanche early in the morning of April 29, 1903.

At least 90 people were killed in 90 seconds as a portion of the mountain slid down next to the town.

We stopped briefly to take in the view and snap a few photos, but we didn't go in the interpretive centre.

Camera Issues

I was having a weird issue with my Canon T1i that day. It would shut itself off for no apparent reason.

A little fiddling showed it was a problem with the physical on/off switch. If I jiggled that the camera would power off then on again. I decided it was a bit of dirt on the contacts or something but I didn't have any way to diagnose it.

It sure was annoying... as you will see.

Steam at Blairmore

Steam engine "Old Maude" in Blairmore, AB
I wanted to stop in Blairmore, Alberta to see the steam engine there. I was hoping that CP would send a train along, too, but that didn't happen... yet.

This 2-6-0 steam engine was "built in Kingston" by the Canadian Locomotive Company. It spent its life working for coal companies.. first the Hillcrest Collieries and then the West Canadian Colleries. She retired in 1961, and was eventually placed at her present location beside the CPR line in 1967.

The road side of the locomotive looks OK... but the track side could use some work.

At least it is inside a fence to keep the majority of the vandals away.

Waiting on a Train

Mountains at Sentinel, Alberta
I wanted to park somewhere scenic and capture a train going by. I decided on the above location, near Sentinel, Alberta. I mean, look at those mountains!!

The land you see in the foreground is for sale. It's a former Devon Energy natural gas plant, closed in 2012. It had a spur off the CP line with two tracks for loading tank cars.

I parked the Chrysler 300 and we sat there.. and waited. My wife did her crosswords and I fiddled with my phone while we listened to music... and the scanner.


Waiting on a train.

Long-time readers will remember that I am not very patient.

There was some chatter on the scanner, but it didn't mean a lot to me except that there was a train around somewhere.

After about 30 minutes, I said, "that's enough," and we drove off to the west.

Literally minutes later, the scanner chirped and we encountered a train going the other way.

Back to Coleman

I made a fast U-turn and set off in pursuit. As we rolled past where we had just been, I pulled off to the side to grab a few photos.

My camera wouldn't power on.

At all.

I flipped that on/off switch so many times while the train rolled past, but it would not stay on.

With a few choice words, I tossed the camera in the back and drove on.

We approached Coleman, climbing up and up... and as I glanced over to the right, I could see a nice vista opening up.

I asked my wife to fire off a few photos while I pulled off to the side of the highway. The shoulder was narrow and I couldn't pull off the road far enough to feel safe about leaving it. I kept my eye on the rear view mirror for traffic while she took eight photos, then we took off again.

She did a great job! And the camera worked!
CP eastbound freight approaching Coleman, Alberta
Continuing the pursuit, it seemed unlikely that I would catch the train in Coleman, but I tried anyway.

As I approached the track between 15th and 16th Avenue, I saw a westbound train sitting in the siding, and the eastbound train flashing past on the main. Missed it... never did catch the engine numbers.

On the plus side, here's another train!
Dodgy light
Here the conductor was just getting back on board after lining the switch for the main line.

You can see the light was a little fickle, as the head end was in shade while the rest of the train was lit.

CP 9623 West in Coleman, Alberta
The grain train had CP 9623 (GE AC4400CW) and CSX 3458 (GE ET44AH) on the head end.

I was experiencing camera issues here again but I was beginning to learn just how to flip the camera on.. and leaving it on seemed to be the best course of action. Sometimes tipping the camera up or down would cause it to power off. Very annoying.

We took off to the west to shoot them some more.

I took a few photos from the same location that my wife photographed the eastbound freight. There was plenty of room to pull off on the other side of the road.
Drone view?
I love mountains and trains.
I think this is called a "vista"

The Shot Of the Trip

Noted photographer George Pitarys posts a lot of great photos on his Flickr feed, and sometimes he labels them as TSOD / The Shot Of the Day.

The sequence below contains my TSOT / The Shot of the Trip.

In my research of the route, I had noted a highway overpass over the CP line and decided I wanted to shoot there if at all possible. We had been waiting near it so I knew where it was.

I zoomed along ahead of the train and came to the overpass. There was definitely nowhere to park on the overpass, so I parked at the bottom of the overpass and ran up the side, camera in hand. As it turned out, I didn't really need to run but I did have to hurry.

The train passed the siding at Sentinel and looked pretty nice curving over the hill, lit on the side by the noon sun.
Side light FTW
That was the "coming" shot. A quick glance in both directions showed no traffic, so I ran across the overpass to get the "going" shot.
I was (and am) super pleased with this photo.

I experimented with a few angles while the train kept on rolling.
The overhead view
The side view was pretty nice too.
Grain cars at Sentinel
The end of the train came along... with a Union Pacific locomotive pushing on the rear.
UP 5297 on the rear of the CP grain train in Sentinel, AB
That was pretty fine, if I do say so myself.

I went back to the car, and as I sat back down in the driver's seat, I told her that if I took no more photos that trip, I'd be satisfied. I was that pleased. :)

We carried on but I had no intention of catching the train again. We crossed over from Alberta to British Columbia, although oddly they are both in the same time zone here. British Columbia has some oddities with time zones.

As we approached Crowsnest, I saw the train again and photographed part of it passing this maintenance crew in a siding.
Passing the crew

The Loop

There is a weird loop in the tracks west of the town of Crowsnest. I believe the track descends quite a bit going east to west. This is called the McGillivray Loop and has been there since the Canadian Pacific Railway came through the Crowsnest Pass.

At one time there was a tunnel, passing siding and a station but all of those are gone now. The track still loops, though.

There are several bridges on this section of the line, as the track crosses the river four times as it winds its way through the valley.

There is an excellent article on the McGillivray Loop in the July 1976 Canadian Rail magazine (PDF).

At the "loop" portion at the south end, a branch line continues south to a coal mine next to the ghost town of Corbin.
One of several bridges in the area
Looking northeast, with the coal branch on the right
As we left the area, we saw our friendly grain train grinding its way down the grade. No photos!


I definitely wanted to stop in Fernie, BC to see the train station there. It's pretty impressive.
The train station in Fernie, British Columbia
The Fernie train station hosts an art gallery - The Arts Station - which bills itself as "gallery / restaurant / studio / theatre". We went in briefly but there was a school tour going through, so we didn't linger more than a few minutes. It looked nice inside.

Along with the nice train station, Fernie has an impressive courthouse.


While driving west of Fernie, we came across these lovely mountain peaks, topped with snow, with a lumber mill (Galloway Lumber Co.) in the foreground. That last part is not unusual in this area as there are a LOT of lumber mills. We pulled over to take a few snapshots of the mountains.
Snow covered peaks
I was intrigued by this Senebogen machine working on a flatcar of poles and took a photo of it too.
I picks them up, I puts them down
As I was walking back to the car, I heard a train horn. TRAIN!

Along came CP 9377 East with a long coal train.
CP 9377 passing Galloway, BC
CP 9718 was the mid-train DPU and CP 9811 was pushing on the rear.
Coal and mountains
CP 9718 under snow capped mountains
CP 9811 pushing coal
When I was looking this location up on Google Maps, I see there is another train at the same location in Street View from October 2015 (with UP 4512 trailing)! Is there always a train here? ;)


We arrived in Cranbrook, BC shortly before 3 PM. We went straight to the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel because I wanted to ensure I had enough time to tour everything.

I won't say anything about the museum here, as this post is long already and I'd prefer to talk about it in its own post. Suffice it to say that the museum was great and I highly recommend it.


Creston grain elevators
After we left the museum - right at closing time at 5 PM - we headed directly for Creston, BC.

Why Creston?

Well, not for the fruit, although it's apparently very well known for the fruit grown in the area.

It's for the grain elevators, of course.

Creston hosts two elevators - a former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator and a former UGG elevator.

These beautiful elevators still tower over the tracks. I saw "FOR SALE" signs on them so snap them up! ;)

The AWP grain elevator looks to be in decent shape but the UGG elevator is definitely showing its age.
The two grain elevators in Creston, BC
I circled the elevators, taking photos from the adjacent sidewalks.

There's an art gallery attached to the AWP elevator but it was closed when we were there.

Yakh to Moyie

Once I was satisfied with my photos, we headed back to Cranbrook for the night.

On the way, I stopped to photograph a few things. The Elk River Hotel was one that drew my eye.

The Elk River Hotel
This place is actually open!

I had to take a photo of our car with the mountains.
Vroom vroom
In Yakh, I stopped to capture this decaying caboose. I don't know what this business was - it seemed closed - but it says PETER PINE DAZE on the building. The caboose looks like an ex CP caboose but I don't know its history. The cupola has no glass and I imagine it's not in good shape.
A fixer-upper
By this time it was getting dark. The above photo was shot at a 1/10s shutter speed.

There were a LOT of maintenance-of-way machines in the siding in Yakh. I also noted a lot of new ties around so clearly CP was doing a major renewal on this section of track.

Midway between Yakh and Moyie, I stumbled across this potash train led by CP 8939 and NS 9168.
CP 8939 and NS 9168 with a potash train
CP 8939 has the Lord Strathcona's Horse emblem on its nose.
CP 8939 and the Strathcona's
CP and the Strathconas have a long history, dating back to when Donald Smith (aka Lord Strathcona) raised the regiment to fight in the Boer War. You might know Donald Smith as the guy with the hammer in the famous Craigellachie photo.
The Last Spike at Craigellachie
In Moyie, a Brandt truck with a bunch of battered gondolas was in the siding.
Gondola gondola gondola

Back to Cranbrook

We made it back to Cranbrook in the dark and checked into our hotel (a Day's Inn). We went out right afterward to a steak restaurant (Mr. Mike's) and had a very nice meal. Recommended.

Our original plan for day 3 was to travel from Cranbrook to Three Valley Gap, stopping at Fort Steele and Craigellachie along the way. Coming up!

In the meantime, you can read part 1 or part 2!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 2) - No Trains

And I don't understand why I sleep all day
And I start to complain that there's no train
-- No Rain (more or less), Blind Melon

The first day of my 50th birthday trip (first post) was spent traveling from Winnipeg to Calgary and then driving to southern Alberta. It was very busy!

Warning: NO TRAINS.

No plan survives contact with the enemy

"Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus." - Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Our plans for my birthday trip went awry even before we left.

Our first night was going to be spent at the majestic Prince of Wales hotel in Waterton, Alberta.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton National Park 2009

This hotel is a landmark for the area. It was built in the late 1920s by the Great Northern Railway as the last in a chain of luxury hotels. Today it's a national historic site. It closes for the winter and we had booked one night - September 19th - on its last week of operation for the season. My wife had been there before but I had never been.

It has been a dry summer all across western Canada and there were numerous wildfires popping up in Alberta and British Columbia. These made for spectacular sunsets - even in Manitoba - but they made for worrisome and sometimes dangerous conditions for residents and firefighters.

Unfortunately, the Kenow wildfire spread like... well, wildfire... and crossed into Alberta and into Waterton Park itself. We received a call and email from the hotel on September 7th, and when I called them back, they told me the hotel was closing and the town of Waterton was evacuating. They offered to book us in another hotel in Montana - no thanks - so they gave us a full refund.

Totally understandable, but... shoot. Disappointing.

We hurriedly booked a room at the Ramada in nearby Pincher Creek, Alberta and that was that.


We took AC 8333 from YWG/Winnipeg to YYC/Calgary early in the morning (thank you to my father-in-law for driving us to the airport). We landed pretty much on time just after 8 AM and retrieved our luggage and headed to the car rental section.

I had some free days with Enterprise so I had booked a mid-size car there.

They wanted to upgrade me to an SUV but I hate driving those, so they gave us a "luxury" car instead, a Chrysler 300. That is a sweet car but it made me feel a little old! Great range, though - over 900 km on a (large) tank of gas.

I wanted to stop at the Trains-And-Such model train store, but they didn't open until 10. We drove to the area then had breakfast at a nearby Tim Horton's until just before 10, then went to the store.
Trains & Such, Calgary
I love that place! I ended up buying a dozen employee timetables to add to my collection.

With that done, we headed south toward Pincher Creek, in search of grain elevators.

De Winton

The next stop was the small town of De Winton, not far south of Calgary. The town has two small grain elevators, on private land. Oddly I had never been here, despite its proximity to Calgary.

De Winton grain elevators
These two elevators are fairly old. The Diamond Fertilizers elevator dates from around 1906 and is one of the oldest in Alberta. The other is from the 1920s. More details can be found in the excellent BIGDoer article on these elevators, which came out just a few days after I visited the site. Coincidence? ;)

The other side of the DeWinton elevators
I photographed them from public roads on both sides of the elevators. While driving away from the last shot, I saw this.
A bucolic scene in De Winton
I don't know who arranged these, but... thanks!

Note the Calgary skyline in the distance... De Winton is not that far out of town.

Next stop...


The Azure grain elevator
This elevator is a little south of High River, and is barely visible from highway 2.

The Azure grain elevator is part of a farm complex and was on the CP Macleod subdivision. This is a former Alberta Pacific grain elevator, still in its original location. More on the BIGDoer site, again!

We drove around to the "sun side" and I broke out the long lens to get a shot of the elevator with the mountains behind it.
Haybales, a grain elevator and mountains.. not the usual combination
I included the hay bales because I was thinking of BW Bandy and his blog. Go read it! He posts a lot of interesting things - not just hay bales.

After Azure, we got back on the highway, and drove into Nanton. The town of Nanton has a couple of grain elevators that form the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre. I've photographed these elevators a couple of times and on this trip I completely ignored them. My focus was instead on...

The Bomber Command Museum of Canada

PP-616 on display in Nanton Alberta
It's an odd place for an airplane museum, but Nanton hosts the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. This museum hosts a number of planes and a pretty extensive array of interpretive displays. The star of the museum is their Lancaster bomber, FM-159.
Lancaster FM-159 in Nanton, Alberta
I had seen the outside of the museum before but it was never open when I passed through Nanton.. or I didn't have time to stop. Time to correct that.

We spent about an hour touring the museum. The interpretive displays are quite nicely done and explain the history of bomber planes with the Canadian military, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the history of Lancasters and their use in raids like the "Dambusters".

Nanton itself doesn't have any air force history that I know of, but towns around it like Vulcan and Dewinton certainly did.

Have a look at their web site - lots of interesting detail there, even if it looks like it was written in the late 1990s - and give them a visit when you're in town!

On to...

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

My wife expressed an interest in visiting Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. I think she was intrigued by the name, but since it wasn't that far off the highway, off we went.

The site is quite well done and explains how some First Nations people would herd bison off cliffs, then harvest the carcasses. I had not heard of this practice before so it was very educational for me.

It was interesting but a little expensive at $15 per adult.

These bison in a nearby field were a nice bonus.
Don't jump!
We returned to the highway and kept going south. I had one more grain elevator to see.


Raley grain elevator
We drove down highway 2 almost to Cardston, then took highway 5 northeast until we approached Raley. The grain elevator is pretty well hidden. You could easily miss it from the nearby road. Fortunately I knew where it was from prior map scouting so I spotted it as we approached.

Raley has the oldest grain elevator in Alberta, built in 1905.

There are a few houses in the vicinity but nothing very close to the elevator. It looks like it is still on the roadbed of the former CP Woolford subdivision.

Former Alberta Pacific grain elevator in Raley
I'm not sure if this elevator is still in use or not. The annex looks like it was recently patched up and some Internet searching shows the nearby Hutterite colony uses the annex for fertilizer storage.

It's a beautiful old elevator. More information is available on Wikipedia and of course on I should be getting a commission from Chris and Connie for all the linking I'm doing in this post! ;)

After paying my respects to this elevator, it was time to head to Pincher Creek for the night... or was it?

Pincher Creek

We returned to Cardston, where I bought a Pepsi Max, then went somewhat cross-country to Pincher Creek. We could have taken highway 2 back up to Fort Macleod then highway 3 to Pincher Creek, but we had just been on highway 2 and wanted to go a different route. So we took highway 2 north to route 505 and headed more or less west from there.

Eventually it teed off into highway 6, where we would have gone south into Waterton Park if that wasn't actively on fire at the time. So, north it was. We saw and smelled the smoke around that area.

We arrived in Pincher Creek and checked into the Ramada hotel. The sun was still up and I wanted to take advantage of that, so we went up to Pincher Station - just north of highway 3 - to see if there were any trains around.

The title of the post tells you there were no trains. I did take the time to photograph this fragment of a grain elevator annex that Jason Paul Sailer told me about.
A bit of an annex
There are two elevators of sorts in Pincher Station.

One is a former Elephant fertilizer elevator, now with an Agrium sign on it. These distinctive elevators once dotted the prairies, and several still exist. Eric Gagnon has a great post on these elevators.

The other elevator in Pincher Station is in Alberta Pool turquoise and still has the Pool logo on the non-track side. It has a big sign proclaiming Sinnott Farm Services on the track / highway side.

Now that I look back on the photos I took of these elevators in May 2016, the Elephant elevator also has a Sinnott Farm Services sign.

Sinnott Farm Services elevator in Pincher Station, Alberta
The light was getting low, but I wanted to have a quick look at the nearby Lundbreck Falls.

Lundbreck Falls

You wouldn't think there would be waterfalls outside of the mountains in Alberta, but... you'd be wrong!

Mind you, they aren't very tall - 12 metres / 39 feet - but they are pretty and worth a quick trip off the highway.

This is the Crowsnest River.

We took a few photos from various angles and vowed to return in the morning on our way west into the Crowsnest Pass. Still no trains. :(

Coming Up

On our second day of my 50th birthday trip, we headed into the Crowsnest Pass and visited Blairmore and Fernie before touring the railway museum in Cranbrook... and two more grain elevators! Another busy day coming up.

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