Sunday, January 15, 2017

Effing Graffiti

I want to rant a bit about graffiti. I saw two posts this weekend of vandalism that just made me mad: VIA Rail's Canadian and the Toys for Tots train.

VIA's Canadian

It's common to see freight cars with graffiti on them. I should say it's uncommon to see cars without graffiti. However, it's a lot rarer to see passenger cars get vandalized.

Jeff Keddy posted this photo of VIA Rail's Chateau Lasalle with graffiti on one side. (thanks to Jeff for permission to post)
Chateau Lasalle with graffiti. Photo by Jeff Keddy.
Apparently the car was parked at Union Station (in Winnipeg, I believe) and someone hopped the fence and sprayed it, then did some damage to the interior as well.

That made me mad. But this one made me furious:

Toys For Tots Train

Railway Express car with graffiti. Photo by Taras Terlecky.
This train is owned by the United Railroad Historical Society of NJ and was used for a "Toys for Tots" drive.

Toys for Tots train, vandalized. Photo by Taras Terlecky
It was vandalized this weekend and several cars were "decorated" by some jackass or jackasses. A police report has been filed.

I don't know if you can see from the photo at right but one of the coaches also has some graffiti "scrawls" on it.

Imagine how many scarce volunteer hours have gone into maintaining and repainting this equipment... and now it will have to be done again.

Thanks to Taras Terlecky for permission to post the photos.

What the Heck?

It's bad enough to vandalize freight cars with paint. You shouldn't do this.

But to "tag" passenger cars? And museum cars?

Well, this is a family blog so I won't use the language I really want to use, but what kind of #*$&@#$ jerk does that?

I see a lot of posts about "benching" on Instagram (#benching), which is about watching and photographing graffiti on trains. Here's a big blog post on it. I'm sure it's interesting to watch for known "tags" and some of the graffiti is quite artistic.. for example:

There is definitely some real talent out there.

Most graffiti is just scribbles, vandalism with no art at all.

Regardless of its artistic value, it's wrong. It's not OK to deface someone else's property. I don't understand it at all.

I've written in the past about how I'm conflicted about graffiti on trains - the art of it versus the vandalism. No more.

Just.. Stop

Just stop doing graffiti. And stop glorifying it.

For my part, I'm not going to post any more graffiti. I mean, it'll be on trains that I photograph - hard to avoid that - but I won't post any photos where the photo prominently features graffiti.

I'm going to unfollow anyone on Instagram who primarily posts graffiti. I might lose some followers, but I don't want them.

I'm sick to my stomach from seeing these passenger cars vandalized, and I'm sick of graffiti.


Monday, January 02, 2017

My 2017 Plans

First train of 2017 for me
I went out yesterday afternoon (January 1) to get my first train(s) of 2017. As I drove up to the CN Rivers subdivision, I saw headlights to the east, indicating a westbound train. I turned west and headed toward Diamond and started planning my shot. Where did I want to photograph the train? What angle? What lens?

Planning is what we do at this time of year. It's natural to plan when you start a new year. Out with the old, in with the new. Here are my plans for 2017:

  • Range farther afield
  • Finish my Manitoba grain elevator project
  • Write, write, write
  • Help others

Range Farther Afield

I've become pretty comfortable with zipping out to the CN main lines east and west of my house. They're quick, easy, but I have to say.. not challenging.. and there is not much of a variety. I love the open prairie but there are a distinct lack of props / background details to be had near Winnipeg. It's time to push the envelope and go a little farther.

I have two areas in Canada that I plan on visiting in 2017, and a couple of other "hopefuls".


Photo by Ken McCutcheon
The area around Assiniboia, Saskatchewan has fascinated me for a while. Saskatchewan is blessed with many short lines and the Great Western Railway works in the Assiniboia area. Ken McCutcheon and others have shared many photos from the area and I'd like to visit Assiniboia and photograph a few trains. Those MLWs and ex BNSF units are calling me... as are the grain elevators!

I'm looking at late spring to visit Assiniboia. It'll be a multi-day trip, as it is a good 7 hour drive from Winnipeg to Assiniboia... plus I'll want to stop along the way to photograph grain elevators...

Ontario Southland Railway

The Ontario Southland Railway (OSR) is a shortline railway operating in southern Ontario. It operates over several subdivisions but its main draw is the fascinating array of older locomotive power it has. The OSR has FP9s, it has SW1200s, it has RS18s, GP7s and GP9s... working in freight service, no less! I've enjoyed the photos that Greg McDonnell and Walter Pfefferle and others have shared and I want to take my own.

I hope to visit the OSR in the fall, maybe when I'm in the Toronto area for my son's graduation from university.

The Hopefuls

I would love to visit Churchill, Manitoba. I want to see the polar bears and ride VIA Rail through the remote areas of Manitoba. However, it is expensive to tour Churchill, in the order of several thousand dollars per person. That's definitely a lot more than a few tanks of gas and a hotel night or two to visit Assiniboia!

I'd also like to photograph some trains over the Uno trestle in western Manitoba. When I visited Beulah as part of finishing my Manitoba grain elevator project, I was only 10 minutes away from the trestle. I knew it was there but I didn't have time in my schedule to visit it, and I'd like to correct that.

Finish My Manitoba Grain Elevator Project

I set out in 2014 to photograph all of Manitoba's grain elevators, and in the summer of 2016 I finished the job. However, there's more work to be done.

I have to finish putting them all on the web site, and maybe consider writing a book or eBook.

That's my big project for the first half of this year... put every grain elevator online.

Then I can look at Saskatchewan and beyond! :)

Write, Write, Write

In 2016 I wrote a few articles for Branchline magazine - I loved doing that.

In 2017 I plan on writing a couple of articles for The Trackside Photographer - an excellent web site I recommend you check out.

I also intend to write another eBook or two. I have some topics in mind but I welcome your suggestions.

Of course, I'll be writing here and on Confessions of a Model Train Geek.

Help Others

I want to help others. In many ways, really, but in the context of this blog, I want to help people improve their photography, answer the questions they have about trains, and just provide a little rail-related entertainment.

I'm not claiming to be the one source of answers - far from it - but I've learned a thing or two, and I'd like to share it.

In 2017 I plan on publishing more photography "how to" posts (like this one), a series of posts on Instagram (SO many railfans on Instagram across the world), and more "5 minute railfan" type posts (like this one).

I'd also like to publish more guest posts. I really appreciated that Ken McCutcheon and Jack Hykaway and Taylor Woolston guested this year.

I Need Your Help

I don't want to write things that nobody wants. That won't help people.

So... please, leave a comment or email me at What do YOU want me to write in 2017?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Year in Review

It's that time of year - the time for looking back on the year that is ending, and looking forward to the new year. Time for navel gazing... (though why would anyone stare at their navel? Mine is rather unremarkable. I'll spare you photos)

ANYway, I digress. Let's talk about railfanning, writing, and blogging in 2016.

Railfanning in 2016

I have to say I wasn't railfanning as much in 2016 as I have in the past few years. The last few months of 2016 were particularly idle. I was super busy at work and didn't have a lot of time nor energy to spend chasing trains. It was good for the pocketbook but not for the photography.

That being said, I did get out for a few good trips:
Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

I went out twice with other people, which is unusual for this "lone wolf" railfan:
Beyond that, I saw a few special trains this year:

Writing in 2016

I was happy to write an eBook in 2016, Diesels on Prince Edward Island. It was something I wanted to do, and it was pretty well received. It's a lot of work to write a book... and mine was considerably shorter than, say, Eric Gagnon's VIA Rail book series.

Did you know that Eric's writing a new book? Find out more!

I also wrote three articles for Branchline magazine.
  • My Stewart Southern article was published in the March-April 2016 issue (based on this series)
  • My "Trains and Grain Elevators" article was published in the May-June 2016 issue
  • My two-part New Brunswick East Coast Railway article was published in the November-December 2016 issue and the second part will likely be published in the Jan-Feb 2017 issue
These articles were almost as much work as writing the eBook! I never realized how much research went into each article. I have an even greater respect for authors than I used to have.

Blogging in 2016

I wrote 98 posts in 2016, including this one, which is pretty average for the past few years. Back in my more prolific years from 2007-2011 I would crank out over 300 posts/year, which was crazy. Keep in mind that back then, some of those posts were pretty short, on the order of "I updated this part of my web site", whereas most of my recent posts are much longer and take a lot more time to research and write. I like to think they are better, too.

I published eight "10 questions" posts this year. These are always popular and I enjoy doing them. I'd like to say I interviewed from A to Z but I only interviewed from Berry to Zulkoskey so I missed a letter!

Two posts in particular have received quite a bit more than the average number of views:
  1. Canadian Model Train Store Directory, 3,326 views
  2. 40 Mile Rail Starts Up, 3,172 views
I think the model train one got a lot of views because people are searching for that. The 40 Mile Rail post got a lot of attention because people were intrigued by a new shortline railway in Alberta, and my post was shared a fair bit on social media.

My least popular posts are the news posts like More on Winnipeg's Waverley Street Overpass which obviously don't appeal to a wide audience.

Off Topic Posts

I wrote a few posts that were a bit off the beaten path, as it were. I was inspired by the retirement of HMCS Iroquois to write about my ship geek days and I wrote a few more personal posts about jealousy and my lack of patience. I'll probably write some more of those in the new year. I know they aren't as interesting for the readers, but to paraphrase Lesley Gore, "it's my blog and I'll write what I want to." ;)


2016 was a busy year. It was a year of finishing projects like my Manitoba grain elevator project and my eBook. Railfanning-wise (is that a word?) it was a slow year.

I'm collecting my thoughts for my 2017 plans and I'll write about them shortly.

Thank You

Most of all, I'd like to thank you for reading and commenting and emailing. Your support has encouraged me to continue blogging as I have for the past 11.5 years. I'd especially like to thank fellow bloggers and frequent commenters Eric, Chris and Connie, Michael, John, ChrisDave, David, BW, Karl, Jimbaux, Jason and Glen. You encourage, educate and inspire me.

Read More

See you in 2017!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

I'd like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and a great 2017 and beyond.

This post was pre-recorded. Expect a "year in review" post before December 31 and that'll be it for 2016!

Related Posts Through the Years

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Five Minute Railfan Guide - Lethbridge

Take an Alberta Break... visit Lethbridge!
I've been to Lethbridge, Alberta several times for work and for pleasure. It's a lovely city in southern Alberta and I encourage you to visit the area if you can. In this post I'll describe some Lethbridge area railway highlights for the railfan visitor.

Lethbridge Overview

The city is split by the Old Man River, which runs north-south. The main highway through the city is #3 which comes from the west from Fort MacLeod and the Crowsnest Pass, and continues east past the city toward Coaldale, Taber etc. and eventually to Medicine Hat. The other major highway is #4 which heads southeast from Lethbridge through Stirling, Warner and Milk River to the border with Montana.
Lethbridge area rail map
Lethbridge is served by the Canadian Pacific Railway. There are four railway subdivisions that connect to Lethbridge.
There is also a large industrial area in Lethbridge that is well served by rail.

Here are some railfan "hot spots" in and around Lethbridge.

Kipp Yard

View of the Kipp Yard from the overpass
The major yard in the area is Kipp yard, located just northwest of Coalhurst, which is itself just northwest of Lethbridge. There used to be a large yard inside Lethbridge but this was removed in the mid 1980s. Kipp hosts several tracks for train storage and classification as well as a locomotive servicing facility.

The yard itself is of course off limits, but it is somewhat visible from highway 3 which runs parallel to the yard. There is an overpass over the southeast end of the yard which is a great spot to photograph trains from, and it is easily accessible from the highway. Range Road 225 runs parallel to the yard on the north side of the yard and provides some limited views into the yard.

Just north of the yard, the CP Aldersyde subdivision splits off and heads north.

The High Level Bridge

Canpotex potash cars on the High Level Bridge in Lethbridge, AB
Lethbridge's "High Level Bridge" is the largest conventional trestle railroad bridge in the world. I wrote a post about it already.

There are several angles to photograph the bridge from. You can get quite close to it on the Heritage Heights (northwest) end. There are plenty of paths in the valley below where you can get a side view of it, and the view from the oddly-named Whoop-Up Drive is quite good.

Obviously, trespassing is a bad idea and never, never go on the bridge.

Railway tracks inside Lethbridge

Inside Lethbridge

Railfanning inside Lethbridge itself is a bit more challenging. The majority of the main line through Lethbridge is not very accessible and there are only a few spots that are worth visiting. Parking can be a challenge, too.

There's one overpass at Stafford Drive that gives a good view down the tracks in either direction. The rest of the rail/road crossings are vehicle underpasses so you don't get any good views. There is one pedestrian overpass near 17th Street that has a decent view, although you have to work around a fence.
View from the pedestrian overpass, facing west. Parrish and Heimbecker elevator visible.
There are two level crossings near the giant Alberta Grain elevator that could be used, but again, parking is a challenge.

The CP Montana subdivision splits off from the main line by the elevator and heads southeast out of town. I did shoot at this location and it works OK. There is one level crossing on the Montana sub in town at 43rd Street South.

East of the crossings mentioned above, the main line track is buried between industries and you can't see much from public property. There is one turnabout at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and 36th Street South where you can see the track.

After that, there's the busy 43rd Street North crossing (not recommended) then you're out of Lethbridge. Between Lethbridge and Coaldale, the track parallels highway 3 and there are numerous opportunities to photograph trains there.

Industrial Tracks

Richardson Trackmobile
The other railfanning opportunities inside Lethbridge are the industrial tracks. There is an extensive industrial track network north of the main line. Driving along 2nd Avenue North, you will find numerous level crossings in the Anderson Industrial Park and Shackleford Industrial Park.

The major industrial rail customers in Lethbridge are:
  • Richardson Pioneer, 2415 2A Ave N - has own trackmobiles
  • Alberta Terminals, 2620 2nd Ave N
  • Ring Container, 1820 31 St N
  • ADM Alliance Nutrition, 1310 41 St N
  • Parrish and Heimbecker, 1301 2 Ave S - has own trackmobile

Alberta Terminals elevator
I've seen one or two GP38s working the industrial spurs. As always, stay on public property and do not trespass.
CP 3051 working the industrial tracks in Lethbridge

Other Railway Attractions

CP 3651 in Lethbridge
Lethbridge's train station still exists on 1st Avenue South (801 1 Ave S) as a community health services building. Steam engine CP 3651 is on display behind it. This engine was built in July 1910.

You can visit the Galt Historic Railway Park in Stirling, not far out of Lethbridge on highway 4.

The new Forty Mile Railway shortline is near the Galt park - read more!

Rail Traffic

I don't know the exact number of trains, but I would say "several" trains pass through Lethbridge every day. It is not a super busy line but there is almost always a train in Kipp Yard, either arriving, departing, or shunting, and the industrial track is being served throughout the day.

Read More

Thanks to Jason Paul Sailer for reviewing my maps and industrial locations!

Friday, December 16, 2016


What got in me is something more than envy.
I should be above it I know, but I just can't let it go.
- Jennifer Nettles, "Jealousy"

This is "Confessions of a Train Geek", so I have something to confess: sometimes I am jealous of other railfans.

Jealous of the opportunities other railfans had to shoot trains I couldn't see.

Jealous of the accolades that other photographers received.

I've been jealous, off and on, ever since I became a railfan back in 1998 or so.

I remember seeing posts on the old mailing lists (mostly dormant now) where person X caught a few CN trains and a VIA train outside Halifax, while I was sitting in trainless Fredericton, and feeling a burning jealousy that they had the opportunity and I did not.

I'd like to say that this has changed, and in some ways it has, but in some ways... not so much.

Logically I know I have little to be jealous of. I've had a lot of good opportunities come my way. I have photographed trains in every province in Canada. I've caught some special trains like the Coors Light Silver Bullet train, I've been to Banff several times and caught trains on Morant's Curve.

I live in a city that has tons of trains with CN, CP, VIA, and four short lines, and if a week goes by where I haven't seen a train, I get anxious and step out and shoot a few trains. I know a lot of people who do not have that access.

I should have nothing to complain about.

And yet, sometimes I feel jealous. Still.

Jealousy vs Envy

I should clarify that when I say "jealous" I mean it in a negative way, a resentful way, maybe even a hateful way. I will freely admit I often feel envy of others' photos and opportunities but I don't see that as a negative thing. To me, envy is an appreciation of someone else's good fortune or skill, without any sense that they didn't earn their opportunity.

For example, I am envious of Greg McDonnell's work. He is well known among railfans for his stunning books, many of which I own. He has had many opportunities through the years to photograph and write about a large variety of topics from trains to ore ships to grain elevators. To me, he's earned those through hard work and dedication, and he's developed a style of photography and writing that I admire greatly.

I think I am jealous when I feel that someone is unjustly getting accolades for their work... or when I could or have done a similar thing without getting the same response.

How to Deal With It?

OK, so sometimes I am jealous. How do I deal with it?

I have a few strategies:
  1. Differing priorities
  2. You make your own opportunities
  3. TANJ
  4. Suck it up, buttercup

Different Priorities

One thing to remember is that everyone has their own priorities. Some railfans prioritize great shots over seemingly everything else, so they spend hours or days waiting at a particular location for "that" shot.

Some railfans spend a lot of time and money travelling around to get a rare leader on a train.

That's their choice. Everyone has their own priorities.

I love trains, but I am a father and a husband and I work full time. I have commitments beyond railfanning that I hold more important than railfanning. So trains usually come second, or third..

I don't get up early on a Thursday morning to chase a GWWD RS-23 out of town into the wilderness of eastern Manitoba. I haven't explored the grain elevators of northern Alberta. I haven't caught the Canadian going over the Uno, MB trestle at sunset. I haven't seen MLWs on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan. I hope to do all these things someday.

I could do those things. I have a vehicle. I have money. I could make the time, but I have other priorities. I'll enjoy the photos that others take, and feel envious... maybe... but hopefully not jealous.

You Make Your Own Opportunities

People make their own opportunities. A lot of times, a so-called "lucky break" really comes from a lot of preparation and hard work.

Think of those people who get a cab ride on a mainline freight... or a tour of maintenance shops... or any other kind of exclusive access. How do you think that happened?

You develop relationships. You network. You give freely.. and sometimes these opportunities will come up.

They don't come to people who just stand trackside with a camera... and talk to no one... and don't share anything. Those people get nothing but photographs.

It took me a long time to realize this.

Of course, sitting at home blogging doesn't always bring photo opportunities...


Fans of Larry Niven will know what "TANJ" means, but for those who don't know, it means "There Ain't No Justice". It's used in Niven's books as a swear word, but its basic meaning is clear. Things don't always go your way. The universe doesn't owe you anything. No matter what you were told as a child, things aren't fair and not everyone is treated equally.

Sometimes people just get lucky. Good for them.

Sometimes people are just more sociable than you are. That's the way it is. Life ain't fair.

Which leads into...

Suck It Up, Buttercup

My final method of dealing with jealousy is just to suck it up.

Except for this post. :)

Thanks for reading...

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

2016's CP Holiday Train

2015's Holiday Train
I wanted to shoot the CP Holiday Train this year, as I did in 2011 and 2014 and 2015. However, I didn't want to shoot it at the same ol' location, so I elected to get it a little east of Winnipeg as it approached our fair city.

After a bit of Google Maps scouting, I decided on the Deacon Road crossing just east of the Winnipeg Floodway. This crossing has two roads paralleling the tracks right next to it, providing a handy place to park off the road, and wide open spaces to see the train.

I wasn't the only one with that idea, as there were already a few cars parked nearby. Fortunately a large field of view was available and I took it. I set my tripod up and took a few test shots.

If you've ever tried night photography, the hardest part is getting the focus right. Fortunately there were some signals next to the road crossing that could be used for reference.

Once I was happy with the focus, I played around a bit with shutter speeds and aperture. I had the camera in full manual - exposure, shutter speed, ISO and focus - and settled on a 30 second shutter speed at f/7.1 and ISO 200.

After that, all I had to do was wait. And wait. The train was late!

Fortunately I was able to sit in my warm car and listen to podcasts. I left the camera outside on the tripod, chillin' in the -7 C temperature. I was a bit concerned about the battery but I figured I could swap it out for my spare if it started to blink.

Eventually a glow was visible on the horizon... it was train time! I fired up the camera and the battery light was blinking, so I opened the passenger door and fetched the camera bag to get the spare battery. Spare.. spare.. where is that spare battery?!

No spare battery.

Train approaching.

What to do?

I popped the camera off the tripod, took the battery out, palmed it and shoved my hand in my pants pocket to warm it up. I was careful not to jostle the lens and change the focus or zoom.

I watched nervously as the train came closer.. closer.. then popped the battery back in, slammed the camera back onto the tripod and powered it up. It would have to do!

iPhone out in my left hand, I waited for the right moment. As the train split the signals, I hit the shutter button and the "record" on my iPhone and watched the train roll on by.

This was the result.

Holiday Train Streak
It was a bit more exposed than I would have liked. If I could go back I would try 15 seconds instead, but I still like it.

An hour of waiting for 30 seconds of train... sounds about right!

Oh, here's the video I took:

See the Train

The train is all about raising money, food and awareness for local food banks and food shelves. Bring a non-perishable item along and enjoy the show!

See Also