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." ;)

Summary

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.

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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

Jealousy


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...


TANJ

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




Saturday, December 03, 2016

HMCS Iroquois

HMCS Iroquois, Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 2013.
That's probably the former HMCS Provider behind her.
Last week, the former HMCS Iroquois was towed out of Halifax harbour to its final destination in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. She was paid off (retired) on May 1, 2015 and was the lead and name ship of the 4 ship Iroquois class of destroyers. With her retirement, HMCS Athabaskan is the sole remaining ship of that class in service with the Royal Canadian Navy.

The four Iroquois class destroyers were built to provide area air defence for the navy. This defence used to be provided by the Banshee fighters aboard HMCS Bonaventure, Canada's last aircraft carrier. When the Banshees were retired in 1962, Canada's navy had no air defence, so the Iroquois class was conceived. Their armament included a fully automatic 5 inch gun, a Mk III RIM "Sea Sparrow" system for air defence, a Mk 10 Limbo anti-submarine mortar and two torpedo launchers.

These ships were also called the Tribal class, because they were each named for native tribes in Canada: Iroquois, Huron, Athabaskan and Algonquin. They shared the names of 4 of the 8 ships of the World War 2 Tribal class destroyers, a very successful anti submarine destroyer escort.

A Long Aside

Before I was a train geek, I was a ship geek. My dad was in the military. When we were posted to Moscow, USSR, I remember reading his Jane's Fighting Ships books he would bring home from work. I knew all the aircraft carriers in the world and studied all of the Soviet ships and compared them to their equivalent American, British and French ships. I had a lot of time on my hands in Moscow...

In 1979 my dad was posted to CFB Shearwater outside Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Our house was on Barracuda Drive and this was the view from our house (courtesy Google Street View).

To the left is a large jetty at Shearwater and Halifax is visible to the right. Often visiting US Navy warships and submarines would dock at the jetty in front of my house, because Halifax didn't permit nuclear-armed vessels to dock and the US Navy would never admit whether they were carrying nukes or not. My dad and I toured many ships and submarines and I have many fond memories of those visits.

One time we were in a US attack submarine and I looked at our house with the periscope. Great optics on that thing!

Another time we were awoken early one morning by a guided missile cruiser playing the "Star Spangled Banner" over their loudspeakers, complete with the forward missile turret moving up and down and around in tune with the music.

We would often see the Canadian ships sailing in and out of Halifax harbour, and they were a familiar sight when we would go into Halifax to shop. When I was a little older I would bike by myself to Dartmouth and take the ferry across to Halifax to visit the gaming stores in Halifax (I remember "Odyssey 2000" was one of them). The naval ships were easily visible from the ferry.

I believe Iroquois and Athabaskan were assigned to Halifax and Huron and Algonquin were assigned to Esquimalt on the west coast. They were a common sight as were a few of the retired St. Laurent class of frigates, and of course the Oberon class of submarines.

A Tracker on display in Winnipeg
Being in Shearwater, the sound of Sea King helicopters and Tracker patrol planes flying overhead was common. I remember one time my cousin was visiting and we were inside my house, when he asked, "what's that noise?"

"Noise?" I replied. "I don't hear anything."

"It sounds like a really loud airplane."

I listened again. "Oh, that's a Tracker." I was so used to the sound that it didn't register any more.

Back to the Iroquois

Iroquois was towed to Liverpool to R.J. MacIsaac Construction, where she joined sister ship (ex) HMCS Algonquin and the former supply ship (ex) HMCS Protecteur for disposal. I'm not sure if they will be completely scrapped on site but their military material and all recoverable material will be removed.

The Iroquois class were built between 1969 and 1973. It was 46 years and two days ago that HMCS Athabaskan was launched, which is a long darn time for a warship to still be in active service. Many of our ships are worn out.

Former Iroquois (L), HMCS Fredericton,
and CNAV Quest (R), Halifax, October 2015
For example, HMCS Protecteur. She was not a lucky ship in her last few years. Protecteur collided with Algonquin in 2013 during a training exercise, tearing a huge gash in the port side of Algonquin's hangar and hastening her retirement. In 2014 Protecteur suffered two fires in 2014. One of those fires left her powerless and adrift for 11 hours before being taken in tow to Hawaii. Protecteur and her sister Provider were slightly older than the Iroquois class and they suffered many failures before retirement.

All four of the Iroquois class received TRUMP* (Tribal Refit and Upgrade Modernisation Program) upgrades in the 1980s. This upgrade was really a rebuilding, as they were converted to anti-air warfare vessels with the addition of SM-2 Block 2 surface-to-air missiles to replace the marginal Sea Sparrows, a Phalanx close-in weapons system (CIWS), and major electronics upgrades. Their turbines were replaced, the twin funnels were replaced by a single funnel, and they received new command, control and communications features to enable them to operate as lead ships for the new Halifax-class frigates.

(* a topical acronym these days)

Today's Fighting Ships

HMCS Charlottetown (Halifax class), in Halifax
Only HMCS Athabaskan remains and she is scheduled to be retired next year. That will leave the 12 Halifax-class  frigates as the Royal Canadian Navy's sole warships until the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy starts delivering ships.

The Halifax-class ships were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Saint John at the former shipyards there. I remember seeing them under construction as I traveled to the nearby Courtenay Bay power plant for work. They are in the midst of being upgraded with new electronics and will serve the navy for many years to come.

The RCN also has the 12 Kingston-class coastal defence vessels, which are primarily manned by naval reservists. These vessels are lightly armed and are not what I would call "fighting ships".


RIP HMCS Iroquois and let's hope that we get some new ships into our fleet soon to continue defending Canada's long shorelines and serving overseas as required.

Thanks for reading this little departure from my usual train and photography related topics. I read about the last voyage of HMCS Iroquois and was inspired to write this.


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