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.

Back to the first post

Monday, October 09, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 1)

A CP train approaching Coleman, Alberta - my wife took this one!
Me on my 50th birthday
I recently had my 50th birthday.

I honestly find it hard to believe I'm 50 now. I don't feel 50. Several people have recently told me I don't look anything like 50, which is flattering.

But the calendar doesn't lie. I was born in Canada's centennial year, 1967, so you can do the math and I'm fifty years old.


My wife urged me to do something special for my 50th birthday. She was encouraging us to go to Iceland. I was tempted - it's gorgeous - but the thought of driving in Iceland intimidates me. Also, we had already gone to Italy and New York City in 2017 and I felt that was enough.

I proposed an alternative. I'd always wanted to go to the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbook and the Revelstoke Railway Museum. My dad went to Cranbrook years ago and raved about it. I wanted to visit it too.

My wife said, "it's your birthday. Let's go."

And so we did.

In the next few posts I'll write about our trip, the museums and the trains we saw along the way. I'll talk about going through the Crowsnest Pass, visiting my first British Columbia grain elevators, chasing a train through Rogers Pass, visiting Craigellachie, and of course visiting the two railway museums.

Here was the initial plan:

  • Day 1 - Winnipeg to Calgary to Waterton Park
  • Day 2 - Waterton Park to Cranbrook
  • Day 3 - Cranbrook to Craigellachie to Three Valley Gap
  • Day 4 - Three Valley Gap through Revelstoke to Golden
  • Day 5 - Golden through Field and Lake Louise to Banff
  • Day 6 - Banff area
  • Day 7 - Banff to Calgary to Winnipeg

Friday, October 06, 2017

Show to Show

Here's a few trains I saw while en route to shows - the Railway Days show at the railway museum in Winnipeg, and the Manitoba Mega Train model train show.

VIA 1 / Canada 150

VIA 6436 in Winnipeg
My family and I went down to the Forks in Winnipeg on September 16th for a late lunch at the Original Pancake House (recommended!) and to visit the Railway Days at the Winnipeg Railway Museum.

I noted that the Canadian was still at the station, two hours after its scheduled departure. This didn't surprise me a lot since it has been chronically late all summer, often by several hours if not more. I took a quick trip up the stairs beside the Forks to take a few shots.

There were a bunch of people around in high-visibility vests and "Canada 150" wrapped VIA 6436 was apparently being detached from the train. You may recall that I saw VIA 6436 trailing on VIA 1 back in May.

VIA 6415 and 6409 at the Winnipeg station, with supervision
VIA 6415 and 6409 remained on the train at the station. The Canadian appeared to be cut in two, as is normal for the long summer trains. I went back to the Forks Market to rejoin my family, and noted VIA 6436 heading east toward Beach Junction, maybe to turn on the wye there. I didn't see it again.

Railway Days

After lunch, we headed into the VIA station and climbed the stairs to the Winnipeg Railway Museum. It was nice to tour the museum again and see old friends and new exhibits.

The Countess of Dufferin steam locomotive was looking as nice as usual.

We walked around the museum and I spent a few minutes talking with Daryl Adair of Rail Travel Tours. They've had a setback with the cancellation of trains to Churchill - a staple of their business - but Daryl has adapted with some fall foliage runs on the Budd RDCs between Sudbury and White River in Ontario, and some other Canadian rail tours. Check out their web site for more information!

After that we entered the train shed to see what VIA had left to be toured.

It turns out that we had Evangeline Park and Chateau Argenson on display.
Inside the dome
The view from the dome was nice but it would be better out on the rails!

Sadly BNSF wasn't exhibiting their unit and caboose that day. I guess they needed to use it!

Fall Foliage

Fast forward to October 1 - I went out early in the morning to try to catch some fall foliage action before heading to the Manitoba Mega Train Show.

I went over to the CP Emerson subdivision because it has some nice trees along the right-of-way.
Fall colours but no train!
I waited there for about half an hour but nothing showed up, so I headed north toward the show.

On my way there, I stopped at the CN Rivers subdivision and noted a green light facing east... and a headlight in the distance.

I set up at one of my favourite spots, at Carman Junction, but I decided to shoot the side of the train rather than my usual head on photo. My reasons were twofold - I wanted to include a bit of fall colour, and it was morning sun so the westbound train's nose would be quite dark.

Here's CN 8952, 2613 and 2116 heading up the container train as they rounded the bend at Carman Junction.
A touch of fall colour
It's not very impressive fall colour but it's hard to do better in Winnipeg!

I decided to get one more shot, so I headed west and got ahead of them before they reached Diamond. This time I put the 70-200mm lens on to get a more head on photo, since there was no foliage out there to include anyway.
Glint shot of CN 8952
I elected to process this as black and white because shots from this angle with the sun off the side of the train tend to lack colour anyway. I could have saturated the heck out of the photo but it wouldn't have looked very realistic.

The train looked pretty good from the side here, too, even without fall foliage.
Containers under a blue sky!
I headed off to the model train show after that. Read about it here!


Thanks to the hard working volunteers at the Winnipeg Railway Museum for putting on the Railway Days show every year. It's great for people to be able to experience railways of the past and understand more about how the railways of the present work.

Also thanks to the organizers, presenters and vendors at the Manitoba Mega Train show for another great show!

See Also

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Escape From Churchill

Photo by Patricia Sinclair
You may recall that VIA's Winnipeg-Churchill train has been stranded in Churchill, Manitoba for months, since flooding severed the line in May. No work has been done to repair the track so the two locomotives and five passenger cars have been sitting by the station.

Soon VIA Rail's trapped train set is going to be extracted from Churchill by ship.

Two If By Sea

The CBC and the Winnipeg Free Press are reporting that the MV Nunalik is bringing 2.2 million litres of propane to Churchill, and it will take the two locomotives and five train cars to Quebec afterward.

A set of rail panels and ties appeared in Churchill in mid September and many people speculated they were going to be used for transferring the VIA trainset to a ship.

I expect the track will be laid on the ship and then the cars will be individually hoisted aboard.

The Nunalik

The MV Nunalik is a heavy lift ship with its own cranes on board (2 x 180 tonne), so it is certainly capable of lifting a locomotive or passenger car. It is new to the Inuit-owned NEAS fleet serving the North. It was built in China in 2009 so it is pretty new.

The news articles suggest the ship will arrive in Churchill on October 8th but the NEAS schedule shows October 13th as the arrival date and October 15th as the departure date. The CBC is also calling the Nunalik a "barge", which is wrong.

Nail in the Coffin

I don't think anyone blames VIA Rail for doing this. It's October and nothing has been done to fix the rail line, and the construction season is just about over for the year. There's no chance of getting the train out by rail this year, and as VIA indicated in an interview for the Free Press, the train is starting to rust. They have to preserve their asset.

It's just a very visible indication that the rail line isn't getting fixed this year. And that sucks.

See Also

Sunday, October 01, 2017

10 Questions for Jack Hykaway

This series is modeled after the "Interesting Railfan" series in Railroad magazine from years ago. I'm asking each railfan 10 questions, some standard and some customized for the particular person. I hope you enjoy it. (See all in the series)

I put 10 questions to Jack Hykaway, a young and very talented photographer and videographer based in Winnipeg.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, I am currently studying at the University of Manitoba in pursuit of a degree in Civil Engineering. Four weeks into my first year and I haven't yet been lost on campus -- only lost in Physics class... ;)

When I'm not at school, I'm probably at the rink. I am the skip of a competitive junior men's curling team; my team and I have competed as high as the provincial level, and we are determined to -- one day -- compete on the national stage. We curl in different tournaments nearly every weekend during the season to keep our game sharp -- it's a game of inches and competition is fierce in Manitoba.

2. Where’s your favourite place to railfan?

My favourite spots are all right at home here in Manitoba. We have so much variety in Winnipeg or within one-to-four hours driving distance from the city -- from the cliffs of the Canadian Shield in the east to the valleys and rolling hills out west. There's always something different and new to shoot, and the changing seasons put a new twist on old spots.
VIA 1 departs Rivers, Manitoba

3. If you could railfan anywhere, anytime, where and when would it be?

If I could go back in time, I'd love to shoot the final years of Southern Pacific's presence on the Sunset Route in California and Arizona. I've always had a soft spot for the SP's "bloody nose" paint scheme and it's tough to beat the high-desert's spectacular scenes.

4. What’s your favourite railway?

I don't really have a preference or a favourite carrier - so long as there's a train in front of my lens, I'm not picky! But if I had to choose it would probably be the BNSF -- they have a really sharp paint scheme.
BNSF 6127 pauses with an incredible watercolour sky in Emerson, Manitoba.

5. Photos or video?

Video. Definitely video. I've been intrigued by trains my whole life, but when I first began photographing them I jumped right in to shooting video. I'm not sure what it was that attracted me initially -- perhaps it was the ability to capture the sound and the movement of the train -- but I've stuck with video ever since, improving my shooting and editing skills along the way.

6. How is working for the Winnipeg Railway Museum?

One really couldn't ask for a better summer job! I've expanded my knowledge of the rich railway heritage on the prairies while simultaneously gaining valuable employment experience. I always enjoy "talking trains" with railfans from all corners of the country who visit the museum, exchanging trackside tales and directing them to the best spots around Winnipeg.

7. What makes your photographs different from other railfans?

My priority while out shooting isn't to capture only the train, but the scene through which it passes. I try to incorporate elements of the surrounding scene into the image, whether it be buildings, signs, people or scenic elements to add to the story depicted in the photograph.

Sometimes the focus of the image isn't on the train at all, but of something in the foreground while the train passes by in the background. Often times I will shoot a wider-angle to capture the whole scene, I feel that my work differs slightly to the "traditional" railfan photograph in that sense.
CN GMD1 No. 1405 chugs across the Seine River in Winnipeg, Manitoba

8. You were recently in the USA photographing trains. What did you find different about railfanning in the US?

One of the biggest differences I noticed is the sheer amount of business south of the border compared to in Canada. There is much more freight on the move in the US and therefore there is a much larger variety of operations there; from a nearly-endless array of shortlines/industrial jobs to several long-haul Class I carriers, railfans can pick and choose what they prefer to shoot.
A southbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner service skirts the Pacific Ocean at Trestles Beach, California
With a different country comes a different culture and attitude around photography, especially in a post-9/11 era. For the most part, the US is pretty good; many cities feature established Railroad Parks. However, foreign visitors must always be extra cautious while shooting in the US -- obey all signs and regulations just as you would at home; no shot is worth a potential charge and a lengthy chat with a customs officer on the way home...

9. Can you provide one piece of advice for young railway photographers?

"Views" or "Likes" online don't matter. Take the advice of others, develop your own photographic style and keep building on that, no matter how people online react; it's your hobby, you can do with it what you please, as long as you are respectful to railroad employees and the "No Trespassing" signs. In short, do whatever is fun for you, and stick to that!

10. Do you have any projects you’re working on or planning for?

One big project on my plate at the moment is to work through and edit the footage I shot in California; I think I shot close to 150 GB of footage there -- there's lots to sift through! Some longer-term projects include doing more nighttime videography, I also have a vague plan in the works for an article I would like to have published in TRAINS Magazine.

CPR at Molson, Manitoba
Thanks, Jack! To see more of his work, visit his YouTube channel.

See all 10 Questions entries

Saturday, September 16, 2017

CN's Caboose Train

Five cabooses, one train - the CN Family Day train in Winnipeg
CN has a "Family Day" every year where they invite families of CN employees and CN retirees to a local yard for tours, games, food and fun. Often a train ride is involved and that's where my interest lies!

This year the organizers in Winnipeg did something different. In past years CN ran a few passenger cars with locomotives on each end (2016 had two cars, an E unit and two of CN's newest units; 2014's was pretty much the same but only one new CN unit). This year, the CN organizers gathered up five cabooses (cabeese?).

When did you last see five cabooses in a train?

September 9, that's when I did!

First Run

The train was scheduled to start running at 11 AM on the morning of September 9, 2017. I passed Symington Yard shortly before 11 and the train was there along with tents, bouncy castles, and a lot of automobiles going into the yard.

Like other years, the train was to head northwest up the St. Boniface spur to cross Archibald Street, then back into the yard again for the next run.

I had some "favourite spots" but I wanted to try one or two different ones this time. I drove around and decided on some locations. At Marion Street I ran into Taylor "the Cando Railfan", who was waiting there for the train. We chatted for a few minutes before I headed out.

Here are the locations that I photographed from:
My locations

Shot 1

One shot I knew I wanted was the overpass over Lagimodiere Boulevard just outside the yard. I had seen Jack Hykaway's photo from last year and I knew I wanted to get that shot. I parked on Dawson Road and hoofed it over to set up for the shot.

Right on time the train headed out at 11, with CN 2615 leading the five cabeese and CN 3089 on the rear.

Shot 2

After the train passed, I knew I wasn't going to be able to drive to another spot, so I hustled back to Dawson Road and waited by Star Building Materials on the broken asphalt of the former highway 59 road. Fellow Winnipeg railfan Tim Burridge showed up with his daughter to photograph the train.

CN 3089 looked nice and clean leading on the way back.
CN 3089 leading on the return trip

The Consist

Here's the train: CN 3089 / CCGX 200001 / CN 76665 / GWWD 1360 / BN 12580 / PCDR 109 / CN 2615

Freshly painted CCGX 200001 was looking nice. This is an ex CN caboose rebuilt from a boxcar by the Pointe-Saint-Charles (PSC) shops in 1976 as CN 79843.
CCGX 200001
Rumour has it that this caboose is going to be mounted on a section of track at the CEMR shops in north Transcona in Winnipeg.

Next was this rare transfer caboose, CN 76665, another PSC product.
CN 76665
I'm told this is one of only two active CN transfer cabeese.

Another ex CN PSC caboose... former CN 79519...
GWWD 1360
The Greater Winnipeg Water District contributed their sole caboose, GWWD 1360. I've never actually seen that caboose run!

The last two cabooses have no CN heritage. This one is Burlington Northern through and through.
BN 12580
BN 12580 is a familiar sight to Winnipeg railfans, as it runs pretty much every day on the BNSF Manitoba freight train. Another rumour - I hear it's going to be repainted soon.

Finally, an ex CP product from way back, built in 1912...
Prairie Dog Central #109
Prairie Dog Central #109 was easily the oldest caboose on the train... also the only one with friction bearings!

Both locomotive cabs were packed with happy riders!
Fun in CN 2615
After the train passed, I relocated to the Marion Street crossing.

Second Run

The Marion Street crossing is one of the two major crossings on this section of the St. Boniface spur.

Shot 3 was into the sun a bit, but I did the best I could.
Into the sun
The going away shot was much better... except for the wires. sigh

CN 3089 and 5 cabooses
I decided to stay at Marion Street and shoot them coming back. The sun would be nice coming back.

While I was waiting for them to return, I walked around to decide what composition I wanted. I saw this neat billboard and decided to include it in shot #4.
If it's made with Canadian milk...
This might be my favourite photo from the day.

Another going-away shot, showing two of the CN volunteers - Mark and Christopher - on the caboose steps.
One caboose, two cabooses, three cabooses... ah ah ah!

Third Run

I decided to head down to Archibald Street for the third run. I knew some railfans in past years shot the train on the Seine River bridge after they crossed Archibald. I couldn't find any path down to get the shot, so I elected to wait at the crossing.

The train passed by and crossed the bridge entirely. After a quick pause, the reverser was thrown and the train started rolling back.

As the train started rolling, someone on a bicycle came along and stopped to the side, clearly waiting for the train to pass before he could walk across the bridge.

The engineer gave him a couple of toots but he was undeterred.

Some people.

Not safe.

Look. Listen. Live.

Anyway, here's the shot of CN 3089 leading the train back along the St. Boniface spur:
CN 3089 about to cross Archibald Street
So that was the train!

Big thanks to the many CN volunteers for the many hours they put in to organize this and staff it so the extended CN family could have a great day. A special thank you to Mark and Derrick for taking CN 4797 around Winnipeg to gather up all of the Winnipeg cabooses for the train!

A CN volunteer and two happy riders

Lots of waves from the cupolas!

See Also