Saturday, May 30, 2015

Two Hours on the AVR

The Assiniboine Valley Railway is a privately owned club of 1:8 scale railway enthusiasts. They own 6,400' of 7.5" gauge track on 7 acres of land near the Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. The club was founded in 1995. For years cofounder Bill Taylor operated a Christmas run until his death in 2013. That was a huge setback for the club but they are coming back in 2015 with a lot of events.

I spotted a notice on the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club blog about a public "fun run day" where one could operate their trains as a conductor or engineer for two hours for $5. I jumped on this and signed up for the 9 AM-11 AM session.

I arrived a few minutes before 9 and met a few of the club members, including Dwight and Len, and we were joined by another "newbie", Chris. After a quick tour of the facilities we were shown how to operate the trains, couple and uncouple cars, and then were given car cards and sent off on the main line. Chris started out as engineer, I was conductor and Dwight came along as brakeman to help point out the different locations.

This was our train before we headed out:

The cars are pretty sizable. You could lift one with difficulty. I had to lift one end to re-rail a car after we ran over a branch, and it wasn't especially light. While the train is moving, you are sitting on these cars so they are a decent size.

Our power was boxcab #25.

The boxcab is full of batteries that provide the motive power. Note the control box sitting on the engineer's seat. It is much like a model train's controller, with a rotary dial for the throttle, a forward/reverse toggle, a bell toggle, a horn button, and most importantly a dead-man's button. If you don't keep the button held down, the train stops... good for when you have passengers on board!

On the road... this was my view sitting on a bench in the hopper behind the engineer and brakeman, who were on the flatcar behind the locomotive.

They operate using car cards. Each named location on the "layout" is represented by an envelope, and one or more cards representing a car on your train is inserted into each envelope. These are the cars you must place ("spot") at the named location. As well, there is an envelope marked "pickup" containing one or more cards for cars that are "out there" that you must find and bring back to the station.

Throwing switches, coupling and uncoupling is much like full-size trains without so much momentum! Sometimes it was easy to drop a car off or pick one up, but
sometimes we had to run around the train or do a few moves to get the right car in the right place. Fun!

We returned to the station after an hour to trade places and organize our paperwork. By this time another train was on the south track, waiting for the 11 AM crew.

Then it was my turn to drive. It did not take long to get used to driving the train, but like the full size trains you have momentum involved so you have to keep that in mind. There are no brakes on the train other than the resistance of the locomotive when you throttle down, so you don't have to deal with air at all. On occasion I had to put my foot on the ground to hold the train when we were stopped on a slight grade. You can't do that at 1:1 scale!

Here we were doing some switching. We had pulled the two gondolas out of the spur and I was pushing the boxcar into the spur. Chris on the left was on his way to spot me, and Dwight was supervising the move.

All too soon, we returned to the station, shortly before 11. When asked if we had any questions, my first was, "how do I do this again??" I signed up as an associate member and we'll see how that goes.

I invite you to take in any of their public events - very inexpensive and lots of fun!

Monday, May 25, 2015

10 Questions for Caleb Wentzell

Railroad magazine used to have a regular feature highlighting an "Interesting Railfan". I thought I would run a similar series with some railfans who have agreed to participate. 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)

Caleb Wentzell is an Eastern Canadian railfan. I've never met him but I enjoy his photography, both railway-related and not.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hmm, well, my name is Caleb, I hail from just outside of a small town in Nova Scotia called Lunenburg.  I have a passion for playing basketball, tinkering with model trains (HO Scale), photography, and just hanging around my friends. In the fall I will be entering my 4th year at New Brunswick Bible Institute, (Victoria Corner, NB), but instead of studying at the school as I have done in my three previous years, I will be at a church in Perham, Maine under a Pastor. Ironically it's only 15-20 minutes from Presque Isle, where Irving operates trains.

2. Why do you like trains?

I was introduced to Thomas the Tank Engine at a very young age, and with this new found love, I wanted so desperately to see a train.  I personally don't remember this but my mother often tells me a story of when we were in Hampton, NB and I was just a toddler standing with my parents and grandparents at dusk one evening.  I could see a train coming and I began to get very excited, however when the train blew, I got so upset and started crying because it scared me so bad.  My grandfather got annoyed because he knew I was excited to see the train but wouldn't sympathize with me.

3. Where’s your favourite place to railfan?

This is a toss-up, but it really is a three way-tie.

1) Windsor Junction, NS
2) Hampton, NB
3) Sussex, NB

CN 120 past Windsor Junction, NS - by Caleb Wentzell

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

I would railfan any trains I could on the Halifax and Southwestern Subdivision. This is no longer possible, but at one time tracks ran right along the south shore of Nova Scotia.  Unfortunately I was born two years too late, as the tracks were torn up in '93 thus causing me to never see trains run in the area I grew up in.  As for an era? Late 80's or very early 90's.

5. What’s your favourite railway?

I'd have to say three again:
1) Canadian National
2) VIA
3) Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia

VIA 15, the Ocean, departing Halifax NS - by Caleb Wentzell

6. You photograph more than just trains. What interests you?

People of all sorts, along with landscapes are two other favourite shooting options of mine.

7. What are you doing to improve your photography?

Trial and error has been my motto since day one.  Of course picking up tips from other photographers has helped along the way.

MBTA Cabbage Shoving over the Merrimack River at Haverhill, MA - by Caleb Wentzell

8. What advice do you have for railfan photographers?

Allow yourself ample time to set up if possible.  I'm speaking from experience, and I'm sure those that know me and are reading this post will chuckle when I say "It's better to set up and wait two or even three hours for a train, as opposed to missing the shot, because you didn't allow yourself enough time to, other than giving your own roll by as you drove up to the tracks and there it was."

Another word of caution...and it should go without saying, but make sure you have fresh batteries, enough space on your memory card, and if at all possible if shooting a moving train, fire as many frames as you can while it is moving towards you.
CBNS 302 Climbing the Grade at River Denys, NS - by Caleb Wentzell

9. What projects do you have on the go, or in planning?

Well I'm hoping to get engaged to my girlfriend soon, and as I mentioned above, finish my secondary education so I can get my Bachelor in Theology.

10. How about those Leafs?

I think I speak for all leafs fans when I say a hearty welcome to Mike Babcock! :)

As a Winnipeg Jets fan, I say good luck and maybe we'll see the Leafs in the playoffs next year! ;)

You can see more of Caleb's work at his Flickr page. He posts train and personal photos on Instagram as crwentzphoto.

Thanks, Caleb!

All 10 Questions posts

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Post #2500

It's hard to believe it, but this is my 2500th post here on Confessions of a Train Geek.

From my first post on July 9, 2005 to now, a lot of writing. I think this is the longest running train blog in the world. I could be wrong.

You can see from the number of posts per year in the list to the right that I used to post like crazy. It was only in 2012 that my pace slowed. I think that was coincident with my involvement with Google+ and writing there. I like to tell stories but I have a limited amount of time to write, and an apparently finite amount of stuff to write about, and G+ got the bulk of it.

I'm spread a bit thin between this blog, social networks, email and projects like my Chaleur video and the NB Southern eBook I'm working on. I don't think I'll ever get back to posting an average of once/day but I think I've settled into a decent pace. Like the inestimable Eric Gagnon over at Trackside Treasure, I'm aiming more for quality than quantity in my posting these days.

2002 volunteering for the Salem & Hillsborough RR

I don't know what your favourite blog posts have been, but here are a few of mine off the top of my head.

2006 in McAdam

It's been a good run so far.

I still have a lot to write about. What really keeps me going is seeing that people actually read this, and I love getting comments to show that people have read my post and spare a minute or two of their time to comment. I've been trying to comment on others' blogs for a while now, to show that they are being read and appreciated. Thank you for reading, and if you keep coming back, I'll keep writing.

May 2015, Kamloops

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Being Social

The Rocky Mountaineer in Kamloops, BC
Hi, just a quick update on my social networking scene. In general I am active on Facebook and Instagram, somewhat active on Google+, barely active on Twitter and I have a pulse on Flickr. I used to be a lot more active on G+ but I've found the interaction has diminished there somewhat. Facebook is great for railfan groups.

I'm really enjoying the train photos on Instagram. My post on Instagram for railfans is one of the most popular posts ever on my blog, amazingly enough!

I think Facebook has really taken over from the railfan mailing lists of yore. The RailsNB mailing list was deleted a few months ago because the Facebook group has become so popular.

Here are my statistics:

  • Facebook page: 196 followers (hoping for 200 by the end of the month! Like me! :)
  • Instagram: 328 followers (read more about Instagram)
  • Google+: 21,759 followers (not a true measure of active followers)
  • Twitter: 175 followers
  • Flickr: 158 followers (go follow George Pitarys!)

I have a tumblr account as well but I'm not on there very much at all.

Here's a little secret. I'm not on Flickr or tumblr much but I post there all the time. How? I use the IFTTT service. This is a great service that basically allows you to create actions based on other actions you take. I have recipes there that repost my Instagram photos onto Flickr and tumblr, so they get updated with new photos with no additional effort on my part. Magic!

I suppose I also have accounts on tsū and ello but I hardly ever look at them, to be honest. Those social networks haven't really taken off.

So... where are you social? Comment below!

PS - notice the photo in this post, a sneak peek of upcoming content!

PPS - want to know how to get Instagram followers, ethically?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Book Review: Trackside in the Maritimes by Bill Linley

Bill Linley has finished his third book, "Trackside in the Maritimes 1967-1993" through Morning Sun Books. This book covers railway operations in the three Canadian Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). Disclaimer: I consider Bill to be a good friend.

The book starts with a couple of pages introducing Bill and his history with railfanning, then follows up with a two-page map of the Maritimes showing the rail lines (and ferry routes) in the period covered by the book. This is followed by a very brief history of railways in the Maritimes and a list of CP and CN's rosters in the book's time period.

The remainder of the book presents each of CN's and CP's subdivision in the Maritimes, with full colour photos, generous amounts of text describing each photo, and side illustrations such as timetables and operating manuals. There are also sections for short lines / tourist railways such as Devco, Consolidated Bathurst and the Salem and Hillsborough Railroad.

The majority of the 235 or so photos were new to me, despite my occasional reviews of Bill's slide collection when I was visiting him in Halifax. Bill has a vast collection of images that he has taken over the decades, so he had a lot to choose from. I'm sure it was difficult to narrow the images down.

My particular favourites were the entire PEI section - which felt very much like a volume 2 of Allan Graham's A Photo History of the Prince Edward Island Railway, if Allan wrote one - as well as a photo of DAR through Windsor and the RSC-24s on the Middleton subdivision.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who is interested in Maritime railroading, or Canadian railroading for that matter.

You can buy this book directly from Bill ( or via Morning Sun's web site.

Five Minute Railfan Guide - Ottawa

A guest post by DaveM

When visiting a city, it can be a bit difficult to find the best places to view trains, especially if you have limited time.  Ottawa is not the hotbed of activity that many other Canadian cities are, but if you look close enough, you can find some railfan activities within this city.  The five places I've chosen are locations where visitors are sure to see some action throughout most of the day.

Locations are on the map below - click on the link below the map to see them in Google Maps.

Point 01 – Overpass Overlooking Ottawa Station
From this vantage point, you have a great overview of the entire station.  The trains departing to and arriving from Montreal go directly on the tracks below the bridge.  The best way to access this location is to park at the Timmies and walk to the bridge.

Point 02 – Bridge over Rideau River at Carleton
This relaxing location is at Carleton University.  To access it, park at any of the parking lots on the south side of the campus and walk to the Rideau River (don’t forget to pay for parking when the school session is on, or you will get a ticket).   This location has a picturesque bridge over rapids.  The sound of the white noise from the rapids is only interrupted by the amplified noise of the train as it passes overhead.

Point 03 – City Centre
The City Centre building is one of my favorite places to railfan in the city, which may be due to its proximity to the Art-Is-In Bakery.  Walk around to the back of the complex and you will find a nice elevated overhang where you can get close to the same elevation as the running train, with the benefit of being out of the elements.

Point 04 – The Tunnel
The best view of this active tunnel is from within the parking garage at the North end of Carleton University campus. From the comfort of this sheltered area, you have a great head-on view of the trains entering and exiting the tunnel.

Point 05 – Walkley Yard Overpass
Parking at the Greenboro transit station, walk to the top of the bridge on Bank Street.  At the top of the bridge you have a vantage point to see the Greenboro station on the west side and the Walkley Yard on the east side.

I hope that this article may lead others to create similar posts on their blogs for their stomping grounds.

Thanks, David!

Friday, May 15, 2015

14 Miles and 5 Trains

Last time, Thomas Sajnovic and I were in Portage la Prairie in the morning of May 3. We had just decided to head back to Winnipeg via the Trans-Canada Highway, and therefore have a CN railfan opportunity.

We headed east, and I had to stop in Oakville to check out the grain elevator... again.

Onward... we ducked into Elie so I could show him the station-turned-house there. A train was heading west through town as we approached the crossing. Missed it by that much!

Onward again... we approached Headingley and I decided to cut up White Plains Road to rejoin the CN Rivers subdivision at mile 20. I was hoping that driving alongside 10 miles of CN two-track main line would yield a train or two. We weren't disappointed!

Almost immediately we spotted a headlight to the east. We stopped and nabbed this four-engine train led by CN 2676.

Note the old ties alongside the track, courtesy of the track replacement CN is doing along the Rivers sub this spring.

Proceeding a little further east, we came across an eastbound train stopped short of Diamond, on the south track. It turned out to be our friend CN 2679, seen in Portage la Prairie earlier that morning! After two hours they had managed to travel 40 miles...

Sadly they were destined to wait a while longer. The next westbound train to pass them (after CN 2676, above) was a train led by some interesting power.

CN 5303, looking pretty shabby, led shiny CN 5261 and a mixed freight train. 5261 is shiny because it was one of the locomotives in CN's recent propane-powered test.

The crew of 2679 were on the ground for the rollby inspection.

I decided to slow things down to show which train was actually moving...

A shutter speed of 1/25s blurred things nicely. I think I was using my monopod (more on that in another post) to keep things steady.

After that, we proceeded east while CN 2679 simmered away. Between Hall Road and the Perimeter I spotted another westbound, so a quick U-turn brought us back to Hall Road to catch CN 5641 and CN 2237 pass one of John Deere's finest.

We were feeling pretty good about the Rivers sub at this point!

I spied what I thought was another headlight to the east, and sure enough, we were fortunate to catch just one more train, east of Carman Junction.

CN 2674 and IC 2714 were on the head end, and CN 2531 was pushing on the rear.

"The End"

Thanks to Thomas Sajnovic for the great company! And thanks to CN and CP for sending out the good trains! ;)

Back to A Morning in Portage la Prairie

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Morning in Portage la Prairie

I am normally a "lone wolf" railfan. I find my time to railfan when I can so it's difficult for me to arrange to meet up with anyone else to see trains, plus when I'm alone I get to decide where to go! So when Thomas Sajnovic messaged me to ask if I was available, I hesitated for a moment and decided "what the heck!" Tom was in town doing some training with CN and we arranged to go out on Sunday, May 3rd. I picked him up at 6 AM and we headed over to the CP yard to start.

The usual collection of old Geeps were by the shops.
CP 8231 and company in Winnipeg
CP 8231 and several other GP9s are for sale, "as is where is".

We stood and watched for a few minutes. I spotted a BNSF unit over by the now-closed Rugby Tower. I took this poor shot and then we hopped in the car to try to get a better angle. Of course, by the time we drove around, two CP locomotives had hooked onto it and were pushing it into the shop area as I tried to stop to photograph it. No picture for you!
BNSF 8235 in Winnipeg
We consoled ourselves with photographing a pair of switchers in the nice sunrise light.
Big stacks on those locomotives!
After that, we headed over to the Prairie Dog Central to get a couple of shots before proceeding to Portage la Prairie.

The PDC had all three of its diesels out.
The Prairie Dog Central fleet
BNSF 1685 is the last Burlington Northern Manitoba Limited locomotive (ex BNML 2). It was donated to the PDC in July 2010. The green loco is 4138 which has been with the PDC for quite a while. The new arrival is 5232, the striped locomotive on the right.
Ex CN, ex CCGX 5232
Long time readers of the blog will recognize this as ex CCGX 5232, which worked for the Central Manitoba Railway (CEMR) for several years. I first spotted 5232 in September 2009 when she was still lettered as ANY 5232, ex Athabasca Northern. I've written about 5232 many times.

A volunteer who was around at this early hour told me that 5232 was acquired to work on the PDC's car storage business. This six axle power will pull a lot more than the Geeps!

The volunteer - sorry, I can't recall his name - invited us to have a look at #3, the PDC's steam engine. It was still warm from a run the previous night.

Being in the shade, it was a little difficult to photograph. I did the best I could.

A couple of CP westbound trains rolled by while we were chatting. 

Once we were done at the PDC, we hit the road for Meadows and beyond. I had to pause briefly at Meadows to shoot yet another photo of the grain elevator...

Then we carried on to Marquette - no grain elevator there any more, of course - and on toward Portage la Prairie. While traveling the back roads near Poplar Point, I spotted this grain elevator at a (Mennonite?) colony.

I spotted this nice barn near there too.

Anyway, we finally made it to Portage la Prairie. Tom spotted a rail grinder moving on the CP tracks, so we made our way over there and found LIMX 3411 tying up.

Sadly LIMX 3411 derailmed in Portage the day after we saw it.

While admiring this magnificent piece of equipment, I spotted movement on the CP... and I spotted yellow UP engines! We sprinted for the tracks to capture UP 3556 and UP 3645 leading CP 9562 and a grain train.

While we were admiring that train, Tom spotted movement on the CN side, so over we went! This was CN 2679 leading an intermodal train east.

CN 8877 was about 3/4 of the train back, providing DPU power.

That's the best part of railfanning Portage - action on both tracks!

That train finished going past us at 09:02. We decided to go see the CP station. After we arrived there, we spotted a westbound train on the CN at 09:15. CN 2200 led 8838 and 8901 past the station.

The station is looking good! A big shout out to everyone working to restore the station.

I like the ex Manitoba Hydro locomotive.

I'm guessing it was nicknamed "Snoopy".

CP 3111 was the resident switcher in the CP yard.

After those three trains in Portage, there was a lull. We decided to head back to Winnipeg via the Trans-Canada, which meant there was a potential for CN action... and there was! To be continued...

Other Portage la Prairie posts