Saturday, July 25, 2015

Inside the Inglis Elevators

As part of my northwest Manitoba grain elevator trip, I visited the elevator row in Inglis, Manitoba. I wrote about the outsides of the elevators here and now I'm going to write about the interiors.

Inglis has two elevators that are open to the public, the N.M. Paterson elevator on the end and the Reliance grain elevator in the middle of the five elevators. The Paterson office holds the site office and gift shop, so stop in here to find the tour guide and pay your fee for the tour. Don't do what I did and wander into the elevator on your own! :)

The N.M. Paterson Elevator

The Paterson elevator in Inglis is open to the public. You can stick your head in one of the 20 bins to look up to see how far up it goes.
A bin in Inglis' Paterson grain elevator

I used flash to illuminate it as far as I could. I think this bin has been modified somewhat as I don't think they would have had those horizontal boards - a place for grain to accumulate.

This is the selector wheel, used to select which bin the grain would flow into.
Grain elevator selector wheel

This is the manlift for the elevator. Basically you step on it, step on the bar across the floor to disengage the brake, then pull on the rope hand-over-hand to pull yourself (and the platform) up. There are counterweights to make the job easier. On the way down you simply step on the brake lever and you glide down.

The counterweights are calibrated to be a little less weight than the operator. Obviously people who weigh significantly different than the operator can't use the manlift very well. The manlifts at Inglis are immobile, fortunately.
Grain elevator manlift

The balloon annex is filled with a photo gallery and a little movie viewing area. It is all very nicely done. When I visited, they had a display called "Echoes From The Dust: The Disappearing Prairie Grain Elevator".

Most if not all were by Tim Van Horn, who has a great collection of grain elevator photos on Flickr.

The Reliance Elevator

One of the Reliance elevators is also open to the public.

Here's the elevator's "leg" with the door open to show the individual cups that bring the grain to the top for distribution into the bins. The selector wheel is visible at the top.
Grain elevator leg

Here's a look up the manlift "shaft". It's not really a shaft at all and the manlifts are pretty crude as far as person-elevators go.
Manlift shaft

This is the driveway in the Reliance elevator, showing the grating in the floor where the grain was dumped.
Reliance driveway

The Reliance Office

Every elevator had some kind of office, either attached or nearby, where the elevator agent worked. The agent was responsible for the elevator and worked from here when he wasn't in the elevator itself.

The engine that drove the elevator's leg were generally located in the office building, to reduce the risk of fire from the engine. I'm guessing the tin on the walls was to help reduce the fire risk as well. I've seen tin on other elevator office walls as well.

Signs and Details

Here are a few signs in and on the Inglis grain elevators. I've seen some of these at other elevators, especially the second "no smoking" sign.

I love the Ukrainian text

Always make your nightly inspection before closing

A very common sign on grain elevators
Thanks for my guide - she was very helpful - and thanks for reading!

Further reading:

Friday, July 24, 2015

The First Decade, in Statistics

We were vacationing on Vancouver Island when Confessions of a Train Geek turned 10. I totally missed it. I guess that's good, focusing on vacation instead of on my blog...

My first post was on July 9, 2005. As my wife just pointed out, we were on vacation then, too, returning from visiting Quebec and Montreal. I guess I made my first post in a hotel room in Edmundston, NB!

I celebrated post #2500 just two months ago and reminisced then, so it seems redundant to go over it again. Instead, I'll provide statistics! Whee!

I only have statistics from May 2010 to now in Blogger, so my statistics are really only for the last 5 years.

In the last 5 years, this blog had 851,460 page views. I'd like to double that to account for lifetime page views but I'm sure it was less than that in the first 5!

My most popular post by far is January 2015's Instagram for Railfans, with a distant second being a post about Thomas the Tank Engine coming to Canada in 2013.

Google and my own account for the majority of referrals, with Eric Gagnon's Trackside Treasure providing the top blog referrals. Google eclipses Bing and Yahoo! in referrals by more than 10 to 1! Let's not talk about AltaVista...

Several variants of "train" and "geek" are the top search terms, with "via derailment", "grain elevator", "winnipeg" and "CN train" rounding out the top 10.

Canada is obviously the top traffic source, but the US is not far behind; France, China and Germany fill out the top 5 countries visiting this blog. I honestly would have expected the UK to rank higher but it's #6 on the list.

Internet Explorer is the top browser, followed by Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. Mobile and search browsers follow. Recent stats show that IE has fallen way behind so I think the Internet Explorer hits were from a few years ago before the rise of Chrome.

This one is not a surprise - most visitors use Windows, with Mac users a distant second. However, if you look at the last month, mobile devices are used by a pretty significant percentage of my readers.

I have 1817 comments on my blog. The oldest is a comment on this post. Who knows - maybe Chris McMahon was my first reader! ;)

For those of you who read to the end, I salute you! Thanks for reading, as always.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paintball With Museum Cars?

Diner 5433, Hillsborough, July 2006
The CBC recently reported that the New Brunswick Railway Museum recently turned two railway cars (a sleeper and a diner) over to the paintball business next door to it in Hillsborough. The paintball group (Atlantica Outdoor Recreation Centre) will be using the cars as props for their paintball and other games.

Museum curator Art Clowes (disclaimer: a friend of mine) said that the museum is unable to afford the upkeep for some of its cars, so the paintball group will look after them until the museum is able to restore them. Atlantica owner Aaron Nelson said they would do some minimal maintenance on them.

A bed in the sleeper
The CBC article failed to mention that the museum already turned over the remains of a CN flanger and an old outside-braced boxcar (perhaps two?) to the group.

The cars were all on the south leg of the wye in Hillsborough by June 20th.

The cars involved are:

  • Diner 5433, originally CN 5433
  • Sleeper Saint John River, originally NYC 10161, Agawam River
  • Flanger 56471 (burned in the 1994 fire)
  • Boxcars 74857 and 74886 (burned in the 1994 fire)

Personally, I have no issue with it. I know the NB Railway Museum is desperately short of volunteers and of money, so if someone can find a use for these cars other than scrap metal, they should go for it. Commenters on the CBC talked about the use of cars for rental cabins... all well and good but it all requires money and time, both in short supply. The NBRM has had its issues with volunteers in the past (I know, I volunteered there for several years) but I'm firmly of the opinion that if you aren't willing to help, you don't get to complain about how things are done.

The dinner train in happier times. Hiram Creek Trestle, June 2002.
Keep in mind that the diner hasn't been used since the last dinner train in 2004, and the sleeper hasn't had any maintenance except for a coat of paint several years ago. The flanger and the boxcars were damaged in the tragic 1994 fire and since then have languished on the scale track. Nobody paid any attention to them as they were basically written off. It's lucky they weren't sold for scrap.

I'm interested to hear what you think of the use of these cars.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Northwest Manitoba Elevator Trip - The Road Home

This post is part 5 of a series featuring the grain elevators of northwest Manitoba. Please visit here for the first of the series.

After Birch River, it was time to head east and make my way home. I had three elevators left to capture, with Ethelbert being the first.

On my way to Ethelbert, I saw these two lovely old vehicles set up on the side of the road. Someone seemed to have placed them just for their picture value... I appreciate that!

I think Savenkoff and Son won't be needing this any more
Its cruising days are over
It took a bit of careful positioning to keep the power poles out of the shot.

Shortly after that, I stumbled across the Louisiana Pacific OSB mill near Minitonas.

The mill is very close to the end of the former CN Cowan subdivision. There's a crossing by the mill at mile 84.03 and the line officially ends at 83.5. You can see a pair of tank cars parked on that last 0.53 miles.

The mill itself is pretty large.

As far as I saw from ground level, and later from Google's satellite view, the facility has a double-ended siding that runs through one of their buildings, as well as a short spur for car storage. In this photo you can see some cars "on the main", with the siding branching off in the foreground and about a dozen boxcars stored on the spur in the background.

I understand that Louisiana Pacific is converting this mill to make SmartSide wood siding and adding about 40 jobs, so that bodes well for the survival of the railway here.

I did not linger for more than a couple of minutes, as I had a schedule to keep and I was slipping!

After passing through Cowan, and grabbing an ice cream from the corner store there, I carried on to Ethelbert.


The town of Ethelbert has a single grain elevator, a former Manitoba Pool/Agricore elevator with a large annex.

This is actually the "B" elevator, as there was an "A" elevator at one point. The foundation appears to be still in place.

Note the difference in lighting. The first Ethelbert photo was taken later, after the sun came out to play. It sure makes a difference having the elevator lit up!

Ethelbert was on the CN Cowan subdivision. A November 1922 article in Canadian National Railways Magazine notes that Ethelbert had a 6.75 million Imperial gallon water reservoir to supply water for steam engines, since many Western towns did not have abundant water like mountain or eastern towns. The article is reprinted in the May-June 1993 Canadian Rail (PDF).

The elevator was listed in the Canadian Grain Commission's list through 2001 with a capacity of 4,550 tonnes.

There is an old railway bridge near the grain elevator. I photographed it but I didn't dare step on it... it could use some work.

(I combined three images using HDR for this photo as the dynamic range was too much for a single photo)

After photographing the elevator, and a couple of churches in the town, I carried on toward Winnipegosis "cross country".

I quickly discovered an old annex on private property just outside town. This wooden annex may have belonged to the "A" elevator in Ethelbert.

On to Winnipegosis!


The National grain elevator in Winnpegosis is a nice-looking structure. It consists of the elevator plus a low balloon annex.

The elevator itself has developed a bit of a lean.

There is a low shed on the other side of the elevator, which apparently was for selling coal and perhaps other commodities like fertilizer.


There is a train station in Winnipegosis, down by the marina at what was once the end of the CN Winnipegosis subdivision. It looks like it is being restored.

This station is a Canadian Northern 3rd class "type A" station.

When I first wrote this post, my research indicated that the station was designed by Ralph Benjamin Pratt, a prolific architect and designed many stations and other buildings in western Canada, including the Prince Edward Hotel in Brandon, the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium, and the Virden CP train station.

I've been told that Mr. Pratt worked for the CPR between 1895 and 1901, so he came after these stations were designed. It's more likely that Mackenzie or Mann of the Canadian Northern designed the station plan. (interesting article on CNoR-influenced stations in Alberta)

The railway reached Winnipegosis in 1897. CN used to run a Dauphin-Winnpegosis mixed train service well into the 1970s until they were permitted to drop it in 1977. Like many prairie branch lines, service declined and the CN Winnipegosis subdivision was abandoned in stages, with Winnipegosis losing service around 1983 and the last vestiges ending in 1997.

On to the last elevator of this trip...

Fork River

Compared to Winnipegosis, Fork River's elevator looks very modern and well kept. The entire elevator is clad in new-looking siding. Note the lack of a spout on the track side. I imagine that was removed when the siding was redone.

The Fork River grain elevator was a Manitoba Pool Elevators structure, with a capacity of 2,070 tonnes in 1998. More details here.

Here's a long view of the area showing the various bins around the elevator.

The Voyage Home

I took my last photo of the Fork River elevator at 8:23 PM, and it was time to head home. By this time I was on the road for 17 hours and 40 minutes... I was a little tired.

I picked up some fast food and gas in Dauphin and carried on south. I stopped at McCreary to grab a couple of photos.

I carried on to Neepawa and Portage la Prairie. I remember seeing the headlights of a CN train leaving Portage, but by that point I just wanted to get home, so I continued on the Trans-Canada to Winnipeg and home.

I arrived at home at 12:56, and after stumbling into our house, I went to bed, reminiscing about another great trip.

By the Numbers

  • 1338 km driven, over
  • 21 hours 46 minutes, to capture
  • 20 new-to-me grain elevators, while listening to
  • uncounted podcasts and songs

I have two more posts to write. One will features interior details of the grain elevators at Inglis and the other will show some of the churches I photographed on my way through northwest Manitoba.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.. I really appreciate it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Northwest Manitoba Elevator Trip - North to Birch River

This post is part 4 of a series featuring the grain elevators of northwest Manitoba. Start at the beginning.

After I reluctantly left Inglis, I headed north to pick up a number of grain elevators en route to Birch River. I passed through Roblin again, and fueled up at the local Co-Op before continuing to the Viterra concrete elevator just north of town.


This elevator is on the tail of a wye off the CN Togo subdivision. CN lists it with a capacity of 12,300 tonnes and the ability to spot 50+ cars.

It was a long drive north on highway 83 to my next destination, Kenville, to see the Pioneer grain elevator there.


In my planning I had considered ducking into Saskatchewan during this part of the trip to grab elevators near the MB-SK border, but the trip was long enough without getting greedy. Keep your eye on the prize!

I arrived at the GPS coordinates for the Kenville elevator to find... this.

There should be an elevator on the left side of the photo, but no, nothing. I checked my coordinates, I checked the mileage on the crossing sign (CN Preeceville mile 7.74)... all correct. I drove in and saw the cleared area where the elevator was but it had been demolished sometime in late 2014, since Matt Tolton last photographed it in July 2014.

Here's what it looked like, courtesy of Google Street View.

It had a capacity of 3,280 tonnes, pretty small for online elevators these days. Kenville had a Pool elevator but that apparently came down around 1999-2000.

Kenville was disappointing.

I carried on north toward Swan River, where I knew there were two, maybe three elevators. On the way I found the junction between the Preeceville subdivision and the stub of the CN Cowan subdivision, at the impressively named Thunderhill Junction.

This was a telephoto shot from a crossing 0.2 miles away so there is some heat blur. Thunderhill Junction is at mile 96.8 and the former Cowan subdivision is now the Swan River spur, extending 1.7 miles north of the Junction into Swan River, and extending 13.3 miles south/east to a Louisiana Pacific OSB (Oriented Strand Board) mill. More about that later.

Swan River

I drove into Swan River to find one grain elevator remaining in the town itself, a Cargill elevator.

You can see the original elevator plus annex has had a couple of concrete silos added. It has a capacity of 5,600 tonnes.

There is a wye behind the grain elevator. You can see one leg of the wye in the foreground of the photo above.

I would say it doesn't get used any more.

There was a second grain elevator on the other side of the tracks from this elevator, and it still shows in Google's satellite view, but it's gone. This may have been Swan River D with a capacity of 3,750 tonnes.
You can see the existing Cargill elevator inside the wye, and the former elevator casting a long shadow at the bottom of the image above. This image and this image show elevator D, a concrete elevator with a crib annex. It was gone by the end of 2009.

Mark Perry took this photo of two CN trains in Swan River, Manitoba back on May 1, 1996. CN train 581 (Dauphin-Birch River) had CN 4769 and CN 4728 and CN train 587 (Canora-Swan River) had CN 6003, CN 5547 and CN 5244.
CN trains 581 and 587 in Swan River, MB in 1996. Photo by Mark Perry
There is another grain elevator at the north end of town, Swan River A, which looks like a former Manitoba Pool elevator. In fact it was an Agricore elevator back in 2004 and had a capacity of 5,680 tonnes.

As you can see, there was a car spotted at the elevator.

In fact there were about a half dozen other cars just south of the elevator. They were a variety of road names including this interesting car formerly owned by the Frank Brothers Feed and Grain Company of Wells, Minnesota.
It looks like the Frank Brothers were in financial difficulty at one point. Their elevator in Wells was recently demolished.

Sadly these two elevators are slated for demolition. They were closed as of May 31 2015 and this Cargill notice says they will be demolished by the end of 2015.

I'm glad I was able to photograph them before they go.

Swan River Valley

Swan River was the junction of the Cowan and Erwood subdivisions. The CN Erwood subdivision is now a 7.1 mile spur that terminates at a Pioneer grain elevator north of Swan River.

This elevator seems to be doing well so hopefully that will keep the remaining trackage in operation for years to come.

Note the derail right on the "main line" at mile 5.01.

Since it's the end of the line, all three tracks can be used for loading!

A little waiting for the sun to pop out produced this side shot of the Pioneer Swan River Valley elevator.

CN lists this elevator as 13,310 tonnes capacity with the ability to spot 100+ cars.

Next up was Bowsman, where I did not expect to find an elevator. I had been told it came down and I confirmed there was no elevator (or track) there.

En route to Bowsman I did spy this farm elevator just off the highway.

It is a bit of a Frankenstein affair, apparently.

Birch River

The town of Birch River has a single grain elevator, a lovely old ex-UGG elevator and annex.

The UGG logo still shows loud and proud, if a bit faded.

It doesn't look like the elevator is in use any more. I hope something can be done to preserve this lovely relic.

I did a little HDR photo with my iPhone 6 to include the Champion grader and the little tractor nearby, against the sun.

A bit of trivia - Birch River is the most northerly remaining wooden grain elevator in Manitoba.

I thought it was funny that a CN Police sign still stood beside the former right-of-way even though the rails have been gone for a number of years.

I wrote a post on the Birch River grain elevator.

That was the end of that leg of the trip. I had three elevators left to photograph: Ethelbert, Winnipegosis and Fork River. Along the way I photographed a few churches and other interesting stuff... read on.