Friday, April 29, 2016

Off to 'Vator Fan

I'm heading out early tomorrow morning to photograph around 24 grain elevators... another long day, much like my northern Manitoba trip last summer.

This should knock all but one grain elevator off my list of remaining elevators. That one is at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum near Austin.

I'm heading out around 3:30 AM to be at the first target grain elevator, Clanwilliam, at 6:15 a few minutes after sunrise. If I'm lucky I'll get there a bit early.

Sunset is at 20:44 so I'll be at the last elevator, Cromer, in the dark. I'll have to do a long exposure to get that one, and maybe a little light painting. I wish I had caught Cromer in my southwest elevator trip but I didn't know about that elevator at the time. Like the Pokémon song says, gotta catch 'em all!

Here's the map of the elevators I intend to visit... just ignore that one in the middle as I won't be visiting that one yet.

Podcasts are loaded, cameras are cleaned, batteries are charged and caffeine is ready... let's go! Read on!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Grain Elevators of the CP Stirling Subdivision

Last fall, Jason Paul Sailer and I travelled along the former CP Stirling subdivision in Alberta. This subdivision had not seen a train in a long time and was up for abandonment. Since that time, the subdivision may be sold to the Forty Mile Rail Line group, who were expecting to begin operations on June 1, 2016. More on that below.

History of the Stirling Subdivision

CP Stirling subdivision timetable, 1938
The Stirling subdivision used to run between Lethbridge and Manyberries, as shown in the September 25, 1938 employee timetable entry to the right.

At some point the CP Montana subdivision was defined to run between Lethbridge and Coutts / the US border, and the track from Stirling east became the CP Stirling subdivision.

In 2005 CP listed a portion of the Stirling subdivision for abandonment from Foremost to Etzikom. That portion is now dismantled and the remainder of the Stirling subdivision (Foremost to Stirling) is listed on CP's 3 year plan. Presumably CP would keep a short spur to service the Pioneer elevator shown below.


I picked Jason up in Lethbridge and we headed down to Stirling. The town of Stirling is on the CP Montana subdivision and at one time was an important junction with the Stirling subdivision and the Cardston subdivision. Both of those subdivisions are now spurs up for abandonment.

There are no grain elevators in Stirling now, except for this cut-off elevator in a farmer's eclectic collection of storage structures. Check out those shipping containers!
A "convertible" grain elevator?

Pioneer Grain Elevator

There is a large concrete Richardson Pioneer grain elevator just west of highway 4 on the Stirling spur. This massive 28,900 tonne structure was a UGG/Agricore structure when first constructed in 1998 and was originally 15,000 tonnes. The steel bins on each side were added around 2005 and it was acquired by Pioneer in 2008-2009.

The facility has four tracks - 2 for loading and 2 for storage - and can handle cars up to 268,000 lbs. each.

There was one hopper spotted at the elevator and two spotted at the east end of the tracks when we visited.

After photographing the elevator for a few minutes, we moved on.


At one time there were two grain elevators in Judson. The N. Bawlf grain elevator was built in 1917, and changed hands several times before closing in 1984. The Alberta Wheat Pool elevator was built in 1928, expanded with annexes twice, and closed in 1985.

There is nothing there now except a single house and a few bins.


There are two grain elevators in Wrentham, a former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator and a lovely old ex-Ogilvie Flour elevator. Until fairly recently there were three AWP elevators in Wrentham (1999 photos)

Ogilvie Flour Elevator

The Ogilvie elevator is owned by the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society. This group, headed by Cody Kapcsos and Jason Paul Sailer, wishes to restore the elevator and maybe move it to the Galt Historic Railway Park (read more about the elevator and the society)

Since Jason had the keys, we could go in!

The office has the original tin walls. These are common in old grain elevator offices because the motor that drove the leg was located in the basement area of the office and the tin was there to protect against fire.

The office also has original shelving, some mysterious keys, and some old forms used by the elevator agent.

The original engine is pictured on the right. It powered the leg from here. I believe it is a gasoline engine. You can see the tin on the walls.

This elevator was built in 1925 with a capacity of 35,000 bushels. The balloon annex was added in 1950, and it was acquired by the Alberta Wheat Pool in 1958 as AWP #2 in Wrentham. In 1968 it was sold to a private farmer and the Society acquired it in 2014.

The elevator itself is a little dusty, as most elevators are.

The original chalk board is present, showing what was in each of the elevator's bins, along with the omnipresent warnings against fire in country grain elevators.

I was amused to see that the scale was built by the the Manitoba Bridge and Engineering Works Ltd. aka Dominion Bridge.

Once we finished the tour, we took a few more photos of the elevator and the overgrown rails.

Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator

The Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Wrentham is the last remaining of the three that used to stand here. It was Alberta Wheat Pool #2. This was the largest; the other two stood between this one and the Ogilvie elevator.

The other two Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators were:

  • N. Bawlf Grain elevator, built 1917, became Alberta Pacific Grain in 1941, Federal Grain in 1967, Alberta Wheat Pool #3 in 1972, closed in 1999, demolished in 2000
  • Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, built 1928, became Alberta Wheat Pool #1 in 1930, closed 1999, demolished in 2000


There is nothing left at Conrad except for the old station sign and a few homes. ( article / Conrad station sign)

There were two Alberta Wheat Pool elevators here. #1 was built in 1934. I am not sure when they were demolished.


Former Parrish and Heimbecker grain elevator in Skiff, Alberta
The town of Skiff hosts a former Parrish and Heimbecker grain elevator. This elevator has a capacity of 4,060 tonnes and is apparently in use by a local owner. It was originally an Ellison Milling elevator built in 1929, acquired by Parrish and Heimbecker in 1975.

Skiff used to have two Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators with a combined capacity of 7,340 tonnes but those were demolished around the year 2000 (Chris Stackhouse image of all three). AWP #1 was built in 1929 with a capacity of 40,000 bushels and AWP #2 was built in 1954 with an 83,000 bushel capacity.

At one time CP stored a couple dozen cars at or near Skiff for preservation purposes. A few did go to worthy organizations such as the above mentioned Galt Historic Railway Park, but most were scrapped on site in early 2011.
Grain elevator in Skiff Alberta
Public domain photo from Wikimedia, taken by Cody Kapcsos, I believe
Eric Gagnon has an extensive post on these Skiff cars.

I do love those yellow Parrish and Heimbecker elevators!

Kuehn Farms

Kuehn Farms grain elevator
There is a private elevator located near Skiff at Kuehn Farms. I don't think it ever had rail access.


There were two grain elevators at Legend:

  • Alberta Wheat Pool, built 1929, closed 1989. Its original capacity was 40,000 bushels.
  • United Grain Growers, built 1936, closed 1998. The original elevator had a capacity of 30,000 bushels. The elevator's annex is located south of Nemiskam.


The grain elevators of Foremost, Alberta
The town of Foremost has an eclectic collection of elevators: a concrete Buffalo 2000 grain elevator, a former Agricore wooden elevator, and a diminutive private elevator.

Buffalo 2000

This large Buffalo 2000 elevator was built in 1983, but lasted in service for just less than 20 years before being closed and acquired by a local group. Note the loading apparatus in the photo above - it could apparently load two tracks at the same time. You can also see the remains of the Agricore logo on the side of the elevator.

I wrote extensively about Buffalo grain elevators after Jason and I visited Magrath, AB.

Ex Agricore / Alberta Wheat Pool

Ex Agricore grain elevator in Foremost, Alberta
Note that this elevator still has a full Agricore logo, over top of the Alberta Wheat Pool lettering. Also note the "NO. 2" above the driveway door, indicating this was not the only AWP elevator in Foremost at one time.

Until 1999-2000 there was a UGG grain elevator agglomeration in Foremost, with a capacity of 5,090 tonnes (photo). I encourage you to check that link out as the UGG elevator apparently had an older, smaller one beside the main elevator as an annex.

Frankish Farms

Frankish Farms elevator in Foremost, AB
The third elevator in Foremost is this interesting one owned by Frankish Farms Ltd. It looks like it is entirely clad in metal. This was originally a Lake of the Woods Milling elevator, built in 1925 with a capacity of 30,000 bushels.

Note that Foremost is the end of track for the CP Stirling subdivision at this time. The photo at right was taken at mile 0.14 facing west. The track continues just a bit east of highway 61 and ends with no ceremony.

Jason and I turned north on highway 61 so we didn't proceed any farther east.

There were several other stations past Foremost that no longer have any rail service. I will list each one below and share photos as I have found them.


Nemiscam was mile 28.0 and in 1938 boasted a 59 car siding, like almost all sidings on the subdivision at that time.

Nemiscam/Nemiskam had a number of grain elevators over the years but none remain.

  • Pioneer Grain, built 1915, closed 1925
  • Western Canada Flour Mills, built 1915, closed 1925
  • Alberta Pacific Grain, built 1915, became Federal Grain then UGG, closed 1988
  • Victoria Elevator Company, built 1917, closed 1924
  • UGG #1, built 1917, closed 1982
  • Alberta Pool Elevators, built 1928, became Alberta Wheat Pool, expanded twice, closed 1997


The tiny hamlet of Etzikom is home to the Canadian National Historic Windmill Centre, which apparently hosts dozens of windmills.

Etzikom has a steel grain elevator, built in 1988 and closed in 2001. This photo was taken by Jason Paul Sailer in 2015. The elevator is owned by a private farmer.
Etzikom grain elevator, by Jason Paul Sailer

The below photo by Bill Hooper is from August 2000 and shows two CP GP38 locomotives parked at the former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Etzikom. They would leave the power there overnight and come back in the morning to run back to Stirling. I'd love to hear more about the shorter elevator!
EtzikomAB 8-1-2000
Flickr photo by Bill Hooper


Pakowki was mile 13.2 and in 1938 also had a 59 car siding.


Orion was at mile 6.6 of the Stirling subdivision in 1938. The town of Orion had two Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators until near the end of the 20th century.


The town of Manyberries was the start of the CP Stirling subdivision in 1938. It was also mile 122.1 of the CP Altawan subdivision that ran to Shaunavon. A portion of that subdivision still exists today, from Consul to Shaunavon, operated by the Great Western Railway.

There are no grain elevators remaining in Manyberries but until recently it had an Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator and a UGG grain elevator.

The old train station exists in Manyberries, with a CP wooden caboose on display outside. (Flickr photo)
Manyberries Train Station
Flickr photo of Manyberries station and caboose, by Terry Lawson

The Future

This article talks about the 40 Mile Rail Group's interest to purchase the CP Stirling subdivision. It was published in mid March and aims to base its operations in Foremost, shipping grain and pulse crops to the CP main line at Stirling. The spokesperson, Len Mitzel, said they have more than 100 shareholders and were planning to start on June 1.

Given that we are nearing the end of April, it seems unlikely that the June 1 target will be achieved. The group seems to have gone "radio silent" so it's hard to know what is happening with the line. UPDATE: They have opened!

Thanks to Jason for the tour of the line. Check out his blog!

More from Alberta:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stunning Drone Video of Salmon River Trestle

François Foulem has produced this video of the impressive Salmon River Trestle - with a train on it! - near New Denmark, New Brunswick. Check it out.

Here's the link if you can't view it as an embedded video.

I featured one of his videos before, of the VIA Rail Ocean near Bathurst.

Check out François' other videos - he's been all over New Brunswick with his drone.

More about CN's impressive Salmon River trestle by reading these posts:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Quickies From This Weekend

While I'm working on a longer blog post, I thought I'd share a few trains I saw this weekend. It was a rainy, gray weekend but I got out to railfan a bit anyway.


After I visited Pete's Sparetime Hobbies near Transcona, I drove up to Day Street to see what was new at CEMR. The answer: nothing much. The two Railink units I saw back in March are still there, with hood doors open. A couple of CEMR units were shunting the yard.

I saw headlights on the CP line to the east, so I parked a little way away from the crossing and walked back to wait for CP 8604 and CP 8722 to roll past Manson on the CP Keewatin subdivision.
CP 8604 in Winnipeg
As I said, it was a grey weekend.

There was one interesting car in the consist, a former Rio Grande hopper that clearly was relettered a few times before becoming a CP car.
Rio Grande - The Action Line

I went back to CEMR to photograph the two units crossing Day Street. I think they were just shunting cars in the yard.
CEMR 4002 and CCGX 4119 in Winnipeg
That was Saturday.


On Sunday afternoon I went to Gooch's Hobbies and then took the long way home along the CN Rivers subdivision via Wilkes Avenue. I was outrunning a westbound CN freight led by CN 2036 and BCOL 4622.

I noticed there was a train facing east so I hastened to get the meet. It turned out that CN 2226 East was stopped just short of Harstone Road.
CN 2226 in Winnipeg
I don't know why they were stopped - maybe they had an unintended emergency brake application? The tail end was at mile 10 so the almost 2 mile long train was blocking Harstone Road, Community Row and Charleswood Road. Eastbound CN trains normally stop short of Charleswood Road so they don't block any crossings.

CN 2036 West came along in good time.
Fancy meeting you here
I relocated to mile 10 to video the approaching train. While I waited, the container train started rolling away, and CN 2036 West seemed to have slowed down quite a bit while it passed the container train. Maybe they were doing an inspection as they passed. 2036  was accelerating when I recorded it.

Sunday's photos were taken with my iPhone 6 as I didn't have my DSLR with me. These phone cameras do a pretty decent job!

P.S. If you're wondering why I was visiting model train stores, I was taking photos of the exteriors for the model train directory I've built... plus dropping in on stores I don't visit frequently.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Canada's Riskiest Train Crossings

The CBC has broken a story about a Transport Canada database listing Canada's "highest risk" railway crossings. The gist of the article is that TC should have made this list available to municipalities and the public. (update: it will be shared)

I can't comment on that but I imagine it wasn't shared because:

  1. TC didn't think anyone else was interested; and/or
  2. TC wasn't entirely confident of their algorithms and didn't want them challenged.

In any case, a slightly older version of the database is available for searching at the bottom of the article above. You can enter your city and it will list the crossings in your area that are in the database.

Driver Error

Winnipeg's Waverley Street crossing was listed as one of the top 5 riskiest in Winnipeg (CBC article). The CBC article interviewed a woman whose vehicle was struck on the crossing... after she stopped on the tracks. The Manitoba Highway Traffic Act is quite clear on this:
135.1       No person shall stop a vehicle (a) within a railway crossing; or (b) in a location where any part of the vehicle is over a track in a railway crossing.
Seems pretty clear to me.

As you may know, I'm not in favour of the $155 million plan to replace this crossing with an overpass. The accident above was totally preventable - don't stop on the tracks. Period.

And don't get me started on people who drive around gates...


Many rural crossings were built decades ago when trains and cars were slower, and they are obsolete.

The tragic accident near Elie, Manitoba early this year is an example of this. The accident happened after a hockey game, probably at night, and VIA 2 hit their truck at about 70 MPH at the 7W grade crossing here. 15 year old Taylor Piskor was critically injured, and her father was also injured. Sadly Taylor died in early March.

The sight lines would be great at that crossing, but it's hard to judge train speeds, especially at night. When you see a headlight in the distance, what do you do? Do you wait, knowing that you could be delayed 5-10 minutes (or more), or do you proceed?

Humans are not always good at assessing risks. We are good at recognizing high probability / high consequence risks ("should I go into that tiger cage?") but not good at recognizing low probability / high consequence risks ("should I race the train?"). This is why we pour billions of dollars into airport security when an American is more likely to be crushed by falling furniture than killed by a terrorist.

We suck at risk assessment, which is why we rely on automated protections so much.

Inherent Problems

I agree that many of the crossings shown in this follow-up article have inherent problems. Sight-lines are a big problem. The Hall Road crossing here is a good example, and it is listed in Winnipeg's highest risk crossings. I know that you can't see to the right / east until you are practically on the rails, because the sight lines are terrible and the road is lower than the tracks.

Another common issue is a road intersection very close to the tracks. This can cause traffic to back up onto the tracks... even though you're not supposed to stop on tracks (see above). I recall a crossing in rural Nova Scotia had a truck-train collision several years ago because of this; the truck stopped at the intersection but the trailer was hanging over the tracks.


In many cases, I believe the solution is to close the crossing.

It can cost $250,000 or more to put a full railway crossing with lights and gates in, and then it has to be maintained forever at a significant cost. There has to be a cost/benefit analysis done and in many cases the benefit of increased safety at a crossing is not worth the cost. So close the crossing and make drivers go an extra couple of kilometers.

In the Hall Road example above, there is a much safer crossing 3.5 km to the west (with lights and gates and good sight lines), or the Perimeter Highway overpass 2 km to the east (an overpass). Just close it.

Transport Canada has a grade crossing closure program.

In many cases, though, closing the crossing is not an option. Each crossing has to be examined on its own merit and often there is no simple solution. Keep in mind that in most cases the municipality / province has to bear the cost of upgrading the crossings, because the railway was there first and the road came later.

So we need to upgrade some crossings. Let's get to it and make our crossings safer.

In the meantime, stop - look - listen and don't proceed unless you're sure it is safe. It's better to wait a few minutes while a train passes than to take a chance and lose... big time.

More information:

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My First Published Article

I'm proud to announce that my first article in print has been published in the March-April 2016 issue of Branchline magazine!

The cover photo is mine as well, showing a trio of Stewart Southern locomotives.

The article is about the Stewart Southern Railway in Saskatchewan and is based on my series on that railway. I took the series, added some more details and basically rewrote it for the magazine. They took it and did some great editing before publishing it.

Thank you very much to Branchline for publishing it! I hope to have my second article published sometime this summer or fall; it's being edited now. I have the topic for my third article and I'll start writing that soon.

You can find Branchline magazine at your local hobby store, or you can subscribe online.

I must say, it's a thrill to see your words in print!