Sunday, August 27, 2017

How I Got The Shot: VIA 78

VIA 78 at Jeannette's Creek, Ontario
This is VIA 905 leading a four-car VIA 78 at Jeannette's Creek, Ontario on August 14th, 2017. This post will explain how I got this shot. I will explain how I planned to catch the train, and how I decided where to catch it. I hope you can get a tip or two to help you improve your own photography.

Planning Ahead of Time

I was working in the Leamington, Ontario area on August 14-16 and I hoped to catch a VIA train passing by one evening. You may remember I was there around the same time in 2012 and caught VIA 78 leaving Windsor. This time I wanted to see a VIA train "en route".

Which Train?

I didn't care too much about which direction the train was going, although I would have preferred a westbound given that I was photographing in the evening. I looked at VIA's schedule page for the Toronto-London-Windsor schedule and the Windsor-London-Toronto schedule.

Here's the eastbound schedule. I could link to the PDF but it'll break soon when they switch to a new schedule.
VIA schedule Windsor to Toronto
Looking at this schedule, the only train that passes between Windsor and Chatham in the evening is VIA 78.

What about westbounds?
VIA schedule Toronto to Windsor
There were two westbound evening trains, VIA 75 and 79. Clearly VIA 79 is too late for photography - it would be dark - and VIA 75 would be pushing the light as it would be after 9 PM.

VIA 78 was my best bet.

Now Where?

I did a fair bit of work with Google Maps looking for a location. I considered the area between Tecumseh and Chatham as a reasonable area to reach after work and before VIA 78 went through.

The railway skirts the south edge of Lake St. Clair. That looked very attractive to me - a lakeside train photo? Yes please!

However, a lot of Street View viewing showed me that the railway isn't actually next to the lake, and there always seems to be a row of houses and/or trees between the railway and the lake. Not so attractive.

On a previous visit, I had tried to catch VIA at Belle River just NW of Saint Joachim on the above map, but missed the train by "that much". I didn't really like the location so I didn't want to return there.

After poking around on the map, I kept coming back to Jeannette's Creek.

The circled areas were of particular interest, mostly because of their proximity to water.

So, the decision was made... Jeannette's Creek.


VIA 78 was scheduled to leave Windsor at 17:45 and arrive in Chatham at 18:32. I looked at where Jeannette's Creek was in relation to those two, and it's about 60% of the way to Chatham. A little math says it should pass through at around 18:13... assuming a constant speed between the two cities. Good enough.

Planning in Real Time

After work, I booted it up through Tilbury on highway 1 to its termination at highway 2, then headed right into the tiny town of Jeannette's Creek. I decided to get trackside ASAP and start checking locations in person.

Location 1 - Mile 75.39

I was trackside at 17:35 at mile 75.39 of the VIA Chatham subdivision, on the Jeannette's Creek Road crossing - the third green oval from the left in the map above.

Here's the view to the east at the crossing.

I didn't take a photo toward the west. The sun was right in the way and I could tell right away that shooting an eastbound train here would not be good.

I did notice that the east-facing signal had a blinking yellow signal over red.

That's... maybe... Advance Clear to Stop? Rule 415?

I'm sure someone will correct me.

Anyway, it didn't tell me anything I didn't know. A train was coming... sometime soon.

I decided to try the marina crossing - the second green oval from the left on the map above.

Location 2 - Mile 76.2

This one was really problematic.

From the Google Map view, it looked good as it had a bridge over the Thames River tributary and could be interesting. However, in person there were several problems.

First, the area around the crossing was clearly marked as private property, so I couldn't get anything but a head on shot without trespassing.

Second, the more-or-less head-on east-facing shot above was directly into the sun. The photo above looks OK but that is an HDR shot, combining three photos into one to get the most range without any blown pixels or really dark shadows. You can't do HDR photos of a moving train.

Without HDR, the best I could have done would be something like this.

That has deep shadows and the train would be mostly shadowed. Not good.

I even went around to the crossing at the other end of the bridge to look at the going-away photo, and it wasn't any better.

That's a big nope.

Location 3 - The Keeper

I went to the third location, where the track crosses highway 1 - and the creek - just east of Jeannette's Creek. I arrived at 18:07... time was getting short!! I had to set up quickly.

The biggest plus of this location was that I could get a side photo of the train. There isn't much room on the road bridge so I didn't want to stand there. This perspective has a lot of "foreground clutter", so I walked down the bank a bit and set up there.


All right.. tripod set up with phone on it.. check. Camera settings.. check. Test shot.. check. Ready at 18:14.

Planning Pays Off

The crossing bell started ringing at 18:18. I started the video recording on my phone, and scrambled up to the bridge deck to get into position. I fired off another test shot as the gates came down, then VIA 78 rocketed into view.

Oooh! A Canada 150 wrap!

I banged off a couple of shots as the train zoomed through the crossing.

Here's a bit of a closeup of VIA 905 with the "Canada 150" wrap... my first wrapped P42.

Next shot was the lead shot in this blog post, then I snapped a photo of each of the four cars in the consist:
  1. VIA 4007 (VIA 1 business car)
  2. VIA 4006 (VIA 1 business car)
  3. VIA 4113 (economy coach)
  4. VIA 4110 (economy coach)
Here's the last two:

Keep in mind that the train was zooming along at a good pace. The time between the first photo (the train approaching the crossing) - and the one above (with the last two on the bridge) - was 9 seconds. The VIA Rail tracking app said the train was going 124 km/hr!

Camera Settings

I'll interrupt here to talk about camera settings. I knew the train was going to be fast, so I wanted to ensure a high shutter speed to freeze the action. Given the lighting conditions, I ended up picking 1/800s for the shutter speed, an aperture of f/6.3 and ISO 200.

Normally I want to shoot at the lowest ISO possible for my camera, ISO 100, but that would have meant either slowing the shutter down or opening the aperture up and losing some depth of field. So I compromised and used ISO 200, which doesn't have much noise.

I normally use an aperture of f/8.0 when photographing trains to get good depth of field. I knew I'd be shooting mostly side-on, so depth of field wasn't as important as it would be when shooting a long train stretching off into the distance, so f/6.3 was a good compromise.

The End

There really wasn't a good "going away" opportunity here. There's a lot of shrubbery along the right-of-way and this is the kind of shot you get.
You must return here with a shrubbery or else you will never pass through this wood alive!
I did get a "whole train" going away shot but it was really far away.
Just a little bit obscured
That was it - 24 seconds from first sighting to disappearing in the distance. ZOOM!

I walked down to my phone on the tripod and shut it off. Here's the video - very brief!

I was very pleased with how the shoot turned out. My advance planning and the scouting around for the best location worked out.

After that, I went back to Leamington for the evening. I walked along the beautiful waterfront - it's been really nicely done - and took a photo of the lovely sunset.

See Also

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The "Sunset" Dinner Train, 1985-2005

This article was provided by Richard Viberg, Ed Bowes and Art Clowes to tell the story of the Sunset dining train at the Salem and Hillsborough Railroad. They provided the majority of the photos, and I included a few of my exterior photos.
CN 1754 at the head of a dinner train at Salem, NB. Steve Boyko photo.

The Genesis

During the winter of 1985, in order to increase the revenue at the railroad, management put together a proposed Dinner Train service to accomplish this task. As we had two empty CN / VIA 5400 series passenger coaches, one was considered most suitable for conversion into a dining car (ex VIA 5433-Ed.).

A proposal was put together, submitted and approved with a provision that funding for the capital improvements had to come from external sources.

The dinner train at the Gray's Island crossing, 2002


During late April 1985, the selected coach was moved to an area close to the maintenance shop in order to start a clean up in the interior and begin the retrofit into a dining car. A partition that divided the former passenger smoking area was removed and re-located to the proposed kitchen area. At the men's wash room everything was removed in order to install a commercial propane Bar-B-Q and a steam table.

Counters were installed on both sides of the aisle for storage of dishes and linens. Overhead racks were built to store all of the glassware. In the dining area the overhead baggage racks were removed. New carpeting was installed along with twelve former dining tables at each window providing seating for 48 persons.

Each table had a white tablecloth, two blue runners, napkins, silverware, glasses and a vase of fresh cut flowers.

The interior was painted in a pale blue colour.

Unfortunately there was no air conditioning, and to provide electric power in the kitchen and lights for the lounge car, we secured two small gas generators. During the mid stop over at Pine Glen Road to reverse for the direction home, we refueled both generators before leaving.

The Meal

Your four course dinner included a choice of apple or tomato juice, a tossed garden salad, warm rolls with butter and a main course choice of roast beef, steak, lobster or surf and turf served with mashed or baked potatoes, fresh garden vegetables and a choice of a slice of freshly baked pie served with hot tea or coffee.
Lobster dinner
A few days before our first dinner run, we realized we had forgotten about chairs for our dining passengers, so we quickly made arrangements with a hotel in Moncton to borrow 48 convention chairs for the season.
Diners, on borrowed chairs, 1985
The final task was to clean and paint the exterior of the new dining car white with red and black trim.

First Run

Saturday July 20th, 1985 was the very first run with 48 invited guests of the Village of Hillsborough, with twelve other booked passengers. The train was pulled by RS1 #8208, with dining car "Sunset", lounge car 1000 "Valley View" and an open air car. Departure was set for 6:15 PM for the 2 1/2 hour trip. However, the train did not depart until 7 PM due to electrical problems with the kitchen roof exhaust fan.
Loading the train, 1985
The dining crew consisted of Chef Peter Fullerton, Kitchen Assistant Katherine Meyers and waitresses Catherine Wissink and Debbie Meyers.

First Year

As the first year was experimental, a maximum of 60 passengers were accommodated in two sittings. Other than the paid on board staff, the operating train personnel were volunteers.

The dishes and final clean up had to be carried out after each trip, once the train was shut down and all of the crew fed supper.

Loading the train. Ed Bowes is at far left.
The dinner train operated on Saturdays and Sundays until late October, showing a very small operating profit for the first season.

A video of RS-1 208 and the Sunset dinner train, by long-time volunteer David and Pat Othen:


During the spring of 1986, several major upgrades were carried out on the dining train. A propane hot water heater along with a new dishwasher and a cooler-refrigerator were installed in the kitchen. The dining area received new side drapes beside each window. Six electric floor heaters were installed for the cooler off season. The chairs borrowed the first season were returned and new ones purchased.

We built a food services building to store bulk food items in freezers along with a new ice cube machine. We also received a stove to pre-cook items for the on-board kitchen, especially during the busy fall season.
Chuck Kinney with lobsters in front of the food services building
In order to reduce the interior heat in both the diner and lounge car, each roof was painted silver and two rooftop air conditioners were added. This helped reduce the overall temperature by about 20 degrees during the warm summer months. To power these improvements, a 12 kV diesel generator was placed under the diner to handle the additional electrical load.

We also added one of the excursion coaches to accommodate the increased load of passengers. This allowed for one sitting departing and a second sitting before returning from a 3 1/2 hour extended return trip.
First lounge car, with bar in the former buffet area
The dinner train operated mid-week and on weekends from mid May to September. During October, turkey dinners were featured for the main course along with pumpkin pie. The fall foliage was at its peak and we operated at 100% capacity.


During 1987 another lounge car 1002 - "Mountain View" - was added to the consist and set up back to back with the first lounge car so the live on board musical entertainment could be heard in both lounges.
In the first lounge car, looking toward the second
We also built a table in each lounge for a punch bowl and trays of cheese and crackers. As passengers moved to the lounge cars after each of the two sittings in the dining car, additional coffee or tea was available. Another 12 kV generator and two more air conditioners were installed for added passenger comfort.


During the spring of 1988, a new propane stove and microwave oven were installed in the kitchen. The second empty coach 5433 was converted into a party car and named "Le Bistro". This car occasionally was used as a table car for extra meal seating. The train consist now had four cars, allowing for excellent braking on the downhill portion of the trip between Baltimore and Salem as the rest of the trip was reasonably flat until the last 1/4 mile uphill into Hillsborough.

Marcel Keays giving Steve Boyko his rules test in the second lounge car
The "Sunset" dining train operated seasonally and provided the largest amount of revenue for the railroad. For many years, bus tours, corporate charters, weddings, conventions and other special events used the dining train. On occasion steam locomotive 1009 pulled the train.

8254 on the downhill end of the Sunset dining train
After 20 years of operation, unfortunately we were faced with increased costs to maintain 11 miles of track along with major pending bridge repairs. Operating insurance coverage had become harder to secure, and far more expensive, and with less volunteers it was decided to cease operation of both excursion and dinner trains on November 1, 2004.

Dining aboard the Sunset dinner train
People remember their railway dining experiences for many years. Recently the museum received an email from a retired railroader who rode the Sunset dining train in 1989. He wrote about the experience of having his retirement dinner on the train ("a sumptuous feast of steak and lobster") and he called it "an evening we will never forget".

Live entertainment on the dinner train
Today we have a large display of railway equipment, several operating model railway layouts and a short rail wagon ride. There are many other smaller exhibits for visitor enjoyment at our museum in Hillsborough. Please visit for more information.

Here's a video I took of the dinner train on October 19, 2002.

Written By

  • Richard E. Viberg - General Manager, 1984-1988
  • Edward F. Bowes - Treasurer, 1984-2004
  • Arthur Clowes - Museum Curator, 2005-present

See Also

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Canada 150 Train Comes to Winnipeg

CP 1401 in Winnipeg
The Canadian Pacific "Canada 150" train came to Winnipeg - and what a gorgeous train it was!

You may recall I was planning the shoot a while ago. The train was scheduled to be on display in Winnipeg on August 4th from 5 PM to 8 PM at the Southdale Community Centre in Winnipeg, on the CP Emerson subdivision.

I listed five opportunities to shoot the train. After negotiations with my wife, I was able to capture it at the community centre (and departing), and in the morning of August 5th as it left Winnipeg.

The Train at Southdale

Canada 150 train on display at Southdale
Honestly, CP couldn't have picked a better spot to showcase this train. The four units and part of the train were easily visible from the west, well lit by the setting sun, and easily accessible from any direction. Thank you, CP!

I arrived on site shortly after 6 PM. The show had already started but I bypassed that at the start to get some photos of the train while the light was still good. The sun was out but there were some clouds threatening to block the sunshine, plus there are some trees to the west that were going to cast shadows on the train. Shoot while you can!

I met up with a few local railfans who were up by the head end (nice to see you, Jeff, Ken, David and Chad!), took a few photos and chatted for a bit. I decided to walk up the train on the sun / west side and take some photos along the way.

CP 4107 in Winnipeg
CP 1900 - not a lot of "B" units around these days!

CP 4106 was a late addition

Walking the Train

I wanted to photograph every car, since the train was so pretty. I have seen some of these cars before on the Holiday Train but not so up close and personal. Many of these cars are part of the Royal Canadian Pacific collection, used for some very expensive trips!

There were some private security people posted all along the train, but as I found out, they were there to keep people from crossing under / through the train and to keep people from vandalizing the train.

I chatted with a couple of them and they were very nice.

The lead car behind CP 4106 was CP 95, a former baggage car that is now a generator car. It has the Royal Canadian Pacific shield on it.

Following CP 95 was MOUNT ROYAL / CP 93, then KILLARNEY / CP 71 and BANFFSHIRE / CP 85. The first two are superficially similar - both 83' passenger cars with an end platform - but MOUNT ROYAL weighs 15 tons more than KILLARNEY (102 tons versus 87 tons). I wonder why?

After BANFFSHIRE were two special cars for this train - the "Spirit of Tomorrow" car and the stage car.

The Spirit of Tomorrow

The "Spirit of Tomorrow" car has over 8,000 "pixels" on the car. Each "pixel" is a card that a child has written their hopes for "tomorrow's" Canada on it. I think it's a really neat idea.

The finished car will be part of the 2017 Holiday Train.

CP 102 is the ERNEST "SMOKY" SMITH car underneath. Ernest Smith was the last living Canadian Victoria Cross recipient. He received his VC for tremendous courage at an action in northern Italy in 1944. This railcar was dedicated to him in 2003, less than two years before his death.

Next is the stage car, boxcar CP 42901. This is one of the two stage cars used in the CP Holiday Train and features a wide stage that drops down to host the performers at each stop.

CP 42901, the stage car
The car was repainted with a giant Canadian flag replacing the Holiday Train logo, and it had panels added on each side, with the Canada 150 logo on one and the CP Beaver shield on the other.

Craigellachie... I'll be visiting you soon!
Following that was MOUNT STEPHEN / CP 74 and ASSINIBOINE / CP 70. Those two had their platforms facing each other.
Platform to platform
Someone was out making a phone call, but didn't really want to be photographed. :)

Up next was NR CRUMP / CP 79, STRATHCONA / CP 82, VAN HORNE / CP 77, gym car CP 104, business car CP 2, and finally theatre car SANDFORD FLEMING / CP 1.
What a beautiful train!
In the weeds...

The Show

The show at the CP Canada 150 train
There were several performers travelling with the train, including:

  • Canadian country music artist Dean Brody
  • World champion hoop dancer Dallas Arcand
  • Country singer Kelly Prescott
  • The CP "house band" Rail Road Ramblers
  • Canadian band Eagle and Hawk (Edmonton and Winnipeg only)

By the time I got around to the stage, Dean Brody was performing... and he was putting on a good show!
Dean Brody in Winnipeg
Now, country music isn't really my thing.. to say the least.. but I enjoyed Dean's songs. He was performing with a lot of enthusiasm, interacting with the audience, and the band sounded great.

Dean Brody, #ConnectingCanada
I had a look at the SPIRIT OF TOMORROW car on this side. I liked a lot of the messages here. Click on the image to expand.
I didn't take many photos of the dark side of the train. They would have been awful. I did take a lot of photos of Dean and a few of the crowd. The light wasn't great, but you work with what you have.

As I was walking away toward the head end, he launched into his signature song, Bring Down the House. That one I knew!

Head and Tail

Back at the head end, I met up with photographer Kevin Siemens and chatted for a bit. He and I met at the destruction of the Meadows grain elevator... something I will write about soon. Too many posts in the queue already...

Anyway, we waited patiently to get a head-on shot of CP 1401. It took a while to get a gap with no people in it - and you know patience isn't my strong suit - but eventually the opportunity came.
CP 1401 head on
This is a combination of 3 shots using Adobe Lightroom's HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature. I did that because I was shooting toward the sun and I didn't think I could get enough range without blowing out the sky or having the locomotive's nose be too dark.

The train was scheduled to depart at 8 PM to go back to the CP downtown yard. There was a rumour that the train would be heading south to Grande Pointe to meet a northbound train. That would have been exciting... but the engineer of the train came along and a quick conversation confirmed that the train was just backing up to the yard.

The engineer - another Steve - was very friendly and I had a good conversation with him. He was quite happy to be driving the train and considered it an honour to be able to run an F unit.

Just before 8, I walked back to the rear of the train to record its departure. There were a few other railfans there as well as some "muggles" aka casual onlookers. At 8 sharp the train started backing up and off it went. I took video of its departure.

I went home after that.

The Next Day

The train was due to leave Winnipeg at 9 AM. I decided to catch it crossing the Floodway as it headed east on the CP Keewatin subdivision.

I wanted to shoot it from the east side of the Floodway, facing east. Since it was leaving in the morning the light would be on the nose - great.

Unfortunately, I had never tried to photograph from that area before. I drove up Deacon Road / highway 207 then turned left right after the tracks. I photographed the CP Holiday Train in 2016 right at the intersection, but I had never been near the Floodway.

The departure of the CP 150 train
I couldn't find any way to get from the Springfield Road 63N to anywhere near the Floodway bridge. There is a little private crossing above the "K" in the map above, but it is nowhere near the bridge.

Time was running short, so I decided to head for the west side of the bridge. There's a walking trail along the Floodway. I parked at the public lot at the end of Gunn Road and walked the kilometre up the trail to the tracks.

I set up there and the train made its appearance at 09:07, right on time.
CP 1401 and the Canada 150 train leaving Winnipeg
It looked glorious in the early morning light, and sounded great too!

Bye bye, F units!
Here's the video of its departure.

Love those maroon cars!
Off to Ontario
So that was that.

A Bonus Train

As I was halfway back to my car, I heard a horn to the north. Another train! I quickly trotted back a ways and set up to record CP 8850 dragging a grain train west across the bridge.
CP 8850 and the Floodway Bridge
There was nothing really remarkable about this train, but it was nice to catch it nevertheless.


Thanks to Canadian Pacific for organizing this train and show, and travelling across most of Canada so Canadians can experience a train and a great show for themselves. Thanks to engineer Steve for chatting with me, and thanks to certain anonymous railfans for detailed information on the train and its schedule.

See Also