Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 4) - To Craigellachie and Beyond!

For my 50th birthday, my wife and I drove through Alberta and British Columbia. You can start at the beginning here.... or read the whole series as an eBook!

The only sound
Is like a diesel’s distant thundering
I’m a desolate town
With a railroad station where my heart should be
- Stephen Fearing, "The Station"
We started the third day of my 50th birthday trip in Cranbrook, British Columbia. My original plan was to travel from Cranbrook to Craigellachie via Golden, and spend the night at the impressive hotel in Three Valley Gap. However, in our research, my wife and I discovered that the hotel didn't have wifi and had a few other things we didn't like, so I ended up booking a hotel in Sicamous, BC. Anyway, let's go. Another long post.

Finishing Up Cranbrook

Before we left Cranbrook, I wanted to photograph the former Elko, BC station as well as the A-B set of CP 4090 and CP 4469. These are all on display just outside the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, on the original location of the museum. I didn't have time to do that the previous evening as we rushed to Creston to photograph the grain elevators before darkness fell.

Former Elko train station in Cranbrook, BC
The train station was built in Elko in 1901. It was moved to Cranbrook in 1987 and heavily rebuilt inside. It's now home to Phoenix Antiques.

Next to the train station is the former Cranbrook CPR water tower. This beautiful old tower looks pretty good!

Naturally the BIGDoer team has written about this water tower.

Let's turn now to the stars of the display, CP 4090 and CP 4469.

CP 4090 is an MLW FA-2 locomotive, and CP 4469 an MLW FB-2 locomotive, both built in 1953. These first generation diesel-electric locomotives had 1600 horsepower each under the hood. The two are similar mechanically except that 4090 has a cab for the crew and 4469 does not. That's why 4090 is called an "A" unit and 4469 is called a "B" unit. These locomotives were built as freight engines and do not have steam generators, although they do have steam lines to "pass through" steam.

They both served in the western region for a few years but proved unsuitable for the mountains, and were redeployed to Ontario.

At one point both locomotives were repainted into CP Action Red with a small multimark at the rear of the car body.

They served until 1977, and were retained by CP for historical purposes. The museum acquired them and moved them to Cranbrook in 1992.

They sat by the former Elko station in primer paint for a number of years until they were restored as a project of the local Rotary Club in 2015.

There was a train in Cranbrook when we were there, headed by CP 8719 and CEFX 1041, with CSX 3043 on the tail end.

I think that building is owned by CP but I don't know its function.

So that was Cranbrook.

Fort Steele

Water tank in Fort Steele
We headed out of Cranbrook on highway 95 en route to Craigellachie. Fort Steele is not far out of Cranbrook and is where the north-south Windermere subdivision meets the east-west Cranbrook subdivision.

It's also the home of the Fort Steele Heritage Town, a historic park / museum providing a glimpse of life in the past. One of the attractions is a steam train, led by locomotive 1077 and featuring some classic railway cars.

I knew the train had ceased running for the season, but I was hoping that I could wander over and take a few photos. We waited a few minutes until the park opened at 10. I went into the ticket office and asked if I could take some photos, and the woman there said it was OK.

However, there was a locked fence around the train loop and I didn't want to go over it. It was pretty clear that they didn't want people wandering around, so I took a few photos from the good side of the fence with my long lens and left it at that.

1077, a plow and ST. MARY RIVER and KOOTENAY RIVER open air cars
The star of the show is #1077, an MLW 2-6-2 steam locomotive built in 1923. This locomotive worked in logging service on Vancouver Island until its retirement in the early 1960s. It was moved to Fort Steele in 1989 and has been working here since 1992.

On display by the station is a compressed air locomotive, quite a unique piece of kit.
A compressed air locomotive
As I was taking photos, I heard a train roll by on the nearby CP Windermere subdivision.

We ended up passing a CP wayfreight as we drove north along highway 95. I didn't stop but I saw it had a couple of ECO units and a lot of lumber loads.

I wasn't really expecting a lot of railway action on this line. My intent was to get to Craigellachie and that was about it.


CP 5018 in Invermere, BC
We stopped in the lovely town of Invermere for a little shopping and a little railfanning. Well, we stopped for the shopping and happened to notice a train stopped in town.

CP 5018 and 2287 were idling away down by the river. You can see in the photo above that a railfan was waiting patiently down there with his camera on a tripod. In fact, here's his video of the same train!

You might have to do a little fast-forwarding..

After I took a few photos, we went and visited the shops. It's a lovely town to visit. Stop in at the Invermere Bakery for a nibble!


Well over an hour later, we were continuing north along highway 95 just north of Spillimacheen when we saw a southbound coal train, led by CP 8909.
Pretty dull light, I'd say
I performed a quick U turn and caught up to them as they passed the sign 1 mile out from Spillimacheen.
Spilli.. Spilli... spill a machine?
I decided to chase them a bit more, as they were going pretty darn slow (that's a railway term ;). I liked how this one turned out:
On the down low
And.. what the heck, I chased one more time and caught them coming through "town" with a telephoto shot, for variety.
Going long
I waited here while they rolled on by, photographing all four locomotives... CP 8909 and 8577 on the head end, CP 8764 in the middle, and CP 8920 on the rear.
Push push
A track foreman in a CP high-rail truck was patiently waiting for me to get the heck out of the way. Thanks for being patient!

That train was unexpected. I was pleased to catch a "real" train on the road.

Off we went.


17 minutes later, I was on the side of the road, photographing another coal train.
CP 8901 somewhere around Castledale
I'm not entirely sure where we were, but let's say it was around Castledale.

The train was stopped. I took a number of photos from the road, but I didn't linger long because it was raining and I feared my wife might be losing patience with my railfanning.

I did try a little rain reflection photography, if that's a thing.
Coal cars in the rain
CP 8901 was on the head end, with CP 8928 in the middle and CP 8935 on the tail end.


Soon we arrived at Golden. There is a large yard in Golden and that's the first thing you see as you approach the town. I immediately noticed two multimark SD40-2 units working in the yard and took this (blurry) photo of them.
All hail the multimark!
CP 5973 and 5875 were working with CP 9604 in the yard.

We stopped in Golden for a little walk and a quick snack - at a 7/11 I think - then we kept heading west toward Craigellachie. We were coming back to Golden the next day so there was no need to linger.

British Columbia is twinning a lot of the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and the Alberta border. We got caught in some of that construction work and were literally parked on the TCH for about 45 minutes.
Trans-Canada Parking Lot
I think they were blasting rock off the mountain, so that takes time to ensure it's safe after the blasting. We ran into the same thing the next day, but we could actually see the blasting that day.

We passed by Three Valley Gap but didn't stop, except to take a quick photo across the water. Onward to Craigellachie!


Last spike at Craigellachie
What can you say about Craigellachie? It has enormous historical significance as the location of the Last Spike ceremony for Canada's first transcontinental railway. On November 7, 1885, CPR financier Donald Smith drove an iron spike into a tie to signify the completion of the railway. The spike was badly bent, so roadmaster Frank Brothers pulled it out and Mr. Smith drove another "last spike" in successfully. This one was also extracted to prevent its theft, and yet another ordinary iron spike was driven in and left there.

The site does a good job of commemorating the location and its significance. There are several displays and memorials, and a little "station" / gift shop (which was closed). There was a small but steady stream of tourists wandering around. I took some photos and remarked to my wife that it would be nice if CP sent along a train while we were there...

CP 8556 at Craigellachie
Apparently since it was (almost) my birthday, CP gave me a gift of a train... CP 8556 East came blasting by in the near dark, with CP 8531 trailing and CP 9707 as a mid-train DPU.

The Craigellachie "station" and a passing train
They have a piece of track on display... presumably for photos and to keep people from stepping onto the real track and getting killed. Maybe they have spike driving photos here when the store is open?
Track to nowhere
The famous group photo is on display here as well.
Zoom zoom
Of all the angles I shot while the train went by, I like the next one the most.

The Last Spike
Note the caboose on display in the background. This is labelled as CP 437336, and my Trackside Guide says it was a tourist information booth. It seems very out of place and not part of the display at all.

So that was Craigellachie. Another one off the "bucket list".

Check out Rick Mercer's piece on Craigellachie, including a train ride!


We drove along in the near dark toward Sicamous.. but unfortunately for my wife, I saw a train in a siding and had to stop. I had no real idea where this was, but a little investigation shows the train was in the Malakwa siding (mile 31.9 of the CP Shuswap subdivision).

CP 9367 in the Malakwa siding
You'll notice the train overtaking CP 9367.

I hardly ever shoot with a tripod, but here I made an exception, as this was 7:50 PM and the sun was long gone. I was shooting with my long lens (70-200mm) at 1/15s with the lens wide open (f/4.0), although I was still using ISO 100 to keep the noise down.

I left this one uncropped and mostly unprocessed so you get an idea of how far away I was, and how much light was available.
CP 8822 pulled up beside CP 9367 and stopped.
CP 8822 and 9367 side by side
The doors opened and some crew went back and forth between locomotives. I don't know what was going on here but my guess is that CP 9367's crew ran out of time and 8822 brought a new crew to replace them. Just a guess.

Time for a crew change?
Once they were finished with that, CP 8822 carried on westward.

One quick pan...
CP 8822 at the crossing
CP 8948 was the trailing unit. But wait.. what's that behind 8948?
Long live the Pool!
SMW 850776 is a former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool car. Nice to see another one of those still around!


We finally made Sicamous after a long day of travelling. I'm pretty sure my wife was sic-a-railfanning by this point but she was a trooper and didn't complain. Love that woman.

We checked into the Sicamous Best Western (yay for a free stay using points!) and went for supper at Grandma's and Grandpa's. The food was great but our waitress was a little too perky. Maybe we were just tired after a long day of travel.

Another successful day.

The plan for day 4 was to travel from Sicamous to Golden, stopping at Three Valley Gap and the Revelstoke Railway Museum en route. On a map, it's not a long distance, but I wanted to have lots of time to spend at the museum and of course see a train or two if possible.


See Also

PS you can read this series as an eBook, with extra photos and content!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 3) - Into the Crowsnest

For my 50th birthday, my wife and I drove through Alberta and British Columbia. You can start at the beginning here... or read the whole series as an eBook!

I’m not the kind of man
Who tends to socialize
I seem to lean on old familiar ways
"Still Crazy After All These Years", Paul Simon
My wife and I woke up at a reasonable hour (7?) on our second day of my 50th birthday trip.

The plan for day 2 of my birthday trip was to travel to Cranbrook and visit the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, with a side trip to Creston to see the grain elevators there. (see the whole plan)

After enjoying the breakfast at the Ramada hotel in Pincher Creek, Alberta, we hit the road... and very quickly I left the road again.

Strap in... this is going to be a long post.

Fire Fighting

Pincher Creek has a small airfield and it was chock full of aircraft!
Three of Alberta's four CL-215T "Scoopers" (201, 203, 204)
There were several water bombers and several helicopters, all because of the nearby wildfires. Three Alberta Canadair CL-215T water bombers and an Air Spray Lockheed L188 Electra were there.

I've seen those Electras in Kamloops and Prince George.

Security was there, too! These photos were taken from the public road near the airport.

Return to Lundbreck Falls

We went back to Lundbreck Falls to photograph them in better light. I can't say it was much better than the night before.
Lundbreck Falls
Another 45-60 minutes would have been a lot better for light, but we didn't have that time.

I tried a few angles. Wouldn't the photo below be even better with a train in the background?
Another view of Lundbreck Falls
We returned to the highway. On the way I noted an odd thing, a wheelset by the side of the road near the tracks.

It turns out there was a derailment here on July 7th! Six cars derailed and there was a minor fire.

Apparently this is a popular spot for derailments... there was a larger one in the same area on November 9, 2014.

I'm sure someone will pick that up eventually...

Into the Crowsnest Pass

Municipality of Crowsnest Pass sign... oh, and a mountain
We carried on into the Crowsnest Pass.

The pass crosses the Continental Divide (a half decent movie) through the Rockies. The Canadian Pacific Railway built through here in 1897-1898 to access the vast mineral resources, and to cut the American competition off. The line is still important today as a secondary main line.

We stopped at the Frank Slide, the location of a terrible avalanche early in the morning of April 29, 1903.

At least 90 people were killed in 90 seconds as a portion of the mountain slid down next to the town.

We stopped briefly to take in the view and snap a few photos, but we didn't go in the interpretive centre.

Camera Issues

I was having a weird issue with my Canon T1i that day. It would shut itself off for no apparent reason.

A little fiddling showed it was a problem with the physical on/off switch. If I jiggled that the camera would power off then on again. I decided it was a bit of dirt on the contacts or something but I didn't have any way to diagnose it.

It sure was annoying... as you will see.

Steam at Blairmore

Steam engine "Old Maude" in Blairmore, AB
I wanted to stop in Blairmore, Alberta to see the steam engine there. I was hoping that CP would send a train along, too, but that didn't happen... yet.

This 2-6-0 steam engine was "built in Kingston" by the Canadian Locomotive Company. It spent its life working for coal companies.. first the Hillcrest Collieries and then the West Canadian Colleries. She retired in 1961, and was eventually placed at her present location beside the CPR line in 1967.

The road side of the locomotive looks OK... but the track side could use some work.

At least it is inside a fence to keep the majority of the vandals away.

Waiting on a Train

Mountains at Sentinel, Alberta
I wanted to park somewhere scenic and capture a train going by. I decided on the above location, near Sentinel, Alberta. I mean, look at those mountains!!

The land you see in the foreground is for sale. It's a former Devon Energy natural gas plant, closed in 2012. It had a spur off the CP line with two tracks for loading tank cars.

I parked the Chrysler 300 and we sat there.. and waited. My wife did her crosswords and I fiddled with my phone while we listened to music... and the scanner.


Waiting on a train.

Long-time readers will remember that I am not very patient.

There was some chatter on the scanner, but it didn't mean a lot to me except that there was a train around somewhere.

After about 30 minutes, I said, "that's enough," and we drove off to the west.

Literally minutes later, the scanner chirped and we encountered a train going the other way.

Back to Coleman

I made a fast U-turn and set off in pursuit. As we rolled past where we had just been, I pulled off to the side to grab a few photos.

My camera wouldn't power on.

At all.

I flipped that on/off switch so many times while the train rolled past, but it would not stay on.

With a few choice words, I tossed the camera in the back and drove on.

We approached Coleman, climbing up and up... and as I glanced over to the right, I could see a nice vista opening up.

I asked my wife to fire off a few photos while I pulled off to the side of the highway. The shoulder was narrow and I couldn't pull off the road far enough to feel safe about leaving it. I kept my eye on the rear view mirror for traffic while she took eight photos, then we took off again.

She did a great job! And the camera worked!
CP eastbound freight approaching Coleman, Alberta
Continuing the pursuit, it seemed unlikely that I would catch the train in Coleman, but I tried anyway.

As I approached the track between 15th and 16th Avenue, I saw a westbound train sitting in the siding, and the eastbound train flashing past on the main. Missed it... never did catch the engine numbers.

On the plus side, here's another train!
Dodgy light
Here the conductor was just getting back on board after lining the switch for the main line.

You can see the light was a little fickle, as the head end was in shade while the rest of the train was lit.

CP 9623 West in Coleman, Alberta
The grain train had CP 9623 (GE AC4400CW) and CSX 3458 (GE ET44AH) on the head end.

I was experiencing camera issues here again but I was beginning to learn just how to flip the camera on.. and leaving it on seemed to be the best course of action. Sometimes tipping the camera up or down would cause it to power off. Very annoying.

We took off to the west to shoot them some more.

I took a few photos from the same location that my wife photographed the eastbound freight. There was plenty of room to pull off on the other side of the road.
Drone view?
I love mountains and trains.
I think this is called a "vista"

The Shot Of the Trip

Noted photographer George Pitarys posts a lot of great photos on his Flickr feed, and sometimes he labels them as TSOD / The Shot Of the Day.

The sequence below contains my TSOT / The Shot of the Trip.

In my research of the route, I had noted a highway overpass over the CP line and decided I wanted to shoot there if at all possible. We had been waiting near it so I knew where it was.

I zoomed along ahead of the train and came to the overpass. There was definitely nowhere to park on the overpass, so I parked at the bottom of the overpass and ran up the side, camera in hand. As it turned out, I didn't really need to run but I did have to hurry.

The train passed the siding at Sentinel and looked pretty nice curving over the hill, lit on the side by the noon sun.
Side light FTW
That was the "coming" shot. A quick glance in both directions showed no traffic, so I ran across the overpass to get the "going" shot.
I was (and am) super pleased with this photo.

I experimented with a few angles while the train kept on rolling.
The overhead view
The side view was pretty nice too.
Grain cars at Sentinel
The end of the train came along... with a Union Pacific locomotive pushing on the rear.
UP 5297 on the rear of the CP grain train in Sentinel, AB
That was pretty fine, if I do say so myself.

I went back to the car, and as I sat back down in the driver's seat, I told her that if I took no more photos that trip, I'd be satisfied. I was that pleased. :)

We carried on but I had no intention of catching the train again. We crossed over from Alberta to British Columbia, although oddly they are both in the same time zone here. British Columbia has some oddities with time zones.

As we approached Crowsnest, I saw the train again and photographed part of it passing this maintenance crew in a siding.
Passing the crew

The Loop

There is a weird loop in the tracks west of the town of Crowsnest. I believe the track descends quite a bit going east to west. This is called the McGillivray Loop and has been there since the Canadian Pacific Railway came through the Crowsnest Pass.

At one time there was a tunnel, passing siding and a station but all of those are gone now. The track still loops, though.

There are several bridges on this section of the line, as the track crosses the river four times as it winds its way through the valley.

There is an excellent article on the McGillivray Loop in the July 1976 Canadian Rail magazine (PDF).

At the "loop" portion at the south end, a branch line continues south to a coal mine next to the ghost town of Corbin.
One of several bridges in the area
Looking northeast, with the coal branch on the right
As we left the area, we saw our friendly grain train grinding its way down the grade. No photos!


I definitely wanted to stop in Fernie, BC to see the train station there. It's pretty impressive.
The train station in Fernie, British Columbia
The Fernie train station hosts an art gallery - The Arts Station - which bills itself as "gallery / restaurant / studio / theatre". We went in briefly but there was a school tour going through, so we didn't linger more than a few minutes. It looked nice inside.

Along with the nice train station, Fernie has an impressive courthouse.


While driving west of Fernie, we came across these lovely mountain peaks, topped with snow, with a lumber mill (Galloway Lumber Co.) in the foreground. That last part is not unusual in this area as there are a LOT of lumber mills. We pulled over to take a few snapshots of the mountains.
Snow covered peaks
I was intrigued by this Senebogen machine working on a flatcar of poles and took a photo of it too.
I picks them up, I puts them down
As I was walking back to the car, I heard a train horn. TRAIN!

Along came CP 9377 East with a long coal train.
CP 9377 passing Galloway, BC
CP 9718 was the mid-train DPU and CP 9811 was pushing on the rear.
Coal and mountains
CP 9718 under snow capped mountains
CP 9811 pushing coal
When I was looking this location up on Google Maps, I see there is another train at the same location in Street View from October 2015 (with UP 4512 trailing)! Is there always a train here? ;)


We arrived in Cranbrook, BC shortly before 3 PM. We went straight to the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel because I wanted to ensure I had enough time to tour everything.

I won't say anything about the museum here, as this post is long already and I'd prefer to talk about it in its own post. Suffice it to say that the museum was great and I highly recommend it.


Creston grain elevators
After we left the museum - right at closing time at 5 PM - we headed directly for Creston, BC.

Why Creston?

Well, not for the fruit, although it's apparently very well known for the fruit grown in the area.

It's for the grain elevators, of course.

Creston hosts two elevators - a former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator and a former UGG elevator.

These beautiful elevators still tower over the tracks. I saw "FOR SALE" signs on them so snap them up! ;)

The AWP grain elevator looks to be in decent shape but the UGG elevator is definitely showing its age.
The two grain elevators in Creston, BC
I circled the elevators, taking photos from the adjacent sidewalks.

There's an art gallery attached to the AWP elevator but it was closed when we were there.

Yakh to Moyie

Once I was satisfied with my photos, we headed back to Cranbrook for the night.

On the way, I stopped to photograph a few things. The Elk River Hotel was one that drew my eye.

The Elk River Hotel
This place is actually open!

I had to take a photo of our car with the mountains.
Vroom vroom
In Yakh, I stopped to capture this decaying caboose. I don't know what this business was - it seemed closed - but it says PETER PINE DAZE on the building. The caboose looks like an ex CP caboose but I don't know its history. The cupola has no glass and I imagine it's not in good shape.
A fixer-upper
By this time it was getting dark. The above photo was shot at a 1/10s shutter speed.

There were a LOT of maintenance-of-way machines in the siding in Yakh. I also noted a lot of new ties around so clearly CP was doing a major renewal on this section of track.

Midway between Yakh and Moyie, I stumbled across this potash train led by CP 8939 and NS 9168.
CP 8939 and NS 9168 with a potash train
CP 8939 has the Lord Strathcona's Horse emblem on its nose.
CP 8939 and the Strathcona's
CP and the Strathconas have a long history, dating back to when Donald Smith (aka Lord Strathcona) raised the regiment to fight in the Boer War. You might know Donald Smith as the guy with the hammer in the famous Craigellachie photo.
The Last Spike at Craigellachie
In Moyie, a Brandt truck with a bunch of battered gondolas was in the siding.
Gondola gondola gondola

Back to Cranbrook

We made it back to Cranbrook in the dark and checked into our hotel (a Day's Inn). We went out right afterward to a steak restaurant (Mr. Mike's) and had a very nice meal. Recommended.

Our original plan for day 3 was to travel from Cranbrook to Three Valley Gap, stopping at Fort Steele and Craigellachie along the way. READ ON!


PS you can read this series as an eBook, with extra photos and content!