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!


DaveM said...

As part of your birthday, does that mean that you are going to get yourself a new camera?


Eric said...

That was a fully fulfiling post full of photos. Two scoops of photos, to be precise. Great trip - a part of Canada I have yet to explore. Thanks for sharing your big five-o further.

Jenn said...

Great photos Steve! I like the one your wife took! Nice to follow along on your trip. If you are ever back there and have time, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre is worth a stop.

I know BC has grain elevators but they don't seem to 'fit' lol if that makes sense, like they do in AB, SK and MB.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi DaveM, sorry, I got the trip and the memories, but no new camera. I think it's a pretty good deal.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, Eric! Someday you'll have to get down there... and I hope to return sooner rather than later!

Canadian Train Geek said...

We thought about the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre but we were a bit disappointed by Head Smashed In and decided to take a pass. Maybe next time!

"grain elevators" and "British Columbia" don't go together!

BWBandy said...

Great stuff. At one time I lived in Sparwood, BC so the Crowsnest area is familiar to me. If I am in the area I always stop at Lundbreck Falls.

Jim Griffin said...

Great photos! Envious about the trains and views out west - when I was there in the late 60's I wasn't a rail nut. All vicarious now!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, BW, I can see why you'd always stop at Lundbreck Falls!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thank you, Jim! I know the feeling about not being a rail nut. I missed a lot in the 1980s and 1990s when I was interested in other things. You can't catch 'em all!

Unknown said...

Hi Steve:
Great photos - especially that vista one - makes me quite homesick even though I've been away from Canada for over 30 years!
Well done to your wife for taking it - would look good in a calendar
Keep it up
James Jemson

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, James! I'll let her know you liked the photo!