Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sublime Sprague Subdivision Sunset Sightings

My youngest son and I went out railfanning on the evening of May 26, 2018 along the CN Sprague subdivision.

I live in southeast Winnipeg, so when I head out to see some main line action, I have two choices - head east to see the CN Sprague subdivision or the CN Redditt subdivision, or head west to see the CN Rivers subdivision or the CP Carberry subdivision. On that day, I chose to head east to the Sprague.

CN 5791 West

I found a westbound freight between Deacon's Corner and Dufresne, and I took the shot at a rural crossing. Westbounds in the evening are nice because you get that sweet nose light.
CN 5791 West
That second unit... another "warbonnet" leaser!
PRLX 250 on CN
The train had a lot of general freight on the head end, then a long string of tank cars.
Tank cars as far as the eye can see
That was nice. I took video with my older Canon T1i on a tripod, with a 50mm lens. I like the sound of the tank cars whooshing by.

We carried on to Dufresne to the grain elevator there. I was hoping for another westbound to get them with the nice sunset light on the elevator.

I set up just west of the elevator and waited... and waited...

I've written about how I am not a patient person. At least this time, I was with my son, so we could chat about Super Smash Brothers or Pokemon or whatever while we waited.

After about 50 minutes of waiting, a train did come along. It was a westbound!

CN 2242 West

CN 2242 by the Dufresne grain elevator
I can't decide which photo I like best - the one above or the one below. What do you think? Leave a comment!

CN 2242, a grain elevator, and the moon
"Death star" IC 1000 was the second unit, and there was a CAT backhoe on a flatcar two cars back.

Here's the video. I should have had the camera a bit farther back, I think.

So that was nice.

I waited twenty more minutes to see if another westbound was following, but nothing came along. I packed everything up and we headed back toward Winnipeg.

In the distance, I saw a headlight...

CN 3086 East

Sweet, sweet sunset light
This was unexpected, but this shot was my favourite of the evening. I just love that gorgeous sunset light.

It's funny how the light can change so much just by the angle you shoot it at. Contrast the photo above with the one below, taken seconds later as the train passed by us.

CN 3086
It's like it was a totally different day.

I didn't have time to set up for video for this one.

This train was a solid intermodal (container) train. I know a lot of people don't like the container trains, as they are basically just a wall of containers, but I like the symmetry... and they look nice at sunset.
Containers at sunset


It was a lovely evening for railfanning. I'm not sure my son would agree :) but I enjoyed it.

As a little extra, here's a freight car I saw earlier in the day when I was in downtown Winnipeg. These Reading and Northern cars show up now and then on CN.
Reading and Northern RBMN 8173
Thanks for reading!

Coming up... the next evening, May 27, when PRLX 250 makes another appearance...

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Book Review: Heckman's Canadian Pacific

This is a review of the book "Heckman's Canadian Pacific: A Photographic Journey" by Ralph Beaumont. If you like Canadian trains, and especially the CPR, you'll want this book!

Joseph Heckman was an engineer turned photographer who worked for Canadian Pacific Railway around the turn of the century (between 1898 and 1915), well before the more famous CPR photographer Nicholas Morant.

Heckman took several thousand black and white photos for engineering purposes, and this has turned out to be a treasure trove of images of the early CPR. These images were collected - presumably by Heckman - into a series of books.

The images show bridges, culverts, stations and other engineering works. One of the defining features of Heckman's photos is that they usually include people posing in them, such as a station agent and his family, or railway maintenance personnel. Heckman usually traveled by motorcar or handcar and his vehicle is also often in the photo.

Here's a typical image, showing his handcar with crewman, plus the station agent and his family. This is Chaplin, Saskatchewan, July 13, 1890.

Heckman kept extensive field notes, and the author used those to help identify the locations and other context around the photos.

Author Ralph Beaumont has winnowed these images down to several hundred excellent images, and he has provided an extensive caption for each photo to provide context. Beaumont also describes each book of photos. It appears that not much was known about Heckman, but Beaumont has done some extensive research to discover details about the man and his life.

This is a remarkable book about a remarkable collection, taken by a remarkable man.

My thanks go out to Ralph Beaumont for the tremendous amount of work that obviously went into making this book.

You can try buying this on Amazon (if it's in stock), through Canadian Express Online (at time of writing, they have 1 in stock), or see if it's in your local library. It's in the Winnipeg library...

Other reviews of this book:

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Light Matters

Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Radway, Alberta
Photographers are always talking about light... the quality of light, direction of light... we're obsessed with it. There's a reason for that. "Good" light makes a BIG difference in photos. Light matters.

Check out the photos above and below. These are churches that I photographed, seconds apart, and processed exactly the same. The left photo is without sunlight and the right photo has sunshine. Click on the photos to see a larger version.

Do you see how having "good light" makes a huge difference in the photo? The left photos are flat and lack contrast, while the subject (church) in the photos on the right stand out and draw the eye.

Limestone Lake Ukrainian Catholic Church, Alberta
Here are my recommendations:

  • Look for "good" light - mornings and evenings
  • On partly cloudy days, be patient and wait for the sun to peek out
  • Try different angles to get the light you want

Another view of the Limestone Lake church - with canola

Saturday, July 28, 2018

I Brake for Sunflowers

A tide of sunflowers... oh, and a train
As railfans, we get caught up in the details of locomotives and train operations. "Is that an ES44DC or an ES44AC? Check out those giant radiators on that Tier 4 locomotive."

Sometimes we have to stop and smell the roses... or sunflowers, in this case.

I was out looking for trains a few evenings ago, and I found one getting ready to leave CN's Symington Yard in Winnipeg. I set up for a "meh" shot - the light wasn't great - and then this hump yard set of power rolled in the way... so they got to be in the picture instead.

Hump Power Photobomb

It's funny how shooting into the sun really strips the colour from the image. When processing the photo above, I decided to make it a black and white image as there wasn't a lot of colour anyway.

Contrast that with the image below, taken half a minute later but facing away from the sun.
Lots of colour
Colour galore!

I've noticed that the SD40 sets of hump yard power seem to be used more often than the older GP38 sets, so I have been trying to photograph the Geeps.

(I've left off all the letters and numbers after the GP38 and SD40 units, as I don't really care. I believe the SD40 units used for hump service are SD40-3s and these GP38s might be GP38-2 units, but I often get those details wrong and they really don't matter to me. If you like those details, great! There's room for everyone in this hobby)

I drove around to Symington Yard proper.


GrainsConnect hoppers in Winnipeg
I spotted a line of shiny grain hoppers in the yard, so I took a few telephoto shots of them.

They are GrainsConnect hoppers. Presumably they are for GrainCorp's grain terminals in Maymont, and Reford, Saskatchewan. They are building two more, in Huxley and Vegreville, Alberta. Of course, GrainCorp also owns Canada Malting, which has a few grain elevators across the prairies.

I found it interesting that these cars all have "dents" in the same place. It must be part of the manufacturing process as I can't imagine they all got banged up so soon.
Not really a dent, I assume
Driving back toward CN Navin and the southeast corner of Symington, I saw that the train I saw earlier was on its way. I headed east on the Trans-Canada Highway (which parallels the CN line for quite a few kilometres), looking for a good location to make a photograph.

I was mindful of the sun's position, mostly behind the train, so I thought a side shot would be better than a "glint" photo toward the sun. When I spotted a field of sunflowers next to the tracks, I knew I had my location. I exited the highway and drove around the field to position it between me and the tracks.

Not long after, CN 3062 East came rolling along.

Sunflower Central

Passing Petro Canada
I fired off a series of frames as the train came rolling past. The photos toward the sun weren't as good as the "going away" photos, but I do love those sunflowers.

I liked the lead photo of this post the best. Here's one more, where I focused on the sunflowers and not the train.
Yellow Tide
They weren't going super fast, and I had a feeling they were going to do a meet at Lorette siding just down the line.

Sure enough, there was a train waiting on the main line.

Meet at Lorette

CN 3042 at Lorette siding outside Winnipeg
CN 3042 West was sitting on the main line while CN 3062 East went around them through the siding. I'm not sure why 3042 wasn't in the siding - maybe they didn't quite fit.

Meet complete
Once the train passed, the crew of 3042 returned to their locomotive. I didn't have any time to sit and wait for them to leave, so I took a few more photos and went on my way home.

CN 3042 waiting on the main at Lorette


I've been adding a lot of videos to my YouTube channel, including a long video featuring the VIA Rail "Chaleur". I'd appreciate it if you'd check my channel out and maybe click Subscribe. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Book Review: VIA Rail - A History of Canada's National Passenger Rail Service

This is a review of the book "VIA Rail  - A History of Canada's National Passenger Rail Service" by Christopher C.N. Greenlaw.

I've been meaning to read this book for some time. I borrowed it from Winnipeg's excellent library system and devoured it over the course of a few days.

As the subtitle says, it is a history of VIA Rail. It's not a picture book. It's a scholarly and definitive look at the origins of VIA Rail, from the passenger services of CN and CP through the formation of VIA in the mid 1970s through to 2007, the publication date of the book.

The book goes into detail on many of the decisions that were made by CN, CP and the federal government that led to the formation of VIA Rail, first as a "company within a company" in CN and then as a crown corporation. I knew the overall timeline already, but the book really delved into the reasoning and the political pressures and realities that led to the VIA we have today.

One of the main problems with VIA Rail today, and indeed ever since it was founded, is that it is a political football, subject to the whims of the government in power. It was formed through a "back door" political maneuver (an Order in Council) rather than through a bill passed in Parliament. This has hamstrung VIA from the start and really prevents a lot of long-term planning, as VIA's funding is dependent on how the current government feels about passenger rail and other competing funding priorities. The book goes into a lot of detail on why this came about and why it continues to persist to this day.

The book talks about the start of VIA, dealing with the passenger fleets of CN and CP for the first few years, and then talks about the devastating cuts of 1981 and 1990. The book is new enough to be able to talk about the Renaissance period at the turn of the century, but not new enough for the refurbishment of VIA's F40 and LRC fleet.

The book has a multitude of photos illustrating VIA throughout the ages. As I said, it's not a picture book, but there are many photos and they complement the text very well.

If you are a fan of passenger rail, or Canadian railways in general, you should read this book. It's one of the few books on VIA Rail and is well worth a read. You can buy it on Amazon or perhaps get it from your local library.

My Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon after using this link, at no additional cost to you.

See Also

Friday, July 20, 2018

Visiting the Souris Railway Museum

Interior of the Souris Railway Museum
My family toured southwest Manitoba over the Dominion Canada Day weekend in 2018. We stayed in Boissevain and visited the International Peace Gardens, then visited "small town Manitoba". It was a nice, low-key weekend and I really enjoyed the gardens, and especially revisiting many grain elevators that I had last seen on my two-day elevator tour in 2014.

One town we visited was Souris, Manitoba. This is a lovely town that has a great downtown full of interesting shops, and it also hosts the Souris Railway Museum.

The Souris Railway Museum, from the outside
The museum is in a building built to look like a bay window caboose. The interior is filled with many railway artefacts from the area, from Canada and beyond. There is a lot to see in a small space, and I spent a good half hour in the building, looking at the displays and talking with the two enthusiastic ex-CP volunteers there.

One end of the museum contains a diesel locomotive simulator, a device they are quite proud of. It is really only available "by chance", as not everyone is trained in how to use it. The two volunteers there couldn't operate it but did show it to me.
Diesel locomotive simulator, Souris
This is a purpose-built simulator, not a control console taken from a real locomotive. It's pretty high tech and the volunteer didn't want to mess with it. He said it was quite a good simulation.

The museum is well worth visiting if you are in the area. Visit their web site for more information!

Other Attractions

While you're in the area, see caboose CP 437180 just up the road at the Hillcrest Museum.
Caboose CP 437180 in Souris, Manitoba
Don't forget the famous swinging bridge - just on the other side of the Hillcrest Museum.
Souris Swinging Bridge

Happy Accident

CP 2201 in Souris, Manitoba
We went to get some ice cream after touring Souris. As we were walking to our van, I heard a distant horn. I hustled the family into the van and headed trackside, to find CP 2201 and 2212 running light through the town. A lucky catch!

Postscript - Train Register

One artifact I was particularly interested in was this train register book from Lyleton, Manitoba, containing entries from 1955 to 1964.
Lyleton, Manitoba train register book
The page shows trains 105, 123, 124, 230, 251, 530 and 551. Some of those trains are interesting because the 1955/04/24 employee timetable only shows trains 123 and 124 (first class passenger trains) and mixed trains 253 and 254.
CP Lyleton subdivision, 1955/04/24
Those train numbers are a bit of a mystery to me.

Lyleton must have been 2-6-0 "Mogul" territory at that time, as the locomotives listed on the register are CP 1274, CP 1285 and CP 1291.

The trains weren't huge, as the CP Lyleton subdivision was a "dead end" subdivision starting on the CP Napinka subdivision in Deloraine and ending in Lyleton. The register shows 3 or 4 passenger cars and no more than 10 freight cars.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: Heartland

"Heartland", by Greg McDonnell
I'm ashamed to say that I had never read Greg McDonnell's classic book "Heartland" until last month. This book was published in 1993, for goodness' sakes!

I rectified that error, and I'm glad I did. This is a book about railroading in the heartland of the United States of America - the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The book features hundreds of photos by Mr. McDonnell and many other talented photographers, together with the author's engaging and informative captions and essays.

Greg McDonnell has a certain style of writing. It conveys a breathless excitement for the power and history of railroading, and one can't help but be drawn into the glory and excitement of railroading and the courage and determination of the men and women who work with trains.

I would say a solid 80-90 percent of the photos in this book are great. They are great by virtue of the subject matter - rare locomotives or long-abandoned locations - or by the setting and composition. I'd say there are a few "meh" photos, but art is in the eye of the beholder.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book. You can buy it on Amazon, or even better yet, find it in your local library like I did.

See all my book reviews

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Logos Galore

Autoracks in the sunset
In the past few years, I've been paying a lot more attention to the freight cars in trains. The locomotives are certainly the stars of the show, but the freight cars are the ones that actually earn money for the railway. Flatcars, boxcars, autoracks, tank cars, covered hoppers, container cars... there is a lot of variety in today's trains.

I was watching a train full of autoracks a while ago and decided to photograph some of the logos on the train. Autoracks carry road vehicles like cars, trucks and SUVs, and in North America are usually multi-level and fully enclosed. Structurally, these are built on top of flatcars, which are often leased from TTX or other companies and are not owned by the railways whose logos they sport.

I took the opportunity in June to photograph one train and document some of the logos on the autoracks. Here they are, in alphabetical order, except for CSX which I listed first. You'll see why.


CSX logo
 I saw four different varieties of CSX logos on that train!

CSX - how tomorrow moves
 A lot of people don't like this (newest) variant of CSX' logo. I'm OK with it.

CSX - how tomorrow moves - on silver
This is the same logo, but on a silver background.

CSX logo
 CSX underscored.


BNSF railway logo
Note the clips holding the BNSF "swoosh" logo onto the car.


CN railway logo
The CN logo is quite simple - the CN "wet noodle" on black.


Conrail logo
The Conrail logo was an interesting find.


Canadian Pacific railway logo
No "logo" here - just "CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY" in block lettering.


Ferromex logo
 It's not unusual to see Ferromex autoracks through Winnipeg. Autoracks travel a long way!

Ferromex Grupo Mexico
This seems less common to me.

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern thoroughbed
 I am an unabashed fan of the Norfolk Southern "thoroughbred" logo. I think it really conveys speed and power, something that a railway should be proud of.

Norfolk Southern
Not so interesting but still nice.

Union Pacific

Union Pacific
The Union Pacific "shield".


So there you have it - eight railways' logos on one train. Not too bad! The only one I didn't see that I often do is Kansas City Southern.