Friday, November 15, 2019

Postcard from Port Huron

This is the latest installment in an occasional series where I share my thoughts about a single photo. You can read the other postcard posts by clicking the links below.

Postcard from Chemical Valley (2015)
Postcard from Saint Laurent Boulevard (2015)
Postcard from Twin Elm (2016)
Postcards from Alberta (2016)
Postcard from Vaughan (2019)

This photo makes me nostalgic for a few reasons. At first glance, it's not much. A large boxcar spotted at the end of a weedy spur. But upon closer look, you might see glimpses of railway history.


I saw this boxcar from across the water in Point Edward, Ontario, beneath of Bluewater Bridge. I brought my daughters and nephew there in the summer so they could run around at the playground and have some famous bridge french fries. As we were walking along the water's edge, I saw the boxcar and it made me smile for a few reasons.

The first reason is that there are still some active rail lines along waterfronts, even though many have disappeared from the urban landscape. This line, in particular, is a former Grand Trunk line, now part of the Canadian National system. I've seen some compelling photos over the years of old blue and red GT geeps crawling along this old right-of-way to serve the industry along the line.

Every time I visit the area, I almost expect this rail line to be removed. There is no place in today's modern world for tiny little spurs along the waterfront to be serviced by massive Class I railways.

Well, I guess there is still room for this type of operation.

I don't know what I like more, the weeds along the tracks, the fact that this car reminds of of the old high-cube boxcars that once carried auto parts or the fact that this photo also incorporates the stunning blue water of the St. Clair River.

For those interested in the operational details, this car carries paper, as it has been spotted at the Dunn Paper mill on Riverview Street in Port Huron. Someone with more knowledge of CN's local operations might be able to tell you about the frequency of this service.

For me though, I prefer just to marvel at the image itself. A boxcar on an old spur, sitting amid the weeds along the waterfront. This shot could have been taken in the 1970s or possibly 1960s and the scene would be nearly identical today.

In other words, timeless.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Postcard from Vaughan

This is the latest installment of an occasional series where I take a single photo and share some thoughts about it. You can read the other postcard posts by clicking the links below.

Postcard from Chemical Valley (2015)
Postcard from Saint Laurent Boulevard (2015)
Postcard from Twin Elm (2016)
Postcards from Alberta (2016)

Somewhere between the time when I was young and now, railways have become a lot less friendly. I don't mean to make this sound like a gripe, but merely an observation. I remember kids walking through my hometown on the CSX tracks all the time when I was young, even though the rail line was much more active than it is today.

Even here in Ottawa, I love to see the old images of Walkley Yard and other rail installations around this city from decades past. It is obvious from those images that people could walk onto railway property and take photos of trains at just about any time. Go to any rail history blog or website and you're sure to come across tales of people who made friends with railway workers and took photos on their railway's property at will.

No more.

Railways have become much more serious about their property in the last two decades. There are a number of reasons why this has happened, not the least of which is the heightened concern over security. When I was young, I often walked along tracks and wandered onto railway properties. I'm sure many people of my vintage will say the same thing. Try that today and you're sure to get yourself into a lot of trouble (in other words, don't try it).

This summer, as my family made its way to Southwestern Ontario to visit family, I kept my camera nearby in the passenger seat of our car, just in case we got lucky and saw a train along the highway. Sadly, I had no luck in Kingston, where the Kingston Subdivision parallels Highway 401 for a lengthy stretch.

However, as we were making our way through Toronto on the 407, I readied my camera near CN's massive Macmillan Yard and hoped there might be something worth capturing. In fact, there was. Barely discernible above the concrete highway barrier  was a CN unit marshalling a long line of autoracks.



I tried to clean up the image a bit, but there's only so much you can do as your car is passing by at 100 km/h. But it did get something, which is better than nothing. Especially for me.

I've said this in posts recently. As much as I liked going to rail yards when I was kid, I really try to stay away from them now, given the choice. I find I'm much happier out there near a busy main line (when I am near one) finding a good piece of landscape to frame a passing train.

But I remember being mesmerized by the thought of seeing this yard when I was young. I suppose if I find myself in Vaughan in the future, I might seek out the one small viewing platform on the edge of the yard at the side of a busy road. It would no doubt be fun to capture a bunch of trains all at once, provided there was activity in the yard at that time.

I guess I'm so used to the thrill of the chase along a main line and having to work extremely hard for my shots that the allure of something easy doesn't excite me like it once did.

Maybe I like this shot because it was so hard to capture.