Friday, January 20, 2023

New for 2023

Since I brought this blog back in August 2021, I have been blessed with an abundance of material to share, which was made easier by the fact that I have slowed my pace to one post every other week. This means that I posted 24 times last year. That didn't seem like enough.

Those who have been following this blog since the beginning know that I maintained a weekly post pace for years, until the pandemic hit in 2020, when things became different. Personally, I found that I was running short on material and my posts were not up to my personal standards. I like to include elements of railfanning, a little bit of railway technical knowledge, some history, lots of storytelling and some big-picture commentary. I found I was not hitting many of those goals in my posts, so I parked the blog, not knowing if I wanted to resume what I was doing. 

I found that I had begun to rediscover my passion for sharing railway stories in August 2021, although I was wary of falling into the same trap of overpromising and underdelivering. That said, I now find myself in the position of having at least a half year's worth of posts in planning or production, which means I am creating a backlog. That is not a huge problem to have, until such time as when some of the posts cease to be fresh. I know I have a few posts that need significant updating.

Chatham, Ontario Via Rail station, March 2022. Expect to see a post about this railway town.

My solution this year is to post three times each month. I am aiming to post 10 days apart. That means you will see new content on the 1st, 10th and 20th of each month, with a gap a little bit longer at the end of each month. 

With this change of pace, I am going to continue developing content that is more far-reaching than ever. In the past, I have explored the various elements in a single railway photograph. I did the same thing earlier this year when I shared the various elements of two photographs I took of boxcars in Ogdensburg, New York. When I say far-reaching, I mean that I aim to explore more than just the nuts-and-bolts of where I shot a certain train, its number, what type of engine was pulling the consist and in which direction it was travelling. These are all elements I have included in the past, but it doesn't interest me as much as the intangibles of railroading. I thrive on my family railway stories, the challenges of getting shots in tight spaces and what railroading means to people. I find that sometimes railfanning becomes tiresome to me when it becomes more about the technical aspects rather than the intangibles. 

We all remember the thrill trains gave us as kids, I assume. I want to keep that spirit alive in my posts. I have a hard time understanding when people count axles on a train, for example. I see that a fair bit and I find it a bit mystifying to be honest. That's not a critique, by the way. If that is what people thrive on, that's great. You just won't find that level of detail here.

I will never profess to be the best photographer. You can visit any number of other blogs to see more proficient imagery and more informed technical information about railways. But for me, the stories will continue to be the main emphasis of my writing. I think it's just as important to show shots that didn't quite turn out and explain why.

I will try to maintain a strong focus on Eastern Ontario, but given its limitations, I will continue to branch out whenever I can and tell railway stories from wherever I happen to be.

All this to say, this blog will continue to evolve. I know that, since my hiatus, a large chunk of my readership has scattered, many to Facebook. I see some people slowly coming back, which is exciting to see. However, I am aware that blogs aren't what they used to be and it seems as if the trend toward railfans clustering on social media rather than on blogs will continue. That's okay. To each, their own. 

I will continue doing my thing here as honestly and actively as I can. I thank everyone for continuing to visit. Please feel free to make suggestions for content you'd like me to cover or pass along any information or images you'd like to share.

Cheers,

Michael

hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com.



Tuesday, January 10, 2023

End of the line in Ogdensburg, New York

It's always fun to get photos of railway action in new places. For me in December, an emergency run to Ogdensburg, New York for children's medicine turned out to be a unique chance to get a photo of the end of the New York & Ogdensburg Railway line in the small upstate New York town. It was not an easy photo to capture and I think I may have aroused suspicion. In any case, here's the story and some thoughts on this seemingly ordinary picture.

First, a little background. The NYOG is a shortline railway connecting the St. Lawrence River port in Ogdensburg with a junction with the CSX in Norwood, New York. The connection is with the CSX St. Lawrence Division, which is ex-Conrail, ex-Penn Central, ex-New York Central. The Ogdensburg rail line is 26 miles (41.8 km) long and serves some vital purposes that might not be apparent to the casual observer. It serves as a transloading facility for trucks that serve Ontario, Quebec and northern New York. According to the port authority in Ogdensburg, it carries plastic pellets, resins, oils, lubricants, fuels, adhesives, chemicals, feed, grain, fertilizers, minerals and some unique cargo like wind turbine blades. The railway is owned by the Vermont Rail System. This is the railway that took over much of what was known as Central Vermont, a one-time CN subsidiary.

Getting shots near the port is almost impossible, as the area is surrounded by chain link fence with razor wire on top. Not surprising. However, there is a small vantage point near the end of Paterson Street, where it intersects with a tiny dead-end Railroad Street. From this point, where there is a riverside parking lot, where you can see the end of one of the spurs that are scattered throughout the port area. This is the shot I got. 

Big deal, right? Look closer. You can see the green boxcar at the end of the line has a roll-top door at the end that opens up. I have a closer image (see below) where I could make out that the car's numbering and lettering was changed to read "MW" which is code for maintenance of way. You can also see the remnants of an old Conrail logo on the maroon car to the right of the loading machinery. There is also a Vermont Rail System car in the lineup, not to mention some covered hopper to the right. It was hard to make out from where I was standing, next to the fence.

Here's a closer look.

This shot gives you a better look at the faded Conrail logo, as well as the Vermont Rail System logo to the right. I still had a hard time making out what was loaded in the cars, although it looked like something bailed, like compressed recycled material or something like that. You can also see a group of buoys on the asphalt, likely due to the ice in the St. Lawrence River. Here's a blown up shot of the cargo.

Here's a closer look at that MW car at the end of the line, which appears to have a rolling garage door installed at the end. Seems like this car is no longer fit for any revenue movement.

Here's where the story gets interesting. I was setting up to take more shots of various cars in the consist, thanks to my camera's zoom, but then I realized people working in a nearby building had taken an interest in what I was doing. I suppose that's natural, as this place is fenced off for a reason. I turned away from the fence and checked my phone, but the people in trucks on the other side were watching me like a hawk, so I decided, even though I was on public property, it was time to move on. I went back to my car in the parking lot, but noticed that the people watching me were not going to be satisfied until I drove away, which I did reluctantly.

There weren't any other obvious vantage points to view this rail yard and I was on the clock, as my kids needed the medicine, so I decided to move on. So ended my brief experience of photographing a new-to-me railway in New York state.

This is a good example of the type of railway photos I have come to appreciate more and more. There isn't anything exciting going on. There are no movements, no engines, no action. It's just a string of old boxcars. But I have come to realize that railway photography can be as much about where the railway is situated as what's on the rails. The background details provide more to the story and make the hobby more interesting. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

2022: The Year in Photos

Happy New Year, everyone.

I'd like to thank everyone for stopping by in 2022. I wasn't sure how long I could sustain this blog when I started it back up in August 2021. I did miss it, but the wear and tear of pandemic and my lack of time trackside made it a losing proposition. I couldn't do something half way. Luckily, in 2022, I was able to get out a fair bit to see some action along a number of rail lines. The results were surprising. I didn't see all that many mainline freights, but I did see some pretty cool things. Here is a brief summary of some of the highlights from 2022.

In March, I visited my family in Southwestern Ontario and was able to get some time along the rails, as my brother and nephew took me on a tour of their favourite haunts. I even was able to see some things on my own. While in Wyoming, I saw this fast moving freight roar through town. You can read about it here.

Those who are regular readers know that this catch in Wyoming was the second freight I caught in the span of half an hour on the Strathroy Subdivision. Just moments before this meet, I came across an eastbound train on a siding outside Watford. That train was clearly waiting for this one, which had the priority of movement. Here's a shot of the parked train, which was waiting in the howling wind in an area of barren farm fields. And, as an added bonus, this train had some guest power in the number two position, courtesy of BNSF.

But if there was a theme to this year, it was the year of the near miss. I did a lot of travelling this summer but somehow seemed to miss out when trackside along main lines. This has been a very unusual year for railfanning for me. I really had to strain my memory to think of the mainline freights I have witnessed from beginning to end. Notice I mention beginning to end. Every time I pass through Kingston on Highway 401, there is a stretch of road that parallels the CN Kingston Sub. I have had good luck on this stretch of road in the past, but this summer, not so much.

Whenever I catch a train mid-train like this, I always curse the fact that we didn't time our journey a little better! Granted the timing has to be perfect. But, when I at least had a chance to catch the mid-train DPU, this minivan's timing really hurt. Not going to lie.

So close.

I did get the chance to check out some areas of the province I haven't been to before, like Glencoe, a small town that had still hosts Via Toronto-Windsor trains. I always like to discover new stations, new stretches of track and new photo possibilities. The added bonus here was getting to spend time with my brother and nephew. The old Glencoe Grand Trunk station and caboose were also a cool site. Read the post in the link above, including the comments, to learn more about that old caboose.

As I mentioned, it was an unusual year for railfanning, as many of my highlights were not your usual train pictures. In the early summer, CN's Anrprior Turn briefly made use of an old Central Vermont caboose. While the caboose is still in Walkley Yard, as far as I can tell from the only publicly available view of the yard, its brief usage on the Renfrew Spur caused a flurry of excitement in Ottawa.

Here's another example of the unusual nature of my railfanning this year. As many locals know, Canadian Pacific sent a business train into Ottawa this year to coincide with the Women's Open golf championship at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. I was not able to get any conventional shots of this train when it was moving around the city like many other local rail guys, but I did manage to get this shot of it on the evening before it left town. This is the first shot I have taken of an old F unit in all my years of railfanning. I wish I could have gotten something better, but it's a start.

In the summer, I spent some time with family and was able to visit the Oil Museum of Canada, a rural community museum celebrating the birth of the North American oil industry. That museum has an extensive amount of railway pieces, including the old Oil Springs train station, once served by the Canada Southern Railway. I will be sharing lots of pictures and tidbits about this in the coming year. It's one of the many posts that are backlogged and waiting to be edited and shared. Here's a glimpse of what I saw.

Also this summer, I spent some time in Kitchener-Waterloo, where I used to live. I was able to watch the region's Ion light rail system in action. Unlike the system in Ottawa, the Ion system seems to work fairly well, even though much of its system interacts with vehicle traffic. The region is also home to the Waterloo Central Railway in St. Jacobs, where many pieces of historic equipment can be seen from nearby streets. I will have more about my time in Waterloo next year as well. Here's another glimpse of what I saw this summer. It's hard to tell from this angle, but this old RDC unit is clad with CP-inspired maroon stripes, with Waterloo Central written on the side. Much of the equipment in this small yard has been maintained really well and painted in a handsome Waterloo Central script.

I would like to finish with another scene from Eastern Ontario, as that is where I had my last major rail adventure. In November, I spent the better part of a day at the Kingston Via Rail station, as my daughters were in the city for a music camp and I was free to do my own thing. I saw a number of interesting meets between Via's corridor trains connecting Toronto and Ottawa and Montreal. I even managed to see one CN mainline freight, which was what I really wanted to see. I will share all of this material early in the new year. There are probably two posts worth of images to go through, which is a great problem to have This shot below was one of my favourites, as a Via employee gives an westbound locomotive crew a friendly wave in the morning as an eastbound J-train awaits clearance to depart.

There were more moments and images, but these are the ones that stick out in my head. My thanks to everyone who helped contribute to this blog this year, either directly or indirectly, including Eric from Trackside Treasure, Steve from Traingeek.ca, Keith Boardman, my eyes and ears in east Ottawa, and everyone else who passed along tips and information. 

Moving forward, I'm hoping to share more posts next year, possibly in the form of occasional pop-up posts with more newsy, topical items. You will notice I shared a pop-up post about the unusually wrapped engines that have been sent to Ottawa recently, most likely to the NRC. There are many theories as to what these trains might be. For my part, I was just happy to have stumbled across something newsworthy to share.

It's hard to be first out of the gate with news these days, as more active rail watchers share their intel on Facebook almost immediately. That's great for all of us, but it tends to hurt my cause on this blog at times. Either way, I am going to try and step up the pace in the coming year. 

I enjoyed continuing to share my passion for railways with everyone this year. Thanks for your continued support. 

Happy New Year.