Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part I)

In light of some of the great discussion I have seen lately about rolling stock, I decided to approach the subject of the humble freight car in a series of posts. With that in mind, I'd like to call to order the first session of the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society (RSAS for short).

I can't underestimate how important it is to document every piece of a train that passes by our lenses. I know there are many out there, including me, that sometimes halfheartedly take shots of rolling stock as part of our trackside experience. However, when you consider how quickly things change in this industry, it is sometimes to our detriment when we don't chronicle rolling stock like we do the front end of trains. Yes, the dramatic shot of the locomotive is always what we strive for, but should we be satisfied with the head end only?

Why is rolling stock so important? Well, here's the first reason.

1. What is common today may not be all that common tomorrow.

Case in point. When I was a teenager, intermodal container trains were just starting to really take hold as the dominant form of rail freight. I remember when the double stacks began to show up in Sarnia in the mid-1990s when the new St. Clair Tunnel was build to accommodate them. The site of these stacked containers on an endless string of well cars was jarring.

This shot above, captures the site of two container trains, one headed to Macmillan Yard in Vaughan with the other making its way out. A few decades ago, this shot would likely inspire a much different reaction than it does today.

I doubt very much that container traffic is going to go the way of the boxcar anytime soon, but it's no reason for us to ignore the site. This shot above aptly captures the essence of modern railroading in 2017 (well, this shot is 2013, but you get the idea). It also gives you an idea of what a railway carries and who it serves, based on the stamps on the trailers (JB Hunt, Canadian Tire, MSC, etc.). This allows to more easily understand how railways work.

Now compare the all-too-common intermodal stack trains with something like an old high-cube boxcar. I took this shot in the Spring of 1991 in my hometown of Corunna. This boxcar, which still retained its Louisville and Nashville lettering (although patched for CSXT), was once a very common site where I lived. These massive boxcars carried auto parts and were abundant on the rail lines in Southern Ontario, since the big three (CN, CP and CSX) all served the auto plants and parts suppliers in the region.

Well, lo and behold, these boxcars are now a distant memory and it really hasn't been all that long (less than 30 years). I have a few shots of these old cars and am glad that I do. Not only do they seem more compelling now, but they also help to explain what it was like to be trackside 30 years ago.

So take that boring shot of a freight car. You might be glad you did one day.


Canadian Train Geek said...

I'd be glad to join the RSAS, and I credit Eric Gagnon for getting me more interested in rolling stock. I'm enjoying watching the railcars go by - even stack trains, although not so much - and I especially like spotting "fallen flags" and unusual cars.

Your 86' boxcar is a great example of a once fairly common car that isn't seen any more.

Eric said...

A recent article in TRAINS magazine profiled the downfall of the humble boxcar. Specifically, 86-foot hi-cubes brought low by offshore parts production (shipped in sea cans to the US) or nearby parts plants using trucks. Ah, the once prolific, riotous rainbow hues of US road boxcars in yards like Oshawa...the red and grey of SP, the cool turquoise of Penn Central, the stately blue of B&O and the outrageous orange of ICG. Oh, and L&N!

Thanks for convening the RSAS, Michael, and I will never move adjournment!

AJ said...

Chalk me down as someone who generally has no interest in rolling stock when I am out and about. Exception to this is when I see something really old or unusual. But you make a good point - like a lot of the older equipment that is a great catch these days (thinking GMD-1U's, FP9's, etc.) because of how scarce they now are, rolling stock are much the same. I guess every now and then it is a good reminder to enjoy the common things because you never know when they fade away for something new.

Keith Boardman said...

Way off topic, but has anyone got anything relating to the Ottawa Train Yards.

I remember the area way in the late 90's, which was way before any retail development, but post rail yard.

Michael said...

Thanks everyone for joining RSAS. Let's all raise a glass to the humble boxcar! I have really tried to force myself to take rolling stock photos over the years, simpy because I am not able to be trackside nearly as often as I'd like.

Keith -- funny you should mention the Train Yards. I was just in that area recently and am putting together a post about some interesting sites around the Via station. I have been looking for material about that area pre-retail but post-rail yard. It's a topic I want to cover as part of my history series of posts. I'll let you know if I come with anything substantial.