I'm not one to endlessly talk about how things were better when I was young. After all, I grew up without cellphones, the Internet, digital cameras, millions of TV channels and many of the other modern conveniences that we now take for granted.
But I will say this. When it comes to railways, I miss boxcars. They used to be one of the more common types of rolling stock on any freight train. When I was younger, I recall seeing an endless assortment of boxcars pass through my hometown on the CSX freight trains. It wouldn't be uncommon to see CP Rail, CN, Central Vermont, Grand Trunk, Port Huron & Detroit, Chessie System, Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line or Conrail boxcars on a train. Many of the cars were your standard boxcars (think of the once ubiquitous CN brown boxcars). But some would have ribbed exteriors and some would be impossibly huge, like this one below in the CN Sarnia Yard, used for auto parts. They almost always had interesting railways graphics and were very much the standard bearer for railways alongside the locomotives. Think of all the slogans Southern Railways used on its boxcars, as an example.
I think the best thing about boxcars is how they add such a graphic element to railfanning. They still fly the flags of railways, both past and present, in a way that is somewhat lost today with the proliferation of containers and homogenous leasing company rolling stock. Here's a great example of what we have lost from an aesthetic point of view.
This is an old St. Lawrence Railroad boxcar, in CP Rail's Windsor Yard in 1991. You can also see a Bangor & Aroostook boxcar in the background. Behind that boxcar is Detroit's Renaissance Center, home to General Motors' headquarters.
I'm not saying I don't enjoy watching today's long container trains. I think, when taken as a whole, they are quite interesting to shoot, given their symmetrical dimensions and their mix of colours. This shot from the London CN Yard is a good example of the interesting visuals containers sometimes offer.
But what I think we've lost as railfans is the ability to pick out individual cars in a freight train to shoot. There's always a cool boxcar worth grabbing in a photo, in my opinion. I have more boxcar photos than any other type of rolling stock. I don't have many individual wellcar photos, by comparison.
There isn't much to cheer about if you're a railfan in Ottawa, but I will at least say that at least we do have a fair amount of boxcars still plying the rails here. I have snapped a few interesting ones over the years. This one I spotted in Walkley Yard, which made me think of the trains I watched as kid in Corunna. I like that there's a little stencil next to the door that says "A CSX Quality Car."
Here's another cool shot of a string of boxcars early one morning at Walkley Yard. It's an image that could have been taking 20 or even 30 years ago. But, it's actually 2013.
I'm always thankful when I catch an old boxcar on a passing freight. It's like watching a bit of history pass by. This one looked like it was hand painted.
Have you noticed that most museums or tourist railways have lots of boxcars, like this one on the Waterloo Central?
Railways today are great at what they do. But they are not nearly as colourful as they once were. Even though I know why boxcars are on the wane, part of me wishes they weren't.