Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Cabooses of Ottawa (2003-2022)

Since I began blogging in 2013, I have had a few moments where I was able to take in CN operations at Walkley Yard in the city. This is a tricky task, as the yard is largely inaccessible. At the end of Albion Road, there is a gravel access road where a few businesses retain civic addresses, which makes the road a grey area. I do not go down the gravel access road, as it seems to me to be trespassing. However, I have had occasions in the past to see that CN has made use of several cabooses, which provide for a little bit of interest in an otherwise dull railfanning city. 

The cabooses CN has made use of have varied in quality and origin. Given that CN largely stopped using cabooses by 1990-91, it makes the stories of the cabooses in use in Ottawa over the years that much more interesting. Mostly, the cabooses have been used for backwards movements or shoving movements, where the train's conductor needs a safe platform to observe what's ahead on the tracks as visibility from the engine is restricted at the rear.

CN 9106 (ex OCR 9106, ex Devco 9106)

In 2013, it was hard not to see this caboose from the end of Albion Road. It was parked in plain view, not far from the old maintenance building in the yard. It did not appear to be in active service.

By the time I started taking photos near Walkley, like this shot in 2015, the old caboose was a mess of graffiti and broken windows. You can just make out the marking of CN 9106 below the Devco Railway script above. But, upon closer inspection, the 9106 number was once followed by OCR, which is blacked out in this image. That means this caboose predated CN's operations and was used prior to 2008 by the former Ottawa Central Railway. I found this image online from 2003, which gives you an idea of how long it was used in the area.The Devco part had been painted over long ago, but the car retained its green and yellow Devco colours, if you don't count the abundance of graffiti.

This caboose is an AAR M930 class wide vision cupola caboose, which was a common van used by many Class I and regional railroads right up until the industry discontinued the use of these cars. This common caboose was built by International Car Co. from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s. They were in service until the end of the caboose era. CN also made a number of these cabooses at its shops in Montreal.

This caboose saw service on OCR and CN until it was taken out of service at some point in the early 2010s, at which point it sat in Walkley Yard and was left to the vandals. It's a shame that it was not preserved, as it probably saw a lot of service on the Devco Railway, the Cape Breton coal carrier that served the island's remaining coal mines and Sydney's interantional shipping piers between the late 19060s before that railway ended operations officially in 2001.

CN 79834 (ex Ottawa-L'Orignal 2000, ex OCR)

This caboose was in active service as late as 2013 in the city. It was a curiosity by any stretch, mostly because of its odd paint job and the even more curious inscription "Millennium" that was once stencilled onto the left side of the van. It disappeared from Walkley Yard years ago, but was used for shoving moves on the Vankleek Spur as recently as 2020, as per this webpage. The car was built at the CN Point-St-Charles shops under the same number it bore through its later years of service with CN.

The car was sold to the Ottawa-L'Orignal Railway in 1996. The railway, which operated between Glen Robertson on the Alexandria Sub and Hawkesbury, was then bought out by the Ottawa Central, which continued to use the van until 2008 when CN bought OCR and a host of other assets, which meant this old caboose was back with its original owner.

Here's a 2013 shot of an Ottawa crew assembling a train on a Sunday morning, with the old Millennium caboose behind the engine.

These days, the old warhorse is back where it started, used for shoving moves in the Montreal area. It's interesting to speculate what happened to this van. When was it repainted from its original CN colours to blue? How did that paint scheme disintegrate? To be honest, it looks like the paint on this car was applied with roller brushes. I would love to know the story behind its unique appearance.

The only mystery I managed to solve was that the caboose was numbered OLOR 2000 when it was owned by the Ottawa-L'Orignal Railway, which would explain why it was called the Millennium caboose. Maybe someone on the railway had a sense of humour? 

DAWX 79872 (Ex CN 472000 boxcar)

This caboose, which was a former CN caboose, was in storage in Walkley Yard for years. The company that owns it is D.A. Walmsley and Company. It was attached to an RDC9 unit, also owned by DAWX. Sadly, both of these cars were subjected to arson, the RDC unit just recently. There isn't a lot of information about DAWX online, although a picture from locomotive and railway car rebuilding company IRSI in Moncton, New Brunswick provides a clue. This photo shows an old CP RDC, owned by DAWX, being rebuilt at the facility. The company clearly has railway holdings. I have not been back to Walkley Yard in a number of years, so I'm not sure what is to become of its torched RDC unit here or what happened to its previously torched ex-CN caboose. The only information I could find about this caboose is from the Bytown Railway Society, which lists some of its history in this document. From this document, I learned this old caboose was actually a converted boxcar. That's about all I could find. How these cars came to be stored in Walkley Yard is a mystery. I can imagine there would be better places to store cars where the security was better.

GTW 79047

The most recent caboose to ply the rails here is this relatively fit looking Grand Trunk caboose, which has been used on the Arnprior Turn of late. You don't have to look too hard online to find photos of this van in various CN yards across its system in Michigan (ex-GTW territory), Ontario and Winnipeg. It has seen a lot of yard duty, judging by the photos I have seen in various rail photo forums.

Since crews here have to do a fair bit of backward moves on the Smiths Falls Sub to Federal, not to mention on the Vankleek and former OLOR, it's not surprising that CN would want to have one of these old warhorses around to make things easier for the local crew. It certainly has provided a fair bit of excitement among railfans in the area who are making the weekly run to Arnprior a regular spectator sport of late.

Many of us bemoan the lack of variety on today's modern railways. CN's continued use of cabooses in this region certainly gives local railfans one tiny thing to brag about that those along the mainlines cannot claim.


TimH said...

Neat post! Re: the ex-Devco 9106 - that van was built by Hawker Siddeley, and was originally CN 79321 before it (along with a group of similar vans) were sold off to Devco. Those H-S vans were the other large group of modern cabooses built for CN, aside from the ones they built themselves at Pointe St-Charles. So it's another one that has really come full circle, ending up back with CN! When Devco shut down, the remaining operations became the Sydney Coal Railway, which still operates today (albeit under a different owner). The SCR had been part of the Quebec Rail Corp., the same shortline operator that owned the Ottawa Central, so I suspect that explains why that particular van ended up in Ottawa in the OCR days.

Another van that was in the mix for a while was AMXX 79717, another ex-CN Pointe-St-Charles caboose. That one had been owned by Smurfitt Stone, then ended up with the OCR. It didn't survive very long into the CN takeover though, as it was disposed of early and ended up being preserved at Sharbott Lake - albeit painted into a highly anachronistic CP scheme! When operating with the OCR it was still in patched CN paint, and was one of the unique units with a white cupola stripe indicating that it could clear the Sarnia tunnel. A bit of history from the group that now owns it: https://kickandpushca.wordpress.com/caboose-history/

Eric said...

Great cornucopic compendium of caboose content, Michael!

Before going to Montreal, CN 79834 was used in the Halifax-Dartmouth area. I refer to it as That Van because of its distinctive appearance.

Thanks for sharing,

Canadian Train Geek said...

Gotta love cabooses! The more, the merrier!

Michael said...

Thanks for the added information, guys. There's enough in the comments to warrant an add-on post! Which gives me an idea...