Monday, March 25, 2024

November Surprise in Stratford

In November, my family made its way to Southwestern Ontario, as my wife and I were involved in a conference in Waterloo. That meant I was able to bring my daughters for a visit to Stratford, where their grandparents live. While there, I naturally made my way to the town's train station, which is always a treat for me. I haven't been to Stratford's rail yard at that time of year, so I wasn't sure what I would see. Given the seasonal nature of some of the traffic on the CN Guelph Subdivision and the GEXR Goderich Sub, the look of this rail yard likely changes with the seasons.

When I initially walked past the yard, I captured this image of a field full of rail and a blue boxcar in the background. CN maintains a fairly extensive maintenance of way facility to the east of the station, with large piles of track supplies. I thought this made a good image.

Next, I captured a clear shot of this piece of snow clearing equipment, a Jordan spreader. This car has been in the yard for quite a while, but I have never had a clear line of sight to capture it. I was happy to get a shot of it finally. Surprisingly, there were no identifying numbers on the car. I blew up the photo and saw the remnants of an old CR reporting mark and some numbers, but it was too hard to make out what they read. I can assume though that this car once belonged to Conrail, given its CR reporting marks that are still faintly visible.

For those who don't know about this part of the country, snow clearing equipment like this can sometimes be absolutely critical to keeping trains moving. Southwestern Ontario, especially areas not far from Lake Huron, are susceptible to extreme snow events and heavy snowfall, or lake effect snow, as they call it. 

In some areas, the wide expanses of open farmer's field make for dangerous drifting, which requires heavy duty equipment to clear rail lines. I often tell people that parts of the southwest are like the prairies, only with more trees. But the wide open space can still be quite forbidding in the winter. 

The Goderich Exeter Railway up to Goderich, in particular, is sometimes forced to use drastic measures just to keep its line open in the winter. I am guessing this equipment didn't get any use this past winter.

As is often the case, the yard was quiet when I walked by, with this GEXR-clad geep sitting on a stub-end track. I tried to frame it with the old Burlington Northern hoppers in the background, since they were remarkably intact and free of graffiti. Hoppers in this yard are very common, as agricultural products are a key commodity for the GEXR and CN on the Guelph Sub. Also, the Masterfeeds elevator facility is served by rail in the east end of the yard.

I also found this two-bay hopper a bit curious, as its metal sheeting was a bit angular at the ends.

Figuring that was it, as the mainline was showing nothing coming, I went downtown to enjoy some time at a coffee shop and a used record store with my father-in-law. I took one final overall shot of the yard from the platform. The little hint of sun on the old geep was a nice little surprise.

It is always a bit disappointing to capture bits and pieces, but since this trip was an impromptu visit, I figured it was a win since I managed to capture some additional interesting images to share.

Later on the same weekend, we went back to Stratford for another quick visit. This time, I was able to leave the kids with the grandparents so I could wander the town by myself, which I did. I returned to the rail yard and began to see if there was anything I had overlooked on my previous visit. It turns out, I had. As I walked around the yard on the nearby roads, I caught sight of something deep in the yard near the elevator.

Two GEXR units sat near the elevator, with a splash of sunshine illuminating the cab of the front unit. I was quite surprised to see these engines sitting there. I have only ever seen two GEXR geeps in this yard in all my visits to this yard. I figured the extra power might have been needed, as the end of the harvest in Ontario likely meant more moves to and from the elevator. 

I tried a few different approaches to capture these engines in the yard, but I like the shot above the best. I did zoom in to maybe get some more information on which engines were actually sitting back there. The lead unit is ex-Southern Ontario Railway GP38-2 2111. I was not able to get a shot that helped me identify the second unit. I did like the Grand Trunk Western coil car that was in the shot, although it made it a bit more challenging to focus on the engines. You can even see two brooms just to the left of the GTW car, for clearing off switches in the winter, I'm guessing.

Before leaving, I spotted a BC Rail lumber car, so I took a shot, given I don't have many shots of any BC Rail equipment, so I figured it was worth it. I also like that you can see a Burlington Northern hopper in the background. Two fallen flags in one shot.

Just before leaving the yard, the searchlight signals east of the yard came to life and showed that a train was on its way. I stuck around for quite a while waiting for that train, but it never showed and I had to move on. I made my way once again to a great used record store in downtown Stratford and found a cheap copy of Gordon Lightfoot's first Greatest Hits record on vinyl. I love listening to Gord at dinner time. So I missed the train, but I gained the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Not a bad trade-off.


Randy said...

The 2 bay covered hoppers are used for salt loading from the mine in Goderich.

Eric said...

Liking your creative shots there, Michael. You can't miss with freight cars!
Thanks for sharing,

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments, Eric and Randy. Randy-- You pointed out something that I should have mentioned. I often talk about the salt mine in Goderich being a major customer for GEXR. And here I am, blabbing away about hoppers in the Stratford yard and talking about the agricultural traffic. The salt hoppers are always a presence for GEXR. Thanks for noting my omission!

Canadian Train Geek said...

That Masterfeeds photo with the light on the GEXR units... *chef's kiss*

A great series of photos, in fact! I love doing exploration like this... seeing cars, wondering where they go...

Michael said...

Thanks, Steve. I debated what shot would be more effective to share. I personally like the shot with the entire silos in the background, but some people like a tighter focus on the actual trains. So I shared both. To each their own.