Monday, October 2, 2023

Moving the People in 1940

Twenty or so years ago, I met up with my family in the Niagara Region over the Easter weekend, as it was a reasonable half-way point between where I lived at the time (Ottawa) and where they were (Sarnia area). Over the course of our adventures, we happened across this antique shop that had items flooding every room of a somewhat dilapidated old farmhouse. I remember the uneven floorboards and endless curiosities. As antiques aren't really my thing, I spent some time going through old issues of Life Magazine. I found one of the older issues from 1940 and bough it for something like $5 or so, just for the historic value of the old stories.

There are some fascinating stories about the Second World War in the magazine, but the old relic eventually made its way onto a bookshelf and sat there for many years, untouched. Recently, as I was going through other items in the bookshelf, I dug out the old magazine and started leafing through it again. I was quite surprised to find five railway advertisements in the magazine, which was a pleasant surprise.

The ads speak of the unparalleled comforts of the passenger trains of the Union Pacific (the Challengers), the Santa Fe (El Capitan) Southern Pacific (Arizona Limited) and the New Haven (Pullman Standard streamliners). There was even an ad for Lionel Trains.

When I read the ads for each railway, there were a few things that really struck me. The first was how much description went into the ads and how important rail travel was in North America, particularly in 1940. We all know what role the railways played during World War Two in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops to fight on the side of the Allies in Europe and later in the Pacific theatre against the expansionist Japanese empire. 

One question you might have is why a railway would advertise in 1940, at a time of global conflict. I had to check my history to see when the United States entered in the Second World War. Sure enough, it was following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 7, 1941. War was declared with Japan on December 8, while Germany declared war with the United States on December 11, given the the Nazi-led administration was friendly with the Japanese emperor. 

By way of comparison, Canada had already been in the war since 1939, as our country was quick to support the United Kingdom.

So, given that historical context, it makes a little more sense for the Santa Fe Railway to advertise its passenger services between Chicago and Los Angeles in 1940, although even without the U.S. being at war, I still wonder about the wisdom of this type of advertising. The reason I wonder is that it was generally accepted that by November 25, 1940, when this ad ran, the country was still very much feeling the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But there are clues in this advertisement that allow you to understand the railway's thinking. The most obvious point to consider is that this is a promotion for El Capitan, the discount streamliner that often played second fiddle to the railways' Super Chief, the railway's flagship luxury passenger train, which began running in 1936. 

The difference between the two trains was the Super Chief had many amenities that El Capitan did not, including sleeping cars, which was the major difference. The running time between the two cities was quite impressive at just a shade under 40 hours for both trains. Both trains made twice-weekly departures in each direction.

Given the importance the railway placed on its passenger service, there was priority given to these trains on its fairly straight route between the Windy City and Los Angeles. And whereas the Super Chief was dubbed the Train of the Stars, as it was known to host celebrities, El Capitan was very much the People's Train, which hosted people who needed to get from Point A to Point B without much fuss. Given the economic realities of the country in 1940, the promotion of this discount train makes sense in a national publication like Life.

A few things to consider about this train. 

1. Despite its economy-based fares, the train featured a lounge and a "counter service" diner featuring Fred Harvey meals. These two amenities were a step down from something one might find on the Super Chief, but it shows you how the railways placed great importance on passenger travel in times past.

2. The railway advertised the services of a "courier nurse" on this train, whose job was not defined in the ad, but it seems this job was close to what was once known as a stewardess. There is a small photo of someone helping passengers recline their seats and sleep for the overnight portion of the journey. 

3. Going from Chicago to Los Angeles would cost you $39.50 in 1940, or $65 round trip, although the one-way fare could be augmented with a $5 surcharge for extra fare, although that is not clearly explained in the fine print. The round-trip ticket would run you $65 between these two cities.

4. The Bank of Canada inflation calculator estimates that this fare would cost the equivalent of $783 today, although I doubt those figures, since the inflation situation in Canada is likely skewing that number a little higher than it should be. Even so, $39.50 sounds like a large sum in 1940, at a time when money was scarce.

5. In 1940, the Santa Fe was clearly advertising the benefits of its streamlined FT locomotives and cars, as you can see from the prominent image of the train near the top of the ad. This would have likely been quite a novelty at the time, as the transition to diesel engines was not yet fully realized on most railways. Given the lack of servicing these diesel units required when compared to steam engines, the timing of this journey would likely have been reduced a fair bit, making it attractive to passengers.

And, in case you're wondering, a subscription to Life cost $4.45 in 1940. Stay tuned for more vintage ads from this old magazine. It turned out to be a fascinating historic find and an educational tool to explore railway history.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Summer Observations in Ottawa

Over the course of the summer in Ottawa, there have been a few railway developments worth noting. Happily, we won't have to dwell on the city's ill-fated Confederation Line light rail service terribly long. Those who live here know that this system continues to experience severe operational problems, relating to the fact that the trackage was found to be improperly installed. After another service stoppage, repairs to the rails to allow trains to properly negotiate curves and the discontinuation of many double-long trains have allowed the commuter line to return to operation in some form.

I digress. I could also mention the many delays that are pushing back the start of service on the newly expanded Trillium Line, which thankfully is powered by diesel light rail trains. That operation seems likely to be operational at some point toward the end of the year or early next year, depending on the update you believe from the city. There have been sporadic sightings of test runs in the past few months, as the builders are trying to finish partially completed stations all the way out to Riverside South.

Can we move on? Talking about the city's light rail system is such a drag.

The good news is that Via Rail Canada recently announced the restoration of more service to and from Toronto, which is the result of increased demand for rail transportation. Two more trains have been added, as of Sept. 1, which restores services to and from Toronto to roughly half of what was available to travellers before the pandemic. The restoration of service in Ottawa is part of a larger return to normal across the Quebec City-Windsor corridor. 

For local railfans here, I can't imagine two more Via Rail corridor trains will elicit much enthusiasm, but I suppose it can only hasten the imminent arrival of the new Siemens equipment, which continues to arrive from its U.S. manufacturer. More trains means more equipment needed, right?

I haven't done a lot of wandering about the city this summer, especially not trackside, although I have had a number of opportunities to catch Via Train 59 westbound on Wednesday evenings, as I am trackside at that time when my daughters are at a nearby dance class.

I noticed over the summer that an industrial spur that once served some small industry on Bentley Drive has been disconnected.

This is a shot taken in July from the Hunt Club Road overpass. Over the course of the summer, I haven't noticed much work being done beyond the initial removal of some of the rails at the switch point. I wasn't surprised to see this, as this spur has been covered over with weeds and brush for a long time. It doesn't look as though it's been used for years. And it doesn't seem as though CN has much interest in reaching out to small industry to maintain carload service along any of these spurs in west Ottawa. The slow rolling CN exit from Ottawa drags on, as the railway seems to be maintaining the remaining service to a few customers and that's it. 

If there were any interested parties looking to start a short line service here, they have yet to materialize and it doesn't look like there's much infrastructure left to work with, even if someone had the notion to get started here. Sad, but that's how a multibillion-dollar transcontinental railway operates. There is little room for small backwater operations that don't meet its margins.

I have not seen CN's Arnprior Turn returning to Walkley on the Wednesday evenings when I am near the Beachburg Sub near Merivale Road. Although, it's always cool to see the remnants of the old Northern Transcontinental line when wandering along the tracks.

Much of this old infrastructure has long since been removed from the Beachburg Sub. However, a few of the old searchlight signals remain, turned aside form the tracks, like this one, which was staring forlornly off at the adjacent soccer fields. 

Later this year, I'd like to share some of the many shots I have taken of Via Train 59, an evening departure from Ottawa Station that passes through Federal Junction around 6 p.m. each night. I have tried to get as many different creative shots as I can around this junction, which is almost completely hidden from view. 

Here's a shot I got below the Hunt Club Road overpass, near Gurdwara Drive. The shot proved to be tough as something would be blurry, and it wasn't going to be the train. I don't know if I will try this vantage point again, as it was extremely difficult to keep the train in focus with the camera I have. 

However, I was reasonably happy with this shot, as the F40 and the first class coach match each other with their wraps. Much of this train was wrapped, in fact, but it was not a complete matching set.

The fall hopefully will bring with it some more interesting shots and possibly more variety. I did manage to travel to Waterloo near the end of summer, but my time was completely booked up, which did not allow for any rail sightings. 

I still have a great deal of material to share from Stratford, the GTA and a few other unexpected places, thanks to the contributions of friends. For now, this is what passes for news from Ottawa.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Mainline freight action near the station (Stratford, Part II)

In a recent post, I shared a few images of evening GO Train 3775 returning west and stopping in Stratford, en route to London. This is part of a pilot project where Metrolinx is providing weekday commuter service between London and Toronto's Union Station. For commuters along the Guelph Subdivision, the imminent discontinuation of this service will likely come as a disappointment. For me, I was grateful to catch the evening GO Train, complete with an old F59 trailing, in a rare setting. 

The bonus was that, as I waited for the GO Train, a eastbound CN mainline freight train was waiting for the GO Train to pass. This train, CN 581, was led by three idling engines, which were parked east of the Via Rail station, close to CN's yard office on Regent Street.

The parked freight was carrying mainly covered hoppers, making it quite possibly a grain or agriculture-related movement, as the Guelph Subdivision passes through some of Ontario's richest and most productive farmland. I was quite pleased to capture an image of an old Burlington Northern three-bay covered hopper, still visually intact sans graffiti. 

This car has 4,750 cu. ft. of storage space, made in 1992 by Trinity Industries for BN, all numbered in the 467XXX series. Given its fairly recent build date, that makes it positively new, in terms of the railway-branded fleets that are becoming less and less common these days. I know a lot of railway vets dislike BN's cascade green and white scheme and its ultra modern symbol, but I always liked it. It must have something to do with not growing up with BN's more well-loved predecessors, the Burlington Route, Great Northern and the Northern Pacific. I'm too young for them.

The train had quite a few of these old BN hoppers, still lettered BN, although this lettering is, of course, one of many combinations belonging to BN successor, BNSF Railway. In the late summer, this is the type of train that is quite common in this area, not to mention on the Goderich Exeter Railway, which originates in Stratford. I did catch a GEXR yard job preparing to embark for Goderich earlier in my stay in Stratford, but I'll save that series of photos for another time. That train was also very heavily weighted with covered hoppers.

Once the GO Train made its way west, I made my way east down Regent Street, which parallels the Stratford Yard. From a public vantage point, I managed to capture a shot of the head end of Train 581. There were some visual hazards, but I think they add to the scene quite nicely, as they put the image of this train in context. The head end was led by GP40-2 9449, which was given the new scheme in recent years. The second unit, also a recent convert to the scheme, is GP38-2 7501, although it does not have a wide safety cab hood, as 9449 does. The final unit is GP38-2 4725, still in its original sergeant stripes. 

You can also see the first car is an Ontario Northland ribbed boxcar, with the chevrons logo. Behind the parked freight were a large string of covered hoppers that were parked closer to the Masterfeeds agricultural products concrete elevator complex, which is on the east end of the yard, near the Romeo Street flyover.

Here's a closer shot of the two lead units, taken from Regent Street.

In both shots, you can see what appears to be a moveable wooden ramp, no doubt used to unload boxcars for use in carload service deliveries to local customers. I'm not sure how much business CN does like this, but it seems to me that this would be why they would keep this ramp around. Also, I'm guessing it might be used if they need to move heavy construction equipment onto a train for MoW service. These are just guesses on my part.

There was also one other cool sighting in the yard, as I explored it from all angles from the surrounding streets. On the side of the yard opposite the station, there was this electrical unit that was parked on a heavy-duty flatcar. I could only get so close on public property to get a proper shot of it. As we were leaving Stratford to head home, I saw a large contingent of local public utility vehicles carting this unit onto a truck for use somewhere in the local electrical grid.

The other rolling stock sightings were part of the GEXR move, so I will save those images for another post.

This meet between the freight train and the GO Train was one of many such sightings that dotted my weekend in Stratford. I was quite happy to catch so much action in Stratford, which can be a hit-or-miss place to railfan these days, unless you're there to catch the regularly scheduled Via service. And yes, I did get a few shots of a Via passenger train making its way to the station, since it was carrying members of my extended family into town for a family reunion. 

More material for another post. Stratford proved to be a gold mine this summer!