Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Railfan 5, Take Two

If you have been reading this blog for years, you might remember that, in 2014, I participated in the Railfan Five challenge, an initiative that began with Eric Gagnon of the Trackside Treasure blog (click the Trackside Treasure link for his latest five). He's been a great influence on me. When he asked me to come up with another five photos that tell my railfan story, I readily agreed. I had to give it some thought, because Eric suggested five photos from five years. In his case, he joked that coming up with five was tough for him, given the embarrassment of riches he had to sift through from his time trackside on the mainline in Kingston. Here in Ottawa, the size of the photo vault is considerably smaller.

But then, inspiration struck.

I was just beginning to go through my 2015 photos when I started looking through my file labelled "Arnprior Local." I found a photo I instantly loved and decided that it should be my shot for 2015. Then it occurred to me that maybe finding a shot of the Arnprior Turn for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 might be a fun idea.

After all, for better or worse, this tiny runt of a train has become this blog's calling card more than anything else. I have mixed feelings about that, since I always want to offer more, but I also appreciate that readers are enamored with this train for various reasons. And, I have to say, since this train is so hard to catch, it makes every one of my photos of 589 special. So, without further ado, here is my Railfan Five, which really does tell the story of this blog, my railfanning in recent years and the state of railways in Ottawa.
Sept. 2015

This shot was taken when I had a few minutes of spare time before picking up with daughter at her daycare provider's house. My newborn baby was along for the ride, since she didn't like me much at first and would only settle down when I took her for a car ride. To be honest, 2015 was a very tough time for me, as I really struggled with my health and nearly gave up blogging. But then, little moments like this occurred and they always managed to stir within me that passion I have for railways. This shot really captures the ragged glory of the Beachburg Subdivision and the remnants of CN's operations in this part of the country.

Feb. 2016

Again, remember when I said that every time I caught this train, it was an achievement? This meet was fleeting and it almost didn't happen. I was on my way home from the hospital after undergoing an early morning MRI when I made sure to make my way home close to the tracks. It was on this miserable winter morning that I caught the one-car Arnprior Turn meandering its way through Bells Corners. I had to fire off a few blind shots from my car while keeping my eyes on the road. I ended up with some spectacular winter shots. I know some people would take issue with the poles and visual distractions, but I like them. If I'm going to show CN's operations here as they really are, then I have to show all the imperfections.

April 2017

This is the one meet I don't have a good story for, sadly. Those who read this blog know that my strengths do not necessarily lie with the technical knowledge of railways. Instead, I feel my strength lies with the personal stories and the big picture thoughts on railways in general. That's why I wish I had something profound to share about this meet, but I don't. An old warhorse GP9 pulls a string of four cars west (four cars! That's as good as it gets on this line). The great thing about chasing the Arnprior Turn is that you are almost always guaranteed to see a classic piece of motive power. CN doesn't usually have anything new working up here. And that's okay with me.

April 2018

This shot was taken from atop of snow pile at the end of a very long winter. It was also taken at a time when I was having a phenomenally hard time at work, right before I switched ministries and found a much better job in the public service. I recall capturing this shot and once again feeling better about life in general. And that is something I can't stress enough. For me, being trackside makes life better. It's a stress reliever and it's a way for me to connect with my family history. There's something about railways that runs very deep within me. It's very hard to explain. When I was putting together this post and came up with the idea of featuring the Arnprior Turn as my theme, I keep hoping against hope that I actually had a shot for each year. This was my only meet with this train in 2018. That snow pile really helped the shot, coincidentally.

March 2019

Have you noticed that, of all the shots I've shared of CN trains on the Beachburg Sub, not one features a current CN livery? All of them but one have the safety scheme. This last one was really special since I was able to capture some leased power in the midst of a snow squall. Once again, I was standing on a snow pile about 10-12 feet high, which allowed me to avoid chopping off half the train behind the weed-choked fencing. I remember when I first arrived at this spot that day, there was no snow falling. But by the time the train rumbled by, most of my shots were almost blurry because of severity of this squall. It makes no difference. It made for a very interesting shot.

So, I'd be lying if I said that my story as a railfan in the last five years didn't somehow include this train. CN 589 has been a cruel mistress at times, but it has also done wonders for this blog. So, despite my somewhat lukewarm feelings toward CN, I am grateful for what little success I've had in the last few years.

I remember in the original Railfan Five post that everyone who took up the challenge made a mention of a train-related organization that they intended to support. In my case, my support in the coming year will be directed at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls. They do tremendous work with not a lot of help. This museum is a must for all railfans. I can't wait to bring my girls back there this spring.

Other Railfan 5 blog entries worth checking out include Steve Boyko's Railfan 5 on his Traingeek site as well as Chris Mears' entry on his site, Prince Street.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Southern Comfort (Part II)

The second part of my plan to do some railfanning in Florida included a visit to the Plant City Railway Museum and the adjacent railfanning platform at the junction of the old Atlantic Coast Line A Line and the Seaboard Railroad S Line. (Here's the first post.) It all sounded very promising. The daylight wasn't terribly kind and the position of the buildings meant this was the only decent shot I could get of this caboose.

Those who read this blog know I am a fan of CSX's predecessor railways, since the Chessie System (former C&O, former Pere Marquette) served my hometown in Southwestern Ontario. That line still exists in a much reduced capacity as part of CSX's industrial switching operation for the Chemical Valley in Sarnia and a few scattered industries south of the city.

So a chance to see two historic predecessor rail lines in action was pretty exciting. The Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum is located in the city's former Union Station in the downtown. It was not open on the morning I visited, sadly, but there was more than enough on the museum grounds to look at, including this wonderfully preserved and rehabilitated Seaboard Caboose.

Plant City is an area that is dotted with a number of railway tracks, but the activity in and around the city is mostly relegated to overnight freight action, which was a big disappointment to me.

This Whitcomb switcher is almost too small to be believed. You have to see these machines to truly appreciate what it must have taken to fit any type of railroad-grade horsepower into such a small box. I looked at the axles and wheels on this thing and wondered how it maintained its balance. This unit, ACL 508, was painted in an unknown-to-me purple and grey livery for the old Atlantic Coast Line. These engines remind me of the trackmobiles you sometimes still see in industrial switching operations.Here's an example of one, for comparison.

Since the S Line and A Line were so quiet, I made sure to seek out the details on the museum grounds, such as the Seaboard logo on the caboose. Here's an interesting piece of trivia. The Seaboard Railroad adopted the "Air Line" into its name as a way to compete with airlines. The Air Line nomenclature was meant to signify that the Seaboard routes were the straightest and most direct connections between destinations. So, in other words, it was like flying straight to your destination. Interesting marketing concept. I always liked this logo.

The ACL logo was incorporated into a number of railroad items on the grounds, including a few benches, which used old rails bent to act as supports for the wooden slats. I like that the old ACL listed its major destinations on the outside of its logo. It gives you a good idea of the reach of this old line. That tradition continued when Seaboard and ACL came together as the SCL, which in turn became part of the loosely joined Family Lines system (later Seaboard System). Here's an example of the Family Lines logo.

This is where I waited, and waited, and waited. The signals on the A Line and the S Line remained solid red in my time in Plant City, which meant that nothing was happening. I was really disappointed that not a single train passed through, although I did know going in that traffic was light to sporadic in the daytime. Welcome to modern PSR-obsessed railways. Sigh...

Another small piece of trivia I unearthed while in Plant City was that the town itself was not named after the famous strawberries that grow in the region. Chances are, if you buy strawberries with any regularity, as I do, you will likely buy Plant City strawberries at some point during the year. They are known to be some of tastiest in North America. But, the Plant in Plant City comes from the railway executive who originally laid the tracks through this area. So, like many other cities and towns across North America, the town name can be traced back to the railways.

The final insult in my time in Florida was my time spent with my kids at Disney World. Even the Magic Kingdom's famous steam railway was out of commission on the day I visited. The entire railway was undergoing significant maintenance and renewal, including the removal of some of its narrow gauge track. I will hand it to the people in charge through, who knew enough to park one of the trains in front of the Magic Kingdom train station for the Christmas season. A nice touch.

So, on the whole, my train karma wasn't great in my time in Florida, but I suppose it's better to have bad train karma and be warm than have bad train karma and shiver trackside, as many of us often do in Ottawa.

In case anyone is wondering, yes I have some strong opinions on the absolute disastrous launch of Ottawa's Confederation Line light rail service. But that post will have to wait for another day.