Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Let's begin at the end

I'm old enough to remember when freight trains had cabooses at the end. I remember, in fact, the union campaign, Trains are safer with a caboose. Of course, the march of progress was unstoppable and the caboose went the way of the dodo on many railways in the 1980s. CSX maintained them on the Sarnia Subdivision until the early 1990s, which was cool for me when I watched trains when younger.

So imagine my surprise on June 8 when I heard the Arnprior Turn (CN 589) making its way through my neighbourhood and I decided to follow it, only to see this at the end. It was a GTW 79047 caboose still in its original scheme. Of course, there was no crew in the cupola, or even in the caboose. The car is clearly being used for shoving moves, giving the conductor a safe platform to watch the tracks ahead.

Of course, this isn't the first time CN has made use of an old caboose in its Ottawa operations. CN has made use of an former Devco caboose and the famous Millennium caboose in past years. Walkley Yard even hosted an old CN caboose hitched to an old RDC unit, both of which were owned by a company in Toronto and patched DAWX.

Over the course of my wanderings trackside, I did see CN using the infamous Millennium caboose once when it was shunting cars in Walkley Yard. I just managed to get this shot from the end of Albion Road on public property.

I will get into the history of CN's cabooses in its Ottawa operations in my next post, but for now, let's just admire the fact that the railway has used more than one caboose locally over the course of the last 10 years. It's an anomoly for sure, but not unexpected, given that there is a significant amount of shoving operations that the railway needs to perform in this area.

On June 8, I would not have caught up to the train if not for the fact that the crew stopped at a private crossing before March Road to grab a coffee at Tim Hortons, which sits trackside along the Renfrew Spur. That allowed me to park near the Tims and get some shots from March Road, like this head-on shot, which is not possible usually. The skies washed out on this shot, given the angle of the sun but I did manage to frame the trackside sign. You can just make out a railfan to the left of the shot. He had a camera set up on a tripod on the private crossing, which is blocked to vehicles.

Right when the train was easing to a stop, I took a quick photo of the two units from across Carling Avenue. I noticed the GATX unit doesn't seem to be a leased unit anymore. It's patched CN 4905, which suggests to me that the unit is now CN property.


As the train slowly made its way toward March Road, I tried to get some shots of the overall consist, which featured four tank cars loaded with caprolactum and the GT caboose bringing up the rear.

CN continues to use two GP38s on its run to Arnprior, including the GATX unit, which has been a common site in Eastern Ontario for the last several years. The March Road crossing offers a fairly unobstructed view of the Renfrew Spur right-of-way, although you do have to position your shots around a few guy wires and trackside poles. But at least the crossing gives you clearance against the trackside shrubbery, which can ruin your shots.

This is a shot of the March Road crossing, which gives you a better shot of the GATX unit. This is the first time I have captured anything at this crossing. Now that I know what I'm facing here, I will definitely come back, if the chance presents itself.

Even though I was on the sunny side of the train, this side of the caboose was not nearly as photogenic as the other side, which sat in the shadows. There was no graffiti on the other side, while this side was pretty marked up. 

Not knowing if I would ever see this old relic again, I tried to get it from as many angles as I could, including this profile shot, which gives you a view of the entire train as it makes its way slowly east toward the Huntmar crossing and eventually, Arnprior.

One final shot as the train made its way west. I don't take a lot of vertical shots but I took quite a few this past week, which made for some interesting shots. All in all, it was a lucky meet, as I decided at the last minute to chase this train on my break from work and caught it only because of its unscheduled stop near March Road.

It was quite a week for the Arnprior Turn, as it was featured in a story on CTV Ottawa's local newscast. The message that Nylene Canada was delivering was nothing new. There's 40 kilometres of track that the company owns that is being used by one customer. The company would obviously like to see more customers use rail service. It's a great idea in theory, but as readers of this blog know, Nylene has made this pitch before to the Ottawa Sun. I mentioned that story, which was behind a paywall, in this blog entry from 2014.  

I guess I'm skeptical that this latest pitch will get anywhere, since CN is a reluctant service provider in this case, as it is mandated to provide this service to Nylene. If CN does indeed pull out of Ottawa, as it has publicly stated that it wants to do, who steps in? All of the publicity in the world won't help if there is no railway company to provide the service.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Next stop: Glencoe

On a March trip to see family in Southwestern Ontario, my brother and my nephew were nice enough to take me on a road trip to some of their favourite haunts, including some great spots trackside. You see, my nephew is a railfan for sure. His interests are quite varied, but he does love sitting trackside watching trains, which makes me proud to be his uncle.

So with that in mind, the three of us set off down county roads toward a small town in Middlesex County called Glencoe. This town in situated in the middle of some prime farm land and boasts of a beautiful old Grand Trunk station, which still sits trackside on the Canadian National Chatham Subdivision. Like many other small rural towns, the passenger trains no longer call at the large old stations. Glencoe is no exception as the Via Rail trains between Toronto and Windsor make use of a tiny trackside depot.

We waited for the expected 10:05 a.m. arrival of Train 72, which was bookended by a pair of P42s on either end. P42 905 was the engine on point leading the train east toward Toronto. The Via station here is quite spacious when compared to Wyoming's station, which is even smaller. The shot below, from 2017, gives you an idea, for comparison's sake.

It was fun to watch the Via pull up to the Glencoe station, especially since my nephew rarely sees Via Rail trains, as the Sarnia Via service leaves early in the morning and its return trip arrives late. So he never gets to see them. In this case, Glencoe is a conditional stop for Train 72 and only pulls in to the station when there are passengers to pick up. On this day, there were.

The previous day's snow squalls left a faint trace as we watched the engineer eyeball the train's positioning at the station, to ensure the passengers had access to the right car. I've never seen that happen before. After a few minutes, the train was moving again, complete with horn, which my nephew found incredibly loud so close. P42 914 was on the tail end as the train passed by the old depot and the preserved CNR caboose.

When the train had made its way east and out of site, we decided to check out the old train station and caboose, which were remarkably well preserved and cared for, which was encouraging to see. The station itself was built in 1904 in the Queen Anne Revival style. The station, which served Grand Trunk, was actually just the latest version of a station for the rural town, as the Great Western Railway built its first log cabin depot in 1854. The next station was built in 1856 and another was built in 1900. The town, which sits on a once busy main line into Windsor, has relied on railways for much of its history.

Given that the station is so well preserved, the first thing you might find curious is that it is not sitting parallel to the CN Chatham Subdivision track. Judging by the new foundation that my brother noticed, the building seems to have been shifted from its trackside location to a spot more suited to its community function, on the corner of the town's main street and McRae Street.

Looking inside the structure, you can clearly see the original features have been maintained. The men's and women's waiting rooms are still intact while the stationmaster's office is still in place. The tin ceiling and hardwood floors are still in place, as they were for much of the station's history. It's a remarkably intact station and has been recognized for its preservation.


The caboose outside the station is in great shape too, although you could see a bit of wood rot among the slats near the cupula, which is to be expected when an old wood-framed car is left in the elements. Still, it's clear that the car has been recently repainted and cared for by dedicated volunteers. I was a bit disappointed that there were no markings, logos or any other identifying information on the car.

I couldn't find much on this old car, although some older photos show that it was once covered over with plywood sheets before those sheets were pried away and the original slats repainted. If only they would put an old CNR maple left logo on that car and some markings, it would be just about perfect.

All in all, it was a fun stopover to see the old train station and learn a little about this small town of 2,000 people in southern Middlesex County.  It's clear that history matters here, symbolized by the old train station.