Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bullet Nose Betty and other family shots

Although I am by far the biggest railway fan in my family, we all have a certain fascination with trains to some degree. With that in mind, I thought I'd share some railway photos taken by family members that have been left in my care.

As I have previously mentioned, my Dad worked for the Candian Pacific Railway in his teens in Windsor, Ont. He had been offered a job with the railway, but was lured away by a better offer from what was then known as Ontario Hydro. However, in our family photo archives, there are some scattered railway photos that my Dad took with his excellent Canon 35-mm camera.

My Dad took this shot below in 1987, I believe. The locomotive is a Canadian National U-1-f class steam engine, more commonly known as a 4-8-2 mountain-type. The engine was one of 20 such workhorses built for the CNR in 1944 by Montreal Locomotive Works. 6069 was converted from coal to oil at some point, although some of the 20 4-8-2s were originally constructed as oil-burners. Nicknamed "Bullet Nose Betty" for its cone-shaped smoke box door cover at the front of the engine, this beast has been on display in Sarnia's Centennial Park for about 40 years, with its original dark green trim. The weather has been tough on the locomotive, which has prompted local rail enthusiasts to restore the engine. Two other 4-8-2s like this one remain on display, one in Alberta and one in Capreol, Ont.

You can see a piece of CN's old Point Edward spur in the extreme left of the photo. This track leads to the grain elevators on Sarnia's waterfront. This line is still operational, as CN continues to service the elevators on this tiny branch through the park. Those wishing to see Betty these days are out of luck. Due to its industrial past, Centennial Park has been quarantined due to asbestos in the soil. It is not known when the park will be cleaned up and re-opened for public use.

This second photo was taken by my sister, in August of 1992. As I mentioned in my two previous posts (Banff 1992 Part I and Part II), my sister lived in Banff during this summer and took me to Banff Station to let me get some of the best train photos I have ever taken. After I visited her in Banff, my sister and a friend went to Jasper National Park one weekend on a hiking adventure. It was during this weekend that she went out of her way to visit the local rail yard to capture a few photos for me. I like this one because it features two SD-40-2Ws, 5289 and 5331. What I also like about the shot is that it captures part of an old CN caboose (far right).

This final shot is the image that inspired this post. My brother, like me, has always been fascinated by trains. In my teens, he often helped me with my train set and often drove me around to rail yards, when I was too young to drive. While at work a few weeks back, I received an email from him while he was on the road for business in San Diego. The shot was taken from his hotel room in the city. He took a quick shot of a BNSF autorack train making its way through the city. He isn't as up to date on railways as me, but he correctly identified that BNSF stood for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, although BNSF technically stands for nothing these days. What strikes me about this photo is one of the locomotives leading the train has been defaced with graffiti. I don't see that often.

My family has always been understanding of my passion and has contributed over the years. I'm thankful that they did.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Banff 1992 (Part II)

As mentioned in Banff 1992 (Part I), I was lucky to catch a parked grain train on a summer evening at Banff Station. I was able to get shots of all three units at the head of the train from both sides, including this shot of the lead unit, SD40-2 5865 perched in front of Tunnel Mountain. Compared to the previous evening when I visited the station, this evening proved to be a success.

I was busy shooting everything I could, including this shot of the front of the train. I've said it many times in this blog, but I would not recommend ever doing this. I was blissfully ignorant of the dos and don'ts of rail photography etiquette as a teen. I love the shot below, but I shake my head at how I captured the shot. You can see Banff Station, with its handsome fieldstone trim, on the right and a freight shed on the left.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was in for a great surprise that evening when the Rocky Mountaineer pulled into Banff Station, giving me the opportunity to capture shots of the famous tourist train. This shot, which I have shown in a previous post, is one of my favourite shots. It shows the train pulling into the station with an impressive backdrop and interesting evening light. You can see the fellow rainfans to the right. Read about my run-in with these folks in the link above.

The evening sun was tricky to work with that night, which explains the curious whiteout effect near the front of B36-7 7488. I remember having to manually block sunlight from ruining this shot by using my baseball hat. During this trip, I saw a bear in the wild for the first time, hiked up Sulphur Mountain, I went to a Calgary Cannons double header and hiked the Paradise Valley. Still, this was one of the highlights of my trip out west. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Banff 1992 (Part I)

Banff was a train watcher's dream for me in 1992. That summer, my parents allowed me to travel to Alberta on my own to visit my aunt and uncle in Calgary. I had just finished grade nine and was eager to have an adventure on my own.

While in Alberta, I was also able to spend a few days in Banff to visit my sister, who was spending the summer there working at a Smitty's restaurant before heading back to university in Ontario in the fall. One evening, my sister was nice enough to take me to Banff Station to see if there was anything for me to shoot along the rails. Unfortunately, there was nothing except a few old gondolas on a side track. All in all, a disappointing first attempt at getting some shots of trains in the Rockies. But the next evening proved to be a gold mine.

Above: CP SD40-2 5865 is parked and awaiting a new crew in Banff, with a load of grain hoppers behind. This was my first attempt at creating an artistic photo.

In fact, all that remains of that first evening of photos is this shot of a local employee returning on his speeder. He made sure to give me a wave as I took a quick shot in the fading sunlight. 

As you can tell from the top photo, the next evening proved to be much better. As my sister and I approached Banff station, we saw a CP grain train parked, awaiting a fresh crew. I don't know enough about CP's western operations to know if Banff was a crew change point at the time or if it still is. Once again, I will rely on my readers to let me know. Either way, the train was sitting there, complete with three units. The lead SD40-2 had the multimark, which was a bonus, since many of the shots I had been taking of CP units in Windsor in the 1990s were missing the multimark.

Case in point. The second unit on the train, SD40-2 5801 was missing the multimark. I was smart enough to cross the tracks and find a spot on the sunny side of the train to get some proper shots of the locomotives. At this point in my rail pursuits, I often failed to get the sun behind me when shooting trains. This time, I was fortunate to get it right. You can see Tunnel Mountain behind this unit and a small piece of Banff's beautiful station.

I was also smart enough to get a few shots of the Government of Canada cylindrical grain hopper cars, including this one. At the time, I always regarded shots of typical rolling stock as throwaway shots, but I am grateful that I was able to recover this shot from my archives. I have two of these hoppers in my HO scale collection, which is boxed away at the moment (no room for a layout right now). 

Banff Station has been the site of some of my most prized rail photos. Years before, when my family visited Alberta, I was lucky enough to get a tour of a CP Rail SD40-2 from an engineer named Rick. The SD40  was towing a lame Via F unit and a string of streamliners. I know photos of this encounter exist somewhere in our family archives. I intend to track down these shots over Christmas and share them here in the new year. I know my Dad also took shots of grain trains in the Rockies, which are also in the family archives somewhere. Again, when I have them, I will share them.

But, for the sake of this post, I will just mention that, on this evening in Banff, there was one more surprise awaiting me and my camera. Come back next week for part two.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The random photos have their day

As I prepare posts each week, I keep coming across photos that I'd like to write about, but never seem to fit in with my topic du jour. This week, I thought I'd do a little bit of house cleaning and present some odds and sods from my rail watching adventures past and present.

First case in point: A maroon Dupont covered hopper and the familiar "Sclair" orange covered hopper on an industrial spur at the Katoen Natie warehouse facility in Corunna. I took this photo in 1993. At the time, both the maroon Dupont and orange Sclair cars were a common site on this CN rail line, which extends south from Sarnia through Corunna and Mooretown all the way past Courtright. The orange hoppers were common on both the CSX Sarnia Sub and all around CN's Sarnia operations, due to the presence of the Dupont facility in Corunna. The Sclair brand now belongs to Nova Chemicals. The reporting marks on these hoppers now read NCLX rather than DOCX.

I remember finding an old brake shoe lying near the tracks and carrying it home as a souvenir. This line is still quite active, as it serves a number of refineries south of the Chemical Valley including Nova Chemical's Corunna and Moore facilities and a host of others.

This shot below was taken during this past Thanksgiving Weekend when I made a very brief trip to Sarnia and took a bunch of shots. This was a small logo I found on the side of a CN cylindrical hopper at a CN "transflo" facility where a string of hoppers were pushed up against a bumper and awaiting loads from dump trucks. This Agrium logo, complete with maple leaf-waving Kangaroo, shows that the hopper was once used in the west for transporting potash.

Here's another throwaway shot, at first glace. I took this as part of my recent Thanksgiving visit to the Sarnia area. I was able to get a bunch of great shots of CSX GP38-2s at the end of the Sarnia Sub. As GP38-2 2570 began to grind to a stop, I saw something in the distance, which was off limits to me, since it was on CSX property. I tried to zoom in and get a quick shot. Take a look just to the right of 2570 and you will see a yellow maintenance-of-way crane car. A very rare site on the Sarnia Sub, at least in my experience. You may also notice both 2570 and 2757 (to the right) have flashing beacons on the right side of their cabs. I assume this is for indicating when the unit is being remotely controlled. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable on such matters can clarify this, if I'm wrong. The next time I am in Sarnia, I will search diligently for that maintenance-of-way crane car.

The next shot is from Kitchener, where I lived for two years. This photo also marks an amazing opportunity missed. I lived very close to a park on the city's east end, called Kolb Park. The park is nestled against the Grand River, which separates the city from the town of Breslau. The Goderich-Exeter Railway runs through the park. This trestle was just begging for a railway-in-action photo, but I was not in the habit of taking photos of trains at that time. It's a shame, because this trestle hosts Via trains, GO Trains and freight trains on a regular basis. One sunny day in the fall of 2008, as I was biking along a riverfront trail, I thought that it was a good idea to get a shot of the trestle. I wonder how vandals were able to write so legibly so high up there.

The final shot shows the front of an evening Via train headed for Toronto in 1991. It was idling at Sarnia station. I'm pretty sure we were dropping off my sister as she headed back to the University of Waterloo after a visit back home. I wandered off the platform and tried to take a shot of F40PH-2 6441 from the edge of the track. I seem to remember standing at the edge of the rail and reaching my hands in front of the locomotive to get this shot. This is sadly the only shot I have of a Via F40 in the old paint scheme. I think I had better shots at one point, but these have been lost over the years. I must stress one thing: Don't ever do this to get a shot. I was young and stupid. I no longer take such risks. 

You will notice the intermodal cars to the left of the Via. What's noteworthy is that the containers are only single stacked, which was a necessity in Sarnia before 1993 when the new St. Clair Tunnel beneath the St. Clair River to Michigan was built. (Feel free to read Part I and Part II of the St. Clair Tunnel posts if you haven't already) The old tunnel's size restrictions meant intermodal traffic had to be single stacked, while autoracks and high-cube boxcars were ferried over the river. You can also see a tank car with an orange racing stripe. Don't see too many of those anymore.