Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rolling stock madness

The top photo is a bit of a tease, even though it's not much at first glace. This is my initial shot when I caught up with CN's Arnpror Local, otherwise known as 589, recently. I call your attention to the lone tank car in tow. Do you see the yellow badge on it? I was surprised when I grabbed a few shots of the unique tank car, which I had never seen before. Seeing this tank car reminded me that I have amassed a collection of rolling stock photos over the last few years. This week, I decided to share a few photos of the standout shots I have spied trackside along with a number of shots my brother took trackside in Sarnia. I will share better photos of the tank car in the photo below soon.

The first image is a beautiful shot my brother grabbed of an old Boston & Maine covered hopper, which was repatched for ATEL Leasing Corp. As common as it is to see generic railcars with marks belonging to leasing companies, it's always interesting to see the old markings of a fallen flag remain on a car. In this case, the car looks very much like it did when it plied the rails of the Boston & Maine, which became part of Pan-Am Railways Guildford Rail System (later Pan Am Railways) in 1983.

Here's another from my brother in Sarnia Yard. This hopper is one of many CSX predecessor cars still bearing the markings of its former railway. I am fascinated by CSX's history, since it includes such colourful railways including the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Seaboard Coast Line, Louisville & Nashville, Western Maryland and many others. In this case, Seaboard System was the combination of the component railways that made up the Family Lines System. Since it was such a short-lived railway, I find any of its relics to be great finds.

Here's another shot from my brother in Sarnia Yard. These boxcars, which are patched for a leasing company, still carry faint markings for the Maine Central railway, another of my favourite fallen flags. These cars don't have the prominent original markings like the two cars photographed above, but they are still great reminders of railroading's past.

This shot, below, was taken when I caught up with a Canadian Pacific freight train in Bedell, Ontario, in July 2014. Like most railfans today, double stacks don't really excite me much, but there was something about the symmetry of the Canadian Tire containers that I liked, so I snapped a few shots. I like this image for some reason, but I'm not sure why.

This car I found in Walkley Yard in August 2013. It was perched on a spur near the Rideau Bulk facility. So, what's the big deal with this car? Well, it's incredibly rare to see a coal/aggregate car in Ottawa for starters. Even though the city has a number of stone quarries  on Moodie Drive near the Smiths Falls Subdivision, none has rail service. I sometimes see a modified orange CN hopper in the local yard, but this was the only time I saw this UP car. I'm not sure what it was doing in the yard, but I'm glad I caught it.

This tank car below is very much like any other Procor tank car. These cars are everywhere throughout the North American rail network, but what I found interesting was the little logo next to the Procor logo. I figured it had something to do with what the tank car holds. I checked the hazardous materials placard and found that this car holds sulfuric acid. I don't see many of these cars up here, so I thought I would add in this seemingly mundane shot.

This shot, taken August 2013, shows a Wisconsin Central boxcar resting on the same spur at the Rideau Bulk facility. There are always a few boxcars at this facility, which makes any visits to Walkley Yard worthwhile for railfans. These cars have been tagged repeatedly and repatched. I took the shot because I have not seen many WC cars up here.

This shot, taken, March 2013, is probably a fairly common site elsewhere but I've only seen these hoppers in Ottawa a few times. The car belongs to American Railcar Industries and is your basic four bay covered hopper. I've seen this paint scheme on these cars before but am not sure who the previous owner was. It was a nice splash of colour on a day when the rail yard was full of tank cars.
I was particularly pleased with this image, taken August 2014 in Goderich. Sadly, I've yet to see any live action in Goderich in my visits to the town, but this string of hoppers in the Goderich yard was a nice consolation. I used this image in a previous post about Goderich but I figured it was worth another look. I call this shot the manmade rainbow. The position of the sun and the composition of the sky made this a near perfect shot for me.
This last shot I included for two reasons. One is this car is patched for Cabot Carbon, a Chemical Valley company that once had a full fleet of its own black hopper cars that CN spotted and hauled away. Those cars even had the Cabot logo on the side. So, this car brought back memories for me. The second reason I chose this shot is because this car is so odd looking. The car doesn't have the Cabot logo and seems to be a hybrid between two cars (in appearance anyway). It's not quite a box car, but has the dimensions of a boxcar. It's not quite a hopper car in appearance although it clearly has the trappings of a hopper car. This car was spotted by itself in Sarnia Yard one cold morning a few years ago.
This final shot was taken in Markham through a hole in a fence trackside. Again, there isn't anything that stands out in this shot, but I liked it because of the diversity of the containers. You can see the Hapag-Lloyd, JB Hunt and CN trailers, but also the Stolt tanks. It's a fairly representative shot of modern railroading.
So that is my brief recap of some of the best rolling stock shots I have amassed in the last few years. Hopefully, it at least illustrates that it's not just the head end of a train that is worth a look.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Underpass Road

Last spring, my brother  Marc was driving near Watford, Ontario, east of Sarnia, along the CN Strathroy Subdivision. He spotted a CN freight train headed west toward Sarnia and decided to get some shots of the freight. Marc ventured down a picturesque side road, Underpass Road, to get some shots. He ended up capturing some great shots of this train. His first shot captured CN SD70M-2 8914 and ex-BC Rail C44-9WL 4644 emerging from the brush alongside the right-of-way as it heads over Underpass Road.

Here's a clearer shot of the locomotives. You can see from the trailing cars that the units are pulling a mixed freight, my favourite type of train.

This shot shows a great profile of the train, with a tank car, a few steel coil cars, a large gondola and two hoppers.

My brother headed up the road and got a close up of this tank car and box car. The real bonus in this photo, though, is the view through the underpass. You can literally see for a country mile beyond the tracks. In the distance, you can see the silo. As I have mentioned before, Lambton County is very much like the prairies, only with more trees. This shot illustrates that effectively.

Also last year, my brother was doing one of his regular tours of the train yard with his son when he spotted another BC Rail unit, Dash-8 40CM 4619 tied up with a few CN units. You can also see a few other CN units a few tracks over.

Finally, in late January, my brother caught an eastbound train emerging from the Paul Tellier tunnel. Full credit for framing the three units coming through the gantry. Well done, Marc.

That last shot illustrates just how different winter can be in different parts of Ontario, let alone Canada. While Sarnia enjoys many a winter day without snow, Ottawa is buried in 50+ centimetres of snow. I should mention we received 51.2 cm in a single day earlier this week. A record for the capital and we didn't even need to close the schools. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The story behind the post: CASO's long lost St. Clair branch

Last week's post was nearly three years in the making. When I first started this blog in 2013, one of my first ideas was to trace the history of Canada Southern's St. Clair branch between St. Thomas and Courtright. Up until late last year, the post was in various stages of disrepair, owing to my utter lack of photographs of this line and my limited knowledge about this ghost of railroading past. Thankfully, in the past few months, several elements came together to get this post online. The end result reminded me of how much work it is to examine history, especially when there is very little to go on.

The Hotel Bedard, a railway hotel at the end of the CASO St. Clair branch in Courtright, Ont. The building, which faced the St. Clair River and served boat traffic in its heyday, was torn down in recent years.

Truthfully, this post's genesis happened long before I even started this blog. For years, I had no idea that a rail line terminated in Courtright. But one afternoon, as I was driving down the old Highway 80 (now County Road 80), I saw something in a farmer's field that sparked my quest to learn about this railway line. I was merely glancing out the window what I saw was I thought looked like a small railway bridge in the middle of a farmer's field. The bridge had to be an old railway bridge since nothing else made sense, seeing as the structure was nowhere close to any road or even private drive. That was my first indication that there was history begging to be discovered.

Years later, as I was beginning to wonder what to do with my old railway photos from the early 1990s, I began to actively search for railway blogs online. After a while, I came across one of the most extensive railway history websites about railways in Ontario, This site has to be the most definitive source of information and photographs on CASO that you will find online. Searching around that site, I found information about the St. Clair branch, a rail line with deep historical roots in Lambton County.

Once I read about that branch, some elements began to come together. I already had purchased this photo (above) of the Brigden train station years before not to mention a shot of the Hotel Bedard in Courtright. I didn't know for sure what railway the Brigden station served. Soon after, I found some other photographs, including a shot of the Oil City station, that began to fill in the picture of what this old operation looked like.

Last year, I found a document that outlined the operations on the branch. In November, my Dad was able to find some historic photos of CASO operations in Petrolia that helped me fill in some more gaps in my knowledge. Finally, my brother was able to determine that the old CASO station in Petrolia was long ago moved to Bright's Grove where it has served as a private residence ever since. My brother was able to get a shot of the old station, which helped fill in another gap.

Finally, I was able to search through some very active Lambton County history groups online where I discovered a few more images that illustrated certain elements of this rail line. Finally, I tracked down a shot of the old Courtright station from the Moore Museum.

All these elements came together late last fall when I began to piece together the history of this long vanished rail line. I had to rewrite sections of it several times, since my understanding of the line changed several times. For example, I didn't know that Oil Springs was on a spur off the St. Clair branch, which dramatically altered the post, since I had originally written it with the understanding that Oil Springs was on the main line. The end result was last week's post, which was years in the making. It was definitely the more labour-intensive post I have put together for the Beachburg Sub. I would have liked to share it back in 2013, but better late than never.

This leads me to a question. I have been asked by a few readers whether I have done any research into old branch lines and subdivisions around the Ottawa area. I have stayed away from doing any historic posts about old subdivisions in this area, simply because there are better sources of information out there than this blog. Several rail history buffs have written books about Ottawa's rail past, which would be the best resource for those interested. However, if people are interested in hearing about old subdivisions in this area on this site, I'd be glad to take a crack at it. For example, I have uncovered an old right-of-way in the Crystal Beach area of the city, which I am researching right now. Feel free to leave a message with your thoughts.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

CASO's long lost St. Clair branch

Almost as long as the famed Canada Southern Railway was proposed, a branch through Lambton County, south of Sarnia, was on the books. Barely a year after the original CASO was planned in 1868, the St. Clair branch was proposed as a way to connect the railway to oil fields in Lambton and to Michigan via a ferry crossing at the St. Clair River. That river crossing, which was the railway's top priority since it would have allowed for a Buffalo-Chicago connection, never happened. The St. Clair branch kicked off operations with an excursion train in July 1873, followed by the beginning of regular service in January 1874.

Although it was technically known as the Canada Southern Railway, most people came to know the railway by the names of its parent companies. CASO was ultimately owned by the New York Central Railway, but for a time it was part of a NYC subsidiary, Michigan Central Railroad, so either one of these monikers were what people saw on the trains that plied these railways.

This rail line is significant to Lambton County for several reasons. Not only did it spawn towns, industry and other development along its right-of-way, it also holds the distinction of being the first rail line to be abandoned in the county in the 1950s, at a time when most railways had not yet begun to actively shed trackage.

Today, very little is left to actually see. The right-of-way is all but invisible in most places while artifacts from the line are scarce. But the line's history is fascinating, particularly in a few towns that we will examine. Let's begin at the end of the line.

Photo - Moore Museum archives


This photo above is the St. Clair branch's terminus in Courtright, Ontario, a small town on the St. Clair River, south of Sarnia. Courtright is a quintessential railway town, for many reasons including its name. The town's name was a product of gratitude. Those who bought land where the branch line ended were grateful enough to CASO to name their town after the president of the company, Milton Courtright. Not satisfied with that honour alone, the town also named one of its streets Milton.

In terms of its contribution to revenue service, Courtright wasn't a huge source of business for the branch. The town once boasted a grist mill and other small scale industries, but nothing of major importance to the branch. Before the branch's end, Courtright accounted for 80 revenue carloads in 1955 and 225 in 1956. Shortly before the branch was abandoned, CASO's customers in Courtright included the province's transportation ministry (likely for road maintenance salt), the local township and a construction company. All orders were handled through an agent in Brigden, a small town just east of Courtright.

Of greater importance, before the line began to decline, Courtright was CASO's connection with the C&O (now CSX) Sarnia Subdivision. This junction was obviously some sort of diamond since records show that the two railways interchanged cars.

Undated photo of Brigden railway station, which was a typical-looking structure on this branch. The railway agent in this town also took orders from shippers in nearby Courtright.


East of Courtright, another small town was spawned by CASO. The town of Bridgen owes its existence to this rail line, being that it was otherwise in the middle of the wilderness when the railway was built through the area. Over time, Bridgen spawned some small cottage industries that were typical of such towns in the 1800s and early 1900s. By the time CASO abandoned the St. Clair Branch, Bridgen accounted for a handful of shippers, including two lumber companies, a farmer's co-op, a coal supplier and a shipper that appears in numerous railway documents as "Lyle Allen." This name is also listed as a shipper in Courtright, so it might have been a large-scale farmer. Today, there is again little trace of the railway in Bridgen, which was also named (according to Wikipedia) after a CASO official, William Bridgen, who was a railway engineer. Today, Brigden is a farming community and is best known as the site of the annual Bridgen Fair, the premier Thanksgiving event in the county.

Even today, some sixty years later, you can see evidence of this old line near Brigen even though it was last operational in the late 1950s. Other sections farther west are all but indistinguishable from County Road 80, former Highway 80. The orange arrows show you the old right-of-way while the blue circle shows you the old pilings of the railway bridge over Bear Creek. Those pilings can still be seen from County Road 80, for the railway archeologist.

Here's a photograph posted in the Lost Lambton Found history website. For those interested, this history group has largely migrated to Facebook and their photos and conversations can be found there. Some locals call these pilings Lambton's "Stonehenge."


Once east of Brigden, one enters the Oil Discovery district of Lambton County. Few people realize that the site of the first commercial oil discovery in North America was in Lambton County in a town called Oil Springs. Soon afterward, another large discovery was made in Petrolia while another was made in the ambitiously named Oil City, which is little more than a hamlet now. These discoveries were made in the 1850s, but a century later, oil was still being transported by CASO along the St. Clair Branch.


Six miles west of Brigden and two miles west of Oil Springs, you would find Petrolia Junction and the beginning of the Petrolia Spur.

Besides the typical shippers you would find like local farm co-ops and other small commercial shippers like hardware stores, Petrolia's main contributions to this branch included Reliance Petroleum and National Steel Drum Company, two companies that were still in the oil business. Amazing as it may sound, there is still oil being steadily pumped out of the ground in Petrolia. A few companies in this area still regularly supply oil to energy companies, including Fairbanks Oil, which has been around since the boom days and is still family owned.

The other key element to this spur was the fact that it provided CASO with an interchange point with the Grand Trunk Railway, later the Canadian National. The railway line paralleled Albany Street and met up with the GTR/CN once it crossed what is now known as Petrolia Line. CASO even had a station in Petrolia. That little station, which had a witch's hat turret, was moved to Bright's Grove, north of Sarnia, and now sits as a private residence near Lake Huron. Here's a shot of the station now, taken from public property. Thanks to my brother for grabbing this shot. Can you see the lake in the background?

Below is a map of where the rail lines once made their way into Petrolia's downtown. I have not been able to access historic maps to figure out exactly how these lines connected, but as you can see below, CASO, in red, made its way up Albany Street while the GTR/CN, in yellow, made its way to the town's main station where its spur off the Strathroy Subdivision ended. Somewhere between the red and the yellow, there was some sort of junction where CASO and CN interchanged cars. I'm guessing on the property now occupied by the Scotiabank.

Below is a shot of a CASO 4-6-0 engine working along Albany Street in this undated photo. I found another photo of a 4-6-0 working in Courtright, which you can see here. The photographer of the Courtright engine mentioned that it was taken in 1956 and, by that time, the water towers were gone, which explained why there was an extra tender behind the engine to ensure it had enough water. My dad tracked down the photo below at a photo shop in Petrolia. You can see a tank car behind the tender, which may mean this image was taken as late as the 1950s, when steam locomotives still prowled this branch, but without the use of water towers. This image was the first I had ever seen of CASO operations in Petrolia. As you can see, CASO always operated under the name of its parent company, New York Central, or for a time, the Michigan Central Railway, which was a subsidiary of NYC. You can see a small piece of the town's United Church to the far right. That church is still standing.


Oil City was a relative flash in the pan when it came to the oil boom, with a brief boom and a quick bust. The town still provided a few shippers to CASO, mostly small scale agricultural customers as well as local government.

As you can see from the photo, the railway was listed as "MCR" since the line was essentially a Michigan Central operation by all appearances. The one interesting note about this town is that its main rail customer was the Canada and Dominion Sugar Company. It should be noted that sugar beets were once a major staple of railway operations in Lambton County at one point, although I can't say if that was the source of the traffic.


Travelling west from Petrolia and Oil City,  you would encounter the Eddys junction near the Oil City station. First stop on the Eddys spur would have been Oil Springs.


When this St. Clair branch was built to Courtright in the 1800s, it was done so with the oil fields in mind, no doubt. Oil Springs was the site of the birth of Canada's oil industry and the town continued to pump and ship oil well into the twentieth century. When CASO discontinued operations on the St. Clair branch, Imperial Oil (Esso) was still listed as a shipper from Oil Springs. Given that CASO had a connection to CN close to here in Petrolia, I'm sure there were a number of tank cars interchanged in Petrolia that originated in Oil Springs.

Today, those interested in a glimpse of this old line would find it at the Oil Museum of Canada in Oil Springs. Besides telling the story of Canada's first oil discovery and the related industrial development, the museum also features the town's 1895 CASO railway station and an old tank car, which was typical of those used on the line up until it was removed.


Today, Eddys Mills is little more than a place name on the map. It is located a few kilometres due south of Oil Springs on the spur. Two customers listed for this spot include the county and the local township. There was a siding here and all freight orders were handled through Oil Springs, a little east of this spot. Most of the freight originating here was based on local farms.


Back on the main branch, if you remained on the main line at Oil City, your next stop east would be another town created by the railway, Inwood. At this point in the line, CASO's operations took on more of a rural feel, with most shippers being local hardware and construction concerns, not to mention the farmers' co-operatives. When looking at the documents for this line, most customers in towns outside of the oil district fell under three categories: farming, construction/hardware and local government.


Before leaving Lambton County, you would travel through Alvinston, another town created by the railway. Its primary shipper on CASO before the line closed up shop was a feed mill. At one point, there was a GTR/CN crossover near Alvinston where the Strathroy Subdivision crossed over the St. Clair line. Here's a shot of the junction, undated.

So, as we leave Lambton County, the St. Clair Branch served two more rural towns, Melbourne and Muncey. There it served feed mills and other agricultural customers. From there, it was on to St. Thomas, where the branch originated.

Along the way, the branch crossed the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National main lines to Windsor (due to the path of the CN line, the St. Clair Subdivision actually crossed CN's line twice).

This branch has been gone for more than half a century and there is precious little to see along its former right-of-way now. However, the importance of this line to swath of Lambton County is undeniable. The same can be said for a number of former rail lines in any part of this country. That's why I am fascinated by the history of these old branches. Revisiting history helps us understand just how important railways were in the building of this country.