Friday, October 28, 2016

Some cool random sightings in Sarnia

Picking up from last week's post about my recent trip to Sarnia, I thought I'd share some random photos from the trip. I really tried to look for some different photos and I was rewarded with no shortage of rarities and special sights over the course of the weekend. The first shot isn't all that rare, but I have to say it's the first time I've seen two slugs hitched together in Sarnia Yard. Local railfans know all about these slugs, which are used to spread out the tractive effort of the yard engines, allowing them to more easily shunt around the yard with some big consists. Here we see two of the slugs connected to one of the GP9 yard engines.

This next one was hard to capture, but I'm glad I snagged it. This is what the Cabot Carbon plant in the Chemical Valley uses to move hopper cars around on the tracks within its plant. I don't know much about this machine, other than to note that it appears to be a Trackmobile 4150.

Those who watch the trains in Sarnia will recall that Cabot once had its own fleet of black covered hoppers with the Cabot logo on them. It was a common site to see these hoppers lined up on three tracks parallel to Vidal Street. The company appears now to use whatever cars it is provided by rail, judging by what I saw when we passed the plant. I should mention it has been this way for some time. The last time I saw a Cabot branded car was likely in the 1990s or early 2000s. I did see one minus the logo, which I shared in this post.

Cabot produces an elemental form of carbon, called carbon black. The products that come out of the plant vary in form, with some coming out like aggregates and some coming out as particles. The product is mainly used in tires as a way to strengthen the rubber. It also is useful for printer ink.  Outside of the trackmobile, Cabot's car movements are handled by short line VIP Rail, which you may recall from this post.

This shot made me laugh. I never noticed the slogan on these tank cars until I watched a tunnel train go by the station at close range. I decided it was too good to not photograph. Apparently, the Union Tank Car Company likes to be known as The Tank Car People. Simple and effective. Also, note the French graffiti, Oeuf. Not the best tagger brand I've seen.

This car caught my eye because of its green colour and that giant arrow on the right side of the car. I snapped a few shots and did a little research on these cars. They are lettered BKTY, which is an old reporting mark for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (The Katy), but the mark now belongs to the Union Pacific. You may have read recently on the Trackside Treasure blog Eric Gagnon's lament about the lack of variety in rolling stock these days, given that so many cars are owned by leasing companies. I share that lament, so I am trying to snap photos of as many interesting pieces of rolling stock as I can. When I was researching this car, I read a few comments on rail photo sites where railfans suggested this type of boxcar is very rare these days. Lucky me for catching it.

I was also happy to catch this Canadian Wheat Board cylindrical hopper. There were a few paint schemes applied to these cars, including the Canada wordmark scheme, the Government of Canada wheat sheaf scheme and this one. There were variations on all three schemes, but this is usually how I group them together. This was the first time I have caught this particular scheme. You can read more about these cars in this post, also from Trackside Treasure.

Final shot was a lucky shot. I was driving on the Highway 40 near Corunna when I passed the Nova Corunna refinery. I stuck my camera out the open passenger window and snapped a few shots blindly, since I had to watch the road. I was lucky enough to get this panorama shot of the refinery and the Nova SW switcher (left side of the photo in the middle). You can also see a line of white tank cars on a curved track heading into the refinery. This is just north of the wye that the company uses to interchange cars with CN's St. Clair River Industrial Spur, which is on the other side of the highway. You can read more about this refinery rail operation in this previous post.

I have a few other themed posts from this visit that I want to share, but I couldn't resist putting together this motley assortment of images and having a little fun.

Friday, October 21, 2016


It's funny that, no matter how long I've lived elsewhere, I still refer to the Sarnia area as 'home.' It's weird to me to think that my daughters will grow up thinking the same of Ottawa. And yes, Ottawa is where I live and have lived for some time, but I rarely call this city home.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was lucky enough to carve out some time to visit the Sarnia CN Yard, or at least the station. It's always worth reminding everyone to stay where it is legal to watch the action. Sarnia yard is so large that you have lots of choices, but the closest vantage point is the Via Rail station.

What made my time trackside even more special was the fact that I was able to share some time watching trains with my brother and my nephew. My nephew loves trains and wants to be an engineer when he grows up. My brother has also really enjoyed sharing his son's love of the big machines.

So, with that, I thought I'd share some first glimpses of what I saw over the weekend.

When I arrived on Friday, a tunnel train was making its way west toward Port Huron. I didn't catch the front end, but I was happy to catch a long row of flat cars carrying truck chassis to an automaker in Michigan, no doubt. I don't often see this freight other than in Sarnia.

Here's the tail end of the tunnel train making its way below the gantry. I've really come to love the shots of the tail end of long freights. You can see the CN Hobson sign in the distance. More about Hobson in a future post.

There was some shunting going on. I took a couple of quick shots, but the sun was not kind that day and was washing out most of my shots.

Once the shunting cleared away, I had an interesting view of the old roundhouse, where a yard engine and a slug were idling next to one of the Novacor switchers. I've seen this unit before. You can also make out the outline of a few other CN units that are in the old roundhouse for servicing from Lambton Diesel.

I was lucky enough to catch the CSX interchange on Saturday with my brother and nephew. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend. I will devote more space to this in a future post. But this view shows you the front end of the CSX transfer emerging around the old roundhouse with two GP38s pulling what turned out to be a very long consist into Sarnia Yard. You may recall my other meets with this train in this post and this one.

And one final shot of some of CN's heavy hitters putting together a train, likely headed for points west on the other side of the tunnel. I know it may seem strange, but this is the first time I've caught this type of smoke coming out of a diesel. I actually caught a few dramatic smoke shots on the weekend, which I will share in a future post. It was really gratifying to catch this, since it really does capture the essence of what goes on in a rail yard.

So that's a very short primer of some of the things I caught recently in Sarnia. Special thanks to my brother and my nephew for sharing the experience. Thanksgiving is all about family and homecomings, at least to me, so I couldn't think of a better way to spend a little time with some fellow railfans.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

On the turntable

Back in March, my family spent a few days in Toronto, in order to take our daughters to the Ripley's Aquarium near the Rogers Centre. While in Toronto, I was able to watch the GO Transit system firsthand from our family's rented condominium near the tracks. You can read about my encounters with the GO Trains and other railway items of interest in Toronto Part I, Toronto Part II, Toronto Part III and Toronto Part IV.

While in Toronto, I was able to spend a few minutes at Roundhouse Park, a neat railway display at the old Canadian Pacific John Street roundhouse directly across from the baseball stadium. You can read more about this attraction in Toronto Part II, in the above link.

While at Roundhouse Park, I took photos of just about everything that was out on display, but I didn't include this photo in the post. I think it was because I didn't know what to make of this old engine.

When I arrived at the park, this switch engine was on the old roundtable. It had a quasi-TH&B paint scheme. Of course, the type of engine with cabs in the middle were rare in North America, when compared to Europe. But there were a few centre cab models that were rolled out on various railway operations that looked like this unit.

This little locomotive is a 50-tonne Whitcomb diesel electric centre-cab switcher, built in 1950 at the Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston. The unit was used at a quarry in the Toronto area until the late 1970s when it was sold to another aggregate company, where it performed similar industrial switching functions. In 1994, it was sold off to a heritage railway in the Toronto area for work train duties before seeing action on another heritage railway in Prince Edward County a few years later.

It was acquired by the Toronto museum in 2007, because there was a need for a compact switch engine to perform switching duties around the roundhouse. As I read up on this unit, I discovered that the museum purposely painted the unit in TH&B colours to complement the museum's TH&B caboose, seen below.

It turns out, that strange little engine, which didn't seem to fit into my original post about this museum, has had an interesting history. And its story in ongoing as it soldiers on, still doing what it does best.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Odds and ends

On occasion, I like to go through my old photos to see if there are some interesting shots I have not used in past posts that might be of use now. With that in mind, I present my latest odds and ends installment. You can read my past post of odds and ends here.

This first shot is a rare one for me, as P42 910 is hitched in front of a disabled F40PH-2. I don't often see two locomotives on the head end of a four-car corridor train, but I snagged this one last summer at the McKenna Casey crossing. I only once ever saw something like this and it was at Via's Central Station. You can see that picture in this post

This is an early shot taken in the summer of 2013 from the access road right next to Walkley Yard. I haven't seen many side dumping gondolas around the yard, but on the rare occasions that I have been near the yard, I have caught a few interesting pieces of rolling stock like this one. This car appears to need a new stenciling as its numbers are fading.

Here's a shot from last October in Sarnia of a yard switcher and slug idling before the day's work begins around the yard. This shot, taken from the platform of the Sarnia Via Rail station shows a typical early morning scene in Sarnia, with some harsh morning light and dark shadows. I liked this shot because it gives you an idea of the scale of Sarnia's petrochemical refineries, clearly visible in the background. You can also see a few old GM-EMD SW switchers in the background, which are likely being used for parts at the Lambton Diesel operation at the old Sarnia CN roundhouse.

This shot was taken in July 2014 at the SynAgri feed mill in Twin Elm. I love to drive by this mill because you can often find interesting covered hoppers here that you wouldn't otherwise see in the Ottawa area. You may recall that last fall, I caught some Potash cars sitting on the mill's spur. This hopper, below, is special since it is an old Soo Line hopper, complete with its original SOO lettering and patch. Of course, CP has been using SOO lettering for years, so it's not all that significant but I still was happy to see it. This shot also gives you a good idea of the construction of the old mill, with plywood covering the annex near the Smiths Falls Sub. This shot could have been taken at any time. I think that's what I like about it more than anything. There's a timeless quality to this spot.

This final shot, taken in 2013, made me laugh a bit since I know I deliberately included the CSX MoW truck in the shot. Why? Look at the slogan on the hood. I don't know when CSX last used the "Quality in Motion" slogan but I know it was in the 1990s at the latest. I remember seeing those trucks around my hometown in the 90s. That means the railway has not bothered to get any new MoW trucks in quite some time, at least for the Sarnia Subdivision. To me this suggests one of two things. Either these trucks are incredibly durable or the railway doesn't seem to see this line as a top priority. I think it's probably a mixture of both. Those pipes and facilities in the background make up part of the Imperial Oil refinery in Sarnia.

So those are some bits of buried treasure in my photos. It's always fun to revisit older shots and see new elements that I had not noticed the first time around.

Happy Thanksgiving to any Canadian readers.