Sunday, April 29, 2018

Five years

Five years ago (April 30, 2013), I began this blog by posting my first entry. Five years later, I'm still here blogging about railways in Ottawa and beyond. It's been a fun experience to engage in discussion with many fellow railfans from the region and across Canada and elsewhere. I've learned so much from all of you. For that, I am grateful.

Five years ago, the Beachburg Sub still existed beyond Nepean Junction. Today, it's just another barren right-of-way, sadly one of many in the Ottawa area. But it's not all bad news. Since I've started this blog, the city has made tremendous progress in preparing the first phase of its light rail system from Tunney's Pasture to Blair (although it should be pointed out that the first phase is months behind schedule).

Five years ago, there was no plan for the rail link across the Ottawa River on the Prince of Wales Bridge. After much foot-dragging, the city has finally come around to the idea that maybe this critical piece of rail infrastructure would be a valuable rail link. It's not a sure shot, by any means, but at least the will is finally there. I should point out that the group looking to establish a commuter rail system in Eastern Ontario, the Moose Consortium, recently won a legal victory when a federal regular ordered the city to re-connect the severed portion of the old Ellwood Subdivision, which is now covered over by part of the Bayview O-Train station, or begin formal discontinuance proceedings for the old bridge. The city is fighting the decision and has been granted an extension, but it appears that Moose is at least forcing the city's hand. That may not be a bad thing.

While we're on the subject, the city finally came around to the benefits of extending the O-Train to the Ottawa airport and to the city's southern suburbs via an existing portion of the old Prescott Subdivision. This was not the case five years ago. Progress.

Since I've begun this blog, Via has invested pretty heavily in its local rail infrastructure in the city. Although Via Rail has cut back its operations elsewhere in its network, its Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor remains a vibrant portion of the network, to say the least.

It would be great to mention that CN has done great things in the region since I've begun blogging but the truth is its local operations have continued limping along much as they have been for years. CN has scrapped not only the Beachburg Sub from Nepean Junction to Fitzroy Harbour, it has also removed other small pieces of its local network, including the last section of the old Carleton Place Sub in Bells Corners (the line was technically called the Carleton Spur in recent years).

In the five years since I've started, I've been able to share some of my railfanning photos from the Sarnia area, Toronto, Markham, Kitchener-Waterloo, St. Jacobs, London, Ottawa, Bedell, Finch, Kingston, Windsor, Corunna, Banff, Montreal, Quebec City and Kissimmee, Florida, to name but a few.

Thanks to my contributors and fellow railfans, I've been able to share more photos and railfanning material from across North America and even Europe. I've mentioned it many times before but it always bears repeating. I really do rely on the contributions of my fellow railfans to help round out this blog. So a big thank you to everyone who has helped out along the way.

Thanks to all.

Michael Hammond

hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com

Saturday, April 21, 2018

All about the Baldwins

Walt Disney World Railroad, Part II

To see the initial post, click here.

As I mentioned in my first post about the Walt Disney World Railroad, I recently was able to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the tourist line, which operates on a small loop around the Magic Kingdom in Florida. There are a number of interesting items that make this little railway worth checking out, if you find yourself at this theme park.

If you're wondering what is above the steam engine, it's the Walt Disney World monorail. The monorail trains' roundhouse is right above the steam locomotive roundhouse.

I was most fascinated by the four steam locomotives that power the five-car trains that shuttle park goers to various parts of the Magic Kingdom throughout the day. The locomotives are not specially built reproductions, as some might expect. They are real steam locomotives that pulled revenue freight in a former life before they were purchased by Disney and modified (significantly, in some cases) to pull trains at Disney World.

Here are some interesting facts about these locomotives that I was able to discover during the tour.

1. Each of these four narrow gauge steam engines is named after someone significant to the Disney empire. The 4-4-0 engine pictured above is the Roy Disney. Roy, who was Walt's brother, and did not want an engine named after him. The honour was bestowed after Roy died. The other three are named after Walt Disney (4-6-0), Disney executive Roger Broggie (4-6-0) and Lillian Disney (2-6-0 officially known as Lilly Belle).

2. Despite their appearance, the company boasts that each of these steam engines contains 80 per cent original parts. The asterisk next to that claim, however, should mention that the locomotive boiler is each is considered a part. And each of these engines has a new, smaller boiler compared to when they served as freight haulers in Mexico.

3. All of these locomotives was built at the famous Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia between 1916 (Roy Disney) and 1928 (Lillian Disney). Interestingly, the railway's two 4-6-0s, the Roger Broggie and the Walter Disney, were built side by side and numbered consecutively by Baldwin in 1925. They ended up being sold together and served together before they were restored together.

4. All of these locomotives was used on a narrow gauge railway that served sugar cane plantations in the Yucatan region of Mexico. They were purchased by Disney from a scrapyard in 1969 for $32,000. The purchase price included another steam locomotive (which was deemed unfit to be saved) and various spare parts.

5. Their top speed in 20 miles per hour. Although they can reach this speed, they rarely go this fast. Our tour guide told us they begin to complain and shimmy when they are pushed to their speed limit.

6. Of the original parts on these engines, these do not include the builder's plates, like this one on the Roy Disney. These plates are reproductions.

7. What's in the tender? These locomotives have been modified to burn low-sulfur diesel fuel, which feeds the fire that produces the steam. The tenders themselves are reproductions, although they run on the original trucks that were on the original tenders.

View of the top of the Roy Disney tender, as seen from the cab of the locomotive

8. This is just a personal observation, but I have to admit that the cab of a steam locomotive is a lot warmer than I thought it would be. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but I was surprised by how much of the heat from the engine's fire bleeds into the cab. This would not make this cab all that comfortable in the summer.

9. The railway almost always has two locomotives operating at one time, although it is able to accommodate three trains on its two-mile loop at a time, provided they all travel in unison between the railway's three stations. The day I visited the roundhouse, the Roy Disney and the Lilly Belle were operating while the Roger Broggie (visible below) was in the roundhouse, as was the Walter Disney although I could not see that 4-6-0.

10. Each locomotive is operated by an engineer and a fireman. Each member of the crew spends part of a shift being the engineer and part of the shift being the fireman.

This is where the magic happens. The fireman is about to fire up the engine. The initial steam test is something you have to see to believe.

As I mentioned in the first post about this railway, I am not a Disney fan. There are other railways that are no doubt much more interesting to a railfan, but this railway has much more than meets the eye. If you find yourself at Disney World and you're not exactly a Disney person (like me), make the most of it and discover this railway. This company really respects rail history.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A little planning pays off

I’ve often read various blogs and articles about planning your shots when trackside. The other day, I had my plans for a railfanning day crushed, which forced me to make do with a brief trip trackside here in Ottawa. That meant shooting another Via Rail corridor consist. This, needless to say, wasn’t nearly as exciting to me.

My first thought was to do a tour of the Smiths Falls Subdivision near my home. I often check a few spots on this stretch of track, looking for something new to capture. Since westbound Train 47 was due to leave Fallowfield Station in Barrhaven in 12:51 p.m., I began there.

Interestingly, there was a pick-up truck hi-railing along the tracks at around 12:30 p.m., although it was nothing worth shooting, so I headed southwest along the line to check out a few other places.

My next stop was the Kott Lumber spur near Moodie Drive. The spur was empty, not that I would have been able to shoot anything around that track, since it is completely inaccessible and shielded from view from most angles. There is a spot along the edge of the Kott property where I considered trying to get a shot of the train crossing the bridge over the Jock River. But the vantage point I wanted was also inaccessible, since it was very likely on private property.

I moved on to the Twin Elm area, to check out the SynAgri spur, which often boasts some interesting covered hoppers, which I have blogged about a few times. When I arrived there, the spur was empty and some bird watchers had taken the spot I was going to use to shoot the Via Rail train. The bird watchers were observing a nest of hawks that have chosen one of the high points of the SynAgri facility to rear their young this spring.

 A very long shot taken of a hawk's nest at Twin Elm. 

My final spot was the Ottawa Street crossing in Richmond, which I sometimes visit, since there is often interesting maintenance of way equipment on the spurs there. However, aside from the standard snow spreader, there was nothing happening there either.

So, what to do?

I decided to head back to the Twin Elm area and try to set up on Cambrian Road, which is not easy, given this road has narrow gravel shoulders. I set up along at a suitable spot, making sure to pull my car off the road far enough so as not to cause any safety issues. When I found my spot, I was glad I had taken the time to think of choosing a good spot. I had the sun mostly behind me, although it was midday, so it was more overhead, but I was definitely not on the shadow side of the train. I was far enough back that my vantage point would allow some wide views of the train when it arrived.

When it did come through Twin Elm, I was pretty happy with the consist. An F40PH-2 led the way, followed by a Via 40 wrapped LRC coach, two more LRC coaches, another wrap, a refurbished Budd streamliner and a P42 on the opposite end. That’s about as much variety as one might expect from a passenger train these days.

I wish I could say I framed this tree deliberately, but it was just a result of me following the train and letting the shutter fly

It made up for the fact that, in my travels the previous weekend on the 401, I missed out on some pretty impressive trains in Kingston along the Kingston Sub, including a long CN freight and a Via Rail F40PH-2 40th anniversary wrap.

As the train raced through Twin Elm, I kept following it  and letting the shutter fly. As I did, I captured this image of the entire train. I think this might be one of my favourite shots I have captured in a long time. There are many elements in this shot that I like, not the least of which is the sky.

Double ender heads west on the Smiths Falls Sub through Twin Elm, Ontario

I should mention that I deliberately got close to the fence in the shot so that I didn't have two fences to contend with when the train first came into view. As I followed it, the wire fence crept into the shot, but I like what it adds to this image.

Here's another shot I liked, as I tried to capture the train next to this barn. Sometimes, I like to take shots trackside where the train is just a small part of an overall landscape shot. This is one of those types of shots.

I will be taking a rain check on that railfanning excursion to somewhere in Eastern Ontario in the coming weeks, but this was a nice a consolation prize for the time being.