Friday, October 15, 2021

Ghost in the Yard, Part I

Those who have been with me on this blog from the beginning know that I often do a lot of rail photography in Sarnia, where I grew up. I was finally able to travel with my family this summer and even squeeze in a little time trackside at Sarnia's train station. 

I'm not a picky railfan. I see so little here in Ottawa, I will settle for watching a rail yard being switched. That was what was happening when I visited the yard on a cloudy morning in late July. To be honest, the cloudy conditions were ideal for me, as lighting from the station vantage point is tricky at the best of times, with the trains always being obscured by shadows. That morning, there were no such headaches, thankfully.

The first hint of activity was east of the station, as a consist of coil cars, a few hoppers and a long line of tank cars made its way toward the station. With the exception of the coil cars, this was a pretty typical consist for Sarnia, as much of the railway's local customers are in the Chemical Valley, which usually require tank cars and hoppers. These two types of cars are by far the dominant presence in this yard.

I tried to include some of Sarnia Station in the first photo. At this point, I caught a glimpse of a ghost in the consist, but I wasn't sure. In this photo, you can see an old GP9 long hood forward leading the way.

I had to wait a while for this train to make its way closer to the station. While I waited, I snapped a shot of this hopper car that is lettered NOKL, which you would think would belong to the Northwestern Oklahoma Railroad, but this is another case of a shortline leasing its reporting marks to a leasing company. 

I looked up its history, because I was interested in the plate on the upper right hand side of the car and found that this car once belonged to First Union Rail (FURX) and Iowa Interstate (IAIS). The plate in the upper right corner once sported the Equity logo, which you can still make out in the middle of the car. There's a tiny decal still there. Here's a closer shot of that old logo.

With an assist from Eric Gagnon at Trackside Treasure, I was also able to find out a few more things about this car, which Eric told me was once referred to as the "sash scheme" hoppers, which have a capacity of 4,750 cubit feet. They were made by Thrall. Eric also shared that there are a number of more common yellow hoppers with the Equity plate on them.  

Here was another NOKL lettered hopper with the XTRA lettering down the side. I know I have said this before, but taking photos of any type of rolling stock that is out of the ordinary may seem like a waste of time now, but it could one day prove interesting. I always make sure to find a car or two to capture whenever trackside.

This car once had the reporting marks CFWR, which belong to the Caney Fork and Western Railway, a shortline owned by Ironhorse Resources in Tennessee. 

As the yard job finally approached the station, I was able to confirm my suspicions about the rare piece of motive power in the consist. And there is was. Ex-GT 5849 GP38-2 still in its original GT colours. I know this might not seem all that rare to some more regular rail watchers, but it's the first time I've seen this scheme in person since the early 1990s. So, rare for me. What's even cooler is that this unit was once Pittsburgh and Lake Erie 2156. So it has a lot of history.

Here's a shot of just the GT unit. A nearby railfan at the station told me that the unit has been making the rounds in Sarnia for a few months. In the shot below, you can see that one of the front number plates had to be replaced. Not a great match, but it gets the job done, I guess. I also find it interesting that there is no CN stencil below the side numbers. It's as if the GTW never ceased to be its own operating entity.


Here's an overall shot of the yard job. I had to strain the limits of my camera's capabilities to get a clear shot. It was a hazy morning and the rain was just about to fall. You can see three yard signal sets in the background as well as the Indian Road overpass over the rail yard.

Here's a more conventional shot of the yard job, with a bit more clarity.

You can even see a carbon black covered hopper behind the coil cars. That hopper is either coming from or going to Cabot in the Chemical Valley. I got a better shot of that type of car when another yard job approached from the west end of the yard from behind a string of other cars. Stay tuned for that in the second part of this series.

In a way, I was lucky enough to catch a meet between two yard jobs, although they were a few tracks apart. It was quite a challenge trying to capture an image with both trains in the frame. I will leave that for the following post.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Ghost in the Yard, Part II

In the last post, I shared some photos of a Grand Trunk locomotive still sporting its red and blue Grand Trunk scheme in Sarnia Yard. I haven't seen a GT painted unit in person since the 1990s, so I was quite happy to finally see one again in real life.

As I mentioned in that last post, I am not a picky railfan. I will take what I can get, especially considering how little there is to see here in Ottawa. So when I saw two crews switching cars in the Sarnia rail yard back in late July, I was quite happy to stand on the Via Rail station platform and try and get some images. The problem with each consist was that they were quite a way east of the station, so I had either hope they would get close or use my camera's zoom to get something worthwhile. Luckily, both came fairly close, which allowed me to capture a few rare sights (at least for me).

The second yard job I saw was being led by two old warhorse GP9s, one with the strange CN 15 logo that was applied to celebrate the railway's 15th anniversary as a public company. Up until that morning, I had no idea the railway applied this logo to one of these locomotives. Most of the recent photos of this unit show it with the ordinary black long hood with the CN lettering. However, it appears the special scheme was added in the  2010s, judging by this 2013 image taken in Winnipeg. (Update: Steve Boyko at caught up with the CN 15 GP9 in Winnipeg and blogged about it. You can see his post here.)

Sadly, given where I was on the station platform and the angle and distance, I couldn't get a clear shot of 7258, which soon pulled away from a string of carbon black hoppers toward the east end of the yard. Here's my attempt at a closer shot.

I don't know what to think of that special paint scheme. It really doesn't do anything for me and I would imagine it would confuse a lot of people who aren't familiar with the corporate history of CN. Imagine if someone was really observant, but ignorant of railway history. They might see the CN 15 logo one day and the CN 100 logo another day. Which one would make more sense? Thankfully, this scheme was not terribly prominent and isn't all that widespread anymore, from what I can tell. 

While I was watching these two crews do their work in the yard, I met another local railfan, who is the man behind Shortt Rail videos on YouTube. I take it that he's a constant presence here. I spoke with him for a bit and he assured me that both the GT unit and the CN 15 unit had been around Sarnia for a while. I believe him, given that he has close to 800 videos on his YouTube channel. He also had a Shortt Rail logo on back window of his car.

Anyway, before the rain began to fall, I tried to see if there was anything else to capture. I always had a fondness for these carbon black hoppers. When I was a boy, these cars, which were loaded at the Cabot plant in the Chemical Valley, were ribbed and had the Cabot Corp. logo in the upper right hand corner of the cars. You can see an example of that ribbed hopper design on the left. Now, all you get is the CABX reporting mark as a clue as to what these cars are for and where they are heading to or coming from. Still, I'd love to have a few of these on my layout at home.

I did manage a meet photo of the two yard jobs in action. Trying to get them both in one frame in a way that did them both justice was difficult. 

For a train-starved Ottawan, even this short time in the rail yard was a lot of fun. Shortly after this photo, it began to rain. There was a father on the station platform with his two sons, who were enjoying the rail yard with some donuts from Tim Hortons. We were all chatting about trains before the heavens opened and we all dashed for our cars. 

In retrospect, my timing couldn't have been any better. Two rare sightings at the same time in the span of less than half an hour. Talk about great train karma.