Monday, October 31, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part I

This post was supposed to be the first stop on my blog's reunion tour, as I called it when I restarted things in August 2021. Since then, I have accumulated much more material, which has pushed back this post for months and now more than a year. It's not a bad problem to have.

Bedell, Ontario, a spot along the Canadian Pacific Railway's Winchester Subdivision. Bedell once housed a station and an active rail yard. Over the course of my extended hiatus from blogging, I did manage to visit this spot a few times. Truthfully, I wouldn't have been able to visit this spot were it not for the fact that I had surgery on my knee at the Kemptville District Hospital and subsequent follow-ups with my surgeon a few times. That meant a few free passes to railfan at a time when I would usually not be able to get away from Ottawa.

Those who know their history know that Bedell once boasted a station, a tower, an interlocking crossing between the Canadian Pacific and the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway and later a diamond that connected the CP Winchester Sub to the railway's Prescott Sub. Read about the history of Bedell's rail operations here.

The Prescott Sub lasted until the late 1990s, when it was finally deactivated and the rail removed south of Ottawa. The rail in Ottawa was spared, some of which became part of the O-Train Trillium Line while the remainder was used by Ottawa Central and then CN in its local operations. A small portion of the Prescott Sub still ventured into Kemptville as the North Prescott Spur. That spur was lifted several years ago. The South Prescott Spur is still hanging on, as a turnout for eastbound locals on the Winchester Sub. That spur serves CP customers in Oxford Station.

So, what's left in Bedell these days? Not much but memories and a few ghosts no doubt. I've been here a number of times and detailed the ongoing process of rails being lifted and area being cleared of anything resembling a rail yard. 

This shot above was the scene on November 30, 2020 when I was in Kemptville for an appointment, which led me to Bedell, of course. Throughout 2020, CP maintenance of way crews were quite active in Bedell as the Winchester Sub was single tracked in many places, due to modern signalization improvements that do not require two tracks. For my purposes, I was interested to see the two old yard tracks removed on the north side of the area (left on the photo). One of the tracks was once clearly labelled as a bad order track. You could see the sign from the side of Bedell Road. The south track with gondolas marked the first time I have ever seen cars parked in this area.

The North Prescott Spur was being used that day as a staging ground for this maintenance of way consist, including a genuine caboose. I was quite surprised to see the last vestiges of the CP multimark on this car. The white scheme with no identifying marks or numbers was quite odd, although it might have been a case of a car being repainted after being heavily marked by graffiti. 

Here's a closer look at the caboose. You can see from the ends that its original yellow paint scheme is clearly visible. As if a caboose on a main line wasn't odd enough, this one had two paint schemes. I was disappointed that I didn't see any freight trains pass by, but this was a great consolation prize, to be sure. 

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little sad for the ghosts of Bedell. At one point, this was a real community gathering spot, where families embarked on long journeys or reunited. It once saw upwards up 30 trains a day. By most counts, it now sees anywhere from five to seven, based on what I hear from various railfans. Occasionally, there will be a seasonal extra, such as a semi-regular ethanol unit train, but the frequency is not really conducive to regular railfanning.

This Soo Line gondola has definitely seen better days.
Progress or is this the end of an era? Depends on your perspective.
Despite the fact that very little is left in Bedell from the area's heyday, it's important to understand today's reality. Canadian Pacific is definitely a railway in growth mode, even if it isn't evident in this area. The railway's purchase of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway (formerly Montreal Maine & Atlantic) gave CP its transcontinental connection to the East Coast once again. The railway has been promoting its new eastern terminus as a competitive advantage for shippers (read: intermodal and containers). The railway also clearly sought to establish a link to Mexico with its prolonged struggled to acquire Kansas City Southern.
So what does this have to do with Bedell? Well, if the minds running CP have their way, the railway is clearly going to be busier as a true transcontinental transportation concern once again. That could mean a few more trains passing through Bedell. They might not stop there anymore, but the ghosts would likely notice the increase and smile.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Guest Post: More GP9 memories from across Canada

I seemed to have hit a sweet spot in my previous post about the history of the venerable GP9 locomotive. As I mentioned in that post, this old relic is fast disappearing from most major railways, given its age. The last GP9s produced in Canada came off the line at the old GM Diesel in London, Ont. in 1963. CN and CP have used them for decades, although there are none left on CP and only a few dozen left on CN rails.

I shared a few photos of my meets with these engines over the years, including on the CP, CN and even the Goderich Exeter Railway. After I published that post, I received interesting feedback from a few fellow bloggers in appreciation of these geeps.

It occurred to me that perhaps my generation of railfan will wax poetic over these first-generation diesels the way previous generations bemoan the loss the steam locomotives after the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have to admit I don’t understand the fascination with steam locomotives at all, given my age and my lack of experience with them trackside. However, given my fond memories of old GP9s and even SW1200s, maybe I’m not all that different from steam fans after all.

One of those who seemed enthused about my GP9 retrospective is Steve Boyko, author, poet and prominent rail blogger extraordinaire. Most people who come to this blog will know Steve from his long-running railway and photography blog, It was one blog that directly influenced my decision to start The Beachburg Sub. Steve was kind enough to share a few of his own shots of GP9s from his time trackside, which I am pleased to share below.

I’ll start with a shot Steve took in Winnipeg, where he lives. The descriptions below the photos are Steve’s, not mine. Read on:

CP operated many GP7s and GP9s in Winnipeg in the first decade of the 21st century, in local switcher service and local yard service. They frequently operated in pairs, like these two about to cross Plinguet Street, south of Whittier Junction.

An overhead view of CP 1540 in yard service, October 29, 2011.

Many CP switchers met their end here in late 2009. A scrapper used a siding in Fort Garry to scrap quite a few locomotives over a few months. I documented many from a distance, including this massacre of four CP GP9s – 1558 and 1556, bracketing two SOO GP9s, 4202 and 4204.

You might wonder why a CN GP9 is at the famous McAdam, New Brunswick train station – a former bastion of CP power. This line has been owned by shortline NB Southern Railway for quite a while, and they leased a few CN GP9s for local switching in Saint John. Occasionally, one would be put on the Saint John-Brownville Junction freight for extra power. However, they are not permitted to cross into the U.S., so they would be dropped in McAdam. When I visited McAdam on July 19, 2008, 7038 was being used to switch the yard.

This is a very pedestrian shot of CN 7059 passing the Staples store near Island Yard in Saint John, coming back from perhaps switching the Irving refinery. I include it because I have one of the number boards that used to grace this locomotive, which has since donned Cando colours and a new number.

CN often used a pairing of GP9s and a slug for local switching in the Winnipeg area. Here are two pairings, with 7213 at Transcona (with modern paint scheme) above and 7254 in Winnipeg below.

Here's an oddity below. Read Steve's caption of this scene below the image.

I’m not sure why this GP9 was on top of the hump in Symington Yard in Winnipeg. Typically, hump locomotives were GP38-2 locomotives at this time, but for whatever reason, 7258 and slug 268 were up high.

For a long time, CP 8251 was one of the very few active locomotives around Winnipeg still bearing a multimark. Here a rainbow graces the scene after a summer storm. CP 8251 was retired in 2013 but has been leased to Viterra to serve a grain elevator.

My thanks to Steve for sharing these photos. It’s a real treat to feature photographs and information outside my usual haunts here in Ottawa and southern Ontario. In keeping with this post’s theme of GP9 photos, I’d like to share three additional GP9 photos that didn’t make the cut in the previous post. 

The first is an old shot my Dad took at the GEXR yard in Startford in the early 1990s. Note the faded Shakespearan name "Falstaff" on the lead engine, in appreciation of the railway's hometown.

A few years ago, Eric Gagnon, author of the equally acclaimed Trackside Treasure blog and several railway books, shared this photo print with me of GEXR GP9 177 leading a string of old EMD power in switching the salt mine on the Lake Huron habourfront in Goderich. Date unknown, but it appears to be a 1990s shot. 

Finally, I'll add one last shot of my own that I did not manage to squeeze into my original post on these engines. Here's a great shot of GP9 720 and slug 223 leading 4761 in Sarnia Yard in August 2014.

So that just about wraps up my tribute to the venerable GP9. I am also working on a similar post about the equally venerable SW1200 and its family of switchers. Stay tuned for that one a little down the road. My thanks to Steve Boyko, the original Train Geek, for sharing his photos this week and his contribution to the cause on this blog. And thanks to Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure. It's been years since he shared a bunch of prints with me. I finally have the chance to share one of them.