Friday, June 30, 2023

The ghost that haunts me (Part I)

I've called the weekly CN freight run to Arnprior the Ghost several times, and for good reason. It's a tricky train to catch, if you are so inclined. The Arnprior Turn, as it is commonly known, has changed a fair bit since I have begun to take notice of it with the advent of this blog in 2013. When I first started blogging, CN made two weekly trips to the west end of the city. It made a run out to Kott Lumber and SynAgri on the Smiths Falls Sub on Sundays (and sometimes Thursdays I'm told, depending on demand). The run to Arnprior was on Wednesdays, which continues to this day. 

Of course, the two runs out west have been combined into one run now, as CN 589 heads up the Smiths Falls Sub early in the morning before backing up to Federal Junction and then proceeding  west up the Beachburg Sub to what was Nepean Junction, where the now continuous line becomes the Renfrew Spur, which takes the train to Nylene Canada in Arnprior. This is the usual routine, if both runs are needed. If there is nothing to do on the Smiths Falls Sub, CN crews proceed directly up the Beachburg Sub to Arnprior.

To be honest, I don't pay as much attention to this train as I once did, because I have been branching out in my blogging a bit, trying new things, finding new subjects as well as thinking about new spots and angles to capture railway action in this area. That doesn't mean that I don't sometimes look out for it. Since I work from home, I do have opportunities to swing by trackside to catch this train, in theory. But, even breaking away on my break time is a difficult thing to do, which means I usually don't chance it, as my workday can become busy in an instant (like it did this week).

But as I find myself in the Colonnade Business Park every Wednesday evening, when my daughters go to dance class, I have time to keep an eye out for 589's return to Walkley Yard. Over the winter months, the timing hasn't worked out, as the daylight was nonexistent. However, I did see the train twice over the winter months. It got me to thinking that, once the time change happened and I had daylight, I would start bringing my camera each Wednesday, just in case I got lucky.

For the most part, the timing hasn't worked out, as the Arnprior Turn has been unpredictable. There are shifting factors that affect this train's timing. The most obvious is the switching that needs to be done in Walkley Yard before 589 prepares for its trip west. The next factor is whether 589 needs to make a run to Kott lumber or (rarely) SynAgri in Twin Elm, which isn't always the case each week. Depending on its timing on the Smiths Falls Sub, there is the Via Rail Toronto-bound trains that CN needs to accommodate, as they have the right-of-way usually. 

Add all those factors together and it can be hard to predict when this train makes its way to Arnprior and back to Walkley Yard again. There's also the factor of how many tank cars of caprolactum that Nylene Canada requires. There have been weeks where I saw a single tank car in tow on this train, while other weeks see as many as 6-7 cars. The unloading process is not terribly straightforward, I'm told, as caprolactum isn't like unloading a tank full of petroleum gas.

So, long story short, it's anything but predictable, which means you always need to be ready. Case in point was a few weeks ago when I was bringing my daughters to dance class and nearly left my camera at home. I was having no luck catching this train and I was getting a bit discouraged by my bad luck. At the last minute, I decided to take my camera anyway, just in case. I'm glad I did. The railway gods finally smiled on me.

This is a shot of the train heading east back to Walkley Yard on a flyover. Since traffic was at a standstill on Merivale Road, I quickly snapped a few shots through my windshield as the train trundled by. I would never attempt this otherwise, but I knew it was relatively safe as the cars around me were not moving. For once, I was thankful for an unusually congested Merivale Road, which is a nightmare of outdated urban development, with retail plazas tacked onto each other in seemingly endless links.

This shot shows two GP38s in a somewhat faded safety scheme. There were four tank cars in tow being brought back to Walkley. This shot came out surprisingly well, as it fits with my newfound desire to get some different shots of trains this year. You can see the hydro towers that follow the Beachburg Sub in this part of Nepean. You can also see the billboard for a local store on Merivale, which is a strip mall nightmare. But, I like that all these elements came together in this lucky shot.

As I followed the train, I tried to get a few more of the tank cars in the shot, but the glare and reflection from the windshield killed a few shots. The shot above was the best I could do. 

The interesting thing here is that, given the speed restrictions on the Beachburg Sub, I knew I would have time to proceed to Prince of Wales Drive ahead of the train, since it was in the direction of my daughter's dance class on Colonnade Road. Since we were early for class, I passed by the dance class on Colonnade Road and headed for the Prince of Wales flyover, which sees Via corridor trains every day, as well as this weekly freight train. I knew it was going to be tight, but there was a parking lot where I could safely park and a grassy hill next to Prince of Wales Drive, with a great view of this rail bridge.

I have been experimenting with shots from this vantage points recently, as Via's Train 59 passes by at the same time every night. It's a great spot to get a different image, if you're so inclined. I will be sharing shots from this spot in the comings weeks and months. Stay tuned for that.

Something different: Challenge accepted!

You might recall that in a recent post, I declared 2023 as the Year of Different, where I challenged my fellow rail enthusiasts to get creative and capture different railway images this year. A good friend of the blog Keith Boardman accepted the challenge and shared this shot from near Fitzroy Harbour, a picturesque community in the extreme northwest edge of the amalgamated city. Fitzroy a spot where the old Beachburg Sub crossed the Ottawa River into the Pontiac Region of western Quebec, before crossing back into Renfrew County before reaching its terminus in Petawawa. Of course, before CN dismantled its Northern Transcontinental line through Algonquin Park, this was once a busy rail line with regular freight trains. Even after it was truncated, the old Ottawa Central regularly serviced customers in the Pontiac and even as far as Petawawa, before the economic recession in 2009 led to OCR selling its assets to CN. That was it for the Beachburg Sub past Nepean Junction.

But, even though the rails are gone past Nepean Junction, there are still reminders of what once was in this area. I'll let Keith pick up the story. Here's what he wrote:

I happened to be travelling on Galetta Side Road where you'd turn north to go to Fitzroy Harbour a couple weeks ago. I've been on this road many times over the years, always wondering what the scene would have been like had the Beachburg Sub still been in use. As I passed by where it crossed, this little structure caught my attention. It was interesting in that it's still painted and lettered with the CN logo. Pretty sure nobody has bothered going in it now for several years, but it still stands.

Thanks to Keith for sharing this shot of an old CN utility shed, which seems to be near a telecom tower, which might explain why it's still in place. You can even see the CN 8231 numbering on the side of the shed. 

I was thinking of Keith's shot the other day and I figured it fit thematically with this post. As I looked at the shots of CN 589 making its way over Merivale Road, I wondered how many trains used to ply these rails in their prime? How many trains did people see each day on their commute? It's funny how many rail fans talk about these days with fondness, when a generation of Ottawans probably couldn't even tell you anything about this rail line at all. Many think it's abandoned and they'd be forgiven for thinking that.

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, as the song says.

By the way, the title of this post is a play on the 1991 album, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, by Canadian band the Crash Test Dummies. I was never a huge fan of theirs, but they had their moments. I appreciate their devotion to their craft. Their music was anything but dumb.


Kevin from Windsor said...

Hi Michael - Thanks for the informative post, which has sparked great memories of my many trips to Ottawa over the years. The Merivale Road overpass is right around the corner from where my cousins used to live on Viewmount Drive, a few houses down from the Canadian Tire - formerly Esso - gas bar. I used to grab one of their bikes and cycle around the neighbourhood, including Colonnade Road. Always hoped I would spot a train on that overpass, knowing that it was the route of the Super Continental and later a Budd Car that replaced it, but never even saw a freight train. So I kinda know how you feel about the ghost train. I'm talking 1977 to the early 1990s. - On a non-railroad note, I know what you mean about Merivale Road being a mess of seemingly uncontrolled urban sprawl. But for a kid/teenager with an interest in urban geography, it was amazing. I grew up in part of Windsor that was (and remains) residential as far as the eye could see. The closest shopping plaza was a 15 minute bike ride. The mere idea that you could walk out your front door, and across the street to a shopping mall (one with a 2-storey Woolco no less, the only one like it that I've ever seen) was unheard of. And if you wanted to go for a bit of hike, down Merivale Road on the east side of the road just before the Dairy Queen there was a top notch hobby/model train store. So I'd always bring a little bit of extra spending money to buy something to add to my layout. The plaza that had the hobby store is still there, looking pretty shabby these days, but the store is long gone. And who could forget one of the original Farm Boy locations (before its acquisition by Sobey's), also on Merivale. Although that arrive a couple of decades later. Originally in an old church, and now located in what I remember as an A&P store in Merivale Mall. Ah, the memories! Thanks for bring it all back. - Kevin

Michael said...

Great memories, Kevin. Thanks for sharing. You are right that the Merivale flyover once boasted the likes of the SuperContinental, but also the Canadian, which would then divert off the CN northern main line onto the CP Carleton Place Sub at Bells Junction, before heading north on the Chalk River Sub once it reached Carleton Place. All of this a memory now, except for the small part of Beachburg that still survives.

I will say when I visited my grandparents in Windsor, it was always fun to walk one block from their house on Charlotte St. onto Howard Avenue, which was a real mix of retail, restaurants, motels and light industrial. The highlight was going to the Dairy DeLite, a DQ-like place that made the best slush. I loved it as a kid. Good memories.

Kevin from Windsor said...

Hi Michael - That part of Howard Avenue remains an eclectic mix of retail, restaurants, motels and light industrial. My wife is a travel agent and her office is in that stretch. The reason for all the motor hotels and greasy spoons (most of which are still there) was that prior to 401, the main gateways to Windsor were the old Highway 2 (it was rerouted many times before being decommissioned, but back in the day in came in to the city on the south side of Windsor Airport) and Highway 98 (which ran parallel to the New York Central tracks from St. Thomas). Both highways combined and merged with Howard Avenue just south of where Devonshire Mall sits today. So that stretch of Howard was our own little Welcome to Windsor Route 66 pre-401. The proximity of Devonshire Mall has kept it alive and not to shabby, unlike other parts of town that have died and gone to hell. - As for Dairy DeLite, it's still there. Pre-1970 it was actually a true Dairy Queen. But Dairy Queen packed up and moved into the mall when it opened in 1970, with Dairy DeLite becoming a much-loved knock-off. It was recently hit by a car, destroying the entire back half of the building. It has been closed for a while, but the owners are rebuilding and it's under reconstruction right now.

Jim said...

Hi Kevin. This is Jim from Windsor and Ottawa. I lived on Viewmount Ave from 1964 to 1969. Our house backed onto the tracks and Merivale Road was a level crossing as were all the other crossings out to Bells Corners. I often walked home from Bell High School along the tracks. There were numerous trains throughout the day and night on the track. I was down Howard Ave the other day and the Dairy DeLite is now open.

Jim said...

Correction to my post. I lived on Hillmount Crescent not Viewmount.