It's a little late to be celebrating something that passed in April, but when I was clearing out my email folder the other day, I came across something from 2015 and it made me a bit nostalgic for the early days of this blog, when blogging was more of a thing online.
On April 30, 2013, I began blogging about railways in Ottawa and elsewhere, while mixing in my reminiscences of times spent trackside throughout my life. Inspired by blogs such as Trackside Treasure and Traingeek, I decided to give it a go. Truthfully, I only had about 10 ideas that I started with, based on my limited number of historic railway photos from my youth. I look back and wonder how I managed to keep this initiative on the rails, given the scarcity of material to work with in Ottawa.
When my thoughts began to return trackside at that time, my initial wanderings took me to the Via Rail station on Tremblay Road as well as the west-end station on Fallowfield Road. At the time, it had been so long since I had taken photographs of trains, everything was new and a novelty. This initial collection of early photos, combined with my trove of older photos from my youth, was barely enough to maintain about half a year of posts, so I eventually began going trackside more often and accepting submissions from friends and family.
It was through these interactions with other railfans that I began to learn much more about railroading in Ottawa, including the existence of a weekly freight train that plied the Beachburg Sub rails each week on its way to Arnprior.
To be more specific, in 2013, CN made two west-end runs per week, as it made a separate run up the Smiths Falls Subdivision to Kott Lumber and SynAgri during the week, while returning on Sunday to collect empties. I can't imagine such a bounty now that all west-end freight service has been combined into one run up both the Beachburg/Renfrew and Smiths Falls Subs.
But when I began mentioning the Arnprior Turn, CN's weekly freight train, something happened. Word got out among railfans and my blog began to attract a wider audience, some of which has stuck around to this day. CN 589 has been a popular subject from Day 1 and it has generated more activity on this blog than anything else. That was why I was shocked to see this submission in an old email, which I had never posted. So, here it is eight years later.
This is a near perfect shot submitted to me by a reader named Patrick. It was taken near the March Road Tim Hortons in Kanata in June 2015, while the crew was stopping for a coffee before heading west to Arnprior. To be honest, I haven't heard from Patrick in years so I don't know if he's still in Ottawa so I will simply go with his first name and thank him belatedly for this cool image. You can see his other contribution in this post. You'll notice from these 2015 images that there's just a single unit (GP38-2 4703) leading this train. Back in 2015, this train was a single-unit operation. CN didn't start doubling up its units until the last few years. Most of my shots of this train are with a single unit.
Since the early days, I have managed to navigate the ebbs and flows of what the local railways offer here in Ottawa. I have also survived two severe bouts of mental illness to keep this blog going. I have never mentioned this before on this blog, but I was inspired to mention it now, thanks to Steve Boyko, the man behind traingeek.ca, one of the best railway blogs I have ever found. Steve has been open about living with mental health challenges, and I will support him by saying I live with mental illness. I won't get into it too much, other than to say that I have become a mental health advocate since I started this blog, because it's a cause I believe needs more attention. I don't plan on saying too much about it here, but I am open to anyone asking me any questions, as I am a public speaker on this topic and am always there to help people.To be honest, this blog has proven to be quite good for my mental health, as it sustained me through some of my darkest moments in 2015-16.
I recall sitting in front of a screen and doing research on railways, all the while trying to keep my anxiety and depression at bay. Somehow, that wasn't what derailed this blog. The pandemic took care of that. In 2020, when the full impact of the Covid outbreak meant the world was shutting down, I found my life to be incredibly confined, with kids learning from home and very little options for entertainment. I should have gone trackside more often, but I found that I was exhausted by blogging and constantly chasing photographs to generate new material. Also, the pace of posting a new entry every week proved to be impossible. So, I parked the blog in 2020 for a prolonged sabbatical, although at the time, I thought it was a retirement.
But it was a trip to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario that brought me back. I found this trip energizing, as my daughters and I strolled through the grounds of the old CN station in Smiths Falls. Shortly after that visit, I began to look at the photos I had stockpiled over my break and found that I had more than enough to keep the blog active for half a year, provided I slowed my pace to bi-weekly. That seemed to work for me and things got rolling again, albeit at a more sedate pace.
A lot has changed since I began this blog, including the continued surge of railfans sharing the majority of their passion on social media. Truth be told, I have not really recovered the original readership I was blessed to amass initially. Some of my railfan friends have returned, but some have moved on. That's okay. I like to write about railways and whoever drops by is a bonus. I don't focus on my numbers all that much, although it's always neat to see that I've hit upon something that people enjoy.
Since the beginning of this year, I have increased my pace to every 10 days, meaning I am posting about three times a month. I don't know if I will continue this pace or go back to bi-weekly, but I have found that picking up the pace keeps me more disciplined in my writing, which is good for my mental health.
I have also focused a fair bit this year on trying new approaches to railfan photography, as evidenced by this shot I recently took beneath the Hunt Club Road overpass. This summer, I will be visiting some different places outside Ottawa, which will give me the chance to possibly shoot some freight trains and other railway scenes. That will be a nice break from the seemingly endless parade of passenger panoramas I have amassed trackside in Ottawa this year.
Through the years since beginning, I have been blessed to connect with many good people who have helped me in many ways. I have also had a chance to shoot railway scenes in Toronto, Markham, Scarborough, Oshawa, Ajax, Montreal, Hull, Kitchener, Waterloo, Sarnia, Corunna, Courtright, Wyoming, Stratford, Bloomington, Indiana, Kissimmee, Florida, Lakeland, Florida, Plant City, Florida, Kingston, Bedell, Kemptville, Smiths Falls, Ogdensburg, New York, London and a few other places I am probably leaving out.
It's been an interesting decade. From the heartbreak of CN pulling up the Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction to the thrill of CP bringing its business train to town last summer, it's been a journey filled with twists and turns. It's hard to believe I am now 392 posts into this initiative, closing in on 400 and looking ahead to 500. Railways have always been a part of my life. I am endlessly fascinated by them and like nothing more than sharing my thoughts and images with like-minded people.
Thank you for being along for the ride.
hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com