Sunday, October 22, 2023

Fall Observations in Ottawa

Today seems like the typical October day we are all accustomed to here in Ottawa. It's cold, rainy and the leaves are falling from the trees like the rain. We're finally seeing some colour in the leaves, thanks to the overly warm late summer weather vacating the region. 

I haven't done a great deal of railfanning lately, some of which is due to a stressful situation that has been ongoing since early September. This has taken its toll on my mental health. I don't usually share things like this on here, but this is the reason my posts have not been punctual and I really don't know what hiding the reasons does for me. As a mental health public speaker, I am reminding myself to just own it. So, that is my explanation. 

I did get trackside earlier this week and noticed that the Siemens work crews were busy dismantling an old industrial spur near Hunt Club Road, on the Smiths Falls Subdivision.  This image below, taken from the Hunt Club overpass, shows some of the results of the work on the mainline.

Siemens is the successor to RailTerm, which was the company that maintained much of Via's network of tracks in this city. The old spur, which once connected a few businesses on Bentley Avenue to the mainline, still runs behind a few light industrial operations. This image below shows the spur's connection to the mainline now completely dismantled.

The trackage behind the fence doesn't look like it's been used in a number of years, as much of the trackage is completely surrounded by brush and weeds. I can't even begin to guess when there was last rail service to this spur. It seems like 10 years at the very least.

This shot below shows the old switch stand, ready to be hauled away.

While I was up on the overpass, I waited for westbound Via Train 59, which passes by this area every evening around 6 p.m., which works for me as I am in the area waiting for my daughter's dance class to finish. 

I've been setting up here for a few weeks, while I still have some evening light, but I'm thinking that the gathering darkness at this hour will shut down my weekly shots of this train for a while. To be honest, I've run out of ideas for new ways to shoot this train. I've been trying to get a fall shot with lots of colours in the trackside trees, but the unusually warm weather has kept much of the foliage from turning colour. You can see hints of colour in this shot, but it's not what I wanted.

I'm hoping that, possibly, things will get a bit more interesting soon, as Via Rail has expanded the usage of its new Siemens train sets to include a number of Ottawa-Toronto trains. It'll be nice to get some shots of the new equipment, while there's still a novelty to it. I'm sure we'll grow a bit tired of it soon enough.

Also, OC Transpo is testing its new diesel light rail trains on the expanded Trillium Line, which will now connect from its former southern terminus at Greenboro to Riverside South, with a branch to the Ottawa International Airport. This is likely cold comfort to people who rely on this service, as it was slated to be operational by the end of the year, but is now scheduled to begin next year. The delay is disappointing, but given the complexities of the pandemic and severed supply lines, it's not a big surprise that these delays pushed back the start date.

Hat tip the Bytown Railway Society for completing its long renovation of CN passenger coach 4977. The BRS showed off the newly refurbished car on its Facebook page recently and it looks great in its olive green livery. Given the limitations of what the society can do on its trackage at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology, it seems like the society is going to try and find a home for the car where can it can actually be put to use. It's a shame the BRS no longer has access to active rails. 

Another tip of the hat to the BRS for successfully completing the new home for its 4-8-4 steam locomotive 6200 on the lawn in front of the museum. The move to a new spot necessitated the laying of temporary track and a move of the old hulk for the first time in many years. The old brute looks great, as the BRS made a few cosmetic upgrades to give the engine a nice shine that befits its status as an Ottawa icon.

Here's a shot of the engine from 10 years ago, without its number plates or brass bell. Its looks evene better now.

I'm hoping to have a little more to share in the coming weeks, as my family will be travelling and I will have the chance to get to other parts of the city, due to a number of appointments outside my west-end neighbourhood. Sometimes, I need the necessity of appointments and business to get out there and explore a bit soemtimes. Whatever it takes.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Beachburg Sub Post 400: Time to give thanks

Stratford, Part III

A little serendipity on this Thanksgiving Monday in Canada, as I was sifting through my recent photos and wondering what to share for this latest post. When I scrolled through my recent posts, I realized that this post will mark my 400th since I began this blog in 2013. There have been a few bumps along the way and a sabbatical, but it's still pretty cool to reach 400. Think of how many hockey players have reached 400 goals or how many baseball players have reached 400 home runs. It's a little different on the Interweb, as you can easily produce and proliferate at a prodigious pace (that pun is for Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure). Nonetheless, I am happy to hit this round number.

In late July and early August, I was in Stratford for a family reunion, which allowed me several opportunities to see trains. You can see the photos of a meet between a GO Train and CN freight in this post. Or, if you prefer freight, you can check out some of the rolling stock on the freight train waiting in the hole for the GO Train. Those images of CN 581 and a few interesting cars are in this post.

Earlier during my stay, I caught a westbound freight train making its way through the yard, although the train was initially waiting behind a signal to proceed, so I was lucky to get the chance to set up and get a few shots of it waiting. Since I could not see the signal from my vantage point on the public platform, I'll leave it to you to figure out.

This was my first shot of CN 568 westbound, waiting to proceed from the signal, which is not seen in this image. You can see the Masterfeeds elevators just to east of the yard and a few strings of covered hoppers. This was not an easy shot to get. There are a number of visual hazards at the edge of the Stratford station platform that were not there prior to the GO Train experiment in Southwestern Ontario.

This shot gives you an idea of what you need to work around when you see a westbound train approaching the platform. Not an easy task to work through these distractions to get a clean shot!

Since the GO Train service to London will not continue beyond the fall, the platform erected to accommodate GO passengers with disabilities might not last much longer. Via does not make use of this ramp, as its trains are too short to reach it. The railway has its own equipment to accommodate passengers with disabilities. 

The cloud cover was actually a blessing for me as I awaited this train to make its move, but sadly, the sun peaked out for a few minutes, which meant I was on the shadow side of the train. I backed up on the platform and picked an image I wanted to get. I decided to frame the CN westbound against the parked GEXR GP38-2 and the covered hoppers in the yard. I call these images railway family tree shots, where you see multiple railways together in an image, but not as shared power on a train. You might recall I did the same in Smiths Falls in 2017 with a passing westbound Via train and some parked Canadian Pacific GP20s.

The reason I chose this freight train to feature on a Thanksgiving post is because it was mainly a grain train, as the two CN geeps were pulling a consist of mainly covered hoppers. Not the most exciting thing to see, but when you rarely see freight trains, you're always thankful. I also thought that a train that might be carrying part of the annual grain harvest was as good as anything to feature as we count our blessings.

Two paint schemes and an old GP9 warhorse to boot. I was happy to see and old GP9, as even Ottawa has seen a scarcity of these units lately. Over the years, CN has used a fair number of GP9s in the Ottawa area, but the power of choice in Eastern Ontario these days seems to be the GP38-2s, from what I've seen. It's been a few years since I've seen a GP9 in Ottawa.

Note, I said the train was made up of mainly covered hoppers. There were a few tank cars in the consist, surrounded by hoppers. A little variety is always nice.

The cloud cover returned quickly, which cast a fair shadow over the train as it made its way by Downie Street, next to the station. Not an easy day to get a clean shot.

Here's one final shot of the train rounding the curve past the station. I tried my best to get a shot of the entire train, including the engines, but the visual distractions could not be avoided in this shot. Still, as I have been making an effort to do different things this year, I like the results of this shot. Remember, 2023 is The Year of Different. Go out there and find a new perspective, new angle, new approach to your railway images.

So, as I circle back to the theme of gratitude as I complete Lap 400, I would like to thank everyone who drops by to read my meandering musings on the railways and helps me out with advice, information, tips and photos. I have gotten to know a few people through my blogging over the years and I am thankful for their friendship and guidance.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, October 2, 2023

Moving the People in 1940

Twenty or so years ago, I met up with my family in the Niagara Region over the Easter weekend, as it was a reasonable half-way point between where I lived at the time (Ottawa) and where they were (Sarnia area). Over the course of our adventures, we happened across this antique shop that had items flooding every room of a somewhat dilapidated old farmhouse. I remember the uneven floorboards and endless curiosities. As antiques aren't really my thing, I spent some time going through old issues of Life Magazine. I found one of the older issues from 1940 and bough it for something like $5 or so, just for the historic value of the old stories.

There are some fascinating stories about the Second World War in the magazine, but the old relic eventually made its way onto a bookshelf and sat there for many years, untouched. Recently, as I was going through other items in the bookshelf, I dug out the old magazine and started leafing through it again. I was quite surprised to find five railway advertisements in the magazine, which was a pleasant surprise.

The ads speak of the unparalleled comforts of the passenger trains of the Union Pacific (the Challengers), the Santa Fe (El Capitan) Southern Pacific (Arizona Limited) and the New Haven (Pullman Standard streamliners). There was even an ad for Lionel Trains.

When I read the ads for each railway, there were a few things that really struck me. The first was how much description went into the ads and how important rail travel was in North America, particularly in 1940. We all know what role the railways played during World War Two in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops to fight on the side of the Allies in Europe and later in the Pacific theatre against the expansionist Japanese empire. 

One question you might have is why a railway would advertise in 1940, at a time of global conflict. I had to check my history to see when the United States entered in the Second World War. Sure enough, it was following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 7, 1941. War was declared with Japan on December 8, while Germany declared war with the United States on December 11, given the the Nazi-led administration was friendly with the Japanese emperor. 

By way of comparison, Canada had already been in the war since 1939, as our country was quick to support the United Kingdom.

So, given that historical context, it makes a little more sense for the Santa Fe Railway to advertise its passenger services between Chicago and Los Angeles in 1940, although even without the U.S. being at war, I still wonder about the wisdom of this type of advertising. The reason I wonder is that it was generally accepted that by November 25, 1940, when this ad ran, the country was still very much feeling the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But there are clues in this advertisement that allow you to understand the railway's thinking. The most obvious point to consider is that this is a promotion for El Capitan, the discount streamliner that often played second fiddle to the railways' Super Chief, the railway's flagship luxury passenger train, which began running in 1936. 

The difference between the two trains was the Super Chief had many amenities that El Capitan did not, including sleeping cars, which was the major difference. The running time between the two cities was quite impressive at just a shade under 40 hours for both trains. Both trains made twice-weekly departures in each direction.

Given the importance the railway placed on its passenger service, there was priority given to these trains on its fairly straight route between the Windy City and Los Angeles. And whereas the Super Chief was dubbed the Train of the Stars, as it was known to host celebrities, El Capitan was very much the People's Train, which hosted people who needed to get from Point A to Point B without much fuss. Given the economic realities of the country in 1940, the promotion of this discount train makes sense in a national publication like Life.

A few things to consider about this train. 

1. Despite its economy-based fares, the train featured a lounge and a "counter service" diner featuring Fred Harvey meals. These two amenities were a step down from something one might find on the Super Chief, but it shows you how the railways placed great importance on passenger travel in times past.

2. The railway advertised the services of a "courier nurse" on this train, whose job was not defined in the ad, but it seems this job was close to what was once known as a stewardess. There is a small photo of someone helping passengers recline their seats and sleep for the overnight portion of the journey. 

3. Going from Chicago to Los Angeles would cost you $39.50 in 1940, or $65 round trip, although the one-way fare could be augmented with a $5 surcharge for extra fare, although that is not clearly explained in the fine print. The round-trip ticket would run you $65 between these two cities.

4. The Bank of Canada inflation calculator estimates that this fare would cost the equivalent of $783 today, although I doubt those figures, since the inflation situation in Canada is likely skewing that number a little higher than it should be. Even so, $39.50 sounds like a large sum in 1940, at a time when money was scarce.

5. In 1940, the Santa Fe was clearly advertising the benefits of its streamlined FT locomotives and cars, as you can see from the prominent image of the train near the top of the ad. This would have likely been quite a novelty at the time, as the transition to diesel engines was not yet fully realized on most railways. Given the lack of servicing these diesel units required when compared to steam engines, the timing of this journey would likely have been reduced a fair bit, making it attractive to passengers.

And, in case you're wondering, a subscription to Life cost $4.45 in 1940. Stay tuned for more vintage ads from this old magazine. It turned out to be a fascinating historic find and an educational tool to explore railway history.