Friday, December 22, 2023

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

It's the end of the line for another year. It feels like it did when I was in university and took the train home from Ottawa, arriving in Sarnia. I remember the relief of getting off the train and onto the platform, where my brother was usually the one to pick me up. I feel that way now, sitting in my home office, reflecting on the year and getting off the train, so to speak.

Without getting into detail, this has been a tough year for me and my family, although there have been some bright spots, to be fair. However, I feel more relief than anything that school is winding down today as is my wife's teaching schedule, as well. I'm relieved that the next few weeks at work will likely be quite light, which is great for me as I work from home. It means time to relax with my children with no imminent demands other than spending time with family.

I can't help but think that, someone, somewhere, is on a train right now, going over their year so far at university. They're proud of what they've accomplished on their own, but they're also secretly thrilled to be going home to their old bed and to the waiting arms of their empty nest parents.

I can't help but think of some older folks who are taking the train to visit with their grandchildren in a distant city, ready to relive the memories of their own family Christmases, when their own children were just little. Now they can see Christmas through the eyes of their grown-up children, who are carrying on the family traditions in their own way.

Finally, I can't help but think back to the countless hours I've spent on the train over the years, mostly between Sarnia and Ottawa. They were mostly happy times, as I watched the scenery roll by, talked to friends or listened to music as I relished being home with my family. Now that I'm older and my family doesn't really travel as much at this time of year, I think of those times on the train with greater nostalgia. 

I think of the time I sat behind Walter Gretzky on my way home and how he was holding court with countless people who were coming up to him just to say hi and shake his hand. I think about my high school friend (who went to Queen's University in Kingston) and I  spending hours on the train, just cracking each other up for hours, which made the time go by much faster. I think about catching one of the last trains into Ottawa before the massive ice storm essentially shut the city down.

So many memories, and these are just a few.

Railways will always hold a special place in my heart, given their role in my family's history and in my own life. Writing about them is a pleasure and it's been quite therapeutic during this very challenging year. 

I will be starting up the blog at some point next year. I might ease the pace to biweekly for a bit, given personal circumstances and my mental health, but I can assure you I have lots of material to share, much of it left over from this year. 

And that's not even considering some train watching I might be able to do over the holidays.

I thank everyone for stopping by this year. Merry Christmas everyone, and all the best for 2024.




Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Updated: The curious case of the coat hanger

This has been a weird year, to be sure. Without getting into details, I have faced a fair bit of adversity, which will culminate in a court hearing where I will attempt to secure a peace bond next week against someone harassing my family. There have been other fairly serious incidents I have found myself dealing with this year. I count about four major challenges, including this latest incident. So any and all pleasant surprises mean that much more to me.

Through all of the adversity, I am proud to say I have managed to maintain this blog at a rate of about three posts per month, which has been a great source of pride for me and a relief, to be honest. My passion for railways is almost a form of meditation. I find that I can sit trackside, or on a station platform, and just let the sound of the wind and the nearby buzz of life clear my mind. It's my happy place, no matter where the station is or what's happening around me.

Here's one small surprise that has capped off my year. I came across this hanger at a nearby church a few weeks ago, which was a cool surprise. It got me to thinking.

When was there ever a time when a railway made its own coat hangers? I thought of a few possibilities. I thought possibly CN had them at its stations, for first class travellers. Maybe they were in place at CN offices? Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure suggested as well that they could very well have been in place in sleeping compartments on long distance trains, which also makes sense. Here's a view below from a postcard, which shows both CN and CP westbounds in 1971 at the new Ottawa Union Station. Possibly some of these hangers were on this type of train, if it was a long distance train. If it was in corridor service, likely not. Note the Alco/MLW unit on point on the CN train.

Eric also recalled that Via Rail had its own hangers that were brown, with the yellow Via logo standing out in raised plastic. 

Ed. Note: Originally, I thought this hanger may have been from the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa's classiest hotel and a former CN Hotel property. In my distraction this week while putting together the post, I somehow forgot to add in this original theory of mine. Thanks to Kevin for reminding me!

It made me nostalgic for a time when railways were businesses that were all encompassing operations, from the station, to the rail yard, to the intermodal truck trailers, to the seats on a passenger coach to a ship, to an airplane. There was a time when railways did it all. Who remembers the old orange CP Air planes? I do. 

Needless to say, I took a hanger from home and swapped it out with the CN hanger so I could have a small piece of railway history in my house. I did wonder how these hangers managed to make it into this church. CN was once a thriving operation in Ottawa, but it has not had a major presence here in some time, especially on the passenger side. I am guessing that someone must have worked for this railway locally and taken the hangers to the church before they were thrown out. Just a guess. The hanger is mostly made of wood with a strong steel underframe. They were clearly built to last.

As we approach Christmas, I had one more image to share. Recently, I was in Waterloo with my family. During my time there, I was able to visit St. Jacobs and the Waterloo Central Railway yard in town. I will have lots of images to share of this yard next year, but there is one image I did want to share of WCR's Christmas caboose. 

Even the reporting marks (HOHO) are done with great care. Kudos to this railway for its attention to detail. My daughters were with me at the time and they really liked this caboose. They insisted that I take a few pictures of them in front of it. 

When we visited, the WCR had not yet started offering holiday trains for families, but they were clearly getting the consist ready. A few of the old maroon passenger cars in the yard had been equipped with Christmas lights. It made me think of the time I saw the CP Holiday Train, bedecked in lights, in Finch, Ont. in 2016.

The caboose was a nice scene on a chilly November morning. 

I bring up these things just to point out a few bright points and a few surprises from this last year, which has been a challenging one. Here's to a few more brights spots on the horizon.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Along the main line in Kitchener

I don't know what it is about Kitchener, but I have had some good luck in this city in the few times I have visited the area. You might remember that I caught some GEXR action in the grey and rain one time at the Lancaster Street crossing in 2018. In November, I was in Kitchener-Waterloo for a conference where I was giving a mental health presentation, which left me with some spare time to do little exploring and some railfanning in St. Jacobs and in Kitchener. 

Much has changed since I got those shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway in 2018. For one, the Guelph Subdivision in now back in CN's hands while the trackage east of the city into Toronto is essentially in the hands of Metrolinx. The last time I was in Kitchener last year, I didn't catch anything. But on the whole, it's been a spot where I've had a lot of success. It makes up for the years I lived in the city and didn't take any railway shots.

This time around, when I was approaching the Lancaster Street crossing near Victoria Street, I noticed that a CN conductor was flagging the crossing, which I found a bit curious, since the signals and gates were operating. It turned out, there was a crew in the Kitchener yard assembling a train. I managed to park my car in a nearby parking lot and walk down a sidewalk to get a few shots of the motive power shunting cars near the crossing. This was the first shot, which was taken from the west sidewalk on Lancaster. There were three four-axle geeps at work, two with the sergeant stripes. Interesting that the lead unit did not have its headlight on.

Here's a shot closer to the crossing. You can see that the crew had the power partially on the main line, as they hitched onto some hopper and tank cars in the yard. I waited around for a few minutes, to see what they were going to do, but my daughters were a little restless in my car, so I decided to move on. The early morning sun was not making it easy to get a shot, since many angles were a no-go due to the harsh light washing out images and casting unworkable shadows.

We were about to leave the area and make our way to the nearby Kitchener Via station near the corner of Victoria and Weber streets when the crew had the geeps moving again. They moved back into the yard in a position where the light was over my shoulder. it made for a decent shot, especially with the curved track. The zoom on the camera made it seem like I was in the yard, when I was still at the Lancaster crossing. Always stay on public property and be aware of the train's movement. Again, even with the engines moving, there was no light on the lead unit shining.

Within a few minutes, we were at the Via station just to see if there was anything to see, as I often say. See what there is to see. It's something railfans in Ottawa usually resort to, in the absence of a sure thing. The signals on the main line suggested there was nothing to see, which was fine. I like the Kitchener station. It's a nice old station, even if it's a little ragged around the edges. It's clearly seen better days, but it fits the character of Kitchener, which is as tough a town as I've ever seen. Also a town of good people, I should add. Great people, in fact. To be honest, it did appear as though some maintenance had been done to this old station in recent years.

I took a quick shot of the station and roamed the platform a bit. I've taken Via from Kitchener into Toronto a few times, since when I lived in the city, the GO Train service was not yet established. Speaking of the GO Train, as I looked east down the tracks from the eastern edge of the platform, I could see the trains parked on a spur just past the Weber Street flyover. In this shot below, I wanted to get as much of the cityscape in as I could. Here you can see the topography that the rail line traverses, a piece of the flyover and the GO Trains on the north side of the main line.

The last shot I took was an attempt to get the trains in the shot with fewer visual distractions.

I'm not sure it's all the much better, but the other shots where I zoomed in were not as sharp as this image. I made sure to keep the signals in the shot as well as the main line, as I think the topography is a visually interesting element. 

On the same trip, I took my girls up toe St. Jacobs to have a look at the Waterloo Central Railway yard on the Elmira Subdivision. That trip unearthed some surprises, which delighted not only me but my daughters as well, but I will save that for another post. 

All in all, it was a fun trip back to a city where I lived for a short while. It's interesting that I maintain such fondness for a place where I barely lived two years. I chalk it up to the people I met when I lived there. I will say this about Kitchener. Good people.