Railfanning

Good morning

Coffee and an almond croissant from Two if by Sea and a park bench overlooking the marina. The backdrop is the Dartmouth yard. Train 407 just tied on its power and 511’s crew will leave shortly to drag another load of gypsum hoppers from Milford to Wright’s Cove. The yard is packed with autoracks and all is right with the world. 


Take care
Chris

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May I borrow your camera?

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CN 4792 in Dartmouth yard – March 5, 2017

CN’s Dartmouth yard, last Sunday, was eerily empty. Not a single car in sight. A pair of GP’s were idling so perhaps this is a moment of silence waiting to be broken. Thank you Émi for loaning me your iPod so I could take the above photo!

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As we rolled toward Truro, I asked if anyone needed tea and if anyone would mind if I checked out the Truro yard. First stop, the Co-op mill on Willow Street. I don’t believe I’ve seen this milepost before. Perhaps another gift from a receding winter?

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I’ve often remarked that the mill itself would make a superb small layout. The line in front used to continue across Willow Street but now stops just before the crossing. I could easily envisage a lean model railway based on exactly this scene. I find, in the strong vertical lines of the mill an appealing backdrop for the scene and imagine it almost filling the lense of the railway. Keeping in mind the previous conversation on composing a scene, I see this with only brief glimpses of sky. Ideally, I’d like to see that layout composed from exactly the perspective in this photo.

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At the Truro yard office, where I expected to find the Truro local engine tied up, a CN Brandt truck was waiting instead. Though it wasn’t tied to the tank car sitting behind it, it was easy to imagine this as a small train arriving. I’ve always dreamed of seeing Saskatchewan’s Southern Rails Co-op and watching their Brandt truck working across a prairie horizon with a long cut of grain hoppers in tow. It still sounds like paradise for me. A scene like the one above feels pretty close and certainly than I’ve ever been so far.

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Once upon a time we’d harbour a private Canadian railfan pride when we’d secretly correct others who might call it a caboose. Today though, cars like CN’s 79918 are “shoving platforms” used to protect the back end of a train on local moves.

With no camera of my own on this trip, I’m relying on those I can borrow and am adding one more “I owe you” to the list for Krista. Her generousity, loaning me her cell phone, is the only reason why I have these photos to mark the memory of a side trip. A tangent that itself is a gift. Thanks guys!

“Like a Swedish conspiracy”

Thursday morning in Freeport, Maine. A perfect snowy morning. Christmas is still in the air and the town looks so pretty. I don’t mind shopping. I really don’t. That said, the girls went on ahead while I parked the car. Teasing my short attention span, on my way to meet up with them, Freeport welcomed me with distractions like coffee and, if Amtrak’s schedule offered, a train. If I hurried, I could meet up with the girls to let them know what I was up to, grab that coffee, and then wander back down to the station in time to watch the westbound train on its way through town.

I’ll have to compare my notes on this consist to the one I photographed back in September to see how consistent the cars are. Do they wander onto other routes?


A couple of days later we were in Montreal. While wandering around IKEA I noticed a guy that looked really familiar. My eyes are lousy but he just looked so familiar. I figure you can really only stare at a stranger for so long before you need to go over and explain yourself. In my case, either it really was Roman Hawryluk or someone that I’d soon need to apologize to. Luckily, the former worked out. I regret that previous trips to Montreal just haven’t afforded some time to catch up and then, completely by accident, we were both wandering around IKEA. As we joked, our paths intersecting like that was probably more than just coincidence. Luckily, if it really is a conspiracy, I’m okay with that. So, from that chance encounter a pretty neat blog title to start the first post of 2017.

Now if only the IKEA’s conspiracy can provide for another terrific day of chasing commuter trains around Montreal that wouldn’t be bad either.

Five minutes well spent

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Beaverbrook Street, Moncton, New Brunswick. December 23, 2016.

With about twenty minutes to spare before Friday’s 14 (VIA Rails eastbound Ocean) would arrive in Moncton, I couldn’t resist a trip down Beaverbrook Street. The sun was so nice to be out in and waiting was a trio of hoppers at the Co-op mill. I arrived to find them unloading this former Government of Canada car. As mentioned, they can only unload one bay at a time and use a tractor to advance the cars through this process.

I love this stuff.

Here! Catch! Sorry. Moncton-style.

Last Sunday, Taylor and I met up with Luc for a terrific day of trains and just general screwin’ around.

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CN’s SD60 #5476 was on duty as yard engine in Moncton. I believe it’s the first time I’ve ever seen an SD60 and while I’m not normally a fan of large diesels, there’s something in those very utilitarian lines that I find attractive. Perhaps, once an engine finds itself as a switcher it becomes something worth paying attention to?

While watching 5476 working the yard, the crew assigned to work the Caledonia Industrial Park customers climbed into the cab of their GP38-2’s, #4732 and #4800. The yard was getting rather full and 5476 was, if I understand correctly, some braking issues so the Caledonia crew joined in on the yard work. In the above photo, they’re working the opposite end of the yard to both access their cars and aid 5476’s crew in marshalling cars.

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We weren’t in the yard long when CN’s train from Miramichi arrived. With CN GP40-2 #4708 in the lead it might have been easy to overlook the real treat, former GO Transit #708 (now CN 9675) is trailing. With this arrival, there are now three trains on duty in the yard and it starts to become apparent that Moncton has “just enough” track. Lots of radio chatter as everyone learns their place on the floor.


Among the container well cars and auto racks there were some fantastic gems waiting to be found. I regret that the Grand Trunk covered hopper that, while moving, never got close enough to be photographed. That said, some terrific cars did punctuate the day’s moves including that pair of Tropical containers (note the puddles on the roof – never seen that modelled before!) and a set of four potash hoppers (first time I’ve seen the real thing).

Watching the local crews working away was an absolute pleasure. First a modeller, I often found myself taking mental notes on things that I think I’d like to represent when I’m operating models in similar situations. I wonder how they establish each crew’s territory within the yard so each can complete their work?

More than just a chance to watch trains, it was a chance to add a few more photographs of the place itself to my files. I’d like to set my own model railway around this time of year and during a fall like the one we’re currently enjoying. Photos not just to record details but also texture and colour, hopefully from perspectives that better approximate my viewpoint when looking at the models.

Balancing a terrific day trackside was the invitation to see Luc’s model railway. In previous conversations, I’d heard of his plans for the layout but I had not actually seen it. It was terrific to finally have a chance to spend some time exploring and seeing what he’s been up to. Luc is an extremely talented model maker and it’s that attention to detail and clean execution he brings to layout design and construction. It was a real pleasure to see the layout and learn about his next plans for its design and construction. I am already looking forward to going back soon.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day in the company of some really great friends. Thank you Luc for the invitation and to Taylor for finally getting me to go – I have no excuse and really should have gone sooner. Thank you to Luc and Susan for their gracious hospitality, welcoming us into their home and feeding us. You guys were simply terrific company.

Wiscasset. Wiscasset. Wiscasset.

I don’t know where to begin this blog post. Luckily, knowing stuff like that isn’t important. Something else I don’t know is what drives the energy, enthusiasm, and almost overwhelmingly positive attitude that drives the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum. This place has assumed the status of legend in my mind. They’re not just restoring a collection of narrow gauge equipment, they are restoring a railroad. What they’ve accomplished is impressive, but it’s their attitude that impresses me most. Everywhere there is a sense of “We can. We will. Wanna help?”

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I’m standing in the car park and this is one of my first views of the Museum grounds. A couple of vintage Ford trucks, the car shop in the background, and the pit for the new turntable they’re building. Yup, it probably always looks like paradise everyday.

Work on the new turntable pit is progressing nicely. Alongside, work continues on the bridge. Perched high in the air, supported on a trailer frame, the turntable bridge is simply massive. It would be neat to visit when its time to install the bridge.

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Inside the shop, there was just so much to take in. As I wandered around, I remembered a thought I’d had earlier at the Sandy River and again at the Boothbay museums: these are not collections of shop equipment in some patchwork still life exhibit. This is a working shop consumed with the work of building and maintaining a railroad. This is something real, current, and relevant.

Back outside and a walk across the tracks to the station. Inside, time to buy tickets for train rides and look through their gift shop. The shop was well stocked with interesting things. I really should have stocked up on genuine Kennebec Central spikes and, ooh, what’s that? A copy of Linwood Moody’s book?! This book is so important to me. I can just about always pick it up to re-read again.

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Meanwhile, #9 arrives. There’s time sort through gift shop stuff later. Right now is a time for action. Action of the kind that gets tickets for train rides. Yup, lots of tickets.

As at Boothbay, each service is actually a pair of trains. Leaving first is number 9 with a set of coaches and following is the Museum’s Ford railcar. Number 9 leads the train, bunker-first, to the current end of track. The Ford waits outside the loop while the engine completes a runaround move. While the engine ties onto its train, the Ford moves into the loop opening up the main for the run home.

Midway, on the return trip, the Museum planned a photo run by. Everyone off the train. Then the railcar arrives and is parked in the loop. With the line safe and clear, time to back the train off stage while we all find our places in a photo line. While all this is going on, photos like this one just seem to happen. Doesn’t it all look like a perfect scene?

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So many recollections of Maine narrow gauge railroading recall the sight of a Forney in command of its train and only moments later, we were treated with just that sort of spectacle:

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This is not quaint and sleepy railroading. This is the communication of purpose.

Now, imagine a couple of gondolas of coal for the Veterans Home in Togus tucked into that consist…

Stepping off the train and time for more exploration. Steve and I wander off to check out the newly built car shed. The building is massive and is a tremendous investment toward providing shelter for the Museum’s collection, protecting it from the weather. Every piece of equipment on the railroad is the product of the work of the Museum’s amazing team of volunteers. Buildings like this are doing more than just housing a collection but in providing this shelter, they are protecting the commitment of those who make it all possible.

As we wandered around the site the crews were busily working with a small diesel to move a caboose out of the shed and onto a waiting train for the next round. We’re a part of this. Steve and I have tickets to ride in the Ford railcar this time!

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This time, it was fun to chase the train up the line as riders in the railcar. I can’t imagine a better place to sit and watch #9 running around its train than from a seat in this car. The machine itself looks like an absolute pile of fun to operate.

The Ford has a really neat turntable built into its frame to make turning it easy. Having watched this process on a previous run I could barely contain my enthusiasm. “Can I try?” I asked and I was thrilled to be given the chance. The whole process is quite simple and really fun. Since I was busy with the work, I don’t have a photo of me in action but I did find this Youtube video:

High on the experience of learning to turn this fascinating machine earlier, I enthusiastically asked if I could push my luck further: “Need a hand with that switch?” I asked and “Go ahead” was all the encouragement I needed. First the stub turnout up in the loop at the top of the line and again as we left the loop, departing from the second photo run by. I’m so grateful t have had a chance to help out and immerse, deeper, in this moment.

On our return trip we were treated to a very special photo op featuring the Ford on a run by across the Humason Brook Trestle. What a special treat to enjoy, during an afternoon filled with non-stop and seemingly never-ending great moments.

I just can’t stop smiling. Thankfully places like this exist.

I can’t wait so long to go back. I’ve got this membership to the WW&F now burning a hole in my imagination and I’m keen to spend more time helping out. It’s something I want to be a part of. It just all feels so good.


The Museum maintain a terrific web site to chronicle their work and update on coming events. Their gift shop is also online and well worth supporting. You can also buy a membership and learn more about how to get involved: wwfry.org

 

On to Boothbay

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Feeling for a moment like we’ve stepped into a story from Thomas the Tank Engine, we arrive at the Boothbay Railway Museum. Only seconds later, one of their charming German tank engines rushes up to greet us. Nice touch. This great morning just keeps getting better.

As a special opportunity during the Convention, Boothbay is offering driver training programs. For a fee, you spend a morning learning to care for and drive one of these engines. Sure, leading up to the Convention I had a pile of reasons not to do this but I wasn’t long on the site before I started to regret not signing up for this. I really like these little German engines and a day with one would be superb. I didn’t do myself any favours talking myself out of this experience. Argh. Next time…

A wander through the car shed and toward the shops. Again, more invitations to come inside and look around. So much to see and so many welcoming volunteers eager to share what they’re working on. The head lamp on Henschel #6 is pretty cool eh?

Everyone, at every Convention event, was so keen to do as much as they could to really indulge in narrow gauge madness. I still feel like the folks at Boothbay were in with what might be the most ambitious plan of the day: their track is a small, but hilly, loop circling their property. They decided to run two sets of two trains around their loop. Leading will be a steam-hauled train of coaches and trailing each will be one of the railcars. One set staged at the top of the loop and the other, the opposite side. It was so well orchestrated and a tribute to more superb planning on the part of the Museum’s volunteers and their commitment to creating a truly memorable experience. Everywhere I turned here, there was something moving. Even inside the car shed, you could try your hand at operating a genuine two foot gauge hand car.

Thank you to everyone here. What a superb morning. I could spend a lot of time sitting on the station platform and watching the parade of narrow gauge trains roll past. It might be the busiest railroad service I’ve witnessed anywhere. Yup, with a bottle of Capt’n Eli’s root beer in my hand and the sound of narrow gauge steam. Does it get any better?


Boothbay Railway Museum is one of those hidden gems of a railway museum. It might be easy to overlook it and think it more a roadside attraction that a serious museum but doing so you’d be making a terrific mistake. Their restoration shop is superb and capable of very serious work. Furthermore, they’re intent reaches beyond the rails to record so much of Maine’s transportation history. Further still, they regularly host events to celebrate Maine’s maker and craft history. It’s a site that is a real credit to the State and I left, once again, wishing we had something like it here on the Island.

Learn more about the Museum on their website: railwayvillage.org/