May I borrow your camera?

CN 4792 20170304 IMG_3344

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!

Mile 63 Truro NS 20170304_165529

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?

COOP Feed Mill CN 109899 Truro NS 20170304_165621

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.

CN Brandt Truck Truro NS 20170304_170941

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.

CN 79918 Truro NS 20170304_170914

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!

Five minutes well spent


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.


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.


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.

CN Brookfield

Just past Truro, Nova Scotia, on the way to Halifax, CN’s mainline connects with a spur that exists to serve Canada Cement and Marwood Industries, in a town called Brookfield. The spur itself is served by the local switcher out of Truro. The combination of local train service and the simple arrangement of the spur makes it very attractive to me and I’ve always thought it would be neat to spend some time watching a train on the spur, working these industries. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was given that chance.

For a short stretch after Truro the CN mainline runs somewhat parallel to the highway. The Brookfield spur itself actually crosses directly underneath – while Marwood is close to the mainline, Canada Cement’s large plant is just under three miles off the mainline and the spur crosses under the highway overpass. Like any well-seasoned railfan, I can’t seem to drive across a bridge without a quick sideways glance to check both sides of the track below for a sign of a train. It was during one of these spontaneous checks that we spotted a certain pair of headlights staring back at us. The chase, as they say, was on.

When we caught up with the train, it was just a light engine creeping carefully along the branch and making its way back toward the mainline and Truro, presumably having dropped some cars at Canada Cement. The camera was still in the back of the car but that’s okay as it provides a chance to just enjoy the sight and sound of the engine in a low idle, slowly working its way down the line. If you can imagine the arrangement of the spur, it runs perpendicular to the mainline. Canada Cement’s facility is at the extreme end. At the point where the spur rejoins the mainline, Marwood Industries operates a small facility to load finished bundles of lumber onto rail cars. Their spur is in the former station site for Brookfield and immediately at the point where the spur itself connects to the main.


We arrived at Marwood before the train. Time to enjoy the scene and grab a mouthful of tea while waiting for the train to arrive.

In the MLW days, the railfan could scan the skies for a trail of black exhaust and a certain ticking sound as the engine barked it’s way closer. I’ve discovered I quite like the more subtle whine these GM diesels exhibit. Where the MLW was so overt in its expression, the GM is the more like the sleeping giant. Regardless of the sound, it was great that today’s engine was still proudly wearing its stripes – a paint scheme I still think is my favourite of the many CN has used.

Past the switch, it’s time for the crew to get to work. Unlock and line the turnout for Marwood. Next, remove the derail protecting the siding and then counting the distance until they’re tied onto the waiting cars. There’s nothing like time trackside to really remind one of all the steps required to actually switch cars, either picking them up or dropping them off. It’s easy to just run our model engines into the siding, grab the cars, and leave. Watching the experienced crew carefully going about their work was an education in all the other steps in this movement. There’s time to connect air hoses, charge the brakes, and then inspect that everything is working. In addition, there’s time to walk the length of the train to make sure that the cars are in good order and the loads safely secured – once these massive railcars are in motion there will be no time or safe place to correct an oversight here. Finally, there’s time to manage paperwork between the shipper and the railroad.

In model railroad operating sessions there’s a certain trend toward incorporating extra time into our movements to represent the time spent, in real life, on brakes, loads, and in paperwork. Of course, this time can feel arbitrary and hard to justify since we’re really not actually doing anything practical and related to operating a model train. Sitting trackside, we found time to appreciate the crew practising the skill of their craft, at their best, and doing their work with an ease that only experience brings. If anything, when considering the idea of building time into the model railway operating sessions it’s not just so that we have time to pretend we’re busy with brakes and paper but so that we have the time to appreciate just being present and part of the moment.

With the work of railroading largely completed we move toward the final phrases of this main act. A notch on the throttle and the engine lifts its cars forward and toward Truro. Of course, not without pause to close and lock the switch once for the siding and then in a hundred feet or so as they rejoined the Bedford Subdivision and the return home.

Steve Boyko has posted a great page on the Bedford Subdivision at:


More cement-y goodness

Once upon a time no Islander could visit Moncton without picking up a case of canned pop. Way back then, you couldn’t buy soda pop on the Island, it wasn’t legal for sale. In the decade or so since those days were officially retired into our past, new generations of Islanders have developed some new self-imposed rules that only seem to apply in this one special place.

For me I can’t seem to visit Moncton without a wander among the industrial area along Beaverbrook Street to check in on those industries that are still rail served. These few remaining customers keep CN’s Franklin Spur alive and I am grateful that they do. As much as I enjoy checking in and exploring this area I can’t help but wonder: Will I ever know what it looks like in the sun?

It’s not that I have never been to Moncton on a sunny day. Quite the opposite in fact. For some reason though, if I grab my camera and point my car toward Beaverbrook, I’ll follow the clouds and revel in the joy of photographing grey covered coppers against a similarly monochromatic sky.

Something must have happened last week. We were in town for the afternoon and it was sunny. I thought I’d push my luck and asked Krista if she’d mind if I ran over to Beaverbrook. I even further tested my luck by joking about my luck every other time.

For some reason the sun stayed out and it was terrific.


First stop was the Co-op. Only one hopper but they were actually unloading it as I arrived. While the mill is quite a large operation and could receive several cars they can only unload them one bay at a time. They use a tractor to advance the cut that distance, bay-by-bay, until everything has been emptied out. Fascinating operation.

A block over, at Holcim, they have had one former CN car semi-permanently spotted as an overflow hopper, holding cement waiting to be transferred to trucks. I was surprised it had been joined by another.


As for what was on-spot to be unloaded, there were six cars. They use a Trackmobile to move cars around and even though it was the middle of the afternoon my luck didn’t extend to see it in use. The hoppers themselves were a delightful chronicle of what’s in use today to carry cement. I love their smaller size, re-stencilled sides, and weathering both from the load itself and just general wear from heavy use.

Now, back to the wishlist. I’m not even close to done with visiting these places. My friend Ed has had the pleasure of watching the Holcim Trackmobile in action and I’d like to see it too. Is it fair to push my luck again?

As for the sun, well I figure that’s all Krista. Mostly just because she just makes things happen.

Last Friday

A day away in Moncton, last Friday, offered a few chances to spend some time trackside and I thought I’d share photos from the day. So, without further ado, and in no real order, here’s what I saw.


It was cold and overcast. Naturally, great conditions to photograph VIA Rail in. This is the evening train from Halifax to Montreal, arriving in Moncton, on time, around 4:20. We arrived just in time. Snow banks bordered the fence line behind the former Highland Square mall and I climbed to the top to get this photo. Not pictured here is any photographic evidence covering my amazing barrel-roll fall and slide combination as I got back down again. And they say us nerds are neither coordinated nor athletic!

Despite my gymnastics I did get ’round to the opposite end of the station to photograph things there. I’ve always thought it was neat how VIA uses small yard tractors to tow baggage wagons around and in fine local tradition, the three F40’s leading our train are being refueled trackside by a local fuel dealer – fresh from the truck, eh?!

Moncton’s Gordon Yard was reasonably full. A string of corn syrup tank cars were being warmed and unloaded at CN’s Transflo transload terminal and there were container flat cars seemingly everywhere. At the opposite end the local crew were breaking up a cut of cars and in amongst them some sharp covered hoppers. In the late 90’s I built almost three dozen HO scale models of these cylindrical covered hoppers from Intermountain kits. It feels like a very long time since I’ve seen one in the Canada red and black colours so it was neat to see this one in the cut. Also, a rather neat Grand Trunk hopper.


Of course, I wouldn’t be able to visit Moncton and feel like any time trackside was even worth bothering with, without a visit to reconnect with the industries along Beaverbrook and Barker Streets.

No cars at the Co-op mill. Irving Propane had both unloading spots filled and three more cars placed on their spur. On to the Holcim cement transload facility at the end of Barker Street. Despite being quite a humble property, it is usually packed with cars spread across their two sidings. Pictured above is this weathered hopper modified for, I guess, storage of cement that can’t be held in silos and not quite needed in a truck.


A quick pan back toward their facility for another grab shot of the facility from the end of track.

Car-by-car I thought I’d photograph those staged streetside. I love these little cement hoppers and there was an interesting mix of car types and conditions.

A photo of the opposite side of the Holcim facility and the cut of cars stored on the unloading track. They use a Trackmobile to move cars around their property but I’ve never seen it. (Though my friend Ed shares my fascination with these subjects and has been able to see most times he visits. Lucky guy!)


I didn’t take this photo thinking it would be handy to bookend a blog post and didn’t intentionally save it for last but it’s kind of cute that it worked out that way anyway. This sign guards the crossing into the Holcim property at the opposite end. I like the Stop sign taped to the old crossing post. The homemade Railway Crossing sign is pretty neat too.

CN at the Oshawa GM plant

I’m continuing to dig through my stacks of photos and railroad paperwork. The photos, I’m scanning and after each is scanned I’m not going to be keeping them – except for the digital copies. I’m not attacking these stacks in any given order. I’m simply grabbing an envelope or an album and ripping through them. This chaotic order has brought me a few surprises and memories. Among them are photos I took on a railfanning trip inside the GM plant at Oshawa. I’ll confess my interests were to explore the CP operations but I did drop by the CN yard on the way out.

Pictured here are a “mother and slug” set of switchers that CN was using in and around the plant. Of particular interest is that these engines were modified to be controlled by radio control – it was the first time I think I’ve ever seen engines so equipped.