Thursday, 5 March 2015

Throwback Thursday #7 - CNR 6218 at Hamilton, ON (Ferguson Ave) in January 1966

CNR 6218 leads a railfan excursion southbound through downtown Hamilton, ON on a snowy day back in January 1966, with a good-sized crowd in attendance. Uncredited slide, author's collection.
Since we’re still in the grip of winter here in southern Ontario, today’s Throwback Thursday takes us back to another snowy day in January 1966. In the above photo we see CNR 4-8-4 #6218 southbound on a railfan excursion over the CN’s Hagersville sub, on the infamous portion of street running through downtown Hamilton, ON.

Running from a connection to the CN Grimsby sub near Elgin street in north Hamilton, the line extended southward through the city and up the escarpment (“the mountain” to Hamiltonians), and from there through its’ namesake town to Jarvis, where it met the “Canada Air Line” (CN Cayuga sub). Aside from running north-south in an otherwise east-west dominated area of trackage, the line was also noteworthy for its’ street running portion, the steep grade up the mountain, and in later years, it gained additional fame when the Hamilton-Nanticoke steel train ran over the line with an A-B-A set of F7’s.

Long before the F’s became a fixture on the line, however, CN was known to run railfan excursions over the line with their popular Northern engines 6218 and, at least on one occasion, CNR 6167. Not generally a through line, there was little traffic to interfere with the railfan excursions; moreover, it provided a convenient way to turn a train without wyeing it (i.e. Windsor-Caledonia, Caledonia-Hamilton, Hamilton-Windsor; this particular arrangement likely never actually took place but is used to demonstrate logic of turning the train without a reversing move). Interestingly, the big CNR Northerns were not native to the line in the days of steam – quite the opposite in fact. Due to weight restrictions over the antiquated Grand River bridge at Caledonia, the line was restricted to the use of lighter engines, particularly CNR’s E-10 moguls. The light engines were insufficient for the steep climb up the mountain however, thus doubleheading (or even tripleheading) was common, with the helper(s) cutting off at Rymal, Glanford, or sometimes Caledonia if tonnage was heavy enough. A new bridge installed in 1953 eliminated the weight restrictions, and allowed heavier power such as the J-4 Pacifics, N-5 Consolidations, or H-6 Ten-wheelers, though the E-10’s were still common on the line. Undoubtedly the largest steam ever operated on the Hagersville sub, the CN Northerns on occasion did require helpers if traversing the line southward (up the grade), particularly in winter.

Which makes this photo that much more interesting. Indeed, the train is southbound on the Hagersville sub, heading for the climb up the mountain. Since helpers on the excursions were usually placed in front of the steam locomotive to simplify their removal at the top of the grade, it would appear that this excursion will climb the grade without helpers (the steam obscures the view of part of the train behind the engine, but it does not appear that helpers were added on this trip). This is even more interesting considering that the city appeared to have got a pretty decent snowstorm shortly before this excursion – note that Ferguson Avenue isn’t plowed! It would appear that the train is perhaps 8-9 cars long, likely well within the capability of the big Northern to pull up the grade – though I wonder if there was ever a calculation done to see what the tonnage rating would be for a U-2 Northern southbound up the grade?  The train is about to make the sharp left turn, cross the TH&B tracks and begin the climb up the grade to Rymal - I bet the sound would have been fantastic!

Being that the photo was taken in downtown Hamilton, we are fortunate to have an exact location for the photo, even though there was no information on the slide mount. The street sign in the photo reveals that the photographer was standing at the corner of Ferguson Ave and Hunter Street. Another slide I have shows that he took a photo of the street sign up close, perhaps to remind himself where he was on this particular day. It also appears that the photographer was in good company this day – note how many other people are out on a snowy day to observe this special run. I doubt that if CN still ran excursions today, that many people would stop to watch – or even care about – the magnificent Northern leading a passenger train. The crowd in the photo is probably heavily biased towards railfans I would guess. A Google Streetview image of the same location today reveals that the area has been entirely reconfigured. What was once a mostly-residential neighbourhood has been somewhat commercialized, and many of the houses have been demolished and replaced with apartment buildings. One would be hard-pressed to even recognize that a rail line ever ran down the street! (Which interestingly, has been paved with bricks, as if to make it easy to replace the line if CN ever chose to do so – but will never happen). Though I bet if they did, the view from some of those apartment buildings would be awesome...

A snapshot from Google Streetview of approximately the same angle as the above photo, taken almost fifty years later. Photo credit: Google.

But at least the subject photo reminds us that not all grey winter days are dull – often the best action seems to happen on grey gloomy days!

‘Til next time,


1 comment:

  1. I would have to believe that Bob Chambers was among the crowd of photographers gathered as I clipped a similar photo from the Spectator of the day, framed and placed it above my bed. Yup, the Train Nut thing took hold early! T