Friday 24 April 2015

FPA-4 Friday: VIA 6793 at Toronto, ON in August 1986

VIA Rail FPA-4 #6793 trails on an equipment move from Toronto Union Station to the VIA servicing facility at Mimico on August 4, 1986. Uncredited slide from my collection, but I believe photographer is either Reg Button or Bill McArthur.

A busy day for me yesterday didn’t leave any time for a Throwback Thursday, but to make up for it, here instead is FPA-4 Friday - a look back to the summer of 1986. It’s August 4th of that year and we are at Bathurst street in Toronto, Ontario, on a bright and sunny morning. Through the viewfinder we observe this rather odd, “everything but the kitchen sink” consist that includes VIA FPA-4 #6793, three RDC’s, and FP9 and even an Ontario Northland coach. The oddball collection of equipment is in fact an equipment move from Toronto Union Station to VIA’s Mimico servicing facility, located a few miles down CN’s Oakville subdivision, west of Toronto. It appears that three separate trains have been combined to ferry the consists to Mimico for servicing before heading out on other trains later in the day. We can guess that the FP9 and three cars on the west end of the move are from a westbound train, perhaps from up north judging by the ONT coach in the consist (perhaps VIA equipment had been used on that day’s Northlander?). The RDC’s are likely off of an eastbound train in from Niagara Falls, as they were common on VIA trains in the area until LRC/HEP-II cars took over and the RDC’s were retired. And the 6793 and two east-end cars are also likely off of an eastbound, perhaps the morning Sarnia train (#84) that came down the Guelph sub by way of Stratford, Kitchener, and Guelph. Any way you slice and dice it, there’s a lot to look at in this photo!

What has happened in the intervening 29 years? A lot, as it turns out. The most obvious change in the photo is the equipment – the “Blueline” coaches, the FPA-4, the FP9, and almost certainly the RDC’s were phased out and replaced by VIA’s current roster of GE P42DC’s, GMD F40PH-2’s, LRC coaches, and Budd-built HEP-II cars. A handful of RDC’s are retained for the Sudbury-White River operation, in a modified paint scheme with silver ends instead of yellow. Another major change is that the tracks in the background diverging to the right, the CN Weston subdivision has been greatly modified to incorporate a major grade-separation project, and the tracks have been lowered significantly in this area. The area in general now is considered the Union Station Rail Corridor, and operated by provincial transit authority Metrolinx (operator of GO Transit as well). In fact, Metrolinx now owns the Oakville subdivision all the way from Union Station to Burlington West, about 32 miles (though CN still serves local customers on the line, primarily at night). Some tracks at left have been removed (as has the freight yard in the distance at right), and the building in the centre has been demolished; high-priced glass-exterior condos now dominate the area. One thing that hasn’t changed? – the signal bridges. All three signal bridges that the train is passing under still stand, though plans to replace them with the modern aluminum structure, LED-lit “Darth Vader” signal bridges probably aren’t far off.

What about VIA 6793? – well, the engine not only dodged the scrapper’s torch, but evidently earned a vacation, now enjoying the Arizona sunshine as Grand Canyon Railway 6793. Painted in a bright silver and gold paint scheme, the engine now hauls trainloads of tourists in and around Williams, AZ. I bet it doesn’t miss the cold Canadian winters! A number of ex-VIA FPA-4’s survive in the US, on shortlines/tourist operations such as Grand Canyon Railway, Napa Valley Wine Train, New York & Lake Erie and Cuyahoga Valley to name a few.

‘Til next time,


Sunday 19 April 2015

Correction to Throwback Thursday #12 (Mingo Jct OH, not Sayre, PA)

A very helpful reader of the blog pointed out a glaring error I made in last week's Throwback Thursday - the location of the photos is actually Mingo Junction, Ohio, not Sayre, PA. The slide mount does say Sayre PA on it, but I can only surmise that the photographer made a typo in his notes that day. We were only off by 300 miles!

But this actually brings me to another related topic - one of the reasons I started this blog was to interact with, and share tips/tricks/knowledge among other railfans and modelers. So I'm glad that my mistakes are pointed out (and moreover, that people are actually reading my posts!) - I'd rather have accurate photo descriptions than look like some half-baked know-it-all. And if anyone notices errors in my future posts (no doubt there will be some), please let me know - I welcome the comments or info you have to share. 

Stay tuned for some upcoming posts on recent HO work in the next couple of weeks. 


PS: Thanks Scot!

Thursday 16 April 2015

Throwback Thursday #12 - Conrail Roundhouse at Mingo Jct Ohio in May 1977

A humid May 1977 morning finds an interesting variety of power laying over at the ex-Lehigh Valley roundhouse at Sayre, PA Mingo Junction OH. Don Laing photo, author's collection.
Edit April 19: Note: Location should be Mingo Jct OH, slide has incorrect location on mount.

It’s late, but at least its’ still Thursday! Today’s Throwback takes us 38 years to a hot May 1977 day at Mingo Junction, OH, on the banks of the Ohio River not far from the steelmaking communities of Pittsburgh, PA and Weirton, WV. Inside the roundhouse on this day we find Conrail GP9 #7256, one of more than 300 inherited from Penn Central, C636 #6788, C628 #6743, and SD45 #6104 (ex-Reading). Also among the congregation is CN M636 #2326, making this a three-builder photo (EMD, Alco, MLW). Mechanically the same as stablemate 6788, the CN unit must have felt at home here while on lease to the newly-formed Conrail. It’s just over a years since Big Blue (well, maybe not in this photo) assumed operations over a number of bankrupt roads in the northeast, primarily the Penn Central, so the lack of a cohesive paint scheme is understandable. The railroad had much bigger problems than deciding on a paint scheme, including – but not limited to – excess/duplicate track, inefficient operations, far too many derailments, and bad track, leftovers from years of running in the red under Penn Central management. Over time though, the railroad managed not only to survive but indeed thrive under talented management who carefully developed a very large X-pattern of operation, bringing cars from the Midwest to the northeast and cars from Chicago to southeastern roads. Track was either improved or abandoned (the amount of duplicate trackage at merger time was staggering), train speeds increased, and a sense of pride was instilled in the employees of the new road. A fascinating read on the subject is Rush Loving Jr’s book The Men Who Loved Trains (highly recommend, quite an interesting read). The Conrail that was split in 1999 was indeed very different than that of April 1, 1976. Conrail successor Norfolk Southern continues operations through Sayre, though much of the track laid by the LV has since been removed. 

As far as the motive power goes, it’s classic early Conrail – hastily renumbered and patched, and not all in the same paint scheme. While some geeps were rebuilt by Conrail into GP10’s, it is probable that old #7256 wasn’t one of them. Built in November 1959 as Pennsy 7256, it’s probably safe to say that the engine has since met the torch, like hundreds of other tired old engines from the merger roads. Mingo Junction was an Alco-lovers dream, as many of the Schenectady-built engines were collected here for use on coal and ore trains serving the northeast’s steel mills. Both 6788 and slightly older 6743 were inherited from Penn Central, though 6743 was in fact built as Pennsy 6305 in March 1965 (6788 was ex-PC 6338, built April 1968). Poor old 6743 survived only a year and a half after this photo, relegated to the Altoona deadlines by December 1978. Though I am a huge Alco fan, the ex-Reading SD45 might be the coolest unit in the bunch – the last of five SD45’s inherited by Conrail from Reading, the unit has a rather unique feature. Like the PRSL GP38’s, the Reading SD45’s featured built-out front cab windows, I believe for dual controls (or extra space for a crewmember if cabooses were eliminated). The engine was built in July 1967, and once deemed excess by Conrail, the engine was subsequently sold to the Chicago & Northwestern, who ultimately scrapped it in 1985. CN 2326, despite being the newest unit among the group, built in February 1971, didn’t fare much better – a wreck in December 1985 left the unit a write-off, and was subsequently removed from the CN roster.

It is interesting to note that the roundhouse doesn’t appear to have doors, but at least someone spent a few bucks to get some new ballast on some of the tracks. It always struck me as odd seeing diesels in a roundhouse – something anachronistic about not seeing steam engines in the stalls! 

‘Til Next time,


Thursday 9 April 2015

Throwback Thursday #11 - CNW RS-32 #4241 on the Alco Line in July 1980

CNW 4241 eastbound on the CNW Alco Line at Balaton, MN on July 12, 1980. Michael P. Guss photo, author's collection.

Today’s Throwback Thursday takes us back 35 years to the American upper Midwest, to the small town of Balaton, MN, some 95 miles west of Mankato, MN, in the southwest part of the state. An eastbound freight powered by Alco RS-32 #4241, RSD-5 #1690, and EMD GP9 #4508 is crossing the north-south highway that runs through town. What seems to be an unimportant branchline, is in fact quite significant from railfan perspective. We are in Alco country – trackside on the famous CNW Alco line, running east-west from Mankato, MN and Rapid City, SD. This secondary mainline, completed westward to Pierre, SD in 1880 (and to Rapid City by 1907), was home to many Alco products, based out of the shops at Huron, SD, throughout the mid-part of the 20th. Up until the early 1980’s it was common to find locomotive models such as: RS-3’s, RS-32’s, RSD4/5’s, and C425’s (often paired with slugs converted from retired RS-3’s) slowly pulling trains over the hill-and-dale countryside. Rural railroading at its’ best, the line passed through many miles of desolate countryside and provided service to many small communities along the way. Light rail, slow track speeds, and plenty of switching made the Alcos a good fit for the line – one not often seen as Alcos seemed to be far less popular west of the Mississippi.

Never a stranger to buying second-hand power, the consist of this train provides a good example of the railroads’ penchant for finding a bargain. The slow pace of branchline railroading is in stark contrast to the lead units’ previous life: as the former NYC 8038, the unit likely spent many days hauling hotshot freights on the Water Level Route. Acquired from Penn Central in the late 1970’s, the unit probably felt at home in the company of many other Alcos. RSD-5 #1690, the oldest engine in the consist, was built new for the Northwestern in 1954. Its’ light weight spread over six axles made it well suited to navigating the light (and often rickety) prairie rails on this part of the system. Though details are few on the demise of the Alcos, it is probably safe to assume they have long since met the torch. The third unit in the consist, GP9 #4508 was another bought-new engine for the railroad – well, sort of. Originally Minneapolis & St. Louis #710, the engine became the property of the CNW when the latter acquired the M & St. L in 1960. A rebuild in 1974 resulted in a chopped nose, which probably helped extend the longevity of the unit. Sold by the CNW when declared excess, the engine then went to work for the Wisconsin Central (still in CNW yellow), before finding a new career on the Portland & Western Railroad, a Genesee and Wyoming shortline (repainted into G&W orange!). Photos reveal the unit survived up until 2011, though details about its’ current whereabouts are a bit fuzzy.

Though everything seems perfectly normal on this summer afternoon, changes were soon coming to the Alco line. The bankruptcy of the Rock Island in 1981 provided the CNW with a bargain in the form of 120 ex-RI geeps purchased that year. This not only spelled doom for the 244-powered Alcos, but the Alco line in general. This was  the end of the line for the 244-powered Alcos, and also meant a relocation of the 251-powered Alcos to lines out of Green Bay, WI. No more was the Alco line operated by Alcos. Eventually the old Alco line fell out of favour with the CNW and was sold to the Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern. Operations by DME began on September 5, 1986; 22 years later, Canadian Pacific assumed operation after purchasing the DME and Illinois, Chicago, and Eastern. A new operator was established, however, in 2007 when CP sold 670 miles of the DME to shortline operator Genesee & Wyoming. A new shortline, the Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern, took over operation of the old Alco line on May 30, 2014. A number of former DME/ICE SD40-2’s now haul freight over the line, and are a far cry from the days of 244-powered Alcos. Traffic, much as it has been for the past several decades, consists largely of bentonite clay, fertilizer and other agri-products, and carload freight to industries along the line. Impressively, against the march of time, its’ light rail and the mass-abandonment of secondary lines following de-regulation, much of the old Alco line continues to serve the communities where the bark of a 251 engine could once be heard.

A Google street-view of the same crossing as it looks today - wow, have the trees grown up!

‘Til next time,


Thursday 2 April 2015

Throwback Thursday #10 – GT 4612 at Palmer, MA In January 1992

A snowless January 24, 1992 finds GT 4926 on the point of a switching move while interchanging cars with CSX. David Simmons photo, author's collection.

OK so a little late, but it’s still Thursday (on the west coast) – today’s Throwback Thursday takes us back to January 24, 1992. We’re at Palmer, Massachusetts, the location of the crossing between CSX’s former Boston & Maine Selkirk-Boston mainline and the Grand Trunk (Central Vermont) line from St. Albans Vermont to New London Connecticut. In this photo by David Simmons, taken on January 24, 1992, the CN-controlled GT is making a reverse move to the interchange yard located adjacent to the CSX tracks toward the east side of town. The GT’s own yard is located to the west, on its’ own north-south line. The power for this move is GT 4612-CV 4926-GT 4605.

In the intervening 23 years, a good deal has changed at Palmer. The most obvious change was the takeover of the CV by Railtex’s New England Central Railroad in 1995. Gone were the blue and red (or green and yellow) geeps, replaced by GP38’s in an attractive yellow and blue paint scheme. Railtex was folded into RailAmerica in 2000, itself taken over by Genesee & Wyoming a few years back. Another shortline, Massachusetts Central also interchanges with CSX at Palmer, utilizing trackage rights over NECR south from their own line north of town. Power for the Mass Central is (among others) a pair of leased GP38-2’s in a retro-B&M paint scheme, a GP9 in the same paint scheme, and an eclectic ex-Southern NW5. Not only have the railroads changed, but the former GT station is now a popular local eatery, the Steaming Tender Restaurant; I’d be hard-pressed to find a better railfan-friendly restaurant!

What about the locomotives? GT 4612, a 1989 graduate of the GT GP9 rebuild program at the railroad’s Battle Creek Michigan shops, was no stranger to the area, having been built at CV GP9 #4923 in March 1957. The Battle Creek shop forces overhauled the mechanical systems on the engine, but more noticeably chopped the nose and applied an EMD Spartan-type cab; additionally, the unit lost its’ distinctive “torpedo tube” rooftop air tanks. Following its’ rebuild, the engine served the CN North America system until 2011 when it was sold to the Carolina Coastal Railway, and became CLNA 4612. Photos on the internet reveal that the engine is alive and well on the CLNA in and around Wilson, NC, still largely in its’ early-90’s blue and red paint. CV 4926 was likewise built in March 1957 and also eventually got chop-nosed (retaining existing cab and getting new number boards), but interestingly retained its’ green and yellow paint scheme. Evidently not as popular as the GT rebuilds, the unit was sold to the Arkansas & Eastern Railroad in 1993. GT 4605 began life as CV 4551 and similarly went through the GT rebuild program in 1989. The unit survives today as SSRX 4605 (Manning Rail), a grain elevator switcher at Fairmont, NE – a long way from its’ New England background! The unit is painted in a nice red and blue paint scheme.

A couple of my photos from a day spent railfanning the junction on July 8, 2014:

NECR 3015, the former CN 9457 is probably not a stranger to the rails through Palmer. Here is is seen shoving a good-sized cut of cars to the CSX interchange on July 8, 2014. Photo by author.
Mass Central 1751, in a nice modern rendition of the classic B&M paint scheme, has set off the interchange cars for CSX and heads back to home rails with a handful of cars for the shortline's customers. Author's photo, July 8, 2014.

‘Til next time,