Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Canadian Encounter

All the images from this trip can be viewed at Photologues. Use the link at left.
Every year I take a trip with George Pitarys and Bill Linley to somewhere in eastern Canada, with George planning out the complete itinerary. It's one of the few times each year where I'm truly along for the ride with no worries about logistics -- George has it all planned out. Our 2006 schedule included visiting the Huron Central, chasing VIA's Canadian and riding the VIA Rail Diesel Cars between Sudbury and White River, Ontario.

I have a lot of last minute proof-checking to do on the current issue of Railfan & Railroad, so I don't get away from the office until after 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9. A late drive gets me to George's house near Nashua, New Hampshire, at about 2:00 a.m. Since our scheduled departure time is 4:00, a motel is definitely not worth it. Not wanting to disturb George, I pull over in a parking lot about a mile from his house and get some sleep.

May 10
My cell phone rings at 3:20 a.m. Sure enough, it's George. He's up and ready to go. I drive the couple of minutes to his house (after de-grogging myself), we transfer my gear to the rental car, and we're away before the 4:00 schedule. Our first stop is a solid seven-hours-plus away -- we want to catch the Ottawa Central as its freight makes its return trip from Pembroke to Ottawa on the Ottawa River bridge at Portage du Fort, Quebec. An uneventful border crossing into Canada, and we're soon in cell phone contact with the third member of our group, Bill, who's been chasing the freight with Ray Farand and Dave Stremes. Our schedule is looking good -- we'll be at Portage du Fort well before the train.

We all rendezvous at the Smurfit-Stone plant in Portage du Fort, where another Ottawa Central crew is working. Soon we're off for the short walk in to the Ottawa River bridge, and a slightly longer walk downriver to improve our photo angle. The train, powered by two ex-Canadian Pacific RS18s, crosses the bridge in good sunlight (not bad with a forecast that had called for clouds and rain), and soon we're piling Bill's gear into the rental car and bid farewell to Ray and Dave.

With some sunlight to burn still, we head down to the Canadian Pacific, where we chase a train eastward, finishing with a nice shot at Pakinham, Ontario, across a field dotted with yellow dandylions. But the train is heading east and we need to head west (we have a reservation in North Bay, Ontario, four hours away) so we leave our eastbound to resume our journey. We do bag one more eastbound on the way, however.

May 11
The traditional stop at Tim Horton's gets the day started, and soon we're off to Parry Sound to get set for the day. A stop on Canadian National on an old wooden overpass yields four trains, but our info (thanks to a CN sectionman who stopped and gave us a rundown) says nothing more is due for a few hours when VIA's westbound Canadian is due. This gives us a chance to grab some maple ice cream and scope out our set-up point for VIA.

The Canadian is our top priority for the day. A one-time Canadian Pacific train, it retained its CPR routing into the VIA era. Alas, VIA decided eventually decided to route the train over the Canadian National in central and western Canada, taking the train off its historic route. However, CN and CPR utilize directional running on their parallel lines between Parry Sound and Sudbury, and thus the westbound Canadian runs over its original route on this stretch.

Our chase begins at Nobel, where trackwork brings the train to a brief stop, allowing us a second grab shot almost immediately. Photo locations are picked to allow both good comin'-at-ya shots and going away shots, taking advantage of the round end observation car Waterton Park on the rear. The bridge at Pointe au Baril is good, but while looking for a place to turn the car around (after getting the shot) we find an even better shot 100 yards up the road. Add that one for later in the trip. We bag the train a few more times on the CPR, with the last at Rutter. By Sudbury Junction the train is back on the CN and we're in a downpour. The planned rest of the chase to Capreol is scrubbed due to weather, and we're soon esconsed in our hotel room at the Sudbury Quality Inn with a good view of the CPR yard and the parading hookers on the street below.

May 12
This was a day where the Huron Central was our primary goal. We could see the Espanola Turn being made up in the yard from our motel room, and soon we were set up at Copper Cliff (in the rain) waiting for the westbound move.

The trip goes well, with several good shots in the clouds (at least the rain is letting up) along the way. The crew was getting used to seeing us, and near Nairn where they were switching a spur we could hear the conductor on the scanner (riding the rear car) tell the engineer, "Three cars to the photo op." After working the spur, the locomotives pulled to a stop next to us and we're able to give the crew copies of the latest Railfan & Railroad, which includes an article on the Huron Central.

Upon arrival at Espanola, its time to start thinking about bagging the eastbound Canadian. We think we can make it to the ghost town of Milnet, and scanner chatter says there is a train coming. Sadly, the train coming is a freight -- we missed the Canadian and had to beat feet to get ahead of it during its servicing stop in Capreol. Crossing the tracks at Capreol, we are relieved to see the train still there (we can try this shot again in a couple of days), but we still have a challenge. The shot we want involves a bit of a walk and climbing some rocks, so we head towards Coniston.

Once at Coniston, we scramble up the rocks and get set. We don't wait long for 22 cars of stainless streamlined beauty to come past. Bill, who has been rather diligent about getting going-away shots of the Canadian this trip, for some reason decides not to scramble over rocks with me and George to get this going-away shot, and somehow misses the shot of the trip, the Banff Park observation car with the rest of the train snaked through an S-curve.

With the Canadian out of the way, we head back on the Huron Central to pick up the road freight working east from Sault Ste. Marie towards Sudbury. The scanner soon has us triangulated in on the train, which features matched GP40s in numerical order on the head end -- 3010, 3011, 3012, 3013. Somehow the comin'-at-ya shots are in clouds while the going-away shots are in sun. Soon we're back in Sudbury, but we're too late to get the VIA RDC's coming in from White River. We head into town and see the RDC's leaving as they deadhead back to Capreol for the night. We'll be riding these cars for the next two days to White River and back.

Alas, we get some bad news (fairly serious, but nothing with long-range implications) that evening that will require us to return to the United States, cutting our trip short. We make all the appropriate phone calls to cancel reservations for the remainder of the trip.

May 13
Today is a book-home day, but a couple of trains fall into our laps and are duly recorded. We overtake an eastbound CPR freight at Mattawa, Ontario, just in time to get him passing the CPR depot there. Another eastbound is tied up at Chalk River and we shoot him. Bill gets dropped in Ottawa, and just before crossing the border George and I encounter Amtrak's northbound Adirondack stopped for its customs inspection at Cantic, Quebec. We arrive at George's house late that evening, and I don't even consider trying to push the extra five hours to New Jersey.

May 14
The weather doesn't cooperate as I head across Massachusetts and Connecticut, but I need to see something on this final leg of the trip, so I pull into Danbury, Connecticut, hoping to find one of the last FL9s in the yard. It was not to be, so a shot of a Genesis unit next to Danbury's old depot (now home to the Danbury Railway Museum) is all I get before making the final push home.

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