Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Patience at Stony Beach

Saskatchewan Wheat Pool; Stony Beach, Sask.; August 26, 2013
Stony Beach, Sask.
There is no doubt that part of the allure of the Canadian prairies are the wooden grain elevators that appear on the horizon as you approach many towns. The number of the classic elevators has plummeted over the past two decades, with hundreds being torn down into the early 2000s. Over the past decade the carnage has slowed, as the surviving elevators have been purchased by towns or farmer co-ops for storage or to preserve the scales located inside.

The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool controlled hundreds of elevators in its namesake province, but about ten years ago began disposing of the few wooden elevators it still had, consolidating its operations at much larger high through-put (HTP) elevators. As the elevators were sold, the Pool painted over its logo, leaving just the words "Saskatchewan" and the town name (and in some rare cases, the Pool elevator number) on the building.

That brings us to Stony Beach, a small town (and calling it a "town" is being generous) on a Canadian National branch line located about halfway between Regina and Moose Jaw. The CN transcontinental route runs much farther to the north on its way to Saskatoon; the Canadian Pacific main line, however, is parallel to this branch just a few miles south. The elevator at Stony Beach is unusual for two reasons; first, it retains its Pool logo and, second, it's painted barn red and lacks the silver sheathing that most Pool elevators had.

Stony Beach, Sask,; August 26, 2013
On August 26, I arrived at Stony Beach at about 3:45 in the afternoon along with George Pitarys and my brother Bruce. We knew a local train worked the branch out of Regina in the afternoon, but beyond that we didn't know much more. With no one around, we set about photographing the elevator from a bunch of different angles; of all the elevators we had seen on the trip, this was about the best. The dirt grade crossing, despite our best efforts to tell, was inconclusive in determining if the train had come through or not. Just as we settled in to wait, a road grader pulled up and stopped. George quickly ran over to ask the operator if he had seen a train during the day. The reply did not make us happy; we had missed the train by about 15 minutes. Still, this was a stellar location and we still had a couple of days in the area; we would be back.

That chance came the next day. We had chased a Canadian Pacific train from Loreburn almost into Moose Jaw, with one of the highlights being another great Pool elevator, this one at Elbow. Unlike Stony Beach, Elbow was in the more traditional Pool silver; like Stony Beach, it retained its Pool logo. In fact this one was preserved as a museum.
Canadian Pacific; Elbow, Saskatchewan; August 27, 2013
Our chase ended at about 2:30 we were not far from Stony Beach and right in the window the train was due. Arriving at the elevator at about 3:30 we checked the dirt grade crossing; the flangeways were full of dirt and debris and we were 90 per cent sure the train had not run yet. With clear skies and great light on the elevator, we vowed to stay until the train came or the light gave out.

Dragon fly at Stony Beach
However, 3:30 became 4:30, then the clock moved to 5:30 and still no train. We amused ourselves by watching and photographing the numerous dragon flies that seemed to like our car's antenna. The sun was getting lower and lower, but there were no clouds; we'd have good light right down to the horizon. Finally at 6:30 the railroad radio had good news for us, as we heard our train leaving Regina 22 miles to the east. With a track speed of 25 m.p.h., it would take just about an hour for the train to get to us. And the sun was getting lower and lower. With the flat terrain and straight track we saw the headlight in about 30 minutes; still, the train was close to ten miles away still -- another half hour -- and the sun was getting lower and lower. But the headlight got closer, the sun stayed above the horizon, and at 7:30 the three of us stood at the grade crossing and pushed the shutters of our cameras -- pretty much simultaneously -- and got the shot we had waited four hours to get! Success!
Canadian National; Stony Beach, Saskatchewan; August 27, 2013
Into the setting sun at Stony Beach
This was really closer than we wanted it to be; the sun hit the horizon less than five minutes after the train's passage, and another two minutes after that the light had dimmed considerably. But what a way to finish the day! Our tradition for the trip was to pick "the shot of the day" at the conclusion of each day and "the shot of the trip" when everything wrapped up. We were hard-pressed to pick one for this day, however, as both the shots at Elbow and at Stony Beach were outstanding; in fact, they were hands down the two best shots of the trip. But there is no doubt the time spent at Stony Beach will make it the story we will continue to tell when the topic of this trip comes up. And the best part of any trip is the stories that we tell later.

Photos from the first day at Stony Beach and the rest of that day can be found here. Photos from the second day, including the chase on the CPR, can be found here.

1 comment:

George Hamlin said...

Excellent story; glad that it worked!

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