ProtoFile: Agawa Canyon Tour Train Coaches (Current)

In 2009, CN acquired the equipment of the former Ski Train out of Denver, Colorado. This purchase included 3 F40PH locomotives, and 14 passenger cars, which ironically were originally built in 1968 for CN.

The new equipment was rushed into service for the 2009 season to replace the aging former VIA/CN steel coaches which had been built in the early 1950s. During 2010-2011 the new passenger cars were extensively refurbished, entering service for the 2011 season with new windows, upgraded interiors, and internal TV display monitors that could display a live cab view from video cameras mounted in the locomotive cab as well as GPS-triggered audio narration providing information about various features and locations along the route. As the cars were refurbished they were repainted in a handsome new interpretation of the ACR’s wine red and grey passenger colours, and lettered with new Agawa Canyon Tour Train logo decals, although unfortunately while the coaches carry AC numbers (but the engines bear CN reporting marks) the Algoma Central name is not present.


Modern Agawa Canyon Tour Train logo on coach 5705 Spruce Lake, July 2013.

Except for the Tour Train logos, lettering on the cars is completely minimal, with just the car number at one end of the car in light grey lettering.

However, each car is named after a local river or lake, with the car name on a lettering panel on the lower portion of the car body.


AC 5704 Island Lake at Sault Ste Marie, July 2013


Number Name Type Lineage
AC 5700 Achigan Lake Coach ex-SKTX 2, ex-DRGW 430, ex-VIA 355, ex-VIA 376, ex-CN 376
AC 5701 Montreal River Coach ex-SKTX 3, ex-DRGW 431, ex-VIA 350, ex-VIA 363, ex-CN 363
AC 5702 Lake Superior Coach ex-SKTX 4, ex-DRGW 441, ex-VIA 362, ex-CN 362
AC 5703 Chippewa Lake Cafe-Lounge ex-SKTX 5, ex-DRGW 420, ex-VIA 341, ex-CN 341
AC 5704 Island Lake Coach ex-SKTX 6, ex-DRGW 442, ex-VIA 366, ex-CN 366
AC 5705 Spruce Lake Coach ex-SKTX 7, ex-DRGW 432, ex-VIA 351, ex-VIA 361, ex-CN 361
AC 5706 Batchewana River Coach ex-SKTX 8, ex-DRGW 443, ex-VIA 373, ex-CN 373
AC 5707 Hubert Lake Cafe-Lounge ex-SKTX 9, ex-DRGW 421, ex-VIA 342, ex-CN 342
AC 5708 Ogidaki Lake Coach ex-SKTX 10, ex-DRGW 444, ex-VIA 371, ex-CN 371
AC 5709 Mongoose Lake Coach ex-SKTX 11, ex-DRGW 433, ex-VIA 353, ex-VIA 364, ex-CN 364
AC 5710 Agawa River Presentation ex-SKTX 12, ex-DRGW 440, ex-VIA 375, ex-CN 375, ex-CN 320
AC 5711 Trout Lake Club Car ex-SKTX 13, ex-DRGW 425, ex-VIA 321, ex-CN 321
AC 5712 Goulais River Club Car ex-SKTX 14, ex-DRGW 426, ex-VIA 322, ex-CN 322
AC 5713 Rand Lake Club Car ex-SKTX 15, ex-DRGW 427, ex-VIA 323, ex-CN 323

Coach Cars


Coach 5709 Mongoose Lake at Searchmont, July 2013.


Coach 5708 Ogidaki Lake at Sault Ste Marie, July 2013.

Cafe-Lounge Cars


Cafe-lounge 5703 Chippewa River at Steelton shops, July 2013.

Opposite side of cafe-lounge 5707 Hubert Lake at Steelton yard, September 2013.

Opposite side of cafe-lounge 5707 Hubert Lake at Steelton yard, September 2013.

Club Cars


Club car 5711 Trout Lake at Steelton, September 2013.


Opposite side of club car 5713 Rand Lake at Steelton, September 2013.

Other Cars


Coach 5655 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

In addition to the 14 ex-Ski Train cars, coach 5655 was reconditioned in 2010 or 2011 for use on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. 5655 is one of three ex-Amtrak coaches acquired by the Algoma Central in 2007 for use on the regular passenger service. These three cars were originally built in 1953 by Budd for the Santa Fe. Upgraded by Amtrak, these three coaches were equipped to use head-end power, and on the ACR local passenger service ran with an electrical generator car.

This single coach was refurbished with the same upgrades as the ex-Ski Train cars and features Agawa Canyon Tour Train logos indicating its assignment to this train. The other two former Santa Fe coaches, AC 5654 and 5656, do not have these internal upgrades or the tour train logos and are not used on the Canyon train. Otherwise, their external appearance is similar to the 5655.

However with the announcement of the termination of the regular passenger service, perhaps these two cars (5654/5656) may also end up being reconditioned for the tour train to provide more capacity during the fall peak season? With the 14 Ski Train cars and the 5655, the railway has a maximum of 15 cars (plus the diner below) that can be used on the tour train, while 30 years ago the Algoma Central could sometime run over two dozen coaches on the Canyon Tour Train, and be required to rent extra coaches from VIA and Ontario Northland in order to cover the needs of the regular passenger service.


Dining car 506 at Sault Ste Marie, July 2013.

Dining car 506 was acquired by the Algoma Central Railway in 1998 to replace a previous dining car, number 504, which had suffered damage from a kitchen fire. AC 506 was originally built in 1938 by Budd as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy 190 “Silver Pheasant” for service on the famed “California Zephyr”.

ProtoFile: Agawa Canyon Tour Train F40PH Locomotives


CN 105 on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

In 2009, CN acquired the equipment that had been in use on the former Ski Train out of Denver, Colorado. This purchase consisted of 3 ex-Amtrak F40PH locomotives and 14 coaches, which ironically were originally built in 1968 for CN where they saw regular service on the Toronto-Sarnia/Windsor corridor.

Initially pushed into service in 2009 still in their old yellow-orange Ski Train colours, the equipment was extensively refurbished in 2011-2012 and repainted into a handsome new interpretation of the Algoma Central’s traditional wine red and grey passenger colours.

The red main body on the locomotives and cars are nicely accented by a yellow and black stripe and a grey lower body and roof. The lettering used for the road numbers (and the small CN logo above the number) is a light grey.


Broadside view of CN 105 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

Part of the refurbishment of the equipment included TV display screens in the coaches featuring a live cab view transmitted from a camera in the engine. Look closely in the windshield of the 104 in the below photo, or the 105 in the photo at the top of this post and you can see the video camera mounting next to the centre divider between the two front windows.


Nose view of CN 104 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

When we come to the rear of the units, close observation reveals a couple of minor differences.


CN 105 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

While on CN 105 (the first unit refurbished and repainted into the new colours in 2011) above, note that the black along the angled part of the roof also carries directly across the end of the locomotive, and the unit’s road number in grey is lettered at the top of the carbody, above the read headlight.

On CN 104 (and 106 exhibits the same pattern – these two units were repainted in 2012) note that the black does not carry over onto the end of the unit, and instead of a large road number at the top of the body, there is a small CN logo and number below on the headlight, on the door.

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Rear detail of CN 104 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

During the peak fall colour season, all three units are used together on the tour train. When I was in the Sault at the end of September, the Agawa Canyon Tour Train ran north with 105 and 104 on the head end, and 106 bringing up the rear. At Canyon, the 105-104 had run around the train and the tour train returned to Sault Ste Marie with all three units in consecutive order on the head end, 104-105-106.

Having units at each end of the train means that there is always a unit coupled to the coaches to provide electrical power at Canyon. (And also there is no way to turn an engine at Canyon.)

During the slower summer season, the Tour Train runs with one F40PH at each end (and returns south in this configuration with no runaround at Canyon). During this season, the unused third unit is freed up to provide locomotive power to the regular passenger service.


CN 106 on the southbound passenger train at Hawk Junction. July 2013.

These three units were all originally built for Amtrak in 1977-1978. They were built by GM’s Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and given the model designation F40PHR, with the ‘R’ indicating that these units were built at least in part using in parts from SDP40F locomotives that Amtrak was replacing in the 1970s. Otherwise these are the same as a standard F40PH.

The three locomotives were sold to Ski Train in 2000, where they operated until the spring of 2009 and were acquired for the Algoma Central Railway.

CN # Model Builder Date Serial Lineage
CN 104 F40PHR EMD 10/1977 777001-13 ex-SKTX 242, ex-AMTK 242
CN 105 F40PHR EMD 4/1978 777063-4 ex-SKTX 283, ex-AMTK 283
CN 106 F40PHR EMD 6/1978 777063-10 ex-SKTX 289, ex-AMTK 289

AC 8201-8500 Series Hoppers – Part 4: Grab Irons

Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly working on this hopper project again, drilling out the myriad holes for the car body grab irons. This project languished for a while as I didn’t have any #80 drill bits (darn things are so easy to break!) so I had to order a few, and I’ve just been pretty busy through the last couple of months with the December holiday season and other things. However a week or two after New Year’s I got my order of fresh drill bits, and I’m trying to deliberately spend a little time at least one or two nights a week on projects. Of course the primary project I’ve started to get back into is my 25 car batch of hoppers where each step of progress takes a bit of time due to the volume of cars being worked on at the same time. And drilling out that many small holes on 25 bodies and frames has taken a few weeks to complete. So that has accounted for my dearth of recent updates. However I am trying to get some momentum going again, and hopefully get some other smaller projects finished off as well.

So, without further ado, back to the hopper project! Over the years this model has moved between different product lines at Walthers: first their standard line, then “Gold Line” with metal wheels, then “Platinum Line” which have wire grab irons factory installed. (And I think with the latest release(s) the model has been shifted again into the “Proto” series (the old Proto 2000 line inherited from Life-Like), although I really don’t think this model belongs in that category.) Earlier releases before the models were upgraded to the “Platinum” line did not have grab irons installed. I’ve been collecting these cars for quite a while now (and grabbing cheaper pre-“Platinum” cars at shows and on eBay to build up the fleet) so I have a lot of both.

Body Grabs

A bit of comparison of prototype photos to the model reveals a couple of interesting minor details.

First, the prototype AC cars have an additional grab mounted off the top cap on the end (which of course the model does not have, and which I discussed in an earlier post).

Secondly, when comparing end photos of the first batch of cars (AC 8201-8400) to the second batch (AC 8401-8500), notice that the first series has one extra grab iron compared to the later series:

ACR From Blair 012

AC 8390 end view. At Steelton shops, August 1997. Blair Smith photo.


AC 8495 end details. March 1981. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

Notice that the 8300 series car at top has a total of 5 end grabs plus the vertical grab mounted to the top chord, with the topmost end grab being almost directly below the vertical one, giving a doubled effect near the top of the car. The 8400 series car has 4 end grabs, without the grab nearest the top of the car.

Compared to the model, the model is actually molded with locations for 6 grab irons. With the amount of cars I am working on, I decided it was not worth the amount of effort it would take to competely remove all of the molded bolt detail and the pre-molded drilling dimples and trying to make a template to re-drill it all to have 5 evenly spaced grabs instead of 6. (For the 8200/8300 series cars, or 4 (without the top one) for the 8400 series cars.) However, removing the detail for the top grab would provide that different visual detail between these two batches of cars. With the extra rung of the model, the spacing doesn’t quite work out perfectly, but the effect is close enough. For the 8400 series cars, I simply carefully carved away the bolt/drilling dimple detail for the top grab from the surface of the body and wet sanded the area with fine (1000-2000 grit) automotive finishing sandpaper.

The remaining dimples are all drilled out with a tiny #80 drill bit in a pin vise.

With the holes all drilled out, the grab irons can be installed. These are 18″ drop grabs. These formed wire details are available from several sources such as Tichy, Details Associates, Details West, etc. I place a drop of CA on a scrap piece of plastic and carefully dip the tails of the formed wire grab irons

To maintain a proper even depth for all the grabs, I use a piece of .030″ strip as a spacer when installing each grab:


Using styrene spacer to install end grab irons.

When installing the grabs, cut the tails to length before installing; the open space inside the car end will be filled with the large metal weight that comes with the car, so these can’t extend into the interior. I trim the tails shorter before installation with a pair of flush cutters, and once installed and the glue is dried, finish off the interior with a few swipes of a flat needle file so the weight will sit properly into the cavity.

By comparison, the top grab is a straight 18″ grab. I used my calipers to line up the locations of the drill holes for the top grab with the end ladder and drilled them out as close to the edge of the strip as possible. This offsets the grab from the end and lines it up vertically with the end grabs. The grab is inserted (without trimming the tails in this case) from the bottom using tweezers and CAed in place, using my same .030″ spacer to obtain an even level on the grab. Once the CA sets, I cut the tails off with my flush cutters and file the ends of the wire flush with the top of the cap strip.

Here we can see both version of the car with the end and top grab irons installed; 8201-8400 series car at left, 8401-8500 series car at right:


Finished grab irons. 8201-8400 series (left) and 8401-8500 series (right) versions.

End Platforms

I’ve also been working on drilling and installing the grab irons on the end platforms of the car underframes. Nothing fancy here, just drill out the provided dimples and install the grab irons.


Finished end and platform grabs.

All of the drilling was completed first; I’m working my way through installing the grab irons and that part is still in progress on the majority of the cars. About half a dozen of the bodies are complete so far. You might note in the backgrounds of the photos above that the deck grating on a large number of the frames still also needs to be completed yet, so it will still take a while to get all 25 cars completely up to this point, though I may progress some cars to the next point even while still catching up with some of the others.

This completes the major visible body detailing. The next major assemblies to figure out will be the altered end handrails for these cars, and the underframe detailing, which will be more or less installed as intended by the original kit and which should complete the assembly of these cars.

ProtoFile: Perry Pit

At mile 150.9, one mile north of Perry siding, is a spur into the Algoma Central Railway’s former ballast pit. While today this location is abandoned, traces still remain.

At mile 150.9, the mainline switch to the spur. The switch has been completely removed some time ago, but the rails beyond the switch still exist.


Looking down the spur into the ballast pit. Note just past the private road crossing that a switch is still in place in the weeds, although the switchstand has been salvaged and removed from these abandoned tracks:


Abandoned rails in the old pit:


This March 1981 photo of the same location shows that at least for a time this spur was actually used to load pulpwood logs. It’s not clear whether even then the ACR was still actually sourcing any ballast from this pit, or if they obtained it from other sources (slag from various types of smelting operations was also popular on many railways to use for ballast), although the embankments in the background don’t show any signs of fresh excavation:


A bit farther south and upgrade from the switch to the spur, we find a dragging equipment detector (DED). This installation consists of a relay box and a set of paddles between the rails that will trigger an alarm if a piece of hanging or dragging equipment off a railcar hits one of the paddles (the paddles between the rails may be difficult to see in the smaller image, click on the image for a larger view). The gravel road descending to the right travels through the ballast pit area as seen above:


Just to the south of the DED, the road crosses over to the west side of the tracks and passes a pair of small structures. Unsure if these are former railway related maintance buildings or something else (private camp/cabins, railway or lumber company bunkhouses?)


Just a little bit farther down, and on the opposite side of the tracks, is this little collection of small structures. This appears likely to have been a private cabin. The bordered area between the main cabin and the smaller sheds looks like it could have once been a garden. And while you can’t see it in the smaller image, in the original large image I found the handle of an abandoned push lawn mower sitting in the weeds behind the sheds:


At this point we’re only a couple hundred meters north of the Perry section house, with the trees closing in on both sides forming a nice separation between these scenes and the railway structures at the north end of Perry siding.

ProtoFile: Perry Siding

Perry (mile 149.9) is located 15 miles south of Hawk Junction. Perry was the location of a passing siding, the railway’s ballast pit, and one of the old regularly spaced track section bunkhouses. While the proximity of the spur to the old ballast pit adds some interest, Perry is a good example of a pretty typical location along the Algoma Central Railway, although while many such locations along the ACR are completely inaccessible except via the the railway, Perry is accessible (at least today) via an unimproved logging road.

Of course operationally the key feature of Perry is the passing siding, as a meeting point for trains. Here we see a pair of freights meeting at Perry in March of 1981:


The lack of lit classification lights or flags on 180 South indicates that this is regular Hawk Junction to Steelton (Sault Ste Marie) southbound freight No. 10; our train is most certainly a slightly late running No. 9. As the northward direction is inferior by timetable, No. 9 takes the siding to clear the main for No. 10.

Having cleared the passage of No. 10, No. 9 now pulls out of Perry siding. The Perry section house is visible ahead, beyond the north switch of the siding.


Here’s a close view of the Perry sectionhouse as it appears today (photographed on my trip in October 2013).

IMG_7530 IMG_7531

Today the section house is a privately owned cabin. Originally, the purpose of this building was as a bunkhouse for railway track maintenance workers. Various small sheds nearby served as storage for various supplies and materiel required for the track worker’s trade.

This structure is pretty typical of the ACR’s standard section house design, although the rough stone chimney is a unique feature and a result of remodelling by the new owner. The metal plate in the centre of the roof along the ridge line indicates where the original chimney for the wood stove would have been located.

Looking north at the section house we can see the shed beyond the section house near the edge of the clearing which would have once housed the track foreman’s “speeder” (motorcar) used for conducting track inspections of the section:


Travelling back south along the siding, looking out the back of a southbound passenger train, we see the north siding switch at Perry. The house track at Perry also starts immediately at the north end of the siding:


After travelling through a sweeping curve, the siding straightens out. Here there is a cleared area along the house track; it’s possible this area may have at one time been used for loading pulpwood, like many such sidings along the ACR:


The house track at Perry runs along a sizeable portion of the siding. The timetable indicates the siding’s capacity (in 50′ car equivalents) at 82 cars, and the house track is listed at 39 cars capacity. Factoring in the clearance points of the track and the length of the switches, the house track runs along at least half the length of the siding itself:


The south switch of Perry siding. The conductor of the passenger train is throwing the switch so that the short train can back into the siding so we can meet a northbound freight:



In order not to make this post too large, I will post several views of the ballast pit and area to the north of Perry siding in a separate later post.