CP 31236

Taking advantage of the long weekend at home to work on a few projects on the bench.

First up is completing some basic weathering on this Canadian Pacific woodchip boxcar:


This car was built from an Intermountain 40′ PS-1 boxcar kit, with scratchbuilt chip doors, custom painted and lettered mostly with CDS transfers, with some Microscale sets to fill in some of the detail lettering and the U-1 inspection dot. Weathering was done with artist’s pan pastels.

This car will probably wind up in service over at the club layout; woodchips were shipped from Dubreuilville on the ACR to Terrace Bay on the Canadian Pacific using cars supplied by CP, but the best information I have suggests that this particular service was mainly in 52′-60′ gondolas, not boxcars, and it’ll be a few years yet before I have anything running, so this can join another 5 or 6 similar cars in a chip service pool on the club layout.

Railfanning Around Sault Ste. Marie

After (and, well, let’s face it, during) my day trip on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, and in between visits to the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library, I tried to also take the opportunity to do a little railfanning around town. I also visited last July and September, and caught a few things then too, so while I certainly don’t have full information of everything that goes on, I’ve been reasonably successful for an outsider, and I’m starting to learn what’s going on and put together at least a broad picture of things.


Obviously the most well-known rail operating in Sault Ste. Marie is the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. Departing daily at 8 AM during the summer and fall seasons from the Algoma Central Railway’s downtown station beside the Station Mall, the train runs north to Canyon and returns to the downtown station typically around 5:30 PM (although the schedule on the ACR web site says 6). If one is wanting to photograph the train at the station, the best sun angles will be in the afternoon due to the roughly north-west angle of the tracks at this location.


About half an hour before train arrives back in the Sault, it will be passing through this curve just north of mile 10 on the railway. (Restricted speed through the yard limits in Sault Ste. Marie to the station means this final part of the trip through town takes a little time.) North of town the highway, river and rail line all parallel for a short stretch; this shot is taken from the shoulder of highway 17. This is another shot where the sun angles favour the afternoon southbound train as the highway is to the west side of the railway and river. A northbound morning shot could work here if it is an overcast day.


Unfortunately I just missed the southbound regular passenger train from Hearst as it came in later; I was just returning to this spot and it arrived about the same time I did, so I chased it a bit closer to town and had to content with this shot at the highway 17 underpass at the north edge of town.

The regular train operates north from Sault Ste. Marie on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, departing at 9:20 AM during the current summer season from a track at the entrance to Steelton yard, in behind the shops facilities, rather than the downtown passenger station. The southbound train returns from Hearst the following day(s) – that being Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays – and is scheduled to return to Sault Ste. Marie at 6:10 PM, but will often be running a little late. So it should be around the mile 10 curve pretty much any time after 6. (I just missed it at about 7:30.) Note that Wednesday is the off day, where the train will not be running, and the equipment remain parked at Steelton yard.


I missed catching the daily freight train from the US this time around, but it typically operates into the Canadian Sault in the early evening, around 7 PM or so, shortly before the southbound regular passenger train. I did manage to catch it last summer, so I can share a photo or two of that.


Interestingly, this train typically runs with distributed power, with one engine at the front of the train and a second splice somewhere in the middle. The train handles iron ore for Algoma Steel from a mine in uppser Michigan and all manner of interchange traffic from Sault Ste. Marie, primarily southbound steel and pulpwood loads.


The northbound train runs directly into the former ACR yards in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, and will perform some switching to break down the inbound train, fish out the distributed power unit and assemble the southbound train to the States. Once the outbound is prepared, it will head south again; often this will be near or well after dark, depending on the season.

(The two daylight shots of the northbound freight crossing the swing bridge and the old Canadian ship canal were taken in July 2013. The night shot is a time exposure of the southbound freight departing Canada taken in September 2013.)

Freight service on the line north of Sault Ste. Marie I’m a little less clear on, but the northbound freight seems to generally hit Hawk Junction around lunchtime, so would be out of Sault Ste. Marie very early in the morning, possibly just before dawn. When I rode the Tour of the Line back on the last day of September, our regular train met the southbound freight at Northland siding, with the tour train ahead of us meeting the freight at Wabos. However, when I recently rode the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, we encountered no other trains on the trip north.

I’m not entirely certain whether the freights do indeed operate daily (sources indicate yes, and I’m pretty much 3/3 for encountering the northbound freight at or near Hawk Junction) or whether it may be adjusted based on the traffic levels, and that single observation at Northland is not really enough data to say whether that timing is typical, or quite late (for what it’s worth, when I chased the tour train to Searchmont in July 2013, I never saw nor heard any sign of freight activity then either; the passenger train seemed to be having a completely unrestricted run north, just like my ride two weeks ago). Or whether the operating times simply vary wildly for some reason like crew availability at Hearst and/or Hawk Junction.


Huron Central action appears to be typically (and reliably – I’ve shot them all three times I’ve visited the Sault over the past year) caught around mid-afternoon at their yard in the Sault, with the mainline freight to Sudbury departing a little before supper time. Theirs is a colourful operation, and you can quite comfortable watch them switching from the old platform of the former CPR passenger station at the east end of the HCRY yard. The bright orange of the G&W family colour scheme definitely adds a lot of colour to the experience. The westbound counterpart appears to leave Sudbury in the early evening, so this would arrive in Sault Ste. Marie well after dark.


Along the south side of the Huron Central yard are a pair of tracks used for pulpwood loading. The cars loaded here are a mix of cars with Huron Central’s own reporting marks and cars with LRIX markings, that translating to the owner being “Lake Superior Eastern Rail Industries Ltd.” This appears to be a local freight car lessor, headquartered in White River, ON and their entire fleet of about 30 cars appears dedicated to service on the Huron Central. Both the LRIX and HCRY fleets consists of about 30 cars of varying designs and lineages. And since neither are really seen off of Huron Central rails, a quick peek at the pulpwood loading tracks in Sault Ste. Marie is an interesting stop for the freight car enthusiast.

Visit to Sault Ste. Marie Public Library ACR Archives

Last week as part of my trip to Sault Ste. Marie, I had arranged to visit the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and check out some of the materials they have in their archival collection which came from the Algoma Central Railway.

Most of these materials were apparently donated by Wisconsin Central following their takeover of the ACR, and much of this material was no longer needed by the railway.

The collection is almost staggering in its scope; the index to the maps and drawings in the collection is an 86 page table! Most of these are all original documents, and there’s a lot of material that dates back to the construction period in the early 1900s. There are also large amounts of documents (which largely consist of company records, financials, reports and statistics – could be interesting stuff to mine for data there if you’re figuring out something in particular) and hundreds of historical photographs.

Most of the materials are apparently stored off site, and you have to make a request for a particular document or item to be available a day or two in advance. I knew there is no way to even come close to being able to look at even a fraction of the entire collection in one stay, so I spent a week or two poring over the maps/drawings index and selecting things that looked of relevant interest to my eventual modeling goals and emailing back and forth with Kevin at the library archive who was extremely helpful in pulling the requested documents and having them ready and available for when I arrived in the Sault.

The materials I got a chance to look at were mainly more recent maps and drawings related the to Michipicoten branch and northern part of the railway and freight and work cars. Some of the really neat stuff included drawings of the standard design for section houses, lettering diagrams for gondola cars, schematic diagrams from the late 1980s of several yards and locations including Wawa, Hawk Junction and Oba, a number of floor plan drawings for work car conversions of former GM&O and SP passenger cars, among other things, but the piece de la resistance, as it were, is a complete set of original blueprint drawings for the 1950 Jamestown (then the name of Wawa) passenger station. That’ll definitely be invaluable for modeling that station, and I’m always a fan of work equipment and odd rebuilds, so the drawings will be nice for modelling some of those too. (Although one will still need to check against photos to make sure that they actually followed the drawings exactly in the conversion. Dale Wilson forwarded me a drawing once of the old auxiliary bunk car, AC 10002, an ancient car rebuilt from one of the ACR’s original passenger coach stock originally built in the 1880s. This car lasted in service well into the late 1970s, but the interesting thing is the drawing didn’t seem to exactly agree with photos of the actual car.)

I even found a few interesting things in there like proposed drawings (dated 1955) of an open observation/tourist car rebuilt from a standard heavyweight passenger coach. While such a thing was never actually built so far as I can tell, such a thing could make an interesting model, and somebody was at least considering the concept for these drawings to still exist in the ACR files.

I spent most of the day on Tuesday (July 29th) and Wednesday morning at the library poring over the requested materials, and that barely scratches the surface of all of the maps and drawings in the collection. And I didn’t even touch the historical photo collection (for which there doesn’t really appear to be a detailed index, so I don’t even know what’s all in that)!

Lots of neat stuff there, and if I visit Sault Ste. Marie again, I may have to devote another day for another library visit.

Additional Photos from Agawa Canyon Park

This follow-up to my post about my ride on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train last week contains several additional photos of items of interest around Agawa Canyon Park, in no real specific order.


Canyon Lodge, near the north end of the park.


This display of track speeders and handcar is located near the north end of the park, across the tracks from the Canyon Lodge.


One of a pair of benches made out of an old wheelset. What an appropriate feature to have at a railway owned park. 😉


Cast lettering on the back of one of the wheels. AC&HB refers to the full name of the Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway, as the company was officially called until 1960. Having never extended anywhere close to Hudson Bay (while surveys were conducted during the initial 1899-1903 construction period, the railway finally reached Hearst in 1914 and was never extended beyond there) the “& Hudson Bay” part of the name was finally dropped.


A picnic table made from an entire freight car truck. IIRC the sideframe had a 1928 date cast into it, so it may be originally from one of the Algoma Central’s 3100-3199 series wood boxcars, which were built in 1928.



The Agawa Canyon Park is only accessible by rail. There is no road access in or out of any kind. Therefore anything coming in or out of the park must go by rail. Garbage collection service for the park is handled by flatcars with dumpsters; trash is collected by the park staff from trash cans in the park and put into the dumpsters which will be hauled away at regular intervals by the regular freight.


This old passenger car in the park was previously used as a souvenir shop on site, but appears to be unused now.

This car’s last official identity before retirement was as work service diner 10400, and was previously cafe car 502. It had been originally acquired by the Algoma Central in 1949 from the Denver & Rio Grande Western and were originally built for the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad in 1913.


And one final shot of the serene Agawa River through the canyon.

Agawa Canyon Tour Train Ride

At the beginning of this week I just returned from another week long vacation north of Lake Huron, visting the former Algoma Central and the Huron Central and Ontario Northland railways.

Having previously ridden the Tour of the Line last October, on Monday July 28th, I had a ticket booked to ride the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. The tickets are booked over the phone (which the helpful ACR staff make quite easy – and it’s nice to hear them answer the phone as “Algoma Central Railway”) and can be picked up at the station the morning of the departure. The train’s scheduled departure is at 8 AM, and tickets can be picked up at the station half an hour before the train leaves. I think I arrived there a little before 7:30 and ended up beating the line. Eventually around 7:40 or so the train pulled into the station and we were able to board.


The tour train at Sault Ste. Marie station. (This photo actually taken after the return to the Sault, when the sunlight is actually on the right side for photographs at this location.)

The train this day was a short 6 cars, including dining car 506, and one of the regular F40PHR locomotives was apparently away in Toronto for some repair work, so the engine on the south end of the train was a CN GP9Rm. The complete consist was as follows (from the north end):

CN 105 (F40PHR)
AC 5705 (Coach)
AC 5702 (Coach)
AC 5655 (Coach)
AC 5703 (Coach)
AC 506 (Dining Car)
AC 5704
CN 4110 (GP9Rm)

The train left precisely on time and we slowly rolled through the downtown, past the huge Essar Steel Algoma mill and past the sprawling CN yards and shops before finally clearing the yard limits and entering the main line north of town. Then it was off into the wilderness north of the Sault.


Typical lake view along the line.

Inside the coaches on the train there are video monitors throughout, which over the course of the trip play video commentary describing features of the line and its history. The video segments are apparently triggered by GPS location, so it tells you when certain notable features (like the Montreal Falls trestle for one particular example) are soon to be encountered, and also to spread out the history segments over the trip. While to an ACR historian like myself much of the information was known, I still found myself watching each segment when they played with interest, and it certainly gives an interesting background to the area you’re riding through. (Although a couple parts of the narration could use some updating as they refer to the St. Marys Paper Company as a current operation, while it has closed down a few years ago and the mill has been mostly demolished except for some of the remaining original sandstone structures dating from the 1890s mill.)

When the history segments weren’t showing on the monitors, the view was normally from a camera mounted in the front window of the lead F40PHR locomotive, giving a nice live view of the track ahead of the train. This was nice to see features ahead of the train, and was particularly interesting at one point where the train slowed because of a pair of large birds that when disturbed by the train simply flew along the tracks in front of the train for about a minute or so before finally gaining height and flying out of the way!


The train skirts the shore of another small northern Ontario lake.

About half an hour after departure from the Sault, the dining car opened for breakfast, for which they called the various coaches in turn. I had made sure I had something to eat at my room before heading down to the station, so I did not partake of breakfast, but later when the dining car switched over to serving lunch (for which the kitchen remained continuously open until a little after 4 PM) the on-board service staff took orders for boxed lunches from those who wished it, and these orders were taken far enough in advance of the arrival at Canyon so that you would be able to take your lunch and have a nice picnic within the park environs. I ended up ordering one of these lunches, which I believe was about $15 and contained a sandwich (on a nice large Kaiser bun, which could be one of three options: roast beef, tuna or ham & cheese – I chose the ham & cheese), bottle of water, bag of chips, brownie and a hard-boiled egg.


F40PHR 105 on the north end of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train at Agawa Canyon Park.

After arrival at Canyon, I wandered around the lower part of the park for a while, enjoying the area along the river, eating my lunch and taking a number of photos of the train in the park setting.


This CN GP9Rm was the southbound unit on the train. There are no turning facilities at Canyon, and the F40PHR has to remain connected to the train as it is also the on-board power source, so the tour train is operated with locomotives at each end.


Looking south from the train at Canyon.


The tour train in its context at Agawa Canyon Park. The small car on the house track to the left of the train is the railway’s “camp car”, which car be rented for an overnight stay at the park.


The rocky cliffs on the other side of the river from the train’s stopping location in the park.

Ultimately, the time in the canyon came to an end, and the whistle was blown giving the 5 minute warning to return to the train for departure. The northbound passenger train to Hearst was also running that day, and I had hoped to photograph it arriving at the south end of Canyon siding, unfortunately it did not end up arriving until after our train had reboarded, and we rolled slowly to the south switch to meet the regular train there, heading south as soon as it had cleared into the siding. So I was only able to see the train from the windows of my coach as it passed by on the adjacent track, and no photos. So that was my disappointment on the trip, from a railfan’s perspective, but the actual ride to and from the Canyon was relaxing and enjoyable, as I alternately read my book or watched the northern Ontario scenery with it’s unending forest dotted with rocky hills and myriad small lakes roll by outside.

Our return time to the Sault was approximately 5:30 PM, and with the sun now in the perfect position for taking photographs at the station, I photographed the train as the unboarding completed and the train pulled out of the station to head back to the yard for servicing, cleaning and overnight parking until the next day’s train. Once the train departed the station, I wandered past the Huron Central yard to photograph some of the pulpwood flatcars around there and then headed off to find some supper, a nice day of train riding completed.