Model RR Scheduling and the Perceived “Evil” of Fast Clocks

How many times have you seen this on various modelling forums, whenever there’s a thread about operations and the discussion turns to schedules and/or fast clocks? Inevitably you know you’re going to see comments like:

“The biggest issue I see with TT&TO [TimeTable and Train Orders] operations as well as switching are fast clocks and too much compression of a prototype to model.”

 

“The problem with fast clocks is their correlation to prototype time is different for mainline operations and yard operations.”

 

“In order to make switching work with a fast clock, you’re stuck trying to go as fast as you can.”

 

“I just use the real clock on the wall [1:1 ratio] because I don’t like the pressure of using a fast clock.”

I want to look at a few reasons why these arguments are “wrong” – or at least, how the fast clock is being unfairly scape-goated for the problems and how to address them. The real problem is the schedule itself, not the clock.

Measuring time with a “Fast Clock” is purely cosmetic

The central point to everything I’m going to discuss here is that using a different clock doesn’t make time go faster or slower. While that sounds obvious, it’s hugely important and it seems like misunderstanding (or maybe just over-thinking) this leads to all the problems and objections with its use.

Just think of a fast clock vs. the real clock as akin to measuring in inches instead of feet. You’re still measuring the same thing, just in different units. If you try to jam a 1 foot peg into a 10 inch hole, you’re going to have some issues. The problem isn’t the clock – it’s the schedule.  However you’re choosing to measure the passage of time, time still passes at the same rate (at least in our current frame of reference), and if a job takes a certain amount of real time to complete, you need to schedule that much real time to complete it.

Understanding this properly defeats pretty much all arguments about using a fast clock vs. real time. But let’s delve into a few specific aspects anyways.

Design your schedules based on how long things *really* take on the model

A common objection to fast clocks that will often be raised in discussions is that switching time doesn’t scale well compared to mainline running time. But this is true regardless of the clock speed being used, whether 4:1 or 1:1. So really, the fast clock ratio really isn’t relevant as long as the schedule has enough real time to be executed properly. If a job takes 15 real minutes, it takes 1 fast hour. So don’t schedule 45 minutes on the fast clock to do it.

When starting to build your schedule, run a train across the layout. Don’t do any switching, just run across the line and write down your times at each station. Do this in both directions (as grades or other factors may allow faster runs in one direction). Do this several times and average it. Do this with both a standard passenger train and freight train at appropriate speeds to get appropriate running times for different types of trains.

Then similarly time your switching operations. How long does it take? Do this several times with varying amounts of cars switched and average it. Do it alone and with a friend. Invite friends with different experience levels as one might take longer to do the exact same work. Establish a “typical” average switching time the job should take and add enough time to the schedule to accomplish it.

Establish how much actual time it takes to operate. Whether you time things using the fast clock, or time them using the real clock and then later multiply by the fast clock ratio to make up the schedule should end up getting you the same result. (Just don’t ever change the clock ratio from one the schedule was built on.)

Don’t paste a prototype timetable onto the model operation as-is

This is more or less a reiteration or extension of the above point, but it needs to be clear that when forming a schedule for the model railroad, even one based very closely off of a prototype railroad, you can’t just photocopy the prototype timetable, run according to that and expect to not have problems. Pretty much all of the “problems” with fast clocks are actually a result of people trying to do this, when you simply can’t just use the schedule this way.

A model railroad layout based on a prototype is NOT the prototype. Our distances and running times between stations are usually aggressively compressed to a real railroad. 100 miles of real railroad ends up compressed into only a couple scale miles. If you try to just use the prototype timetable adjusting the fast clock so the running times roughly match up, you won’t end up with enough time to try to do any of the actual work using that timetable. The only way it would work is it everything is exactly to scale in every distance and measurement, which it never will be.

So DON’T TRY. You will fail.

If it takes 30 real minutes (2 fast-hours on a 4:1 fast clock) to switch a train, it takes 30 minutes. It doesn’t matter that the real railroad typically did it in an hour, on your railroad it takes two. Schedule the two fast-hours to do it. DON’T use the one hour from the prototype timetable. It can’t be done.

Yes, some might make the argument at this point that the fact that the switching now takes two hours instead of one lessens the effect of using the fast clock to make it feel like more time is passing, but this is a case where one has to accept some sort of compromise, because you just can’t physically have it any other way. Your running times relative to switching times are going to be reduced compared to a real railroad, whether those times are measured on a 10:1, 4:1 or 1:1 ratio.

There are some strategies to develop a model timetable that feels like the prototype. I don’t want this post to turn into an article on doing that, so I’m not going to attempt to investigate this in detail at the moment (that might be an interesting future discussion on this blog when I end up adapting a schedule to my own layout), but one idea would be to try building your timetable around arrival/departure times at a key location, such as a central yard or town that is the primary focus of the layout. (If your layout is only one town, easy!) Work backwards/forwards from there to build out the schedule. Adjust as necessary to make opposing meets work.

Your final timetable will NOT be exactly the prototype timetable, but it will be workable. Just using the prototype timetable verbatim will not. This is one of those areas where attempting an exact replication will absolutely fall flat on its face.

Don’t change the clock speed to speed up or slow down operations

If you find yourself needing to turn down the clock speed in order to reduce pressure and get things done, it’s probably a failure in designing the schedule to properly accomodate the work. Yes, slowing the clock (but keeping the same schedule) will expand and ease everything off – but that’s just showing that the schedule was too tight.

Whatever you do, don’t just speed up the clock in order to expedite departures on a session that’s running late, because that just makes everything on the schedule compressed, and leads into creating all of the problems that people like to blame on the clock. And in a sense, I suppose now it actually IS the clock’s fault in this case – but if you pick a clock speed at the beginning, and build a proper schedule around it, the specific speed really doesn’t matter, whether it’s 10:1 or 1:1. Just don’t change it later.

It’s OK to run late on the timetable

This seems to be something that’s not understood by people who aren’t properly familiar with timetable operations.

A timetable schedule represents the earliest time a train can leave a station. For freights, especially local freights, the schedule may not even be close to the “typical” time it actually runs each day and it may not be at all unusual for it to be running an hour or two behind on a regular basis. Schedule authority is valid for up to 12 hours from the listed times, which means a train could run late by that much and not legally require any new orders.

It’s true that if the late train is a first or second class hotshot, such an extreme delay is going to snowball by delaying all other inferior trains, but in this case the dispatcher can step in by issuing orders to fix meets between trains to specific locations and/or flip the superiority between two trains. The DS has a number of tools in his tool box to play with here.

If the late running train is near the bottom of the superiority totem pole, then it hardly matters since it’s incumbent on that train to get out of the way of any superior scheduled trains no matter where it happens to be. This also applies to a local or yard job doing switching. If a scheduled superior train is due, it needs to clear the track and wait until it passes, but can go right back to work afterwards.

If the late running train is running on a branch where it’s the only train, it matters not at all.

(Pro tip: any trains doing switching work are normally low priority third and fourth class trains (or even extras) that aren’t delaying much by running late. The first and second class passenger and hotshot through freights should be able to sail through relatively unimpeded and on time.)

It’s OK to miss a connection in the yard

This is similar to the previous point, but for the yard instead of the mainline.

Establish cut-off times for preparing outbound trains, but don’t kill yourself making every car in the yard for that train make its connection. And no cherry picking!* (Searching out individual cars throughout the yard for one destination to build up a train.) Sort an entire inbound or unsorted track at a time into separate tracks based on destination and/or connecting train. Don’t worry if there’s a car for a train buried five deep on that track you haven’t had time to sort yet. There will be another train tomorrow/next session.

Now, there might be certain exceptions and priorities – “make sure those freshly iced reefers get out on a train ASAP” – but don’t worry about making all cars make every connection. A real-world terminal dwell time for a freight car of 24-48 hours isn’t unusual anyways.

*See also Byron Henderson’s excellent article on efficient yard switching “Please don’t pick the cherries

Give the dispatcher a break

Another objection is that the dispatcher doesn’t have enough time to write orders. Well, try not to write them if you can!

The way TT&TO works, if all the trains are regular trains with timetabled schedules, barring some major mishap or snarl the dispatcher could just walk away from his desk completely and trains will still work their way across the railroad to their destinations. TT&TO rules provide the means in most cases for trains to move across the line, with the train crews performing their work and determining their own meets with other trains all with minimal to no dispatcher intervention. It is true that a late-running superior train has the potential to cause delays to cascade to other trains forced to wait for it, however unless the train is extremely delayed or some sort of exceptional circumstances are involved, the time and effort involved in attempting to stop trains to create and deliver new orders could actually make the delays worse than just letting things play out, and only stress out everyone involved (especially the dispatcher) trying to crunch everything out to try to keep precisely to the published timetable.

Side note: on some real railroads, regular trains were timetabled on one direction only, with trains in the opposite direction run as extras. This effectively prioritizes all traffic in one direction as these extras would be inferior to all the opposing trains and would have to get themselves out of the way. The superior trains in the opposite direction don’t necessarily even have to know or care that the extras exist.

Again though, the fast clock itself isn’t the problem here since it takes as much time as it takes regardless of the clock measurement. Even if using a 1:1 clock speed, if the schedule is that dense you’ll have a hard time keeping up with adjustments and orders and it may be better to just let it play out if you can.

Slow Down, Lay Back and Enjoy the Ride

In summary, I want to leave with just a few very simple thoughts:

  1. Problems attributed to fast clocks are usually really just issues with a poorly designed or adapted schedule, since the amount of time is the same however you measure it. Always adapt the schedule to the model railroad, not the other way around.
  2. Treat schedules as milestones, not deadlines. Allow the schedule to drive the starting times of jobs, but don’t stress about rushing to finish “on time”.
  3. It’s not a race. Try not to unnecessarily delay other operators if you can, since they probably don’t want to spend half the session sitting in a siding waiting for you, but if you’re the most inferior train on the schedule, no one is really waiting for you and you have almost all the time in the world.

Now, if you still find that operating using ANY sort of schedule that uses a clock isn’t for you at all, that’s fine too. There are plenty of ways to operate without using a clock at all such as a “sequence timetable” (basically a simplified schedule, but with no times and fixed meeting points: “After Train 2 arrives at A, Train 1 leaves A for D. Train 1 switches at B and meets Train 4 at C” – easy for crews to deal with without a lot of thought but a layout owner should put almost as much thought as above into forming the sequence so trains aren’t just left sitting for half an hour waiting for the other train to catch up).

On the Forest Industry in Northern Ontario & Quebec – Part 2: Quebec

Continued from Part 1. (See notes in Part 1 on major consolidations and mergers.)

A pair of local family-owned companies, Normick-Perron, owned by the Perron brothers of La Sarre before being sold to Noranda Forest (later Nexfor) in 1989, and Forex, owned by the Cossette family of Val d’Or, figure pretty heavily on the scene in the Abitibi region during the 1980s, with pretty big expansions during the 1970s with consolidations and acquisitions of many other local family-owned businesses.

La Sarre, QC

Normick-Perron (OSB/panelboard) – This Normick-Perron mill was built in the mid 1950s by H. Perron et Fils and the only Nexfor property in the region not sold off in the early 2000s and operates today as Norboard, Inc. (since 2004), a major supplier of oriented strandboard products.

Normick-Perron (lumber) – In 1970 H. Perron et Fils merged with JH Normick of La Sarre to form Normick-Perron. During the early 1970s the Perron family concentrated their sawmill operations in the nearby area in La Sarre. The lumber mill was sold by Nexfor to Tembec in 2003 and as far as I can tell is also still operating.

Taschereau, QC

?? (lumber) – Couldn’t find a lot of detailed information on this one but it was sold to Tembec in 1987 and operated by that company until permanently shuttered in 2009.

Amos, QC

Materiaux Blanchet (lumber) – Materiaux Blanchet purchased the Amos sawmill in 1982 from Theo Ayotte and continues to maintain a significant operation here today.

Normick-Perron (lumber) – Normick-Perron acquired a sawmill in Amos from J.E. Thierrien in 1972. I haven’t been able to track the history of this one, but in addition to the large active Materiaux Blanchet mill today, there appears to be a pair of clearly abandoned sawmills visible in the Google satellite imagery of this town but I’m not sure when or under what name the mills were operating when closed.

Normick-Donohue (newsprint) – Established in 1979 as a joint partnership between Normick-Perron (later Noranda Forest Products/Nexfor) and Donohue, Inc. under the name Normick-Donohue to produce newsprint, in 1995 Nexfor sold off their stake to Donohue. In 2000, Donohue, Inc. was acquired by Abitibi-Consolidated (currently Resolute Forest Products) and this mill is still in operation today.

Landrienne, QC

CBRY 1527

Flatcar load of lumber from Scierie Landrienne on the ONR at Cochrane, ON. My photo July 16, 2013.

Scierie Landrienne (lumber) – This independent mill was established in 1979 and continues to operate under the same name today although the company was purchased by Chantier Chibougamau in 2015 – another local company based in Chibougamau, QC.

Barraute, QC

Maibec/Optibois? (lumber) – Not entirely sure of the history of this mill, but it looks like it was sold to Materiaux Blanchet in 1988. It doesn’t appear to be listed on Materiaux Blanchet’s web site as a current operation, and some Googling isn’t turning up much useful, and it looks like it’s been shut down and abandoned.

Senneterre, QC

Normick-Perron (lumber) – In 1976 Normick-Perron purchased a sawmill in Senneterre from Paradis & Fils. This mill was sold to Tembec by Nexfor in 2003. In late 2016, Tembec announced the sale of this mill to Resolute Forest Products.

Saucier? (lumber) – another locally owned sawmill in Senneterre was sold to Donohue, Inc. in 1988. In 2000, Donohue was acquired by Abitibi-Consolidated (later Abitibi-Bowater, then Resolute Forest Products) and this mill is still in operation today.

Matagami, QC

Bisson & Bisson (lumber) – Bisson & Bisson first established a sawmill in Matagami in 1968 and relocated to the current location in 1974 after a fire. The mill was acquired by Domtar in 1988, and subsquently by EACOM in 2010. The mill is still in operation today, although CN has indicated an intention to abandon the branch line serving this mill so it may soon lose rail service.

Val d’Or, QC

Forex (lumber) – Not sure of early history, but it was owned by Forex in the 1980s and sold to Domtar in 1985. Currently in operation as EACOM’s Val d’Or mill. Side note: this mill appears to be the current destination of a large move of pulpwood traffic off the former ACR.

Forex (lumber) – A second lumber mill in Val d’Or, this mill was acquired from the Sullivan family in 1980 and sold to Domtar in 1985. Currently in operation as EACOM’s Sullivan mill.

Forex (OSB/Particleboard) -If I understand what I’ve read correctly (on a French site using Google Translate), this mill was started by Forex in 1975 and operated under the name Forpan during the early 1980s. Sold to Uniboard in 1987 and still doing business today under that name.

Malartic, QC

Forex (lumber) – Another Forex mill in the Val d’Or area sold to Domtar in 1985. Not too sure of history before that. Domtar closed the mill in 1997.

On the Forest Industry in Northern Ontario & Quebec – Part 1: Ontario

During a couple of visits over 2013-2015 to Northern Ontario to investigate and railfan some of what remains of the Algoma Central’s operations as well as the other regional lines such as the Huron Central and Ontario Northland, I noticed westbound loads of lumber travelling towards Hearst from companies like Scierie Landriene, EACOM and Resolute Forest Products that I knew (or was pretty sure) didn’t have local mills served directly by the Ontario Northland, but had come from much further afield from the CN in northern Quebec (interchanged to the ONR via Rouyn-Noranda and routed to Hearst via Englehart and Cochrane). Also, I saw empty pulpwood flatcars heading back to Hearst after having delivered logs cut somewhere on the former ACR territory to one or more of these mills in Quebec.

CN at Wyborn

Southbound freight at the old ACR Wyborn siding in Hearst, ON. In the first four cars are loads of lumber from Tembec, EACOM and Scierie Landrienne, as well as a high-cube boxcar probably loaded with paper. My photo, July 17, 2015.

Obviously this made me interested in finding out where some of these mills were located – and if possible to find out what companies operated them during the mid 1980s – as the possibility of some interesting and realistic bridge traffic off the CN at Hearst would be great enhancement to the operations planning on my future ACR layout. (Also, if I could be even luckier and find appropriate images of lumber loads with correct company heralds to model…)

Tracking the ownership history of each individual mill is a bit dizzying with entire companies being frequently merged, sold/acquired and renamed as well as individual mills being sold between companies. I may have made some mistakes (corrections and/or clarifications are welcome) and I’ve quite probably missed some, but to me I feel I definitely have more than enough information to be able to have a nice sample set of realistic bridge traffic opportunities.

Also note that this research has been specifically limited only to mills along the CN (former National Transcontinental) line through Hearst-Cochrane-Senneterre (and its branches) and the Ontario Northland that might have plausibly generated westbound bridge traffic over a portion or all of the ACR route. For information on mills served directly by the ACR, see my previous posts from my Operations series on paper, lumber and other forest products traffic that already cover this information.

Some general notes on some of the larger corporations and companies:

Normick-Perron, operator of several mills in the area was sold to Noranda Forest Inc. in 1989. Noranda later renamed Nexfor in 1998. In the early 2000s, Nexfor sold off sawmill assets to Tembec and split into two companies to each focus on their own objectives in 2004: Norboard (OSB/Panelboard products) and Fraser Papers (paper products).

Abitibi Paper Co. (formerly Abitibi Power & Paper Co.) merged with Price Inc. to become Abitibi-Price in 1979, with futher major mergers with Stone Consolidated Corp. to form Abitibi-Consolidated in 1997, and Bowater in 2007 to create Abitibi-Bowater. In 2011 Abitibi-Bowater was renamed Resolute Forest Products under which it continues to do business today.

Tembec is a major forestry operator today, although does not really appear on the scene during my time frame. Tembec was formed in 1973 to operate the former Canadian International Paper pulp mill in Temiscaming, QC with their first sawmill acquisition in the same area (served by the CPR northeast of North Bay, ON and not really relevant to any bridge traffic that could have operated on the ACR) in 1986. However since then Tembec has come to acquire a very large number of operations in both Ontario and Quebec.

The E.B. Eddy company operated several mills in northern Ontario including during the late 1990s the ex-Weyerhaeuser/G.W. Martin lumber & veneer mill in Sault Ste. Marie served by the ACR. E.B. Eddy was acquired by Domtar in 1998. Domtar also acquired several mills in the Abitibi-Temiscaming region in Quebec from Forex in 1985. In 2010 Domtar sold their sawmill assets to EACOM Timber.

So, without further ado, moving roughly west to east on the map and listing mills by what as far as I can tell was the operating name around 1985:

Calstock, ON

NOKL 732348

Flatcar load of lumber from Lecours Lumber at Wyborn (Hearst, ON) – my photo, July 16, 2015

Lecours Lumber (lumber) – This mill has been privately owned and operated since 1943 and continues to be one of the largest privately owned mills in Ontario.

Hearst, ON

Tembec Hearst

A portion of the Tembec (formerly Malette, formerly United Sawmills, formerly Fontaine Lumber) mill next to the Ontario Northland yard at Hearst, ON. My photo, July 17, 2015

United Sawmills (lumber) – Formerly Fontaine lumber, becoming United Sawmills in 1982. In 1990 the mill was sold to Malette, Inc. of Timmins, ON and was subsequently purchased by Tembec in 1995 and still operates today.

Levesque Lumber (lumber) – J.D. Levesque operated a couple of small sawmills in the early 1950s (with one located next to the ACR at Wyborn) but the most recent sawmill/planer appears to have been built in the early 1960s (and rebuilt once or twice in the 1970s) at the east end of Hearst. Levesque Lumber went out of business in 1992, although a group of investors operated the planer under the name Tricept until 2006.

Levesque Plywood (plywood, particleboard) – Not to be confused with J.D. Levesque Lumber (which I did for quite a while), Levesque Plywood was formed in the early 1960s by two of J.D.’s sons. The company survived the mill’s destruction by fire in 1965 and continued to expand in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The mill was sold to Columbia Forest Products in 1995 and still operates today. Side note: when I visited Sault Ste. Marie in 2004, Columbia Forest Products was operating a log reload (into flatcars) on a portion of the former Algoma Central shops property behind the former car shop.

Kapuskasing, ON

Spruce Falls Power & Paper Co. (newsprint) – This mill was established in 1926 as a partnership between Kimberly-Clark and the New York Times. The mill has been the exclusive supplier of newsprint to the Times since 1928 and the bulk of traffic from this mill goes south/east over the Ontario Northland. I don’t know if the mill ONLY provides newsprint to the NY Times, but it seems like a good source for the occasional car or two of newsprint sent to a midwest paper. In 1997 Tembec became the sole owner of this mill which still operates today.

Side note: of particular interest, during the late 1960s this mill leased a fleet of 75 boxcars from Pullman’s Transport Leasing Co. (and another 20 cars were leased by CN from TLCX) in an attractive forest green scheme with large billboard lettering, although these cars were returned to the lessor in 1973* and CN provided the mill with their own cars. (*The cars were subsequently leased by Canadian Pacific and numbered in the CPAA 899xx range until 1987.)

Smooth Rock Falls, ON

Abitibi-Price (pulp) – Another old mill established in the early 1900s, Abitibi sold the mill to Malette in 1989, and this became a Tembec operation when Tembec purchased Malette in 1995. Unfortunately this mill closed down permanently in 2006.

Cochrane, ON

Normick-Perron (lumber) – I had a hard time coming up with any detailed information on the history of this mill online but it appears Normick-Perron operated a mill here. Today Tembec still operates a mill here and I presume it’s likely the same one. I found specific reference to Nexfor (formerly Noranda Forest, formerly Normick-Perron) mills at La Sarre and Senneterre, QC being sold to Tembec in 2003 but no specific reference to some of the other former Normick-Perron mills.

Iroquois Falls, ON

Abitibi-Price (newsprint) – Another Abitibi mill (this one served by a branch of the Ontario Northland) this is one that I can actually CONFIRM has shipped paper over the ACR at least at some point. Over on the Green Bay & Western Lines website, they have a collection of waybill data for a nearly two month period of cars delivered to the Ahnapee & Western Railway in Green Bay, WI and there’s one waybill recorded of an Ontario Northland boxcar loaded with paper for a local newspaper and it’s routed over the ACR (AC&HB as it was then still known). Resolute Forest Products shut down this mill in 2015.

Kirkland Lake, ON

Normick-Perron (lumber) -Located on the Ontario Northland’s branch to Rouyn-Noranda, QC. Similar to the Cochrane mill I didn’t find a lot of information on the history of this one; it was eventually owned by Tembec but has been idle since 2008.

Iron ore and coal traffic on the Michipicoten subdivision

In the late 1890s industrialist Francis Clergue was building his business empire in Sault Ste. Marie when in 1898 a prospector brought a lump of ore to the attention of Clergue’s company and the rest, as they say, is history – albeit one with its share of bumps and bruises along the way and not necessarily a happy ending.

Early Years

In response to the ore discovery, in 1899 Clergue chartered the Algoma Central Railway and built a twelve mile line from a harbour at Michipicoten to the newly established Helen mine, a few miles northeast of what is today Wawa. Another mine (Josephine) was established a couple years later several miles further east. The harbour at Michipicoten featured a large 275′ wooden ore dock with a 600 ton capacity and a long curving approach trestle, as well as a 600′ commercial pier with a large warehouse and passenger station. Steel ore cars built in 1899-1901 were acquired new from the Pressed Steel Car Co. in Pennsylvania.

harbour_002

Michipicoten harbour around 1900.

Within a few years however, cracks began to appear in the ACR’s parent company, the Lake Superior Corporation, and in 1903 Clergue’s empire suffered a spectacular financial crash. Most iron mining activities came to a stop and Helen mine was abandoned. Not much happened on the Algoma Central for the next several years, with the railway and other various companies in the Lake Superior Corporation family entering a slow period until about 1909.

In 1909-1910, fortunes took a turn for the better. Construction was restarted on the main line from where it had been abandoned in 1903 some 70 miles north of the Sault, and by 1914 had been completed to Hearst. The line to Josephine mine was rebuilt and extended towards what would become Hawk Junction, and a new 9 mile long spur was built in 1910 from a point between Wawa and Josephine to access the new Magpie mine. The ore at Magpie was lower grade than what was mined at Helen, and extensive ore processing facilities were constructed at the mine to upgrade the ore. While Josephine mine seems to have never truly amounted to much, Magpie mine was a strong source of traffic for several years and additional steel ore cars were purchased secondhand from the Duluth & Iron Range Railway in 1916. Also in 1910, an pyrite mine was established by Madoc Mining near Goudreau, north of Hawk Junction with product shipped to the harbour at Michipicoten – mainly in wooden ore hoppers assigned to this service.

Ultimately however, Magpie shut down in 1921 bringing an end to iron mining in the Wawa region once again, and in about 1925 the pyrites operation at Goudreau also shut down. Through the rest of the 1920s the railway would be sustained by pulpwood revenues.

Coal and Fuel

In 1929 the remains of the abandoned ore dock were removed and replaced by a large coal dock with a travelling unloading bridge structure to unload coal from bulk freighters. The majority of the coal brought in to the port would be loaded in CN cars to be shipped to various northern Ontario terminals for locomotive fuel. This traffic would keep the port quite busy and in 1943 the dock was significantly expanded.

Dieselization during the 1950s was the death knell for coal being handled via this port, and the traffic declined throughout this decade, eventually ending some time in the 1960s at which point the coal handling equipment was removed. A small Imperial Oil tank farm was built at the habour in the early 1950s to bring in diesel fuel via tanker vessel which maintained some fuel traffic, but a few tank cars was a far cry from train loads (literally) of coal.

The Return of Iron Mining

In the late 1930s, Algoma Steel began an aggressive expansion and bold moves were made to redevelop the mines in the Wawa area. In 1939, nearly 20 years since that last ore had previously been mined in the area, the mine at Helen was redeveloped and a new ore processing plant was constructed at Wawa. Raw ore was shipped from the mine(s) to the sinter plant, and the processed ore was shipped either by rail to Sault Ste. Marie or to Michipicoten harbour where a large new unloading trestle and loading equipment were built to load ore into lake freighters. Large numbers of steel hoppers were acquired secondhand from various roads in the United States, the railway’s old fleet of 1900-built ore cars being long gone, and would have been massively obsolete anyway by then.

Then in that same year Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland, and suddenly a resource hauling railway serving a steel mill became a rather hot property indeed. (It’s entirely possible that the politically savvy head of the Algoma Steel Company, Sir James Dunn, may have anticipated the conflict in attempting to redevelop the Wawa mining industry from 1937-39.) The boost that the wartime revenues gave the railway carried through after the end of the conflict with the railway continuing strong through the 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1960s the principal amount on the construction bonds to build the railway was finally paid off and the company paid a dividend to shareholders for the first time in its entire history.

During the early 1940s an attempt was made to redevelop the old Josephine mine as well, with work begun in 1941 on draining a lake and sinking new underground mine shafts. Ore began shipping out of the mine in 1945, unfortunately soon after a collapse of large section of the mine brought a final, permanent end to the works at Josephine. Other mines were developed though, such as the open pit Sir James mine, reached via the three and a half mile Siderite spur and operating through the 1950s.

During the 1950s facilities at the Helen mine were significantly upgraded, with a new underground mine shaft being developed at the site (The George A. MacLeod mine). A bucket tramline had been built in the 1940s or early 1950s to carry raw ore from the mine to Wawa and this was replaced later with a high capacity conveyor system that brought the ore directly from the underground MacLeod mine to the sinter plant. The unloading trestle at Michipicoten harbour was also upgraded in the 1950s to a conveyor system from a dumping pit for the railcars.

An indication of the importance of the facilities at Michipicoten during the 1950s is that the railway built new diesel locomotive servicing facilites at Brient (the yard for the harbour, just under a mile up the hill), although by the 1970s ore was shipped to Algoma Steel entirely by rail year-round, and the ore handling facilities, as well as the coal dock, the old commercial dock (as pulpwood shipments also switched to an all-rail basis in the late 1950s) and the Brient yard were all abandoned. (The old ore trestle doesn’t seem to have been actually demolished until the late 1980s.)

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March 1981 view of Wawa yard. The main sintering facilities are to the left. The structures in the centre of the photo are part of the conveyor system that delivers ore from the mine to the plant, and the buff coloured building at right is the ACR station. Photographer unknown, slide in my collection.

In the early 1970s however, some new traffic began using the former coal dock at Michipicoten: limestone, deposited by self-unloading vessels, would be shipped to Wawa for blending with the sinter. Coke and even some additional grades of iron ore for blending with the Wawa ore were also handled via Michipicoten harbour through the 1980s and 1990s.

During the late 1990s however, Algoma Steel began switching over to using higher grades of iron ore mined in the Michigan Upper Penninsula, and in 1998 the mine and sinter plant at Wawa closed down, bringing a final? end to iron ore mining in the area, at least for now. With the sole source of traffic on the branch eliminated, the railway filed for abandonment of the line, and in 2000 the tracks from Hawk Junction to Michipicoten were removed.

Usage and Restrictions on 6 Axle Power on the ACR

In 1971 the ACR received what was to be their first order of modern, “second generation” diesel locomotives. In a marked departure from the smaller four axle 1500 and 1750 HP GP7 and GP9 units that comprised the motive power fleet at the time, the ACR ordered a trio of 3000 HP, six-axle SD40 locomotives from General Motors Diesel Division. This order was followed up two years later with six SD40-2 units in 1973.

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AC 180, the road’s first SD40, at Steelton yard in Sault Ste. Marie. March 1981. Slide in my collection.

The large size and weight of these modern units, combined with the long rigid wheelbase of the three-axle trucks underneath raised some concerns about increased track wear and maintenance as a result of their use – similar concerns had largely restricted the use of the ACR’s largest steam locomotives, a pair of rather heavy 2-10-2 (most of the ACR’s freight engines were of a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement). However, unlike the steamers, which were just a little too big for the railway, the SD40 and SD40-2 units were massively successful in hauling heavy ore trains between Wawa and Steelton yard, so these concerns were muted or just chalked up to the cost of doing business.

This is not to say that the big units didn’t have certain restrictions placed on them. The employee’s timetables list numerous special speed restrictions when the SD40 type units are used in a diesel consist, mainly in areas with sharp curvatures. In many places these restrictions are 5 to 10 MPH lower than the standard freight speed limits for those zones, and speeds in passing sidings was restricted to a maximum of 12 MPH (where the normal legal maximum for Restricted or Slow speed was 15 MPH).

Additionally, while no prohibition exists in the timetable, most sources tend to suggest that the use of the larger units was discouraged north of Hawk Junction – particularly north of Oba where the mainline was mostly 80-85lb rail, much of it original from 1912, so train nos. 5 and 6 would typically be run with smaller 4-axle power, with the big SD40s earning their keep hauling tonnage between Steelton and Hawk Junction, and on the Michipicoten branch ore trains.

Interestingly, today CN runs freights on the line up into Hearst with even larger typical modern power like SD70 type locomotives, although I’m not sure if the rails have been materially upgraded. Probably just significantly speed restricted.