On this trip, I had a chance to find and check out the old Sir James open pit mine and the former ACR Siderite Spur which served it. While all the former structures and facilities at the mine are long gone, you can’t hide the scars created by surface mining, and some concrete foundations still exist next to the road.
Finding the old mine site isn’t difficult, however the road is not obviously marked with any signage and looks like a private driveway. If you know what you’re looking for though, it’s easy to spot, as it’s immediately at the east end of Wawa Lake on Highway 101. From here it’s a short drive on this gravel road. The first sign you’ve arrived at the mine site is a pair of large tailing piles on either side of the road as the road curves and climbs up to the
The Sir James Mine, named after Sir James Dunn, who was the head of the Algoma Steel Corporation in the late 1930s through early 1950s, was developed in the late 1950s and opened in 1958. The mine operated for about 10 years, into the late 1960s, although the spur that served it remained listed in the ACR timetable until 1980.
Following the abandonment of the site, the various mine structures were removed and the loading tunnel and any underground features were filled in for safety.
Rail service to the mine was provided via the 3.2 mile Siderite Subdivision (in 1960s timetables, the branch was listed as the Siderite Subdivision and has its own footnotes regarding handling of ore trains, but in 1970s timetables it’s downgraded to just a spur and noted within the Michicipicoten Subdivision footnotes) which connected to the Michipicoten Subdivision at Siderite Junction, located at Mile 12.7.
The Siderite Subdivision was pretty well-built, with broad curves, long stretches of tangent track and an almost dead flat gradient. A number of high fills and deep rock cuts are prominent features in places.
The spur was finally removed from ACR timetables around 1981.
So this week I just got back from another visit to the former Algoma Central railway. I took my girlfriend up with me (who hadn’t really been up to Northern Ontario before and was looking forward to seeing the area) for a few days of camping, general scenic sight-seeing and of course, riding the Agawa Canyon excursion train.
Here’s a few of the railway-related observations from that trip.
With the loss of the regular Sault-Hearst passenger service just a few days over exactly two years previous, the current situation is pretty straightforward – it’s just the Canyon Tour Train operating during the summer/fall months. July is not the peak season for the train – that will come in September when the fall colours start to come out and the train runs at full capacity – so our train on Monday was a short five car affair. The full northbound consist of the train was:
CN 106 F40PHR
AC 5701 “Montreal River” Coach (the one we rode in)
AC 5655 Accessible Coach
AC 5703 “Chippewa River” Snack Bar Coach
AC 506 Dining Car
AC 5708 “Ogidaki Lake” Coach
CN 105 F40PHR
The tour train leaves Sault Ste. Marie at 8 AM, and is scheduled to arrive back at the station around 6 PM – often arriving between 5:30 and 6, although we were delayed a while on the trip south to meet a northbound freight at Frater. (Sun angles make the afternoon arrival the best option for one wanting to photograph the tour train.)
Freights continue to operate over the line as 573 (north) & 574 (south) between Steelton Yard and Hawk Junction and 571 (north) & 572 (south) between Hawk and Hearst. The schedule (if there is such a thing) of the southbound 574 remains a complete mystery (probably entirely dependent on crew rest & availability at Hawk) – on Monday morning I heard a southbound pass our campground in the middle of the night, around 4 AM, but heard nothing the other two nights we stayed there, and on other trips I’ve heard on the radio 574 meeting the northbound tour train at Frater or Wabos, so it’s all over the map. 573 seems to be pretty consistently an early morning train out of the Sault with arrival at Hawk Junction in mid-afternoon based on my isolated sightings over the last few years. However Monday’s train was definitely delayed out of the Sault as we met it at Frater, so it would have been significantly later into Hawk Junction that day. On Wednesday, we happened across 573 arriving at Hawk between 3 and 4 PM.
Monday’s 573 had two engines and roughly 40-45 cars, with a large volume of copper/nickel concentrate from Michigan, steel products from Essar Steel and a few empty scrap metal, lumber and woodpulp cars.
Wednesday’s 573 was also a sizable train with a variety of cars including steel products, empty lumber flatcars and woodpulp boxcars, a few cars of concentrate, tank cars for sulphuric and hydrochloric acid, and others (I didn’t actually see the entire back half of the train as there wasn’t time to hang around for 571’s recrew.)
There was also a long string of woodpulp boxcars and pulpwood flatcars sitting in the Hawk Junction yard which had probably come off the previous day’s 572 and waiting to go south on a 574.
Pulpwood logs were being loaded at the large log spur at Mile 10 just outside the Sault, as well as at Regent and Frater sidings. At each of these locations, the majority of the flatcars seemed to have VRSX reporting marks – sadly I was not able to get photos of any of these cars. A few others had GROX marks, and some of the AC/WC marked flatcars were of course also mixed in.
Rounding out CN freight operations in the area, the freight that crosses the border from the United States still comes in in the evening, we managed to catch one on Monday night around 8 PM. This train brings in the iron ore for Essar Steel from Tilden Mine, as well as any other traffic for the Sault from the United States, mostly pulpwood and steel empties.
That mostly concludes notes on current operations. We also took an opportunity to drive down the back road past the abandoned Sir James open pit mine (probably a separate post to specifically highlight this), and used the old Michipicoten Subdivision roadbed to loop back to Hawk Junction. The route is maintained (there were a couple places where a dip and change in the roadbed definitely seemed to indicate a washout that had been repaired long after the railway had been abandoned) for a snowmobile trail in the winter, and some locals have even established some remote camp sites back in the bush along the old right-of-way, so it’s definitely passable from Siderite to Hawk. We found this to be an immensely scenic drive with a lot of quiet and pretty lakes along the route.
In the late 1960s-early 1970s Newaygo Forest Products had not yet established the lumber & chip mill at Mead to process logs, but had already been established since at least the 1950s with significant pulpwood loading spurs at Mosher (mile 217.3 & 218.0) and large cutting areas centered around the Mead area with spurs at mile 264.4 (Hale), 275.3 (Mead – where the mill would be built in 1974), and 281.9 (Coppell). During the 1950s up to the early 1970s this raw pulpwood would have flowed south; once the mill was built in the mid-1970s it seems most Newaygo pulpwood was sent to Mead to be chipped, and the woodchips were then shipped south to Wisconsin.
Empty cars would often be stored at nearby sidings at Horsey (273.1) and Coppell (280.9), which is exactly what we see with the message forms below.
These scans are of simple message forms that could have been delivered to train crews along with train orders, but to convey information that is less operationally critical or not covered by the formal forms of train orders.
These messages were all delivered to train no. 5 on successive days from April 24-26, 1970, and there’s a lot of special references to handling empties and pulpwood loads related to Newaygo’s spurs at Mosher, Mead and Coppell.
I believe the railroad term for some of these set-outs of empty cars in the house tracks/sidings at Mosher, Horsey and Coppell would be “constructively placed” – maintaining a ready supply of empty cars nearby for loading at the logging company’s spurs.
61′ gons referred to these messages would of course be the 1001-1400 series bulkhead gondolas built in the mid 1960s. 40′ gons referred to in the second message would have to be cars from the 4601-4804 series (re)built by the ACR’s shops in 1947-48 and still in service in the early 1970s.
The specific references in the last two messages to handling both units (locomotive) through to Hearst are interesting; perhaps it was not uncommon to set off the trailing unit at Oba once all the interchange traffic was dropped off, if there were only minimal traffic left for Mead and Hearst? (Note also that CN freights only operated into Hearst 3 days a week according to the timetable – a frequency Ontario Northland maintains today.)