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

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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

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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.

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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.

Passenger Operations

Regular Service

Regular passenger service on the ACR was provided by train nos. 1 and 2 from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst (and vice versa).

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Northbound no. 1 at the north end of Steelton yard, departing for Hearst with GP38-2 201 in the lead, Sept. 7, 1983. Francis J. Wiener photo in my collection.

In the 1980 timetable, no. 1 was scheduled to depart Sault Ste. Marie at 9:30 am daily except Mondays (with no. 2 therefore running daily except Tuesdays) in the summer timetable, and only Fridays through Sundays (Saturday to Monday for no. 2) an hour earlier at 8:30 am in the fall/winter timetable.

If you turn back the clock a bit to the 1950s-1960s, passenger service was also included on the Michipicoten subdivision, and nos. 1 and 2 were actually daily excluding Sundays between Sault Ste. Marie and Michipicoten, connecting with trains 3 and 4 to/from Hearst at Hawk Junction. (Although in the late 1940s to early 1950s, three days a week this ran instead as Mixed (freight and passenger) trains 5 and 6. If you go far enough back in history, all passenger service was in mixed trains.) Passenger service on the branch was discontinued in the mid 1960s when Trans-Canada Highway 17 was completed through the area.

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The last northbound passenger train to leave Hawk Junction prepares for departure. July 13, 2015. My photo.

In more current times, CN continued to operate the regular passenger service (as trains P631 and P632) until early 2015, when for funding and political reasons the service was undertaken by a new operator (Railmark) which unfortunately – again, due to financial and political complications – was not successful and passenger service was terminated in July of 2015. As of this writing, local stakeholder groups are searching for and negotiating with potential new operators to try to save the service.

Tour Trains

In the 1950s, recognizing the scenic beauty of the Canyon and the tourist potential, the Algoma Central Railway established the privately owned Agawa Canyon Park and developed the location as a destination for a day trip tour out of Sault Ste. Marie on the “Agawa Canyon Tour Train”.

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Tour train coaches dropped off by no. 1 at Canyon, July 3, 1972. R.J. Schwenk photo in my collection.

Some of the older coaches were upgraded with modified steps for easy de-training of passengers at the siding and service started out with regular train no. 1 dropping off a dining car and a coach or two in the siding to be picked up later by the southbound no. 2. This service grew in popularity throughout the 1960s with more and more cars being regularly set off in the siding at Canyon. By the early 1970s so many cars were being used in the Agawa Canyon Tour Train service that an extra train was run to exclusively handle the tour cars for Canyon. By the mid 1970s, it was permanently added as a regular daily train (nos. 3 and 4) in the summer timetable. Also from 1969 to 1974 “new” passenger cars were acquired to expand and replace the existing fleet, with coaches, baggage cars and dining cars acquired secondhand from such roads as Canadian Pacific, Central of Georgia, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Illinois Central, Union Pacific, and Denver & Rio Grande Western.

Equipment for the tour train service was upgraded again in the early 1990s with cars acquired from VIA Rail, and most recently in 2009 with the purchase of the Rio Grande Ski Train from Denver, Colorado. The Agawa Canyon Tour train still operates on a daily basis during the summer as CN P633 (for the entire round trip).

The long term future of the train is however uncertain as CN has been indicating they are not interesting in being in the passenger business. The original plan when Railmark assumed operation of the regular passenger service was for them to eventually operate the tour train as well; with the new search for another replacement operator, the idea as I understand it would again be to have that operator take control of all passenger service.

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Modern Agawa Canyon Tour Train at Canyon. July 2014. My photo.

Somewhere around the late 1970s the railway also began running a weekend-only fall/winter version of the tour train service, with tour coaches being exchanged by regular trains no. 1 and 2 at Eton, without the stopover at Canyon park. In the 1990s and early 2000s the “Snow Train” ran as a separate train in its own right, still running through the entirety of the canyon and turning at Eton. This train has not run in several years now.