Locals and turns – operations on the Northern subdivision

Contrasting with the south end of the railway, with heavy freight tonnage including Wawa ore and the rocky hills, steep grades, sharp curves and tall bridges that once gave the Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway (as it was then called) the alternate nickname “All Curves & High Bridges”, the Northern Subdivision north of Hawk Junction flattened out considerably as it moved away from Lake Superior.

Running 160 to 290 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, this area sees the typical sort of backwoods northern Ontario railroading, serving lumber mills and logging operations, but also features the ACR’s primary interchange connections and crossings with Canadian National and Canadian Pacific’s transcontinental main lines.

No. 5 and 6

Train no. 5 was the regular northbound freight on the Northern Subdivision. Departing Hawk Junction for Hearst in late morning from Mondays through Fridays this train would handle any required switching north on the way, including the CP and CN interchanges at Franz and Oba, the lumber mills at Dubreuilville or Mead and any pulpwood spurs in between.


An ACR freight switches several empty CP flatcars from the interchange tracks at Franz after meeting northbound passenger train no. 1, July 2, 1972. R.J. Schwenk photo in my collection.

No. 5 would return to Hawk Junction the following day (i.e. Tuesdays through Saturdays) as no. 6, again performing any required switching southbound and lifting southbound traffic for Hawk Junction and Sault Ste. Marie. Freight from the arriving no. 6 would be then forwarded to Steelton yard on No. 12, departing Hawk Junction in the evenings in early 1980s timetables.

Oba Turn (No. 15/16)

On weekends, the northbound freight from Hawk Junction would just run to Oba (as no. 15 instead of no. 5) and then return the same day as no. 16). The Oba Turn would switch interchange traffic at Franz and Oba and any required overflow switching at the pulpwood spurs at Mosher.

This train no longer appears in the timetable after the shutdown of Newaygo’s operations in 1985, but presumably would have still run extra on an as-needed basis to handle steel interchange traffic from Sault Ste. Marie to Franz and Oba.

Franz Turn

In the late 1980s and 1990s, following the reintroduction of rail service at Dubreuilville, the ACR began running a weekday evening turn job out of Hawk Junction to Franz to switch the mill at Dubreuilville and interchange traffic at Franz.

Described in an older message from Reg Fitzpatrick, former station agent at Franz:

The arrangement was that No. 6 would lift first out traffic there [Dubreuilville] and the nightly Franz Turn would do the rest of the switching for the lumber ety spotting along with the chip etys which were normally stored at Wanda Mile 188 along with the regular storage track at Franz etys.

No. 5 in the AM would put these two ACIS cars into the ramp with one off spot. The loader equipment was large enough at the mill there to move one car out and pull the other one into the ramp without most times having to be done by the train crews.

And of course, as always, any overflow traffic could always be handled by the occasional extra.

Operations Today

Today of course, there are no longer any mills on the north end of the railway, however interchange at Franz, Oba and Hearst still generates a fair bit of traffic.


CN L572 rolls past Wyborn siding departing Hearst for Oba, Franz and Hawk Junction, with loads of lumber and paper from the Ontario Northland as well as returning pulpwood empties. July 2015.

The modern version of no. 5 & 6 are CN’s  L571 and L572. Running daily or as required between Hawk Junction and Hearst, these handle the interchange traffic at these three locations as well as switching pulpwood cars at Langdon siding, one of the few only sources of actual on-line traffic north of Hawk Junction today. L571 and L572 are basically extensions of trains L573 and L574 between Steelton yard and Hawk Junction.

Plywood, OSB and other forest products on the ACR

In addition to the several board lumber mills served by the ACR and its nearby connections discussed previously, several other mills produced additional types of wood products.


In Hearst, the J.D. Levesque Plywood mill produced and shipped out plywood in boxcars. I’ve seen photos of this mill in the late 1990s with several double-door WC boxcars spotted for loading (and a few recently unloaded AC pulpwood flatcars), and prior to the WC era, cars provided to the mill would have been CN cars (as CN served the plant and the AC rostered no boxcars). While not directly served by the AC, loads to central or western Canada (via Oba) or central US (via Sault Ste. Marie) would have traveled over the ACR line.

In 1995 this mill was purchased by Columbia Forest Products which still operates it today producing hardwood plywood.


Two veneer mills operated on the ACR.


Abandoned G.W. Martin (formerly Weldwood of Canada) veneer mill at Searchmont. October 2, 2013

At Searchmont there was a mill operated by Weldwood of Canada (sold to G.W. Martin Co. in the early 1980s). This closed in 1990, and the abandoned mill buildings were finally demolished in 2014.

In Sault Ste. Marie, the mill operated [during the early 1980s] by Weyerhaeuser appears to have produced both board lumber and veneers. This mill was sold to G.W. Martin in the mid 1980s, later changing hands to E.B. Eddy and then Domtar. It was last sold to Boniferro Mill Works in 2003 and appears to still be in operation today.

Since the AC did not have any boxcars for interchange service, any cars for southbound loads may have been provided by CP or SOO during the 1980s.

OSB and Chipboard

The last category of wood products we’ll examine is engineered wood products such as oriented strandboard (OSB) and chipboard. OSB (what I used to call chipboard due to its appearance, but apparently the industry seems to use that term synonymously with particleboard) is an engineered product made from compressing wood chips with adhesives into sheets like plywood. (OSB is the sort of stuff you’d use for cheap sheathing on an outdoor shed. Particleboard is a similar product but with finer wood fiber like sawdust – the sort of thing you’d find in a cheap furniture from a big-box store.)

In late 1995 a new OSB mill was constructed near Limer, south of Hawk Junction. The mill was operated by Jager Strandboard Ltd., a joint venture between H.J. Forest Products and MacMillan Bloedel. When Weyerhaeuser bought out MacMillan Bloedel in 1999, they assumed ownership of the mill. The mill closed in 2007 as part of a series of Weyerhaeuser mill shutdowns due to the decline in the forest industry at the time. While it was in operation it both received raw pulpwood logs on flatcars and shipped out finished products in boxcars. In 2013, the idled mill was purchased by an American company called Rentech, which retooled the mill to produce wood pellets (which would have been shipped in large capacity covered hoppers). However in early 2017 the mill was idled and the company went bankrupt later that year.

Update: In summer 2022 it was announced that the shuttered mill was being acquired by Forex and will be restarting as Wawa OSB Inc.

Also in 1996 a new particleboard plant opened in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie under the name GP Flakeboard. This was original a joint venture with Georgia-Pacific but is now owned by a Chilean company, Aurauco and simply know as Flakeboard. This plant also saw large expansions around 2005 and produces particleboard and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). This mill is located out to the west of Sault Ste. Marie and appears as if it may actually be served by Essar Steel Algoma’s private railway. It uses sawdust from other sawmills in the Northern Ontario region as its raw material; which otherwise would have been waste material. The Flakeboard plant is still in operation today.


SSAM 43300 double door boxcar at Sault Ste. Marie August 2004. Typical of WC double door boxcars in lumber and wood products service. (Note also load of lumber from Dubreuil Forest Products at right.)

Lumber Traffic on the ACR

Lumber traffic (excluding stuff like plywood, veneer, etc. – we’ll get to that next time) on the ACR consists primarily of four main sources:

  • Weyerhaeuser (later Domtar) at Sault Ste. Marie
  • Dubreuil Bros. (later Dubreuil Forest Products) at Dubreuilville
  • Newaygo Forest Products at Mead
  • bridge traffic from Hearst


This mill, located approximately mile 4 in Sault Ste. Marie, produced hardwood lumber and veneers. Established in 1948 as Roddis Lumber & Veneer, in the early 1980s it was owned and operated by Weyerhaeuser Canada. In the mid 1980s Weyerhaeuser sold the mill to G.W. Martin (which also purchased the former Weldwood of Canada veneer mill at Searchmont near the same time). Later ownership changes saw the mill owned by Lajambe Forest Products and later E.B. Eddy and Domtar, with the mill being last sold by Domtar in 2003 to Boniferro Mill Works, which appears to still operate the facility today.

This mill received logs and shipped out finished product by rail. Although I don’t have photos or records to confirm this, I would presume most of their output to be shipped south for export.

Dubreuil Forest Products

The Dubreuil Brothers Lumber Co. established a sawmill just west of Hawk Junction in 1951, and in 1961 moved their operations up to what is now Dubreuilville and established a company town there. During the late 1960s, Dubreuil Bros. began shipping more of their product by truck to Michigan rather than by rail, and sources indicate that from about 1975 through 1986 Dubreuilville was pretty dead as far as rail shipments were concerned, except for a few carloads a year of fresh railroad ties, as they had the contract to supply the ACR.

In about 1986-87 Dubreuil Forest Products switched back to shipping lumber by rail in a big way; tracks were rebuilt and an additional spur for woodchips installed. A second connection was added to the ACR main turning the spur into a wye that could be switched from either direction and yard limits established around the location to facilitate switching. The lumber loading track was able to hold nearly two dozen 60′ cars.


Former woodchip car ACIS 1415 modified as a special lumber car for Dubreuil Forest Products service. Photographed in June 2000 behind the Steelton car shops.

A unique service that the ACR provided at Dubreuilville was using a small fleet of about half a dozen survivors from their former fleet of woodchip gondolas which were modified for lumber service. When switching the mill tracks at Dubreuilville, the ACR would always ensure that one of these was spotted at the end of the track where it would be loaded using a ramp. The loaded cars were delivered to Sault Ste. Marie where Dubreuil used to have a lumber yard adjacent to Steelton yard and unloaded there for transloading onto trucks. Between standard flatcars and these modified chip cars, Dubreuil could load up to a dozen cars per day here.

The Dubreuilville mill closed in 2007, a victim of the general downturn in the Canadian softwood lumber industry at the time.

Newaygo Forest Products

Newaygo Forest Products built their mill at Mead in 1974 to ship out export lumber and woodchips to the US. A couple of sources suggest that a destination for a lot of the lumber produced by Newaygo (and possibly from Dubreuilville as well after Newaygo shut down) was a large modular home builder in Mancelona, Michigan.

The Newaygo mill only lasted in operation until 1984 or 1985.

Bridge Traffic

Additional lumber traffic on the ACR comes from the Ontario Northland (formerly CN) interchange at Hearst. (Today this is the only lumber traffic still operating over the former ACR.)


NOKL 734517 with a Tembec lumber load at Sault Ste. Marie, August 2004.

Significant nearby mills include Lecours Lumber in Calstock (approximately 20 miles west of Hearst), Tembec (former Malette Lumber, former United Sawmills, former Fontaine Lumber) in Hearst and Tembec (former ?) in Kapuskasing. Other lumber comes from a bit farther afield on the ONR and beyond as I’ve also seen lumber from Scierie Landrienne, EACOM (former Domtar mills) and Resolute Forest Products (formerly Abitibi-Bowater) mills in northern Quebec heading towards Hearst via CN and Ontario Northland.


CBRY 1527 with a load of lumber from Scierie Landrienne of Landrienne, QC at Cochrane, ON in a train departing for Kapuskasing and Hearst. July 2013.

Note: I have printable graphics to make your own wrapped lumber loads for most of the companies mentioned above on my Lumber Loads page.

Woodpulp Traffic on the ACR

Not to be confused with raw products like pulpwood logs or woodchips, wood pulp is a semi-processed intermediate step in the paper production. While some paper mills, like the Abitibi (later St. Marys) paper mill in Sault Ste. Marie are integrated mills covering the entire paper-making process from logs to pulp to finished paper, some mills are only pulp mills, producing market pulp which is sold to other mills for turning into other finished paper products.


Boxcars in the transfer track at Franz will likely be in wood pulp service. Late 1990s, WRMRC collection.

While there weren’t any pulp mills on the Algoma Central, this was a very common form of bridge traffic from pulp mills on along the north shore of Lake Superior served by Canadian Pacific at Marathon, Terrace Bay and/or Red Rock to finishing mills in Michigan and Wisconsin. Some pulp may have also been delivered to the mill in Sault Ste. Marie, but I believe most of this traffic actually crossed the border into Michigan.


Switchlist at Franz showing several loads of woodpulp, mostly bound for export via Sault Ste. Marie; note one car for Kapuskasing to be lifted by northbound train to Hearst. c1991

This switchlist at Franz also shows that at least some of this traffic went north to mills east of Hearst on the Canadian National (now Ontario Northland) as well. The switchlist shows one car of woodpulp being forwarded to the Spruce Falls Power & Paper mill at Kapuskasing, which produced newsprint.

Wood pulp continues to be an important source of bridge traffic on the former ACR. My recent visits have resulted in spotting quite a number of pulp service boxcars owned or leased by CP on the ACR: at Sault Ste. Marie arriving in the daily freight train from Michigan, at Hawk Junction in the regular CN freight, and in the siding and transfer tracks at Franz (as seen from my ride on the Tour of the Line in 2013).


Modern example of a CP wood pulp service boxcar at Hawk Junction, July 2013. Plates at top and bottom of car are covers for vents, common on modern cars assigned to pulp service. My photo.

Woodchip Traffic on the ACR

Wood chip traffic on the ACR primarily derived from the sawmills and Dubreuilville and Mead. Both mills were large sources of chip traffic – although not at the same time.

Newaygo Forest Products (Mead, ON)

In 1974 Newaygo Forest Products built a new modern mill 20 miles south of Hearst on the ACR at Mead to produce lumber and wood chips for export to the United States. The woodchips would be shipped to a paper mill in Appleton, Wisconsin.

To supply cars for this traffic the Algoma Central purchased 89 cars from National Steel Car in 1974, with unique ACIS reporting marks designating them under some customs rules or regulations for International Service. A further 23 cars with regular AC reporting marks were added in 1980.

These large capacity cars, the biggest cars on the ACR roster and painted a unique pale green colour with yellow end doors and “billboard” lettering cut a striking appearance, and travelling over almost the entire length of the railway and into Michigan and Wisconsin, there are several good photos of both of these car series available.

They seemed to ship up to about half a dozen cars at a time from Mead, and extra empty cars would often be stored in the siding at Horsey or Coppel, on either side of Mead.

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ACIS 1433, one of a few survivors from the Algoma Central’s woodchip car fleet at Steelton yard in 2001. Blair Smith photo.

The mill at Mead shut down in 1985 bringing this traffic to an end.

Dubreuil Forest Products (Dubreuilville, ON)

In about 1986 or 1987, Dubreuil Forest Products installed a new chip spur and loader at their mill at Dubreuilville to load woodchips for the pulp mill on the Canadian Pacific at Marathon.

Cars for this service were 52′-60′ gondolas provided from Canadian Pacific. Over 100 cars were provided, with empties stored in the sidings at Goudreau and Wanda north and south of Dubreuilville to protect the loadings at the mill.


1991 switchlist showing cars in the transfer track at Franz. The dozen empty CP 343xxx series gondolas listed are woodchip cars for Dubreuilville.

Despite the large numbers of car loads involved, since they operated only between the interchange at Franz and the mill at Dubreuilville about 10 miles south, and both locations being a bit more than just slightly off the beaten path, this traffic wasn’t too visible and I haven’t seen much in the way of photographs of these cars in ACR trains, unlike the much more visible AC/ACIS woodchip gondolas that were used to service the Newaygo mill. Fortunately the cars have been well photographed in other locations, particularly as many survivors have recently been used in tie service.


A common variation of CP’s woodchip gondolas rebuilt from a 52′ gondola with extended sides. Bill Grandin photo.

During the 1990s, the AC (and later WC) ran an weekday evening “Franz Turn” out of Hawk Junction to switch lumber and chip loads at Dubreuilville and the interchange at Franz.

The mill at Dubreuilville closed in 2007.

Lecours Lumber (Calstock, ON)

After Newaygo shut down their operations at Mead, the fleet of AC and ACIS woodchip cars were sold off, with many cars being transferred to Newaygo for use on other operations.

One place where ex-Algoma Central cars with Newaygo (NFPX) markings seemed to show up regularly in the 1990s and early 2000s was at the Lecours Lumber stud mill west of Hearst, on trackage now operated by Ontario Northland. These chips apparently headed down into the US somewhere, so by a curious twist of fate, these ex-Algoma Central cars continued to operate over the former Algoma Central rails for several years.

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NFPX 1511 with a load of woodchips at Steelton yard, 1999. Blair Smith photo.

I’m not sure when this service ended (or if indeed it still continues on a periodic basis) but in my few visits to the area over the last few years I’ve never seen any chip cars.