Throwback Thursday #3

Late fall, when all the trees are in full autumn colour display, is always a popular season for riding the Agawa Canyon Tour Train excursion. At this time of year, the length of the tour train swells to capacity as tourists time their trips for the best fall colour viewing.

Private car Agawa brings up the rear on a northbound Agawa Canyon Tour Train at Frater circa 1996, with several rented Ontario Northland coaches in the consist. Blair Smith photo.

In the 1980s and 1990s when the tour train reached full capacity, the railway’s entire coach fleet would be pressed into service on the tour train, and it was common for additional cars rented from Ontario Northland and VIA Rail to cover service on the daily regular train to Hearst as well as overflow cars for the Canyon tour. In addition to nos. 3 and 4 running as the dedicated Tour Train, northbound no. 1, the regular train from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, would also expand with overflow cars as a sort of “second section” to the tour train. On arrival at Canyon, the overflow tour train cars would be set off in the siding to be picked up later by southbound no. 2, which during this time of year would operate with a 30 minute “run late” order to give the overflow passengers an appropriate amount of time to enjoy the Agawa Canyon Park.

Generator End Details and Body Trim

A few more steps forward on these cars in getting the bodies finished up this week.

End details have been added with some electrical plugs from a Detail Associates locomotive M.U. stand detail kit, and the step platforms scratchbuilt from styrene sheet and strip. Mounting holes for all of the end of side grab irons have been located and drilled out, but these will be installed later after the bodies are painted. The final remaining details yet to be done on the ends are adding the brake wheel and hardware to the “B” end of the car, and adding ventilation louvers on the end doors using the 3D louver decals from Micro-Mark, which I do have on hand.

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One of the interesting visual features of these cars is the sheet metal overhang over the ends; I replicated this with .005″ styrene sheet wrapped around the roof of the car. The trim work on the upper fascia of the car side and the corners was also cut from .005″ strip, and then the joints were filled and sanded down. (And rounded off on the side corners.) I also added a few more pieces of .005″ sheet (barely visible at the far ends of the cars) for the roof hatch where the steam exhaust vents are mounted.

This project may pause for a bit while I work out how to do the roof vent/stack details (try to scratchbuild, try to draw up some parts for 3D printing?) but there is also some minor underframe work to be done yet as well.

Steam Generator Doors and Windows

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been making slow but relatively steady progress on my pair of steam generator cars, with both bodies assembled and window and door trim installed. I’ve also managed to make the side and end doors and start adding the window sash detail. (The doors are completed on both cars, and the window sashes are complete on one of the two.)

The doors are a simple construction of .010″ styrene sheet cut and filed to fit the opening with the raised framing laminated on using .010x.040″ and .010x.080″ strip. The window openings in the doors were cut out after the trim work was applied and filed flush with the trim. Once complete the doors were cemented in place in the opening. The end doors were similar but without any of the strip trim work.

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The last step to finish the side windows is adding the window sashes inside the frames. I initially began to attempt framing this in with individual 2×4 and 2×2 strip, but after managing to get the bottom piece of the sash in all the windows, the process actually convinced me to pop them back out and take a similar tack to the doors and laminate the sash frame using .010″x.020″ and .010″x.040″ strip on a .010″ sheet backing and the VERY CAREFULLY cut and file out the opening. The .020″ thin sash frame is extremely fragile at that point, but once installed the effort is worth it and I found the process to be going much better than trying to build up the sash frames inside the opening from individual strips.

I have a few more windows to do on the second car yet before I move on to the next detailing stage in construction.

Algoma Central’s Home-Built Steam Generator Cars

When the Algoma Central dieselized in 1951-52, their varied roster of steam locomotives was replaced by a pair of SW8 switchers for duties in Steelton yard, and a fleet of 21 all-purpose GP7 road switchers for mainline power.

Unlike many other larger railroads that acquired some engines with optional built-in boilers to provide steam heat for passenger trains, the ACR opted for a standardized fleet of dual-purpose locomotives and none of their locomotive were ordered with steam generators. Instead, the ACR converted several cars in the Steelton car shops to act as stand-alone steam generators for passenger trains, allowing the entire locomotive fleet to be used in either freight or passenger service. Four cars, numbered AC 71-74 were custom built in the car shop on the underframes of old 40′ steel-braced wooden boxcars. One additional car, AC 76, was converted from baggage car 204, itself a conversion from a former US Army troop sleeper car from the Second World War.

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AC 72 at Steelton Yard in the early 1990s, courtesy Blair Smith. Coupled to the left and right are other steam generator cars converted from an old Northern Pacific steam locomotive auxiliary tender and a former US Army troop sleeper car.

I haven’t been doing much modelling work this summer on account of on top of the normal summer busyness I moved into a new home in mid-August. So there’s been a lot of preparation and settling in over the last while. Over the Labour Day long weekend however I was able to get a couple of projects out, and one of them is this scratchbuild of a pair of the home-built generator cars. AC 71 and 73 were retired and scrapped in the mid-late 1970s but 72 and 74 lasted in service through the 1980s and into the mid 1990s. Since the ACR locomotives did not have generators, every ACR passenger train would run with a generator car so I definitely have a need for some of these unique cars.

I actually started the sides and ends for this pair of cars quite some time ago, but have never wrote about them before now. The sides for one of the cars are almost complete, and the sides for the second car are still just blank rectangles requiring windows to be cut out yet. I did however do the basic fabrication for all four ends for the two cars. On the holiday Monday I was able to do the basic assembly of the first car using the completed sides.

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Sides and ends assembled, showing 2×6 ridge line for roof.

The dimensions for the sides and the window locations were worked out from photos and an ACR painting/lettering diagram in the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives. It’s designed to fit over an Accurail underframe for their 40′ wood boxcar kit. (I’ve used this kit to model a trio of AC 3100-series boxcars, and these generator cars were built using underframes from retired cars from this series.)

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Basic car assembled with sides, ends and roof.

The sides and ends are cut from .040″ styrene, with basic end details added using various sizes of styrene strip. There’s a lot more to do there yet though, so stay tuned. The side windows have some framing trimmed around the openings using thin strip to replicate the prototype frame. More work needs to be done yet to actually model the window sashes within the frame, and to frame and model the doors.

Note that the car sides are not mirror imaged – the door is to the left-hand end on both sides.

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Detail of window framing.

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten so far, although I’m hoping to chip away at making more progress on this project over the next week or so. Probably starting with getting the sides for the second car completed so that both cars will be at the same point in order to progress forward with the finer detailing on both cars at once.

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.