Editor’s Notebook

Coming Home

Late in the 1945, a Navy ship with my father aboard docked in San Diego. The war was over and Dad was going home. A train carried him across the country that he had fought in the Pacific to preserve and protect. He rode through the small towns and the big cities. He watched other servicemen reunited with their family on the platforms of small stations scattered across the nation. He dozed in his coach seat while America streamed by the window.

At the end of the journey, he stepped off the train onto the platform of the small station in the southwest Virginia town where I was born. He was home.

It was a time when the railroad was still woven into the fabric of everyday life. The train promised adventure and new destinations. The train brought people home again. The railroad played a unique role in our history and in our collective consciousness.  Today those memories still resonate along empty tracks, abandoned stations, rusting cars on forgotten sidings.

Thanksgiving, 1945 was a day of special meaning as families sat down at the table to give thanks for loved ones safely home, and to remember those who would not be coming home.

Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the United States, and The Trackside Photographer will be taking the day off. Be sure to join us again on November 30 for a first-hand account of a thunder storm, a slipped pinion, and a disabled locomotive. It's "All in a Night's Work."

Wheat Kings and Pretty Things

Lost in the land of living skies.

One day this spring,through a Facebook group, I was apprised that the local short line, Forty Mile Railway, had received empty grain hoppers from Canadian Pacific (CP) at their transfer track just east of Stirling on the former CP Stirling subdivision, and that Forty Mile would be moving the cars sometime the next day. After some text messages to my contacts in Foremost, it was confirmed around 8:00 am on Sunday (which was Mother’s Day) that the Forty Mile train would be heading east towards Foremost. After talking with my wife Becky, we agreed that I would get the morning to chase the train and then the afternoon I’d take her and our daughter Kayla out west to the Crowsnest Pass for a relaxing drive.

Early Sunday morning I got up and was out the door by 6:45 am. A quick stop at Tim Hortons and I am southbound on Highway 4 towards Stirling. The sky is overcast but the weatherman is promising blue skies in the afternoon, so we shall see if he is correct! Turning east onto Highway 61 I continued for five minutes or so and over the hill I see the blue GP9 sitting on the transfer track and nine hoppers in tow. I also see a pickup truck parked by the locomotive and the engineer is out checking things over. Great! I continue a bit farther east to park at a grade crossing, where the railway line begins its gradual ascent out of the valley. About half an hour later (just after 8:00), the pickup truck with the engineer is heading east to Foremost. (I assumed to pick up the conductor and to get the paperwork for the trip.) Knowing it takes 45 minutes to drive to and from Foremost, I will have a bit of a wait until things get underway, so I check out the track and grade crossing behind me and watch a local area farmer down the road doing field work.

View from a road crossing looking west towards the transfer track (used by both Forty Mile Rail & Canadian Pacific). The Stirling, Alberta Richardson Pioneer high-output grain elevator is in the distance.

Around 10:00, the pickup truck returned, heading past my location to the train, and about 15 minutes later the headlights turned on and I could see a puff of blue smoke from the exhaust – the train was about to leave!

If you don’t know about the Stirling subdivision, the track is rated at a top speed of 25 mph, though there are sections that the speed is reduced to 15 and 10 mph. The track is in decent shape, but the number of years the line sat dormant in CPR service (and with the limited maintenance on the line) has degraded the condition of the ties, etc. Forty Mile did a bit of work last fall to get the line operational, but will have to continue to do work over the next few years to get it back to top condition. But the train speed would be a benefit for me as I could get into better locations to photograph and be ready to capture the shots I want without worrying about time constraints, etc. Also, some portions of the track are farther away from Highway 61 so the slower train speed would help me drive to the next location without worrying about missing the train.

As the train headed towards me, a white-tailed doe and her baby came out of the brush and jumped across the track, well ahead of the train!

Deer crossing 85 pound rail in front of the grain train.

The train then headed by my location, and with a wave from both the conductor and engineer, and a horn blast, off it went eastward.

Long hood forward!

I jumped into the car and headed down Highway 61. Just before Judson the track ascends a grade, so I got to the top of the hill, parked, and ran over to  trackside to photograph the train coming up the hill.

Going up the hill towards Judson.

Another wave to the crew and I was off down the road to the next location just outside an abandoned farm. I sat there and took a few more photos of the puffy white clouds and towards the abandoned farm.

Grain train by an abandoned farmyard east of Judson

Not long afterwards the train appeared on the horizon and I took a few more long-range shots, including the train passing the abandoned farm.

Power is supplied by a former Southern Pacific GP9 locomotive (3877), rebuilt by J&L Consulting (JLCX 4004) and delivered to Forty Mile Rail in the fall of 2016.

Another wave to the crew as they headed east, and I was back into the car.

A classic prairie scene!

Getting closer to the Highway 36 intersection, I pulled over to photograph the distant wheat kings in the hamlet of Wrentham and also some long-range shots of the train with the puffy clouds in the background.

Looking towards the Wheat Kings in the hamlet of Wrentham, Alberta.

A bit more driving took me into Wrentham and I set up just on the northeast corner of the Ogilvie Flour grain elevator. (I am involved with a group of like-minded individuals to preserve it, the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society.) Soon enough the Forty Mile train came into sight and a flurry of photos followed.

The grain train approaching the 1925 Ogilvie Flour grain elevator in Wrentham. This particular elevator is the last Ogilvie Flour branded wooden elevator left in the province of Alberta.
The grain train heading east past by the former 1968 Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Wrentham.

With another wave to the crew I was off to the next location at Conrad.

Nothing remains at Conrad except two former grain elevator agent houses. At one time two grain elevators were located here as well as a wooden octagonal water tower. Those relics are long gone unfortunately, including a vintage wooden siding sign that I’d hope to include in a shot with the blue GP9 – oh well!

Prairie Lines
A friendly train crew on this trip!

As I waited for the train, I noticed to the southeast a spring thunderstorm coming up from Montana, so I photographed the darkening clouds and how the Sweetgrass Hills were being enveloped by the thunderstorm. After the train passed through Conrad, we both headed east towards Skiff. I stopped just before the curve on Highway 61 to photograph a farmer’s tractor and the darkening thunderstorm clouds in the background.

Looking east towards Skiff, Alberta with a spring thunderstorm in the background. Farther east is an private built wooden grain elevator in a farmer’s yard.

Also at this location, the remaining Skiff elevator and the private elevator of the Kuehn family was framed nicely in the distance with the dark clouds. Then I continued to Skiff, as the train at this time was going behind some low hills. As I was setting up at Skiff on the 80 lb elevator siding track, I realized I had spent about two and a half hours chasing this train, and figuring the distance left to cover, it would be another hour before it got to Foremost. With my previous commitment to Becky for a trip to Crowsnest Pass, I decided that I would have to cut the chase short at Skiff and head back to Lethbridge. Within time the headlights of the blue locomotive were in sight and I photographed it going by the Skiff Parrish & Heimbecker grain elevator (now owned by a local farmer) and gave a final wave to the friendly train crew.

The grain train going past the 1929 Parrish & Heimbecker grain elevator in Skiff. Originally an Ellison Milling elevator, P&H purchased it in 1975. It was sold off in the early 2000s to a local area farmer who continues to use it.
Heading east – thunderstorm clouds on the horizon!

It was nice to see the train heading east with the black thunderstorm clouds approaching Foremost.

A day or two later I finished editing the photos and send them off to the folks at Forty Mile Railway for their use. I am looking forward to the next chase on the former Stirling subdivision! I know a few out-of-towners will appreciate accompanying me on the next chase down a prairie branch line on Alberta’s second short line railway.

Jason Paul SailerText and photographs Copyright 2017

The Power of Place

I have a fondness for steam radiators. That gentle heat soaks right down to the bone and although the houses I grew up in didn’t have them, the Pennsylvania depot did.

From the time I was five or six years old my dad and I made a pilgrimage to watch trains at the Pennsylvania Railroad depot in Richmond, Indiana every Sunday morning. The waiting room was our refuge from the cold and I was never very far from one of those big radiators.

Daniel Burnham’s design for the PRR depot has a new lease on life that should see it standing strong for many years to come. – Photo taken September 1, 2017.

The main objects of our quest were two westbound passenger trains that were still on the Pennsy’s schedule in the 1960s. My memory is faulty where the early train is concerned, though a check of a 1960 timetable suggests it might have been No. 71 or the Cincinnati Limited. Read more

An Afternoon
  on the Buffalo Southern

Heading back home in October, 2014 after three days in Ontario, Canada, I decided to drop off the interstate in Hamburg, New York to see if I could scare up an Alco or two. I knew only two things about Hamburg; first, the Buffalo Southern Railroad had a shop there and second, that shop was home to my favorite diesel locomotives—Alco. It isn’t a big town, so finding the tracks wasn’t hard and they led to a small station, behind which sat a beautifully restored Alco High Hood switcher and an old friend from the Pittsburgh area, a Pennsylvania Railroad decapod (2-10-0), now sitting on display. A few derelict (likely parts sources) 539 powered Alco switchers were there also, slowly rusting away. The Buffalo Southern shop wasn’t here, that was for sure, but there was a hobby shop sign on the station door, so in I went, finding a large “O” scale layout occupying most of the space. Three old guys sat in a corner swapping stories and I asked them if they could point me to the Buffalo Southern shop complex. “Yeah, they’re down behind the Carmeuse plant, but don’t go in there cause they’ll arrest you or throw ya out.” There were nods all around in agreement to that statement, so I thanked them and headed off to find me some Alco’s—I’ve been escorted out of a few places after simply wandering in like a bumpkin, so it was no big deal to take a chance.

Read more