Over the last few years I have been seeing some great photos coming out of the Assiniboia area, particularly of the Great Western Railway (GWR) operations. On our own photography trips to Saskatchewan we would always be on the fringe of the GWR operations, but never see much of actual train movements. I had hoped this trip would be different.
After on and off planning this spring, I and my wife decided on a date to go down to Assiniboia. Closer to the date I tried to coordinate with Ken McCutcheon (who lives in Assiniboia) on a possible railfan trip but it didn’t work out. Further disappointment occurred when reports of GWR running the trains either at night or early in the morning, due to the summer heat, were coming in. Back and forth emails between Ken and Rick McCurdy, the GWR head mechanic, on when the trains were running the week we were planning on coming down didn’t look promising. In fact due to the heat, the GWR only ran 2 or 3 times during that week and all were late at night or early morning runs.
When we arrived in Assiniboia on a hazy evening at the end of August, the first stop was to drive by the GWR shops and I saw most of the locomotives parked for the night. I had a feeling that there would be no GWR operations when we were there, although a train had left Shaunavon on its way towards Assiniboia late Thursday evening. I messaged Ken that we were in town, and if he had heard anymore on the trains situation. He didn’t hear anything but suggested I better talk to Rick. So I messaged him and Rick said the only train running was the inbound train from Shaunavon—that’s it. He did though suggest I could come by the shops tomorrow to look around a bit. I thought that was a good compromise. I had a backup plan to photograph prairie scenes (i.e. old trucks, farmyards, barns, churches, etc) with spots already picked out if the GWR didn’t pan out. I and my wife decided to continue our photography trip after stopping at the shops in the morning.
Friday morning around 11:00 am we headed over to the GWR Shops. The sky was hazy due to the forest fires out west. Three red dirty CP locomotives were in the yard getting ready to take a load of grain cars back to the mainline. Just before we stopped at the shops I decided to go across the road to see the remains of the CPR roundhouse that the local cattle auction mart is using as their auction facilities. Our almost two-year old daughter didn’t think much of looking at branch line diesel locomotives, so my wife decided to keep her entertained by watching Paw Patrol on the phone. I then walked over to the open door of the shop and peeked into the office where Rick and one of his co-workers were going over some documents. After handshakes and some bs’ing, Rick said I could go look around. So for the next 45 minutes I walked around a bit dazed—seeing the big ALCOs parked and the two newly acquired B23-7 units was very neat.
Even nicer was a pair of tired CPR boxcars behind the shop beside a dead ALCO unit (#2004). The boxcars still flaunted a multi-mark and MOW badges…
After I was done taking photos I walked back to the office and thanked Rick for his time and letting me roam around, and I and the family headed east to Willows to photograph the aging wheat king. Thanks Rick, and I do hope to return one day to photograph the GWR in action!
Jason Paul Sailer – Text and photographs Copyright 2018