variations on a theme (blog)

Christmastime at UN

Toronto Union Station at its magnificent best, December 17, 1979

Toronto Union Station at its magnificent best, December 17, 1979

There was a certain magic about Christmastime in the Toronto of my youth: the excitement of jostling along sidewalks crowded with shoppers and streets filled with maroon-and-cream PCC streetcars slopping through the snow and slush; the sounds Christmas carols spilling from busy shops, the thrill of standing in the cold and studying the elaborate Christmas displays in the windows of Simpsons and Eatons. And Toronto Union Station.

Union! Ever captivating, Union Station became even more so in the Christmas season. The crowds seemed more animated, the travel more urgent, the snow-packed trains — wreathed in steam that swirled about the train shed — seemed more important. And the Great Hall, graced with a giant Christmas tree, was at its magnificent best.

For years I made visiting Union at Christmastime a ritual of the season. Sometimes in the course of legitimate travel, more often for the simple joy of experiencing Union at Christmas. Such was the case on the evening of December 17, 1979, when I not only called on Union to absorb the atmosphere, but also had the presence of mind to expose a few frames of Kodachrome in the process.

Now boarding on Track 10. CN 302, a battered Budd observation car built in 1937 for the Reading Crusader, carries the markers of VIA No. 79, waiting to depart Toronto Union for Windsor on December 17, 1979.

Now boarding on Track 10. CN 302, a battered Budd observation car built in 1937 for the Reading Crusader, carries the markers of VIA No. 79, waiting to depart Toronto Union for Windsor on December 17, 1979.

City lights. Waiting to depart Union with Toronto-Windsor train 79, VIA FP9 6537 basks in the warm neon glow of the Royal York Hotel. December 17, 1979. 

City lights. Waiting to depart Union with Toronto-Windsor train 79, VIA FP9 6537 basks in the warm neon glow of the Royal York Hotel. December 17, 1979. 

 

Dead man walking (end of the Algosoo)

October 2, 2016

It was pissing rain when I left for the Welland Canal around noon. The forecast for the day called for more of the same but it mattered not, the gloomy weather suited the occasion. I was headed out to follow Algosoo on her death march through the canal to the ship breaker in Port Colborne, Ont.

The last lake boat to be built with the classic cabin-forward configuration, the 730-foot vessel has carried the same name and sailed under the Algoma Central flag since being christened Algosoo at her birthplace, the Collingwood Shipyards in Collingwood, Ont., on November 26, 1974.

After being laid up at the close of the 2015 season, Algosoo languished at a Toronto dock awaiting a call to fit out for 2016. That call would never come. She was instead condemned to scrap, but spared the indignity of a scrap tow to the breaker’s slip at International Marine Salvage in Port Colborne. A crew was called for September 30th. Algosoo was awakened from her slumber and readied for one final voyage. They set sail early Sunday morning, October 2nd.

I caught up with her in the rain at Lock 2 and joined the procession of faithful who’d come out to say goodbye to Algosoo. The sight of the handsome but battered vessel sailing nobly to the grave under her own power was dignifying yet heart wrenching. The low growl of V-10 Crossley Pielstick 10PC2V diesels — products of Crossley Premier Engines of Manchester, England — marked mile after mile after mile.

Dead man walking.

The rain eased for a bit and the sun broke through the clouds for a couple glorious miles. “They were good boats,” said the woman who stood canalside with a couple of us as we watched Algosoo duck under Bridge 5 and trudge toward Lock 4. She’d worked the lakes she told us. Algosoo was her last ship.

The gloom returned as Algosoo moved into the flight locks. The ranks of the faithful thinned as dusk fell and the rain returned. Hours later I was alone, standing vigil at Bridge 21 in Port Colborne — staring into the blackness; keeping company with spiders in the steelwork; wondering what the hell I was doing.

Midnight ramblers, spiders on Bridge 21, Port Colborne, Ontario

A dark form materialized in the distant lights of Lock 8. Algosoo at last. Still 30 minutes away but in sight at least. Time passed slowly. A warning siren and clanging bells announced the imminent arrival as Bridge 21 raised for the vessel’s passage.

A dark form in the distant lights of Lock 8. Algosoo.

The cold blue beams of its spotlights piercing the dark, Algosoo inched into sight. Pielsticks droning, spotlights dancing along the canal wall. A couple more onlookers showed up. No one spoke. Algosoo slowed and stopped. For good.

Algosoo, Bridge 21 Port Colborne, Ontario

Algosoo, Bridge 21 Port Colborne, Ontario

At 22:43 a lowly tug-barge combination chugged past: the tug Sharon M1 upbound with the grandly named barge Niagara Spirit. Shoving past the bow of the doomed ship, the tug sounded a salute from its high-pitched horn. From the Algosoo — already in the process of being shut down for the last time — came a bone-chilling baritone response that shattered the night and shot up my spine.

FFFFFFFFFFMP

FFFMP

FFFMP

And that was that.

Easing to a final stop.

Magic lanterns

Semaphore sunrise (2) Porthmadog, Wales 26 September, 2015.

Semaphore sunrise (2) Porthmadog, Wales 26 September, 2015.

Once upon a time, we’d gather in darkened rooms with stacks of yellow boxes and small steel cases packed with precious transparencies in 2x2 cardboard mounts. To the whirr of a projector fan we’d cycle the cardboard-mounted slides though stack-loaders or carousels and share stories and conversation as image after image after image flashed on the rollup screen at the front of the room. It was a ritual, a rite of friendship, a social event, a school of photography, and history, and geography, and current events. And just plain fun. It was the slide show.

By the brilliant glare of the projector light we’d keep up with each other’s photographic efforts and travels, from down the street to around the globe. Slide shows were mandatory after every trip and would run as long as it took to project each and every frame. Sometimes planned, often spontaneous these gatherings were instilled with the magic of the magic lantern shows of old.

Those days are gone. It’s been a decade or more since I’ve attended a slide show of any kind. I’ve given away my projectors and screen and supply of spare bulbs. Instead of friendly gatherings by the light of a DAK500 bulb we’re forced to make do with teasers, occasional images compressed to 1s and 0s and dispatched over the ether in emails and social media postings. But we never really see the true dimension of each other’s work. Inflicting slide show-sized postings on unwitting recipients violates every convention of electronic communication and social media.

I miss the fellowship and sharing photographs with friends, but it’s unlikely that the slide show will ever enjoy the sort of retro-revival that’s reinvigorated vinyl records and other old school art forms. And while there’s no digital or electronic substitute for the social delights of gathering with friends to project bright light through tiny pieces of celluloid, there’s really no excuse not to take advantage of technology that not only permits sharing photographs, but transcends the limitations of geography and time zones and coordinating schedules. So in the spirit of the slide show I’m assembling a few galleries and uploading them here as time permits. So far I’ve put together the first two days of the autumn adventure in the UK

It’s no magic lantern show, but it’s a start.

On the footplate (2) Fireman Peter Skinner at work aboard BR Standard 9F 2-10-0 No. 92214 on the 10:00 Great Central train from Loughborough Central to Leicester North. 27 September, 2015

On the footplate (2) Fireman Peter Skinner at work aboard BR Standard 9F 2-10-0 No. 92214 on the 10:00 Great Central train from Loughborough Central to Leicester North. 27 September, 2015

Tradition

It seemed innocent enough when I made my first purchase of an In-n-Out t-shirt in the early 90s. I was hungry and running low on clean clothing while photographing the Cajon Sub west of Victorville. The iconic California burger joint provided one-stop shopping: lunch and a clean shirt for less than $15.

Since then, the acquisition of an In-n-Out shirt has become a tasty and practical annual tradition. They're affordable and likeable enough, and a style statement in their own right. The shirts have been variously offered in white and black over the years (only one color per year), the delightful drive-in themed graphics are different every year and you can still get lunch (a Number 3 with onions, please) and a shirt for about $17. What’s not to like?

Not everyone in our house shares my sense of style (You’re not going out in that!), or the fact that at one-per-year, an undeniable level of wardrobe domination takes effect as the decades pass. Spousal intervention is inevitably inflicted upon the aging and tattered members in a sartorial process of natural selection. But the numbers are strong and despite the ongoing controversy the stock replenished annually.

The tradition lives on. I’m happy to report that this year’s crisp-white edition — served up with a Number 3 and onions at the San Bernardino location — is in the house.
Quality you can taste since 1948.

Just a guy with a camera

CP 6552 muscling the downtown-bound Express job past Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario, 21:30, December 12, 1983.

CP 6552 muscling the downtown-bound Express job past Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario, 21:30, December 12, 1983.

By every reasonable definition the enclosed is a photographic failure: a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to exceed the limitations of talent and the technology of the day. In fact, save for the convenience of cutting and filing negatives in even-length strips, this single frame wouldn’t have made it out of the darkroom.

But it did. And after languishing unprinted and unseen for 32 years, it’s a happy discovery. For all its imperfection the blurred, barely recognizable image etched in Plus-X Pan emulsion gives life to a scribbled entry in my notes: “December 12, 1983, Etobicoke, Ont., Kipling Ave., 21:30 … CP 6552 straining with long intermodal transfer. Beautiful 539 acoustics! Wooden van, CP 436998.”

The blurry photograph and accompanying few words deliver a jarring one-two punch that shakes vivid memories from the far recesses of an aging mind. Memories of standing spellbound as the “Express Job” comes trudging along the multi-track Galt Sub main with a 27-year-old S3 doing its best to muscle a heavy downtown-bound train of piggybacks and express.

It’s a pulse-quickening performance. The little S3’s normally aspirated, inline-six McIntosh & Seymour 539 engine sounds as if it’s about to explode from behind the rattling hood doors that shroud it from view. In a fit of adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm I can’t resist the impulse to at least attempt − however futile − to put the drama to film.

From a photographic perspective, it was indeed an exercise in futility. But the image itself fulfills one of the most elementary objectives that first inspired me to pick up a camera more than 50 years ago: it captures a moment in time, an experience worth remembering.

All of which plays into the topic of a discussion I had recently with a couple friends while travelling the back roads of Wales. The more I reflect on a half-century-plus of photography, the less comfortable I am with considering myself a photographer. At least not in the sense of the true and so incredibly talented photographers I’m fortunate enough to know and call friends. My primary photographic goals have always tended more toward capturing and sharing a sense of time and place, an experience, an emotion. Consider me just a guy with a camera. I’m comfortable with that.

One more for the Wabac

With borrowed Bombardier HR616 demonstrators 7004 and 7001 bracketing M636 4703 and M630 4511, CP's Toronto-Montreal intermodal train 928 prepares to depart Obico at 23:10, December 12, 1983.

With borrowed Bombardier HR616 demonstrators 7004 and 7001 bracketing M636 4703 and M630 4511, CP's Toronto-Montreal intermodal train 928 prepares to depart Obico at 23:10, December 12, 1983.

I've got a long list of times, dates, and places ready to dial into the Wabac machine once I get the glitches worked out. Until then, I'll have to make do with the next best thing: a few celluloid strips fed into Mr. Epson's time machine.

It's some 40 minutes shy of the witching hour on December 12, 1983, and the four big Alcos on the head end of CP train 928 are pumping air through the 87 piggyback and container cars between them and the van somewhere deep in Obico Yard in Etobicoke, Ontario. I've been watching and waiting for nearly two hours as the crew of the Toronto-Montreal intermodal doubled their train together in the bitter cold.

With nothing but the most primitive photographic tools of the time, I'm playing the odds; hoping that the brake test will be conducted in a spot that is both accessible and blessed with enough ambient light to attempt a time exposure or two. The odds are admittedly long but with Bombardier HR616s 7004 and 7001 bracketing CP M636 4703 and M630 4511 powering the Montreal-bound overnighter, it's worth a gamble.

When train was finally together, the locomotives were spotted about 25 to 30 car lengths east of my stakeout beneath the Kipling Ave. overpass. I had just enough time to sprint to the head end, jam the tripod into the grass at the ballast edge and wind a few frames through the Kodachrome-loaded F2 and a few more through the Plus X-provisioned Nikkormat FT3 before the hogger kicked off the brake and slowly notched out the throttle.

Even if I hadn’t had a camera, the sound of 64 cylinders-worth of Alco 251 power awakening and authoritatively accelerating the 87-car train out of town was worth the long wait, frozen fingers and hours of lost sleep. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And when I get this Wabac thing working (where's Mr. Peabody when we need him?), I will.

No. 928: unmistakably CP piggyback flats and Montreal-bound trailers at Kipling, December 12, 1983.

No. 928: unmistakably CP piggyback flats and Montreal-bound trailers at Kipling, December 12, 1983.

The luck of the Irish

CN No. 550 kicking up a storm east of Seaforth. The needle on the big CP Speed Recorder in the cab of F7A 9178 is on the rich side of 35. November 28, 1977.

CN No. 550 kicking up a storm east of Seaforth. The needle on the big CP Speed Recorder in the cab of F7A 9178 is on the rich side of 35. November 28, 1977.

November 28, 1977. The roundhouse foreman at Stratford has been keeping a tight reign on the two F7s he's wrangled for snowplow duty, but he's finally permitted them to make a trip on train 550, the weekday turn to Goderich. Appropriately enough, it's snowing when 9178, 9179 and GP9 4525 tie onto 550's train in the yard. There's an inch or two on the ground by the time they pump air and pause at the station for orders. Extra 9178 West is heading straight into a lake-effect snow squall. So is the clown in the red VW.

It's a difficult chase. The road conditions are bad and getting worse. The track is good. The timetabled speed limit for the Goderich Sub is 35 mph, but the crew knows what the track is really good for and the needle on the big CP Speed Recorder in the cab of the 9178 is well into the rich side of 35 for mile after mile after mile.

The closer we get to Goderich, the deeper the snow gets. The backroads are drifting in. Snow flies over the hood as the little VW punches its way through. It's tough going, but manageable. Until somewhere east of Goderich.

I should have surrendered and turned back at the sight of the long, deep drift across the road. Hindsight is particularly useless when you're headlight deep in hard-packed snow. So too, are the shovel and stack of tie plates stashed in the trunk for situations like this. Shit happens.

So does the luck of the Irish. I was still assessing the rather grim situation when a county plow — a great big Goderich-built Champion grader — came slogging up the road. The driver will help me out if I have a tow chain.

"How's this?" I wish I had more than a mental image of the look on his face when the massive tow chain from a retired CN RSC13 appeared from the trunk of the little car.

I was mobile within minutes. Shit happens.

Hindsight is particularly useless when you're headlight deep in hard-packed snow.

Hindsight is particularly useless when you're headlight deep in hard-packed snow.

Trackside truancy

CN train No. 154 calls at Kitchener, Ont., on a snowy afternoon in November 1970.

The rules at St. Jerome's (the downtown Kitchener high school I attended between 1969 and 1973) were clear: students were not permitted to leave school property during school hours. Period. However, the CN station was just two-and-a-half tantalizing blocks from the storied institution of learning, a circumstance that turned my friend Peter and me into scofflaws from the very day of our enrolment. Almost daily, at lunch, during spares, and whenever else opportunity knocked, we'd make a dash for the station.

Attending the mid-afternoon station stop of Sarnia-Toronto train 154 was a primary cause of such trackside truancy. Don't tell Fr. Theis, but that's just what's going on here, as FPA4 6760 brings No. 154 into town on a snowy afternoon in November 1970. Peter is talking with one of the Sarnia-based engineers who befriended us; Stan the baggageman has the old Mercury tractor and cart positioned for the ritual exchange of baggage and express. Further back, conductor Mel Humble and his trainman are boarding passengers eager to trade the cold for the steam-heated comfort of streamlined CC&F coaches. "Toronto to your right. Watch the snow, don't fall and break your watch, Jimmy."

The shape of things to come

East is east and west is west. In simpler times there were certain cardinal rules that CN motive power managers abided by, and one of them was that the 9000-series F7s and the later-day 9150-series rebuilds were western assigned, and that’s where they stayed. In fact, for all intents and purposes, the CN F7As and F7Bs were western power from the time they rolled off the assembly lines at General Motors Diesel in London in the late 1950s. They turned northwest at Toronto and weren’t likely to be seen again.

So you can understand my disbelief when a friend called on a rainy November 1977 afternoon (38 years ago today) to say he’d just seen CN train 552 roll past the University of Waterloo, northbound for Elmira, with a pair of F7s. You mean FP9s I interjected; F7s simply didn’t stray into southwestern Ontario. “No,” came the response, “F7s, 9178 and 9179.” I hit about 2 of the 14 steps on the way downstairs as I raced to the car.

I made Elmira in record time, and came face to face with an A-A of F7s switching the Uni-Royal plant in the rain. More at home in places such as Endako, Kitwanga, Kwinitsa and Kitselas Canyon, than Elmira and Kitchener, the interlopers were so fresh from the west that they still sported portable Mountain Region ditch lights, appliances that were pretty much limited to use in the mountains of British Columbia.

CN F7As 9179 and 9178 switching at Elmira, Ont., November 23, 1977. 

CN F7As 9179 and 9178 switching at Elmira, Ont., November 23, 1977. 

As the crew finished up their chores in Elmira, I set out in search of a suitably identifiable location to photograph the southbound trip, ultimately selecting a rooftop in downtown Waterloo. I could have picked a better place to wait in the drenching rain and got soaked to the skin for my trouble. The clothing and cameras would dry, but a back-to-back set of Fs doesn’t come wandering through Waterloo Square every day.

Before my boots would dry, I’d learn that the Fs were no strays that had wandered unexpectedly far from home. They’d been summoned for snowplow duty out of Stratford. The first big winter storm was just days away. The adventure was just beginning.

A back-to-back set of Fs doesn’t come wandering through Waterloo Square every day: CN 9179 and 9178 return from Elmira with van 79400, two boxcars and a tank car on November 23, 1977.

A back-to-back set of Fs doesn’t come wandering through Waterloo Square every day: CN 9179 and 9178 return from Elmira with van 79400, two boxcars and a tank car on November 23, 1977.

No. 552 flagging across King Street in Waterloo.

No. 552 flagging across King Street in Waterloo.

Toronto-bound No. 552 back in Kitchener after a side trip to Elmira. No strays that had wandered unexpectedly far from home, CN 9178 and 9179 had been summoned for snowplow duty out of Stratford. The adventure was just beginning.

Toronto-bound No. 552 back in Kitchener after a side trip to Elmira. No strays that had wandered unexpectedly far from home, CN 9178 and 9179 had been summoned for snowplow duty out of Stratford. The adventure was just beginning.

Four bigs

Four bigs on 904, that’s all I needed to hear. Never mind the cold rain and low light (make that no light), the experience is the thing. And the experience of watching and listening to an elephant-style quartet of six-motor M-lines accelerate CP No. 904 out of Woodstock on a rainy November afternoon was worth the inconsiderable discomfort. I’d go back in a heartbeat. No. 904: CP 4572, 4737, 4718, and 4554 Coakley, Ont., 15:42, November 15, 1983.

Common ground

This is Dover, N.J., July 7, 1983, but the essence of the image, I think, transcends the specifics of time and place and technological details to strike a universal chord; an experience that many of us have shared in different times and different places. For me, it began with beetle-browed CNR Northerns and olive green Hudsons on the platform at Kitchener; zebra-striped Baldwin-Westinghouse steeple cabs under the 1500-volt catenary of CP Electric Lines, and Mikes and Pacifics with "Canadian Pacific" spelled out on their tenders passing the station at Galt and labouring up Orr's Lake hill with drag freights and Tuscan red passenger trains. And you?

 1983-07-07
Boys on bikes watching NJT westbound arrival yarding train.

NJT 4117  F40PH

Fading fast

More often than not, the photographs I find most meaningful and memorable are technically imperfect and artistically lacking. Like this one, taken at Tower 47 in Buffalo, N.Y., 41 years ago last evening. It's just after sunset on August 3, 1974, and a trio of former NYC F7As are hobbling past with an eastbound drag. The urban landscape is bleak. The trackage is disturbingly decrepit. With rusted side panels, the scars of a minor collision, and vestiges of its New York Central heritage only partially obscured by patches of black paint slathered over stripes and lettering, the condition of the lead unit on Extra 1750 East isn't much better. The light is fading fast, so too are the fortunes of Penn Central. The drama of a once-great institution struggling to survive is compelling, even if the image is not.

Penn Central Extra 1750 East, Tower 47, Buffalo, New York, August 3, 1974.

Last train to Waterloo

Approaching the intersection of Caroline and William Streets, the last train on the former Grand River Railway trackage in downtown Waterloo, Ont., passes the soon-to-be demolished Carling Brewery on July 6, 1993.

Approaching the intersection of Caroline and William Streets, the last train on the former Grand River Railway trackage in downtown Waterloo, Ont., passes the soon-to-be demolished Carling Brewery on July 6, 1993.

Waterloo wasn’t home, but the Grand River Railway’s Waterloo Sub (part of Canadian Pacific Electric Lines) was very much a hometown road. The tracks of GRR’s line to Waterloo crossed Glasgow Street in Kitchener just a few doors down from my boyhood home, and ran directly past my Grandmother’s house on Union Boulevard, a couple blocks away. You could hit a baseball over the Waterloo city line from the makeshift diamond in my grandmother’s oversized trackside yard.

A couple blocks beyond my grandmother’s, the tracks made a hard, interurban-style turn onto Caroline Street for eight wonderful blocks of street-running to the Waterloo yard, freight sheds and end-of-steel. The bumper posts in the Waterloo yard marked the northernmost point on the CP Electric Lines, a 69.4-mile interurban system that stretched south to the shores of Lake Erie at Port Dover. (The majority of that trackage, 50.6 miles of it, was operated by GRR’s sister road the Lake Erie & Northern, which ran from Galt to Port Dover.)

As much as we thrilled to watch the Grand River trains wander across Glasgow and past my grandmother’s, there was nothing better than seeing them stroll up Caroline Street, usually stopping to switch spurs into the Bauer Skate factory, Carling Brewery, and Seagram’s Distillery. I grew up watching zebra-striped Baldwin-Westinghouse steeple cabs doing just that. In my early teens, we spent many a Saturday riding to Waterloo in the cabs of the Tuscan and grey SW1200s that bumped the motors in 1961, or in the wooden vans that punctuated the trains that even then ran with 20-30 cars or more.

All of this — if you haven’t nodded off or wandered away — is by way of rambling preamble to recalling that the last CP train to Waterloo made its way up Caroline Street and back 22 years ago yesterday evening.

Flagging across William Street

The afternoon Electric Lines crew did the honours along with CP 8161 and 8162, two of the three SW1200s that had spent most of their working careers assigned to CPEL. In the gathering dusk of a warm July evening, they came north, rolling across Glasgow Street, past 92 Union Boulevard, and squealing through the tight curve onto Caroline Street. I watched as they strolled up Caroline Street one last time.

Lifting the last car from CanBar, the northernmost limits of a onetime 70-mile interurban network that once stretched to the shores of Lake Erie.

Without ceremony or solemnity they tied onto Milwaukee Road 63024, the center-beam bulkhead flat that had delivered the last load of hardwood to CanBar, attached the marker, and started back south. I set up beside the skeletal ruins of the old Seagram’s Distillery — being demolished to make way for condos — and quietly said goodbye as the little train rolled down the darkened street.

And that was that.

Strolling past the skeletal ruins of the Seagram’s Distillery - and that was that.

The tracks and the brewery, the distillery (save for a portion repurposed as condos), the yard, GRR freight sheds, and CanBar are all long-gone and the entire area has been gentrified beyond recognition. Happily, memories are beyond the reach of wrecking balls and redevelopers.

 

Sixty one sixty seven

Belleville, Ont., June 27, 1964.

I’ve been generally aware for a while that the fiftieth anniversary of my first railway photograph was imminent. However, I wasn’t aware that the occasion had come and gone until I looked at my notes this afternoon. For years, I’ve mistakenly presumed that first photograph to be one taken of CN No. 658’s GMD1s stopping at Kitchener on a misty 1965 or '66 morning. The calendar may be cruel, but it doesn’t lie. I was wrong.

Oddly enough, I have more vivid memories of when I intended to take my first railway photograph than when I actually did so. The former was on summer Sunday in 1963. We were on a family drive that would include our ritual look at the steam scrap lines outside the CNR shops in Stratford. I was deeply traumatized by the end of steam, but had reconciled enough to want to put it to film; to that end, I’d convinced my parents to allow me to use the family Kodak to record the sad sight of dead Northerns and Mikes gathered at the shops. I was excited by the prospect, and fairly devastated when we arrived to find that all of the engines that had been there for years (and even a few weeks earlier) were gone. I had no delusions regarding their fate, and cursed my procrastination. (Little did I know that at the very time I was mourning at the Stratford gate, U-2-g Northern No. 6218 was inside the shop in the midst of a miraculous overhaul.)

So fast-forward to June 27, 1964, it’s Railway Days in Belleville, Ont., and we’ve made a family outing of it in our '59 Ford, primarily to see CNR 6167 on one of its last assignments under steam. My father had taken a series of family snapshots of us with some of the exhibits — including CN 6400, the streamlined U-4-a I’d hoped to photograph at Stratford — and I convinced him to allow me to take the Brownie for a photograph or two.

I was forbidden to step off the platform, and I recall the frustration as a father and daughter stepped closer to the action. I dared not go beyond the platform edge, but I recall trying to look serious about my efforts to photograph the scene in hopes that the engineer might call me over. He didn’t, but 51 years down the road, I’m pleased with what my nine-year-old-self managed.

Given the newfound realization of the significance of the day, there was but one thing to do. I packed up the cameras and set out into the cold rain to visit one of the principles of that 1964 experience. CNR 6167 has been on display at Guelph since being bumped from the excursion trade by sister 6218. I stop by to visit the old girl frequently, but today’s call was mandatory. I swear I could smell the coal smoke and feel the excitement of that simmer 1964 day, the last time I saw 6167 under steam.

I lingered longer than expected and was soaked and cold when I got back to the car, but it was time well spent. The world would surely be a better place if the old girl were to be brought back to life. Sure, it’s all relative, but I ask you, is there a prettier face in all of steam?

Is there a prettier face in all of steam?

Copy three, Galt

Day operator Bill Sobol copying orders for Extra 5534 West, March 13, 1980

I've spent a lot of time in and around the CP station at Galt, Ont., from family outings to see the last of steam in the late 1950s to right now: I can see the familiar red-brick station out the window as I type this. So the rediscovery of this thin, never-printable-until-now negative is a particularly pleasant surprise. My darkroom skills never amounted to much, but 35 years after I made this photograph of day man Bill Sobol copying orders at Galt, technology compensates for absence of skill.

It's March 13, 1980, and Extra 5534 West is on the block. Copy three Galt.