Ode to an S3

Just another day working the East Yard in Kitchener, Ont.

I came across a few photographs of an old friend last night: CN 8498 — one of the MLW S3s assigned to yard and wayfreight duties in my home town from the end of steam until the early 1970s — switching at the East Yard in Kitchener, Ontario.

Kitchener in those days had three S3s assigned to yard and wayfreight duties, Stratford-based Nos. 8459, 8469, 8496, 8497, and 8498 were the regulars. I forgave the S3s for banishing the 0-6-0s that shunted around town and grew fond of the little MLWs, their spirited performance, and the captivating beat of their McIntosh & Seymour 539 engines.

The newest of CN's S3s, 8498 was a favourite. It was one of the first diesels we saw repainted in the “new colours,” trading its steam-era maple leaf herald and lettering for flamboyant red ends and the Fleming-designed CN noodle after derailing in a grade-crossing collision near Waterloo in late 1960.

Despite its local assignment, I don’t have many photographs of 8498 at work. Film was a precious commodity and the luxury of spending it on engines I saw just about every day was beyond my means. The few frames exposed as the engine switched the yard and then as I rode the cab up the St. Leger Spur and back downtown on a July 1969 morning proved to be some of the last.

CN 8498 switching a tattered Santa Fe iced-reefer in the East Yard in Kitchener, Ont., June 1969.

View from the cab as 8498 heads to switch the St. Leger Spur. These would prove to be some of my last photographs of an old friend at work.

A few months later, 8498 suffered freeze damage when the Guelph yard crew neglected to activate the watchman heater and it shut down on a cold January night. It was retired on February 20, 1970 and sent to Montreal Yard to be stripped for parts.

I happened upon my old friend in August 1970, sitting forlornly inside the diesel shop at Montreal Yard. Destined for scrap, No. 8498 was being methodically harvested of reusable components from window glass to engine parts. On a long shot, I told the shop foreman of my personal connection with the locomotive and asked if I might have the builder's plates and number glasses. He obliged, providing me not only with the tools to do the job, but also with packaging to get the items home on the train. He also assigned a labourer to spirit me past the police gate and drive me to the CP Montreal West station in one of those ubiquitous orange CN Econoline vans.

The 8498 number glasses are among my most cherished artifacts and one of them sits on the shelf just a few feet away.

Number glass from CNR 8498, still with accumulated grime, and a bit of masking tape that may well have been from the original masking of the glass at MLW in 1954. A very good year, by the way.