Saturday, 6 June 2015

Day 23 - Exploring Coquitlam

Today is our last full day in Canada - last sleep.

The first stop was Walmart for a spot of shopping.

I soon figured out that the only way to see moving trains in this city was to head west again, so I headed for the station at Pitt Meadows which would put us on the eastern end of the CP yard. All was going well until we got to the city centre and all the streets were blocked off for a parade celebrating Pitt Meadows Day - good grief. Getting out of the place was a nightmare. There was no way I could get anywhere near the station - everything was blocked off.

Next stop was Maple Meadows - a CP freight eventually turned up but it was right beside the platform going a zillion miles an hour. I wasn't prepared for the sudden high speed track change and when I realised what was going on, I had to abandon the camera for my own safety's sake. The camera almost got blown over but was rescued just in time.

Lunch time - Tim Horton's dangerous little place again.

Going way too fast for this camera.

I decided to go to the Port Haney Station at Maple Ridge where there were fewer people and traffic and the angles were better. We spent quite a few hours there and scored about 6 trains I think...all doing a gazillion miles an hour.

Tail end charlie at Port Haney. The number boards are used by the passenger operator to show the engineer where to stop, depending on how many coaches he's hauling.

The view across the always dirty Fraser River - in the distance is the 3286m peak of Mount Baker in Washington state. It looked a lot better at the time.
When I first saw it I thought it was just another one of those bi-lingual signs...but no.

The return trip home had us come across a prang on the freeway which was snarling up traffic - lots of flashing lights and people waving their arms and car parts all over the place,

Dinner again at Joey Coquitlam - excellent food. It's a good 10 minute walk from the hotel so no guilt in having a good feed.

We shall assume that this will be my last blog for this trip. We're all pretty tired, aching, a bit sunburned and have digestive systems that have taken a hammering. A pretty good trip - not as many trains as we would have liked but the. scenery more than made up for it.

It's currently Saturday, we depart on Sunday night and arrive in New Zealand on Tuesday. We won't see Monday at all.

All the best and I hope you've enjoyed my little stories.

Erin. Johnson

Friday, 5 June 2015

Day 22 - Day trip to Squamish.

Today I took the guys up to Squamish to visit the West Coast Railway Heritage Park. When they were at Revelstoke, they took 1.5 hrs to look around - this time they took 2.5 hrs to look around - this place is pretty big and they have lots of stuff. The highlight for me was being able to climb inside an operational (but not operating at the time) FP7 locomotive, walk right through the car body past the prime mover and into the cab and sit in the seat to see what the view was like. We weren't allowed to touch any of the controls for obvious reasons. Operating one of these old clunkers is not a glamorous job. Amazing to see that the nice round curve of the front end has nothing in it and that the toilet is down the back.

FP7 loco. The FP7 is 4 feet longer than the F7 to house the water tank needed for the steam heater required for passenger trains.

Drivers eye view of the FP7

Drivers controls

Anyway, the one hour drive took over 2 hrs owing to a wee mishap on a bridge that closed a lane that affected traffic for miles. If Canucks just slowed down a bit and employed the 2 second rule they'd be better drivers. The view across the inlet was consistently blocked by trees and the windy road made me feel a bit ill - unsure how the others fared but on the return trip I slowed it down a bit to make it more comfortable.

Upon our return we had time to check out a few places that we were going to visit tomorrow - all fizzers (including a hobby shop which had lots on things I didn't want).
A new Skytrain line is being installed and some of the Metro stations are closed with construction work - it didn't help that we'd struck peak hour traffic again. A bit gutted that we could not sit quietly on a platform and watch trains go by. A disappointing afternoon really.

Dinner at an Asian Restaurant that offered shark fin on the menu - a bit of an ethical dilemma, but I was starving so had chicken & cashew nuts. It was good.

All the guys have asked to go shopping as they want to spend a fortune on their wives.....and if you believe that...

2 sleeps and a ride in an aeroplane to go.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Day 21 - Ashcroft to Coquitlam

Coquitlam sounds fancy, but it's just part of the greater Vancouver area.

A minor glitch today - we got as far as Spences Bridge and a big sign lit up and said HWY 1 CLOSED NORTH OF BOSTON BAR - USE HWY 5

Ohhh - what to do. No other information like what was the cause and when will it be open, so I made the call to carry on to Lytton to see if the situation had changed.

It appeared that the truckers knew something was up as they were finding spots to turn around. I called into the RCMP at Lytton and of all things, they were totally unaware of the road closure - so the guy there went on the internet and confirmed that the road was indeed closed, due to open at 3 pm. Stuff that.

Turned out to be a fatal between a car and a truck.

So we double backed and took the windy road to Merritt which followed along the old right of way of an abandoned railway line - so the guys had something to look at - "There's a bear !!" and sure enough, Grant had spotted a large black bear meandering along the river bank - cool - but there was nowhere to stop and I had a line of traffic behind me.

The bridge at Hope that I could never film a train on. There was a sign nearby warning to be aware of bears - niiiice.

The drive from Merritt to Hope was a challenging experience - speed limit is 120 km/hr - and once again, it seemed to be a recommendation. Trucks can manage it on the downhill but once they go up, they decrease speed rapidly and one almost caught me out.

Lunch at Hope and we staked out that darned bridge that I mentioned in an earlier post - sat there for about 2 hrs waiting for a train - finally got one, but it was that darned Rocky Mountaineer again.

I'd had enough of fast freeway driving so decided to re-trace our steps to Vancouver following the Lougheed Highway - which our hotel is located on anyway - filmed two trains.

Waiting to get overtaken by a fast moving coal train.

Checked in and went to a recommended restaurant - it was awesome.

Tomorrow it's a day trip to Squamish and back.

3 more sleeps then an aeroplane ride.


Day 20 - Salmon Arm to Ashcroft

Today we drove from Salmon Arm to Ashcroft, stopping off at Kamloops for lunch.

Wet wet wet. We woke up to rain, we had lunch in the rain and drove all day in the rain - until we got to Cache Creek where they had some pretty bad floods last week. The roads there are a bit messy but it looks like they survived.

One of the bridges at Ashcroft.

I attempted to filim (private joke, later) some trains in the rain at the Notch Hill Horseshoe Curve and at Notch Hill and Kamloops, and the footage turned out OK - using the back door of the SUV as an umbrella. However the bright cloudy skies tend to muck the scene up a bit.

Upon arrival at Ashcroft I was concerned to learn that the person I spoke to about the booking no longer worked there and he'd stuffed up my reservation - even though I'd talked to him personally and confirmed everything just a week before. Instead of two rooms with two queen beds, he'd reserved one room with 2 single beds and a cot.

The new owner managed to give us that and two additional rooms with a queen in each. Lawrie and Grant got the singles, and if they think they'll fall out of bed, then they can push them together...

David will be pleased that for one night of this trip he won't have to sleep with a pillow over his head to block out the noise of the aircon and my snoring.

Accommodation sorted, we went on the hunt for some rail action. I took the guys down to the end of Evans Road - unchartered territory as Google street view only goes about half way down this road. We went past one bridge, which I already knew about, and at the end of the road we came across another bridge (both Canadian National). Both railroads are mere metres apart here so it was pretty easy to film either.

From this location alone I filmed (filimed) 6 trains and a Herzog work unit (in the space of about 2 hours) that had equipment that we assumed was used for replacing culvets. It was going really slow. At one stage three CN trains passed through only 5 minutes apart - it was all on.

I decided to change locations back to the other bridge that was on CN tracks, and was rewarded with two CP trains behind me - filmable) followed by a CP coal train using CN track. Don't know why.

Finally I called it quits at about 7 pm and we went on the hunt for an eatery. The only place we could find was their RSA until at the last minute I remembered that the only other motel in town also had a restuarant - saved by the bell - otherwise it would have been a 15k trip back to Cache Creek.

No internet at this place - never mind. Four more sleeps then a plane ride home. Tomorrow it's the 3.75 hour drive (plus stops) to Coquitlam, part of greater Vancouver.

Oh, the filim thing. The server at the restuarant was new and had only just moved to Ashcroft - we were asking her about local stuff and she did her best to answer the questions, but she also explained that the new X-Files movie was being filimed here - there was a crashed space ship and everything.  Filimed ? She repeated the word again - Yes, they're making a filim. Never mind. She's from Vancouver Island...

PS - We drove past a farm that was flying a New Zealand flag - I gave them a toot.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Day 19 - Golden to Salmon Arm

This post will kill the stats....

We left Golden just as rain was starting to fall - which it did for the entire journey and still is here at Salmon Arm. Some Canadians do not know how to adjust their driving speed to suit the conditions, with many people happy to tootle along at 100ks even when it's hosing down for the first time in months and there's truck spray blocking the view. In fact, we reckon the posted speed limits here are a recommendation, not a hard and fast rule. There seems to be no cops on the roads anywhere enforcing anything.

We stopped into a couple of places  along the way to do a few touristy things like look at giant Cedar trees, a good look at the Rogers Pass visitor centre and.....oh, that's it.

All is not lost - the reason I decided to do an out an back driving tour instead of a continuous loop was just in case this happened on the outward leg, but as it turned out, we had great weather on the outward leg and it just happens to be sopping wet on the return journey. So nothing lost other than additional opportunities to see trains in the same places again.

Summit of Rogers Pass

The early arrival at Salmon Arm meant we could take a look around town a bit, do a bit of shopping, interact with the locals and get the vibe of the place before checking in.

One of the many avalanche tunnels across Rogers Pass

On the east side of Rogers Pass it was wet and cold at about 6 degrees - however on this side it's at least 15 degrees and a tad humid.

Speaking of trains, the balcony on our hotel looks out across the lake and in between are the tracks - so all is good.

Dave on the giant cedar boardwalk. It's about 500m in length and pretty cool. The low lying plants have thorns - nasty.

The lady at the front desk said 40 degrees is the normal temp here during summer - stuff that for a joke. I did take some piccies of some trees but the camera is in the car and I don't want to get my new sneakers wet - the old one's have fallen apart with the shear amount of physical stress I've been demanding of them... and if you believe that...

Tomorrow we drive to Ashcroft - getting closer to Vancouver and home. There may not be any internet at Ashcroft, so if you don't hear from me, no need to panic.


Monday, 1 June 2015

Day 18 - Lake Louise to Golden

Today marks the official day that we start to return home, even though the half way mark was last week. As of today we re-trace our steps to get back to Vancouver, and today we drove back to Golden, stopping off at Morants curve (as you do) to get the obligatory morning shots.

Morants Curve - located on the Bow Valley Parkway on the outskirts of Lake Louise. Named after the CP special photographer Nicholas Morant who took many famous winter shots here. The mid train helper is a specially painted unit produced to celebrate the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics - the special markings have been removed, only the white band and 'Canadian Pacific' remains. A rare treat to see this. Take a moment to admire this scenery - it's the only one taken from today.

I got two trains, both coming from the east, so no head-ons, then we played the waiting game. Little did we know, until we got there, work crews were replacing sleepers near the spiral tunnels, therefore holding up trains. We've got really good at waiting for nothing to happen.

A place we didn't stay at Lake Louise - the proximity of this fast flowing river to the hotel is of slight concern. Nice view though - until your feet start getting wet.

We did a tiki tour onto Yoho Valley Rd for a few ks to where the upper spiral tunnel lookout is located, then continued onto Field for lunch - and a train starts up and departs, so we returned to the lookout to watch it enter and exit the tunnels. They're a long way away and up high so no point in attempting to video it.

Second attempt to return to Field for lunch - this time success !! Just as we finished, a Canpotex train departed eastward.

We continued onto Golden, stopping at a couple of locations to see what we could see and film a train here and there. I got an awesome shot from the Kicking Horse rest area. I didn't get a photo so try this link:

The tracks are on the opposite side of the river.

After checking in  - seamless and a most pleasant experience - the other generation had a combat nap to ease their weary heads and I reviewed the footage from the last few days. There's some really good stuff.

A quick cheap dinner (no names) and we went out again with new found vigour - back to KC Junction on Andersons Road. We didn't have to wait long - a Canpotex train turned up and headed for Field, and as soon as that passed through, another Canpotex unit went the opposite way - the same one we saw at Morants Curve earlier that day. As soon as I stopped recording and started walking back to the guys, a light appeared - "Train On !" This time a stack train went hurtling through. I called it quits at 8:30 pm so we could have an early night. Sleep deprivation is taking its toll.

Tomorrow we're off to Salmon Arm.


Sunday, 31 May 2015

Day 17 - Jasper to Lake Louise

It's horrendously late and I need sleep so I'll keep this short and brief.

Drove from Jasper to Lake Louise along the Icefields Parkway - saw 2 black bears (one of them was 10m from the car), a Grizzly Bear which walked towards a shop and 2 of the guys had to get ushered inside, lots of big horned sheep, visited multiple stops along the way and took lots of scenic photos. Visited the actual lake at Lake Louise, Lake Moraine and had time to film a couple of trains at Morants Curve.

I'll let the photos tell the story - I don't have the literary skills to describe some of the places we visited.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Day 16 - Drive to Red Pass and back

Today I took the guys on a wee jaunt up to Red Pass and back. Red Pass is just past Moose Lake on Highway 16. The CN tracks run adjacent to the road for most of the way, however they're also mostly obscured by trees. So you get your shots at grade crossings, and they're few and far between. The weather is partly cloudy and warm.

Mt Robson Park - Yellowhead Pass.

Today is Saturday, and we had no idea how many trains we may or may not see. The road had a massive stretch of road works on it so train chasing along this stretch is out of the question.


In my collection of rail DVDs, many places like Geikie, Lucerne, Decoigne, Red Pass and Moose Lake are mentioned, and today we managed to visit all of these except Geikie. To see the trains at Geikie, you have to stop at the top of a hill and climb out to an outcropping. Two things prevented this - the trees and the road works.

Near Lucerne

As for traffic volumes, I got 2 shots at Decoigne, one shot at Lucerne, one shot at Moose Lake and 2 at Red Pass - the trains were coming thick and fast and the background scenery is just a killer. I can't wait to get this footage home and on the computer.


Upon our return to Jasper we had a late lunch then returned to the hotel to do some much needed laundry. The trains kept pouring in from the west - our hotel balcony looks towards the tracks, but too many trees in the way for a decent view.

Moose Lake
Lawrie and Grant did some shopping and went for a walk around town - the amount of money these two spend on their wives is appalling...

The Rocky Mountaineer at Jasper

David and I went looking for trains and didn't have to wait long - and then it happened: firstly The Canadian turned up and departed, then the Skeena turned up and it was turned around ready for tomorrows departure, then the Rocky Mountaineer turned up and it was turned around, which took two goes as it's so long.

Red Pass
By then the cloud started to roll in and the boys were hungry so we called it quits. Dinner and an early knock-off - it's 9:32 pm and still daylight.

Tomorrow we drive to Lake Louise.


Friday, 29 May 2015

Day 15 - Edmonton to Jasper

Today we left a sunny Edmonton and soon entered a wet and cold Edson and Hinton. However by the time we got to Jasper the weather had cleared a bit. But it was still about 6 degrees and a tad windy.

Anyway, the journey here was relatively benign - I stopped off at a large viaduct near hwy 757 in the off chance something would pass over, and instead of setting up the video camera I trotted off to take a photo of a beaver dam - next minute a train trundles over the viaduct. Somebody kick me.

A quick brunch at Niton Junction (no food between here and Edmonton) followed by lunch at Hinton. Edson was cold and wet and nothing was to be found.

The skies were overcast for the entire trip and deflated a journey that should have been full of cool mountain scenery.

Entering Jasper National Park I was asked to pay $39.40 for a Parks Fee which took me by surprise.

The only wildlife we saw were mountain goat - two were on the road and the male with his big spikey horns was up on the rocks looking a bit worse for wear.

Once at Jasper we encountered and failed to photograph a stack train - it was going way too fast - I was pacing it out of town at about 85 km/hr. Upon our return to Jasper we found that the VIA passenger train The Canadian had somehow slipped past us and was sitting at the station. It didn't leave until 4pm and in that time a freight that was waiting beyond the yard limits was allowed to pass through.
The Canadian sitting at Jasper
We checked in, and invariably while we were doing that, two more passed through. An early dinner which was served faster than you could take your first sip of your drink. It was supposed to be Chinese but it was as authentic as a TV dinner. It tasted OK but lacked a little something. Grant was hanging for sweet n sour chicken, but got sweet n sour chicken balls..... don't ask.

We hit the carpark beside the platform again and soon it was all on. Lots of trains passing through, a train was broken in two and more switching was done. Didn't get back to the hotel until 9:30 ish due to poor light and ultra cold wind. Two video camera batteries drained flat owing to the cold.

Today I learned how to use my camera remote so I could take photos whilst recording - instead of touching the screen - results above and below.

Tomorrow we're off for a wee morning drive.


Thursday, 28 May 2015

Day 14 - Exploring the Railfan Mecca of Edmonton

Today we explored the railfanning Mecca of Edmonton - and what a let down.

It started off with shabby service at the hotel restaurant where we had to wait over 30 minutes for our breakfast (people who came in after us got their food before us) - it was blatantly obvious that the people the waitresses knew got their food before us. Minimal tip given. Negative feedback given on their website.

This negative attitude permeating through me continued on for the rest of the day - it seemed that wherever I tried to go there were road works preventing me from pulling over, or there were track gangs preventing trains from running or the location was totally unsuitable for filming. I was totally gutted at the lack of rail traffic. Thankfully Sally the SATNAV behaved herself and any wrong turns were my fault, which just fueled the fire.

About 4 hours spent at East Junction - 3 trains seen - pitiful. Then I heard on the scanner that an incoming train from the west had to detach locos upon arrival and had to get a move on owing to the number of trains arriving....but we'd skipped lunch and we were getting hungry...what to do...
I hatched a cunning plan: we'll go back to the hotel, freshen up, put on warmer clothes etc. then get a takeaway dinner and eat it beside tracks until it gets too dark.

We ended up at my old haunt of Union Junction on the old 156th Street grade crossing which is now blocked off, with pizzas each....and for the sake of Lawrie's and Grant's wives who may be reading this, they both had very small pizzas that appeared to be very healthy, salt free and reduced fat....and if you believe that...
Perfect light conditions and four trains in 20 minutes (one of them was stopped right where I parked), a bit of a wait then it was on again.

Sitting at Union Junction waiting for me to turn up and take a photo - or maybe a green light into Walker Yard.

CN putting on a tremendous show at Union Junction.

Big smiles for the funny man.

The dreaded Canpotex train - these things are long with about 150 cars all the same...except for the graffiti.

The light was fading fast so I took the guys for a cruise on the good side of Walker Yard before it got dark. "Look at that !!".

Today's weather was a bit bizarre - by 10 am the cloud had burned off so the entire sky was blue, but the northerly wind would cut right through you - so although it was really cold - sun burn did feature again.

Highlights of the day for me were interactions with people - one train that went past had a female conductor and she looked back at me with a look that said "how dare you scoff down a pizza in front of me after I've just spent 18 hours on a train, I'm tired, I'm filthy, the engineer smells and I'm  hungry." I just gave her the old "oops, caught with my hand in the lolly jar" look. She grinned like a maniac.
The next train to come along the conductor was on the front sill as she had to climb off and throw a point further down the track. When she realised that she was being videoed she did a big pose and put on a big grin. Awesome. Seeing people smile when they don't have to is always good.
That's been the attitude of all the CP and CN employees we've interacted with - ultra friendly and only too happy to answer some pretty stupid questions.

I think we're all pretty sick of the city, the traffic and the people and can't wait to get back into the mountains again. I know I am. Tomorrow we'll do just that - Jasper here we come. Looong day expected.

Speaking of graffiti....when I last filmed these things in 2004 (or whenever it was), hardly any of the freight cars had graffiti on them - now it's the opposite - spotting one without a tag is becoming difficult.


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Day 13 - Calgary to Edmonton

Today kicked off with breakfast at Denny's as we didn't feel too fussed about having it at the hotel - it was going to cost a lot.

Something familiar beside Denny's in Calgary

Today we relocated from Calgary to Edmonton - a 3.75 hour drive that took us about 7 hours.

Where we could, I tried to follow Highway 2A instead of taking the main Highway 2. This road is less populated, you can pull over and stop where you like - and it follows the railway tracks.

Being a CP connection from Calgary to Edmonton, I didn't expect to see much in the way of rail activity, however we were pleasantly surprised.

I left Highway 2 for 2A at Crossfield, where as soon as we got into town, the lights and bells started up. A switcher set from Calgary was spotting some tanks and hoppers and every now and then it had to go over a grade crossing. Lots of good close up footage on a bright sunny day. Eventually it disappeared around a corner and I made the D to move on.

These refurbished GP-9s look very slick. They're now called a GP20C-ECO

Further along the road near Carstairs I espied a light in the distance and a CP Canpotex turned up and went sailing through at a great rate of knots. Filmed that one too.

Further along near Bowden I saw another light in the distance. This time a CP manifest with lots of tank cars - mostly LPG. A Union Pacific loco was an unexpected sight. Filmed that as well.

More grain elevators photographed. 

From there on it all went dead, and we encountered many track gangs making repairs and all signal lights were off. Lunch at Lacombe and at Leduc we finally had to resort to going on the main drag to get to Edmonton. Canadian drivers have yet to discover the use of the little stick on the steering column we refer to as an indicator. Their driving is appalling - the speed limit is an obvious recommendation and there's no-one around to enforce it anyway. Doing 110 kph along the freeway and I'm getting overtaken by trucks.

I called into a hobby shop where I resisted an overwhelming urge, but did spend a few bucks. The traffic was insane - being 4:30 pm didn't help I suppose.

We're staying at the Travelodge East Edmonton for 2 nights - cheap motel, average facilities, dodgy neighbourhood. Internet plays up, so if you can see this, jolly good.

A day of exploring tomorrow, and I swear, if one of them asks to go to the Mall, they're walking home.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Day 12 - Lethbridge to Calgary

Today is officially the half way mark, and we've covered some serious territory. We learned today that a town we passed through a few days ago has since been hit by floods following a rain storm. Cache Creek is a bit of a disaster area. It was one of the places we were going to stay but I chose Ashcroft instead. Gut feeling more than lucky choice.

The 250 k drive from Lethbridge to Calgary started off with a stopover back at Kipp Yard near Coalhurst. We sat and watched a lot of kick shunting - or kick-off switching I think it's called - where the locomotive accelerates with a load of freight cars, a guy operates the coupler release bar (running beside the freight car) then he radios the loco engineer to hit the brakes and the freight car rolls into the pre-selected track by guys operating manual turnout levers. It usually goes really well and is fully of wonderful noises of freight cars banging into each other, but if you push too hard the freight car crashes into the one already on the track and things get damaged, if you push too slow then it gets stuck on a turnout. Yesterday everything went perfectly but today the loco engineer was a bit fast and some almighty bangs were heard....hoping like heck that huge tank of LPG wouldn't erupt. Train spotter stuff.

A Union Pacific Canpotex freight departed westbound so we continued to the next grade crossing to watch it pass. The sky was heavily overcast so any photos taken weren't that flash. Either that or I'm useless at using my camera.

Grain empties departing Vulcan. They usually start out as very long trains but once they've dropped a few cars at each silo, it soon gets smaller.

We continued north back to Calgary taking the back roads and ended up at Vulcan. The townsfolk have embraced their name and they decorate the town with Star Trek stuff. A huge day of mourning when Leonard Nimoy passed away.

The first sight to greet you at Vulcan.

The main reason for going this way was to see the grain elevators and maybe espy a train or two. One train seen and lots of grain elevators. Massive structures.

Grain elevator and silos at Vulcan

We continued to High River then went straight to the Hotel Blackfoot - this place is superb.

I took the guys for a tour around various places where you can see trains roll by but the weather turned sour and the traffic was diabolical, so we ended up back at our favourite haunt at Alyth Yard where Jerry (a local raifan) was waiting for our arrival. Lots of switching and one or two trains passed through. I managed to lock the scanner onto the radio transissions of the ground staff and that made the experience a bit more interesting and logical.

By now we had confirmed what we suspected - the Satnav database is way out of date as she was trying to send us across roads that were blocked off by new freeways, and she didn't recognize roads that I was on. Luckily Lawrie was handy with a map and we managed to get the Neverlost system unlost.

Driving the back roads of the Alberta plains - ho hum.

Owing to the lack of eateries in the vicinity of our lavish hotel, I managed to convince the guys to go into a pub for a pub meal which turned out to be OK but a bit of a new experience for the other generation on this tour...they weren't impressed with the music or the volume... I got the barmaid to find out what a song was that was playing - Papillion by Editors. It talked to me (I liked the 90's techno sound and the Indie voice of the singer).

As you can guess, not much to report. Lawrie and Grant seem to have a wonderful time no matter where we might be, because there's always an old car to stir Lawrie up or an old tractor for Grant to get excited about somewhere. David loves containers, so all it takes is a double stack train to go by and he's happy.
There's a permanent haze blowing through from the north from all the forest fires and the sky is now overcast - not cold unless the wind picks up. Tomorrow we go to Edmonton - via back roads again.

This hotel is soooo good. Either the guy at the desk did his homework before we turned up or he's a genuine All Blacks fan.


Monday, 25 May 2015

Day 11 - Exploring Lethbridge

Today had one purpose: film / photograph trains crossing the Viaduct at Lethbridge. The problem was we didn't know how often it was used.

The first task was to do a spot of grocery shopping, and while the guys were in there, someone heard a train horn - but one like no other. So we high tailed it to the line that branches off to the USA and David saw some lights when we crossed the track. Initially I thought it was a highrail truck, but it turned out to be a track inspection train - one loco, one equipment car and two old coaches. I didn't feel obliged to film it so I let it go - as it turned out, it would re-appear again later in the afternoon.

My plan of attack was simple: go to the yard at Coalhurst, and as soon as it looks as though something is heading east, shoot back to the bridge. We arrived at Coalhurst and one of the trains parked up there looked like it was being prepared for departure - then a van pulls up and two guys jump in the loco. We shot back to the bridge to the same spot where we were yesterday, the light was perfect and a light zephyr was pushing over the tops of the grass. Soon after my prayers were answered and a medium sized manifest turned up.

Video frame capture of the first train filmed passing over the bridge.

Since it didn't look like anything else was due to depart, I walked back to the guys to see if they were interested in chasing it - suddenly this snake slithers across the path 6 inches from my feet. Heart rate jumped to about 240 bpm.

As it turned out, the train only went as far as the Lethbridge Yard where it was spotting and picking up. There was no where to go to see the action so we returned to Coalhurst where an SD60 was being used as a switcher and the crew were breaking up a train. While I was filming this, the scanner burst into life: ".. there's a white Dodge on the road and someone videoing me, can someone check it out please..." "That's us !!"
Post 9/11 fear mongering is still rife in the CPR, and as a result, a guy came tootling up the road to see who we were. He soon realised that we weren't wearing tea towels and he ended up being a gem of information - namely that there won't be any trains across the bridge until 4 pm.

Lunch time.

We returned to the bottom of the bridge to have a snooze and a read and then relocated to the opposite side of the bridge that offered an excellent view at track height.

Lawrie and the bridge.

At almost 4pm on the dot a long grain train came followed soon after by the track inspection train. At about 4:50 a Union Pacific led Canpotex train trundled over. The overcast sky was having a detrimental effect on the light and I decided to almost call it quits - then thunder started rattling the bridge - time to go.

Panoramic view - the only way to photograph the whole thing.

A very filling dinner at the Swiss Chalet Grill.

Tomorrow we head back to Calgary.


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Day 10 - Calgary to Lethbridge

This wee jaunt took us from the insane traffic of Calgary (and it was Sunday morning !) to the city of Lethbridge. Driving through downtown (yesterday) the buildings were blocking the satellite signal and it was amusing to see Sally the Satnav have a total fit with the map display spinning around in circles.

Not much to report for our efforts today. Usually the train radar (gut feeling) is working well but today it was on the fritz. I diverted to Okotoks to see if anything was running through - nothing to be seen or heard, and just as we were returning to HWY 2 - oh look, a train. Dammit. It was going way too fast to double back so we continued on.

With most of the guys falling asleep during this long leg that was over mostly flat ground, the radar started to kick in - ie, I needed to do No 1s and we were getting close to Fort McLeod - I chose an empty road by the tracks and as I was walking to a small tree, a light appeared in the distance. It was the long Canpotex (Canadian Potash Exporters) train - and it was our first sign of a Union Pacific unit. It was too important to film to get stills sorry. I know how bitterly disappointed you all are.

On the way through Fort McLeod, a black plume of smoke suddenly appeared - we must investigate. By the time we got there the fire service were already in attendance extinguishing a car that was totally gutted. It wasn't an old car either.

The Alberta plains are not scenic - no-one takes photos of flat land. So one has to resort to seeing beauty and artistic impression in man made features. Here's an example .....

This is why we came all the way down to Lethbridge.
All these little hills have walkways that go to lookouts so you can see the bridge from differing angles.
After checking in (totally seemless) and lunch at Subway, we returned here to wait for a train. I forgot the scanner so couldn't keep tabs on what was going on in the yard at Coalhurst. I sat on the hill for about 2 hours waiting for nothing to happen.
While I was there, the guys took a walk and discovered a few things....back to that later.
I watched people jogging past, families walking together - no trains. One of the kids that went past excitedly pointed at something in the ground and squealed "there's one !!". What on earth is he excited about? Then he did it again. I was puzzled.
When I met up with the guys, they happened to mention that they saw a snake and that one was heading my way - saucer eyes time. They'd talked to a kid who said it was a gardener snake. Lovely...and here was I making a wee nest in the long grass for myself.

Anyway, the sun was shifting, but it wasn't late so I took the guys over to Coalhurst where the big yard is, and after about 30 minutes of watching and waiting, we realised that a train was departing for Lethbridge and it would pass over the bridge. The big problem was that I didn't have a plan in place for getting to the other side of the bridge for these late shots, so I didn't have a map reference for the Satnav so we had to wing it. The usual viewing place would mean we'd be looking into the sun. Several ideas were mooted but by the time Sally sent us around the block, the train was already passing over the bridge. At least we got to see it. Thankfully we have a whole day here tomorrow to repeat these stuff ups !

Can you see the mistake ?

To help you out, 96 metres does not convert to 214 feet - it should be 314 feet. Not a good look when a bunch of rivet counting train spotters are reading it...

Early-ish dinner and retire. We've had some late nights and it's good to get in early. Good grief - it's almost 10 pm and it's still daylight.

Not that we should ever admit it, but we're glad that the Alberta hotels also supply body lotion....the low humidity was making my legs look white with dry skin - well that's my excuse anyway. We're skulling back water like crazy. Another sunny day in paradise.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Day 9 - Banff to Calgary

Today we drove from Banff to Calgary via Canmore and Exshaw.

First things first, we went back to the station to see what we could see - lights off, nobody home - no trains and no radio chatter. Great.
So we took a little scenic divergance up to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola car park which gave us a bit of a view of the surrounding mountains.

Back to the station, lights are still off, however a burst of life from the scanner - a west bound calling the signal at Canmore. Finally. Some guy was doing some cherry picker training in the carpark and I got fed up with the noise so we relocated to Canmore. With 20/20 hindsight, I would have stayed here instead of Banff. No tourists and a cool little town. Once again, no trains, no radio chatter. Lunch and then the scanner erupted with a flurry of activity from Exshaw - excellent.
We took highway 1A to Exshaw where there are multiple industries that use rail. We found a neat little trio of refurbished GP20s that were switching the yard. Lots of good shots with scenery to boot.

A frame grab from my video camera - taken at Exshaw

The switching crew then stopped for lunch and we continued to Calgary, leaving the Rockies in our wake.

A minor glitch with check-in - the hotel would not accept my Westpac VISA Debit plus card as an incidentals payment method. I ripped into the guy at the desk (Indian) and he was going to pass on my choice words to his boss. I'll have a word to the bank about this wee problem as well. The hotel would not accept anything that had Debit on it.

On the road again and I took the guys for a tiki tour around the outskirts of Alyth Yard. We stumbled across a small industrial area that was right beside the main junction where the tracks from Lethbridge and Edmonton meet with the main line to Vancouver. Lots of photos, lots of footage and 2 new railfan friends made.

Alyth Yard, Calgary.

Dinner and back at the hotel at 9:45 pm - very late.