Sunday, August 21, 2016

Portage 1987, Fourth Section - A Last Look at Churchill

At Cape Merry (named for John Merry, deputy-governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1712-1728), the door at the right led to the powder magazine for the Cape Merry cannon battery - constructed in the late 1740s. The frame at the left is a benchmark for dredging of the harbour.

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Unless otherwise noted, black and white images and diagrams are from:

  Province of Manitoba Royal Comssion Inquiry into Northern Transportation; Arthur V Mauro; 1969; Government of Manitoba.

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Above, Fort Prince of Wales in a partially restored state in the 1960s.

The Cape Merry battery, on the east bank of the Churchill River is in the foreground.
Fort Prince of Wales is seen beyond it on the far side of the Churchill River.

Churchill on Hudson Bay; Angus and Bernice MacIver; 1982; The Churchill Ladies Club.
The map above comes from a self-published local history of Churchill's long period of human settlement. 'Fort Churchill V' marks the location of the large American military base which was operated by various American and Canadian units between 1942 and the mid-1960s. At a local museum we were told that during the World War II 'boom years' there were about 7000 people on the US base and about 4000 residents at Churchill itself.

The MacIvers were a couple who trapped in the area and spent their vacations 'down south' researching local history. I asked about the MacIver name because I had seen an employee timetable with a station named 'MacIver'. This may have been a flag stop near their trap line. ... The museum interpreter replied that she had applied to the Geographical Names Board of Canada to name a place after them. As a result, a lake on their former trap line was named MacIver.

Churchill on Hudson Bay; Angus and Bernice MacIver; 1982; The Churchill Ladies Club
Above: Angus and Bernice MacIver in the 1960s.

Location of MacIver Lake.

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Some Local Details from the Royal Commission

The isotherms on the map above show how Hudson Bay affects local land temperatures.
You can also see how short the shipping season is on average.

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Whether it be tundra or taiga, here is a map of 'Forest Inventory Sections' near Hudson Bay.

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Detail on the Port of Churchill in the 1960s

The Port of Churchill in the mid-1960s.

In 1987, we were told that 15-25 ships were docking there per season with the port's financial break-even point being 18 ships. The terminal elevator operators came from the southern prairie provinces. Two barges and a tug boat were used to supply local Inuit settlements with fuel oil, etc during the shipping season.

The Montcalm is a Canadian Coast Guard ship.

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A Few More Photos from Our Trip in 1987

This shows part of the 'Eskimo Museum' which was set up by the local Catholic diocese
to preserve and display carvings and other art and artifacts of the area.

This is our tour gang with our brand new school touring bus. 
The facility here is used for holding local polar bears 
who become 'too friendly' with human habitation ... 
until the ice forms and then can depart to hunt for seal.

Pens inside are designed to accommodate mother bears and cubs.
Some of the barrel trap trailers can be seen at the left.

In 1987, we were told that 80-120 cubs were born annually in the denning area located along the railway, 40 miles south of Churchill.

Our tour ran from about 09hr until 17hr.
The other photos below were taken between about 19hr and 20hr.

The Churchill station is at the extreme left.
To the right is the informal settlement along the Churchill River estuary known as 'The Flats'.
Originally, its residents were mainly local aboriginal people, including 'Metis'.

Two flatcars form the piggyback ramp at Churchill.
The second one is blocked-up on sections of ties.
The provincial highway ends at Thompson - where these special TOFC cars are lifted and set off.

An auto transporter appears above in 1987.
Below is a section from the 1969 Royal Commission report about transporting autos
to Churchill and other settlements along the railway.

Anywhere else, our consist would be complete and ready to go.
However, there is still some work to do ...

... some detail of the rear of the station.

Our passenger crewman is lifting those intermodal cars with our passenger power.

The conductor who joined our train at Thompson,
whom we code-named 'Cornelius' (as in WCvH)
leads the movement back to the train - we will be departing very soon.
You can see the steam connections beneath the flatcars to supply train heat.
We boarded around 2030hr for the return trip to Portage la Prairie.

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As we prepare to depart, here is the 1969 Royal Commission section about Churchill
- from the Executive Summary.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Portage 1987, Third Section - Grain Boxcars for Churchill

A few days after our return from Churchill, Manitoba, a westbound of empties passes East Tower at Portage la Prairie.

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A few days earlier ...

We had spent the day at Churchill - marked on this Google Map.

Official Guide, 1958. Collection of LC Gagnon
Leaving from my aunt and uncle's at Portage, we had followed the usual route, which passes through Hudson Bay (Junction), Saskatchewan.  

The reason for the railway line to Hudson Bay - the terminal elevator - lies between today's townsite ... and the original sites of settlement on the west side of the Churchill River. At one time this included Fort Prince of Wales.

A previous post describes the trip to Churchill.
Portage 1987, Second Section - to Churchill

At Churchill, our primarily American train-mates and we took took a local bus tour of Churchill which filled a good part of the day. Here, a Parks Canada interpreter recounts some of the history of Fort Prince of Wales and the English versus French battles over this strategic fur trading post on Hudson Bay.

The interpreter was in radio contact with other Parks employees who were keeping track of local polar bears. We were all cautioned to stay together in case a bear popped up unexpectedly. In many places in Canada, the first day of summer is not very warm.

It is entirely possible that our 'summer day' reminded some of our American fellow travellers of the Siege of Bastogne.

Here is the same bastion without people, and Fort Prince of Wales across the mouth of the Churchill River. It was possible to take a motor boat trip across to the fort, but it depended on tides and would have eaten up most of our day.

As the day progressed, the clouds withdrew. A gap in our tour continuity was created by people who had not eaten breakfast on the train. By the time the tour resumed, the sun was out. Here is the east side of the elevator. Ships dock on the far side.

This is taken from the southwest side of the elevator.
I think that is the elevator's original power plant with the stack.
Two Plymouth locomotives, built in June 1930, were used at the elevator.

In the afternoon, this is the shore east of Churchill.
Notice that the trees don't bother putting out branches on the northern side.

Our return south - with the same passenger consist - was scheduled for the early evening. After dinner, we wandered off and took a few photos of the elevator. This is on the river side, showing the grain loading conveyors.

An undated postcard shows the loading equipment from the opposite end.

Another undated postcard shows the elevator from the northeast side and near the location of my first elevator photo. You'll notice a number of wooden-sided boxcars here.

The Manitoba Hydro 1 megawatt diesel generator once used at Churchill for emergency power.

Here is a flanger from 1942 and a spreader from 1921.

Our passenger consist is reversing to the station.
TOFC cars will be added to our train before we depart.
The snow fighting equipment can be seen down the road at the right.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Roadmasters Debate Switch Targets in 1910

Years ago, I purchased this roughly treated old journal. The ads are perhaps more interesting than some of the professional/technical articles on Northern American and British subjects. Bound copies of this journal may be found (without advertisements) at

A simple but important safety appliance - particularly on the main line - was the switch target. Below are views presented in a committee report of the Roadmasters' and Maintenance of Way Association Convention at Chicago in September 1910.

The committee members fail to resolve the question. Their perspectives illustrate the difficulties encountered when trying to standardize the practices of individual railroad companies.

From other sources I have inserted a few illustrations of targets.

A break from these deliberations for illustrations of some targets ...

Early Railways; JB Snell; 1964; Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Here is a British Home (absolute) Signal of the 1850s. The book doesn't elaborate on the purpose of the two rotating target shafts ... and whether one is linked to a switch or not. This may be a sampler which displays two pieces of equipment together - but not in a real operating combination.

At the right, the basic principle of a 90 degree shaft rotation which displays the target at a right angle to the track to indicate a restriction, or no target to indicate clear track ('normal' position) ... can be seen.

At the left: Considering the difficulties of finding switches in the dark, possible disorientation, and the added dangers of operating by night ... the desirable idea of always displaying one of two lights by night - a restricting indication or a clear indication ... is also demonstrated.

Leaving the earliest targets on signals or switches ... and on to more modern switches ...

By Steam Boat and Steam Train, The Story of the Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway; Niall MacKay; 1982; Boston Mills Press.
Near Huntsville, Ontario in 1951, are the artifactual remains of a stub switch on a switchback.

Switchbacks were track zigzags with tails - the camera is over a tail - which were used to ascend steep grades. Switchbacks were relatively rare on Canadian railways because a train had to stop on the tail track and reverse direction onto the next segment of track.

To increase the 'run' for a given 'rise' ... loops or spirals of track were more efficient than switchbacks because trains could save time, and maintain their momentum up the grade, without having to stop ... and they could avoid the derailment risks of extra stops and extra switching at each tail track.

Above, to present a warning where safety is more likely to be at risk - a target is presented to a descending train when the switch is set against it.

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Canadian Railway Scenes, No 2; Adolf Hungry Wolf; 1985; Good Medicine Books.
At the first station at Sudbury are two nice examples of old switch targets on the early CPR. 

The main track switch by the locomotive's tender shows the single target (with two holes) for daytime and the two-colour switch lamp for night operation. Both are elevated so an approaching engineer can know for certain as soon as possible if the switch is lined 'normal' for the main track ... or for a diverging route.

The chevrons of the target in the foreground cannot be mistaken for the main track target. They apply to the secondary route in front of the station and show whether or not it is set for a diverging route.

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The Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway 1863-1884; Thomas F McIlwraith; 1963, 1971; Upper Canada Railway Society.
At Owen Sound, Ontario, circa 1890, is a three-way hand-thrown switch with an interesting oil-burning switch lamp. Switch stands and lamps of simpler construction can be seen in the distance.

With three possible routes to and from this switch ... it remains a question how or if the switch lamp was used to precisely communicate the exact lining of the switch to approaching movements from both directions.

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The roadmasters continue ...

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The Compendium of Signals; Roger FR Karl; 1971; Boynton and Associates.
Above, are shown some standard switch targets. Whether there is a need to display a second target - when the switch is lined 'normal' for the main track is what the Roadmasters are debating. As the diagrams indicate, most or all of these switch stands are designed so a switch lamp can be fitted for night operation.

It seems likely that the general improvement of railway technology and practices eventually eliminated the desirability of having a daytime target for 'normal'. In the early days, there were many manufacturers of equipment and there may not have been iron clad traditional practices recognized by all operating employees. Trains travelled at slower speeds on the early, primitive track structures.

Once railways had employed a few generations of track maintenance and operating employees - rules and operating practices would have become better established ... eg. 'our switches are in always in normal position when lined for the main track'.

As train speeds and traffic density increased, engine crews became busier. It would have been simpler to watch ahead for rare, prominent red switch targets of 'danger' ... than to watch the track ahead for all the other possible signs of danger ... and also to search ahead to identify every single approaching switch target and to confirm that it was safely lined for the main track.

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