Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Tour of the CPR Heron Bay Sub in 1986, Part 1 of 2

Featuring the Photographs of Eric D. Gagnon
My brother went west by train in 1986. One important project of this trip was to drive the backroads and to document the vanishing wooden country grain elevators in Saskatchewan. In addition, on his way around Lake Superior, he photographed the Heron Bay and Nipigon subs in great detail for me. He spent at least five or six hours shooting out the tailend of The Canadian and recording the location particulars for each photo.
Now that I'm working with a blogging platform which can handle large images, I'm finally able to give these photos the attention they deserve.

The Heron Bay Subdivision was also referred to by Schreiber-based crews as the 'East End'.  
It encompasses the track between White River and Schreiber. 

Locations on the railway are identified by mileage from a given point, and sometimes by a designated station name. Officially if a place name is listed in the employee timetable, it is a 'station' . 

While early railway 'stations' generally had their own staffed station buildings, modern railway 'stations' usually identify important locations on the railway line. On the Heron Bay Sub station names are given to locations where trains may meet or pass each other.

At the time the following photos were taken, these were the stations on the Heron Bay Sub.

CPR employee timetable, Heron Bay Subdivision, 1985

Because the subdivision uses the Centralized Traffic Control system, most trains are guided over the subdivision on an ad hoc basis by electrically interlocked 'traffic lights'. The 'interlocking' design is intended to automatically display signals which will prevent collisions under all normal operating conditions. At the time the photos were taken, the CTC system was operated by the train dispatcher in Schreiber.

Map: Canadian Pacific Railway mainline White River to Schreiber 1915, showing telegraph stations
The map above comes from Atlas of Canada 1915, Department of the Interior, Government of Canada. The traditional black railway track symbol has been over-printed with a red line to represent the telegraph line - with the individual points of telegraph stations also shown. At this point the CPR had been connecting eastern Canada with western Canada through this railway line for only 30 years. 

This was the era of staffed railway station buildings - as telegraph stations were needed to provide written movement orders to train crews from the distant train dispatcher. Each telegraph operator also communicated the location of trains to the dispatcher - as each train passed the operator's station. 
Using a modern analogy, the telegraph operators were the 'radar' - locating the position of trains, as they passed, to the rail traffic controller [dispatcher]. When the dispatcher issued movement commands, the telegraph line and the telegraph operator worked like a radio to communicate the dispatcher's 'voice' through written train orders.

Considering the map above, there was very little other evidence of 'European-style civilization' in this wild country in the early 1900s. 

Canadian Pacific Railway, gradient profile, 1915
This diagram is from Altitudes in Canada; James White; 1915; Commission of Conservation, Government of Canada. During the Canadian railway building boom (roughly 1880-1914) railways were key producers and users of topographical data - in part, because railways generally avoided grades which exceeded 2.2 percent.

In fact, the ideal, most economical railway to operate would be perfectly level and straight.

Most of this topographical data was generated in the middle of the Canadian wilderness employing analogue survey instruments: measuring chains used with optical instruments such as transits and levels.

The profile above shows distance in miles from Montreal and altitude in feet above sea level.

The surface of Lake Superior fluctuates around 600 feet above sea level. The railway was built along its shore between Heron Bay and Jackfish.

Beginning Our Trip

White River, Ontario railway station, circa 1990

For both passenger and freight trains travelling west to Schreiber, a fresh engine crew would book on for work at White River.

This photo was taken a couple of years after The Canadian was cancelled on the CPR route along Lake Superior. The VIA rail diesel car serving remote locations between Sudbury and White River is shown at its western terminal.

I marked the mileages on the following 1977 topographical maps in a rough fashion so I could 'reverse engineer' the Heron Bay Sub and enter elevation/mileage into a Simmons-Boardman train dynamics program I purchased for use on the first generation of PCs in the early 1990s. I'm supplying the maps in a large format as we go, so you can see how the drainage pattern and other topography was used by 19th Century engineers to locate wilderness railways such as the CPR north of Superior.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 0 to mile 8

White River, Ontario, rail yard 1984
Because my brother travelled through White River in the pre-dawn darkness, the first photos in this section are from a 1984 trip we took. Here we are departing White River, looking back at the station platform at the left and the White River, itself, at the right. 

Around mile 5, Heron Bay Sub
The hill to the right was probably burned over in recent years.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 9 to mile 15

Bremner Mile 13.1
The first siding west of White River is Bremner at mile 13.1.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 22 to mile 29
Mobert mile 22.5
At mile 22.5 is Mobert, where we met an eastbound freight. The distinctive storefront of a closed Hudson's Bay Company store can be seen at the left margin.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 33 to mile 39

Struthers mile 33.5
A wave from the tailend of a freight at Struthers. Traditionally, when one railroader waves to another on a passing train, it is a signal that no defects were observed on the latter's train.

Cigar Lake around mile 38.
The Trans-Canada Highway can be seen at the left.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 43 to mile 51
Pringle mile 44.0 - the west switch
This is the last of the afternoon photos from 1984. The following photos were taken in the early morning in 1986 by Eric Gagnon.

Meet at Pringle mile 44.0
4709 and 4705 lead an eastbound by Number 1 at Pringle. While passenger train observers will suggest that 'freight has priority', reviewing the railway profile at the top of this post will make it clear that freights have a long drag uphill from Heron Bay to White River. With more horsepower per ton, and generally travelling downhill, it makes more sense to duck Number 1 into the passing track than to stop a freight.

Mile 48 Heron Bay Sub
Mile 50.5 Heron Bay Sub
 Here the speed limit for passenger trains was 75 mph, 65 on curves.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 52 to mile 61

Notice the feature named 'CPR Island' south of mile 57. Originally, coal for locomotives (and other railway uses) was landed at the island and a spur connected the port with the mainline

This bay is also the point at which Lake Superior can be seen from the railway for the first time on the westbound trip.

Bridge at mile 54.4 Heron Bay Sub, Big Pic River

Heron Bay siding mile 55.2 at Highway 627
A pair of SD40-2 locomotives are pulling on the Heron Bay passing track toward a medium clear signal. When I worked in the late 1970s, there were only three road crossings requiring a standard grade crossing whistle on the entire Heron Bay Sub - this was one of them.

Heron Bay Station, mile 55.2
The rail you see lying beside the track is part of the heavy track overhaul work which railways perform during the summer. Old continuous welded rail ('ribbon rail') is removed and new rail is threaded into its place and spiked down by trains of special equipment. Between the start and end of the season, things can look a little 'untidy'.

Because 1/4 mile sections of rail can be expected to expand and contract longitudinally, kinks (in hot weather) and breaking (in cold weather) are minimized by careful control of the temperature of the new rail as it is installed. Properly secured, very long sections of rail actually expand and contract in cross-section through the year's temperature extremes.

Vans of eastbound at Heron Bay
The open van door is for the inspection and 'OK' wave to the passing train. 

Another reason for stepping outside was to scrutinize the freight's own trail over the first siding switch - to check for fresh evidence of dragging equipment damage to the ties and switch. With no problems detected, the radio call 'OK at Heron Bay Extra 59xx East' would then be made to the headend and repeated back by them - a practice performed at each siding to ensure the whole crew was OK and alert.

West switch Heron Bay

Near mile 58 Heron Bay Sub
The sealed kegs or pails littering the right of way are there on purpose. They contain spikes and rail anchors which will be used to feed the machines performing the rail change-out operation.

The 'talker' hot box detector at mile 60.4, Heron Bay Sub.
The white light indicates the detector is operating. Soon it will broadcast a 'no alarm' message or it will indicate the train has dragging equipment or evidence of excess heat at a particular wheel location ... and at which axle number in the train the problem(s) is located. If there is an alarm here, and an inspection reveals a problem, a westbound freight would set off the defective car at Marathon.

Approaching Marathon at 0645hr, sectionmen are coming on duty as the sunrise floods the Park car with light.

Map: Heron Bay Sub mile 61 to mile 65
Marathon, Ontario, CPR station
This 'new' station was put into service in 1946 as the Marathon Paper Mills Company of Wisconsin began building a company town at the former railway station named Peninsula(r Harbour). In 1935, Peninsula had had a population of 28.

Marathon near mile 63.5. At the left: maintenance of way equipment. At the right: tracks leading to the pulp mill

Marathon at mile 64 Heron Bay Sub
In the foreground, a solitary pulp log has just missed its calling to become napkins or paper towels.

An excellent reference on Marathon's history is Pic, Pulp and People - A History of the Marathon District; Jean Boultbee, 1967; Revised: Jesse Embree, 1981; Township of Marathon,

Marathon, late 1950s
Above is a postcard created during the years when pulp logs were still driven down the (Big) Pic and Black Rivers. 

The Marathon Corporation's cutting rights to the north on the Pic, were granted in the early 1940s with the expectation that a pulp mill would be built locally. 

Older rights from 1937, held by the Ontario Paper Company (a subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune), were located on the Black River to the north-east. 

The Black flows into the Pic, shortly before the latter reaches Lake Superior. To keep their logs separate, the Tribune's company built a log flume to carry their logs from the Black River to Lake Superior. The Marathon logs were then able to flow directly to Lake Superior along the Pic, with the Marathon Company compensating the Tribune for the cost of the latter's flume.

I checked my 1977 maps and no trace of the flume's location can be found on them.

The simple efficiency of log drives was obvious to early industrialists: almost free transportation, and free mobile storage of the logs in booms until they were needed at a mill or were taken away by ship. 

The effects on fish spawning areas or First Nations' traditional ways of life weren't as obvious back then. 

The log drives ended around 1960 with sawmill waste starting to provide some of the Marathon mill's feedstock. Then the CPR started shipping wood chips in roofless 40 foot boxcars. Now large semi-trucks transport the chips where operations remain.

Shortly after the turn of this century, the most recent owners of the mill declared it bankrupt, leaving unpaid bills and a job for government to sequester the toxins around Jellicoe Cove.

'Marathon, Home of Marathon Corporation of Canada'
This Harry Oakman postcard shows Marathon during its heyday. The CPR station can be seen near the right margin. This postcard was mailed to Wabash, Indiana in 1966 from Nipigon.