Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part II)

Welcome to the second meeting of RSAS - the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society. As we mentioned in our inaugural meeting, there is much for us to learn from the humble freight car. Last week, we talked about how rail cars have changed in the last few decades. Today, all we see is container trains, but it wasn't all that long ago that trains regularly featured a slew of boxcars.

So, with last week's start behind us, I humbly present the second reason why it's important to photograph rolling stock.

2. Photographing rolling stock is perhaps the best way we can learn about railway history these days.

Let's face it. The major North American railways are not all that concerned with their history (Norfolk Southern is the one exception and Union Pacific has some reasonable heritage units). For the most part, your best bet for catching a glimpse of rail history is to find it on an old car. And, given the life span of cars, many of these old cars will likely not be on the rails much longer.

Take the picture above (August 2016) for example. Those of us who have been around know all about Canadian Pacific's former incarnation as CP Rail. I'm sure many of us take it for granted. But how many young railfans weren't around during the multimark era and don't know anything about the CP Rail incarnation?

Here are a few additional photos of some fallen flags or relics.

Conrail (Summer 1992, Sarnia Yard) These old high-cubes were once common, but they are rare now. Check out the massive double doors. You can even see a little glimpse of an old GT high cube to the left.

Family Lines System/Louisville & Nashville (Summer 2014, Sarnia Yard). There are few railways with a more colourful lineage than CSX.

Sclair and Dupont (Summer 1992, Serviplast Spur, near Corunna). These hoppers are still around, thankfully. How many cars in private fleets were or are as creatively decked out than these hoppers?

CN International Service North American scheme (December 2013, near Donahue Bridge, Sarnia). Who remembers this scheme on CN and CP international service cars? I used to see them all the time but was shocked to see on back in 2013.

 Burlington Northern (October 2016, Sarnia Yard). Thankfully, BN cars are still pretty common. I have always thought BN was one of the coolest looking railways. I loved the logo and the colour scheme. Much better than the ultra modern BNSF Great Northern knock-off look.

Southern Railway (October 2016, Strathroy Subdivision, Sarnia). How many railways put as much thought into their advertising than the Southern? These cars are still around, but I found they have dwindled in recent years.

Chicago & Northwestern (April 2014, Smiths Falls Sub, Ottawa). I love coming across cars where the heritage is literally bleeding through, despite efforts to repatch.

Soo Line (June 2014, Twin Elm, Ontario). The Soo is still a common site, given its longstanding association and integration in the Canadian Pacific system. Still, it's a railway with a colourful history that is starting to fade. How any Soo-painted units are left out there? How many Soo hoppers are left with the wheat sheaf on the side?

These are just a few examples of some of the rail history I have caught trackside over the years. On the surface, there is nothing fancy about these pictures on their own, but I think they collectively tell a fascinating story. Things weren't always like they are today. I'm not saying it was better trackside thirty years ago (okay I might be, but I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man), but it was different. And that's a story worth telling. Who can say what railways will look like in another few decades? Given how much change we've seen even in the last ten years, it seems like snapping a few mundane shots of rolling stock is a worthy exercise.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part I)

In light of some of the great discussion I have seen lately about rolling stock, I decided to approach the subject of the humble freight car in a series of posts. With that in mind, I'd like to call to order the first session of the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society (RSAS for short).

I can't underestimate how important it is to document every piece of a train that passes by our lenses. I know there are many out there, including me, that sometimes halfheartedly take shots of rolling stock as part of our trackside experience. However, when you consider how quickly things change in this industry, it is sometimes to our detriment when we don't chronicle rolling stock like we do the front end of trains. Yes, the dramatic shot of the locomotive is always what we strive for, but should we be satisfied with the head end only?

Why is rolling stock so important? Well, here's the first reason.

1. What is common today may not be all that common tomorrow.

Case in point. When I was a teenager, intermodal container trains were just starting to really take hold as the dominant form of rail freight. I remember when the double stacks began to show up in Sarnia in the mid-1990s when the new St. Clair Tunnel was build to accommodate them. The site of these stacked containers on an endless string of well cars was jarring.

This shot above, captures the site of two container trains, one headed to Macmillan Yard in Vaughan with the other making its way out. A few decades ago, this shot would likely inspire a much different reaction than it does today.

I doubt very much that container traffic is going to go the way of the boxcar anytime soon, but it's no reason for us to ignore the site. This shot above aptly captures the essence of modern railroading in 2017 (well, this shot is 2013, but you get the idea). It also gives you an idea of what a railway carries and who it serves, based on the stamps on the trailers (JB Hunt, Canadian Tire, MSC, etc.). This allows to more easily understand how railways work.

Now compare the all-too-common intermodal stack trains with something like an old high-cube boxcar. I took this shot in the Spring of 1991 in my hometown of Corunna. This boxcar, which still retained its Louisville and Nashville lettering (although patched for CSXT), was once a very common site where I lived. These massive boxcars carried auto parts and were abundant on the rail lines in Southern Ontario, since the big three (CN, CP and CSX) all served the auto plants and parts suppliers in the region.

Well, lo and behold, these boxcars are now a distant memory and it really hasn't been all that long (less than 30 years). I have a few shots of these old cars and am glad that I do. Not only do they seem more compelling now, but they also help to explain what it was like to be trackside 30 years ago.

So take that boring shot of a freight car. You might be glad you did one day.