The Super Secret Monkey Surprise

For at least the last couple of years, Heritage Park finds a way to bring in Thomas the Tank Engine for the kids. (It’s a fake engine, but the kids don’t care.) The big thing is to ride the train behind Thomas, and tickets for the chance on the Day Out With Thomas sell out well before the day even arrives.
This year, we’d resolved to get you on that train, Monkey. And … well, we did try. But apparently we’d waited too long (trying to coordinate with other parents) and … well, we blew it. This year, like last, probably all you’d have done is stood and watched as other kids got to ride the train.
But, thanks to a fluke chance, you got to ride something those other kids didn’t even know about…
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Four fun-filled days

I sit here at my kitchen table, rubbing the weariness from my eyes. Not the things you’d normally hear from me, mind you — I haven’t been working too hard as of late (as you know, my big project is done). No, this is from something much better — spending time with my family, and notably you, Monkey.
The last four days have been a lot of fun. Maybe even too much fun. Both of us are pretty pooped. You went to bed and for the first time in a long while, there wasn’t hours of chatter from your room. I think you pretty much passed out. I won’t be too far behind you, I think, but I do wish to describe the fun that we’ve shared.
‘Cuz, frankly, I’m not sure how the heck I survived it all…
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Chasing CPR Empress 2816 from Golden to Calgary

Sometimes, I think I’m part dog. They chase cars. Me? I chase trains. I don’t know why.
Canadian Pacific is sending 2816 across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal in May this year, bringing along a load of very high-paying customers. The tour, arranged by a company in England, charged USD$25,000 per person for the experience. Supposedly, the trip sold out almost immediately. I can certainly understand why.
To prepare for this rather large excursion, 2816 has spent the large portion of the last six months undergoing a rather significant overhaul in Vancouver at the soon-to-be-demolished BC Rail Steam Shops. (Demolished because BC Rail is now under the control of the corporation formerly known as Canadian National Railways, and they have no need for steam shops in valuable rail yard property.) After a few tests, someone (not sure who, nor am I going to complain) felt a good shakedown run was needed.
A run out to Calgary.
As soon as the rail community catches wind of something like this, plans start swinging into shape. Although not publicized like the Inaugural Run (see [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]]), there was still a fair bit of information being distributed. It is safe to say that there will likely be more publicity behind the Trans-Canada Steam Express when it runs 10 May to 30 May. (With ticket prices like that, and the train itself as the showpiece, you can expect to hear about it.)
On Saturday, I decided I would chase from Golden to Calgary — a distance of about 260 km. I wouldn’t go all the way to Golden, since the canyon from just east of Golden for about 25 km is more-or-less useless for shooting. Instead, I started at the roadway that we used to go down for the Kootenay River Runners for whitewater rafting. We were just east of the area Canadian Pacific calls Palliser.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Geez, Geoff, you’ve already chased that thing twice before! (See [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]] and [[Chasing CPR Empress 2816 to Brooks]].) Why do you want to do it again?” Simple: No two chases are the same. There’s always something different, and you always meet new people. Besides, it’s as good a reason as any to get out of the city for a few hours.
I was originally not going to travel alone — I had hoped Graham might come along. Unfortunately, Graham and his wife are preparing to move out of their condo, so he didn’t have time. He did offer me one bit of advice: get a shot at Ottertail. I knew of the place called Ottertail, but admittedly had no idea where it was. By description, I had thought I’d have seen at least a sign for Ottertail Creek. As it stands, I ended up in Palliser, giving up on finding Ottertail to the west.
A good 40 minutes early before 2816 would even depart from Golden, I took the opportunity to take in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains in spring. It was about two degrees, but the chill was stayed by a bright sun. When the nearby Trans-Canada Highway wasn’t carrying vehicles past, you could hear the wind whistling through the conifer needs, a small babbling brook, birds of several varieties, and the distant rumble of east-bound freight trains.
Unlike the last time, CP wasn’t about to shut down the Mountain and Laggan subdivisions just so The Empress would have an easy go of its route. The freight still had to go through. A lumbering eastbound popped into view about 20 minutes after I first heard it, blatting its horn as it approached the crossing. This gave me a chance to take a test photo of the angle I had wanted. Assuming 2816 arrived before it was too late, the sunlight would be good.
Not long afterwards, a CP Police truck rolled down the logging road from the highway. This was my first sign that I had for certain not missed 2816. The officer told me that there was a video crew shooting HDTV for the History Channel, or some such thing, and that they’d probably want to set up around where I was standing at the time. I thanked the officer for the information and let him know that I’d keep it in mind. With that, he bade me a good day, and rolled off to wherever he needed to be next.
A lot of people give railway police a lot of grief. They think of them as “near cops” rather than the full thing. Most people don’t realize that railway police have the same authority as regular police within 500 metres of railway property. That means for (at minimum) a kilometre-wide swath of land running across several parts of the country, a railway police officer can arrest and charge you with a criminal offense, the same as the RCMP.
Most of them, for the record, are nice people. A few throw the odd ‘tude, and a couple are a tad on the racist side (particularly east of Calgary, near the Native reservations). But treat the police with respect and don’t try to be an idiot, and generally they’ll treat you the same. I haven’t had any negative experiences with railway cops — just tell them what you’re doing, and they’ll let you keep doing it. (Unless it’s illegal, of course.)
Before long, I was no longer the only person at the crossing. An elderly gentleman, who knew some of the Rocky Mountain Rail Society members (he had received news of the schedule from them), and his wife took up station by the crossing. The man set up his camera a bit down the track, and the woman stayed in the truck to relay information from the radio chatter. (I need to get myself a scanner one of these days.)
By the time 2816 could be heard chugging up the hill, I had joined the older man on the south side of the tracks — the sun had risen far enough that my north vantage was decidedly poorer than it had been earlier. Over the loaded chuffing was the distinctive whine of an SD40-2, #6067 (in desperate need of a new paint job, I might add) following right behind the two tenders. CPR 2816 is a powerful locomotive, but doesn’t have the oomph needed to pull the train it carried over the Mountain and Laggan subdivisions, facilitating the need for the diesel. (The Empress now has MU controls, so it can operate the diesels directly, rather than having to have additional crew.)
On the train were CP 2816, its two tender cars, diesel locomotive SD40-2 6067, three tuscan red boxcars (including the much-needed tool car), the “Dominion” (buffet car), the “Smokie Smith” (recently renamed after a war hero), the “H.B. Bowen” (functioning as the CP crew car), and two California Zephyr Budd-built cars, the “Silver Lariat” and the bullet-nosed “Silver Solarium”. (The Zephyr cars are apparently for a hoity-toity excursion from Calgary to Vancouver, and were deadheaded with 2816 — though there were passengers on the cars from Golden to Calgary.)
As we were at a crossing, we got to hear the new whistle on 2816 as it approached. For some reason I have yet to learn, CP went out and acquired the whistle from 2-10-4 #5935, currently resting at the Canadian Railway Museum in St. Constant, Quebec (see 28 September 2002). How they got it, I can’t even begin to imagine (aside from a large cash infusion into the non-profit’s coffers, anyway). Why they got it, I’m not sure. But I do have to say, it sounds nice. Different, though. I’m not yet decided if I like it or 2816’s previous whistle.
Leaving Palliser, I headed down the road to try and find my next spot. Finding 2816 having stopped not far away (the switches were full with two trains, and one had to move before 2816 could proceed), I blasted ahead to an overpass near the east end of Leanchoil. It would have been an ideal photo, the sunlight on a perfect angle, were it not for a westbound intermodal on the east track, blocking the view of the west track. Dejected, I continued east.
I spotted a crossing not far from the stop, spied easily by all the cars parked at the side of the road, and people milling around. I quickly pulled in and tried to find a good spot to take the photo. Although the track itself bended nicely, there wasn’t any suitable high ground from which to get a good shot. I had to settle for something mildly interesting. As 2816 rolled past, I waved at the passengers in the cars, as I had done at Palliser. And then I spotted her — my friend Terri was on board, about halfway down Dominion, waving back. She knew I was big on the chase.
At an unnamed bend a few miles away, I found several people camped out at the side of the highway. It looked like a decent area, and thought this might be the infamous Ottertail. It wasn’t. Still, I stuck around for a photo, and chatted with the other chasers while waiting for the train. It soon whistled its way around a bend, and shutters flew open and shut. Then it was back in the car and off to the next point.
On the way west, I’d seen a small bridge that I thought might be Ottertail. The only person there was having difficulty setting up his shot. He didn’t know what the area was called, but it wasn’t Ottertail. It was also a lousy shot due to so many trees between the ridge and the bridge. Five minutes and a few sticks of dynamite would have done wonders for photography…
Driving further east, I came across a large number of cars parked at the sides of the highway. Simple rule when you’re chasing trains: if there are a lot of cars parked at the side of the road, chances are there are a lot of people who know what the angle there is like. I scampered out of my car, scooted across the highway and hopped the concrete barrier. I hiked over to a creek valley where the people were standing, to find that I had arrived at the mythical Ottertail. It’s a beautiful area to shoot, despite a couple of poorly-placed trees.
As I took up my position, I glanced around to see who else I recognized from the previous stops. One of them I did a double-take on, because suddenly, I realized that I knew the person.
It was Mel, the photographer from McKinley Masters. He and I have been working on the McKinley Masters website, improving the content with more pictures. I hadn’t realized that Mel chased trains, too. It was something else we had in common. We didn’t get a chance to talk, though — it wasn’t long before 2816 came barrelling through.
Focus. Click. Snap. Run. Drive.
A few of us staged ourselves at the bridge over the CPR at the west end of the Field yard. One even got up the gumption to go down to the ground level and shoot from there (the elderly man I had met at Palliser, who was still with the rest of us, had suggested the same).
The train needed to stop at Field to get batteries for the passenger cars. (Apparently one of them had died.) This gave the photographers a chance to get some up-close shots of the train, and the video crew to readjust their camera on the front of the locomotive.
I left long before the train did and headed up to Cathedral, where a short tunnel covers the eastward rise up the Kicking Horse Pass. It’s a great place to get a few shots. I wasn’t the first to arrive, and I wasn’t the last. We probably had about 25 people up there at the high point, including a few CP employees (notably The Empress’ runahead crew, and the manager for the Royal Canadian Pacific passenger train), and the video crew. We had a while to wait.
It was cold. Barely above zero, and really windy. There’s not a lot of cover up there, either. The videographer stood out in a button-up shirt for the better part of 30 minutes before sending his partner back for his jacket. It even snowed a bit while we waited. It wasn’t as cold as when I chased 6060 back in 2001, but it was still uncomfortable.
Originally, 2816 was to meet the Royal Canadian Pacific (heading out to Vancouver for some big-name excursion) at Cathedral, where a siding allows two trains to pass on the mountain. Owing to a bit of a delay in Field, we were treated to a runby of the RCP on it’s way west. Led by 1401 (1400 apparently is in the shop), we found the errant 3084, which normally rides behind the Empress. We photographers would have far preferred 3084 to 6067, but then we weren’t the ones forking out for paying customers.
The Empress soon chugged up the mountain, belching huge clouds of smoke as it struggled with the weight behind it. You could hear the whine of 6067 kicking in when it was needed, and dying down when the grade eased up a bit. The hoggers on 2816 like to make her work whenever possible — most hoggers do in general — so killed the diesel as much as they could get away with.
I stopped at the Spiral Tunnel lookout, despite the parking area being closed, and snapped off a couple of photos before continuing to the summit. There, I found a pair of CP employees (both chasing the train) who had climbed up the side of a fair steep hill to get a good vantage. The light was lousy, but I tried it anyway.
On the east side of the pass, west of Lake Louise, I found my little bridge again to take some more pictures. It was only myself and a pair of men with their children. We almost didn’t hear 2816 coming — it’s all downhill to Lake Louise, and neither locomotives were under any load at all. They sailed right through, the linkages clanking on 2816, followed by the hum of the diesel.
I bypassed Lake Louise completely, opting for Morant’s Curve instead. The last time I was at Morant’s Curve was for 2816’s inaugural run (see [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]]), it was about one degree and early in the morning. This time, it was a bit warmer (about six degrees) and well into afternoon. The light wasn’t going to be great, but unless 2816 ran from the first thing in the morning, the light would never be ideal.
The video crew arrived just as 2816 made its approach to the curve. I have no idea if they even got anything useable on film. After that, it was a harrowing race east along Highway 1A (average speed: 90 km/h, including all the hairpins; average speed limit: 60 km/h) just to keep up. I caught shots at mile 100, shot through Banff to just east of Canmore (I was the only one there), the Highway 1X bridge east of Exshaw, and finally back to Calgary.
I laid in wait at Edworthy Park, where the CP line runs through into town. I had hoped for a better setting, but the leaves aren’t out fully, so I had a bit of a more dismal backdrop. My camera battery also decided to give me trouble, and I missed the nose shot, and had to settle for a departing view.
Didn’t matter, though. I had what I wanted: a full day of running through the mountains, following a hot hunk of iron on wheels. I still think I’m quite insane for this bizarre little hobby of mine, and I certainly can’t explain why I do it, but I love it all the same.

Chasing CPR Empress 2816 to Brooks

While this weekend was absolutely amazing, too many of these and I’ll die from exhaustion.
I started early Saturday morning. Those of you who are chiming in with “must be train stuff” can smile smugly — ‘cuz you’re right. But it wasn’t with 6060. This was my first chase since 6060 last year (see [[Chasing CN 6060 Stettler to Big Valley]]), and this was a lot more challenging. 6060 doesn’t move very fast — it can’t because of the track it runs on. This chase, however, as significantly faster.
The Canadian Pacific Railway is taking their steam locomotive, 2816, out east on the “Breakfast for Learning” tour. It’s the biggest run they’ve done since the engine was overhauled. From here to Toronto and back, in about 45 days, making a lot of stops between here and Toronto. Saturday was their first leg, from Calgary to Medicine Hat. And I wanted to follow it across the prairies.
I decided I would pick up the train at the old CP Ogden shops (now owned and operated by Alstom). Although the east end of Alyth had a great place to take a picture with a bridge, the light wasn’t cooperative, and there was no place to park my car. I was the first to show up at my location, but I was soon joined by a few others: the director who was responsible for the locomotive and the train, one of the other members of the Rocky Mountain Rail Society, the parents of one of the train’s crew, and a guy who had been born and raised in the Ogden area and who’s father had opened the nearby Ogden Garage in the 1920s.
The train was to leave at 7:00, but started off the day running late, for some reason. When it finally reached us, around 7:20 or so, it looked gorgeous, and running beautifully. It passed by at about 30 km/h — not very fast. Not yet, anyway. Piling into my car, I gave chase.
I was hoping to catch the train at the east end of the intermodal yard on the east side of the city. But due to a wad of people getting in my way, the train ended up alluding me. Because of the much warmer weather than the last time I chased 2816 (see [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]]), there was no steam cloud to see at a distance. All I had to rely on was the fireman every so often putting too much oil in the burner and creating a bit of smoke. I still don’t have a scanner, which makes following the train’s progress very difficult.
Passing the intermodal yard, I started onto a gravel road, with two other cars in front of me. I couldn’t see anything but the dust cloud they kicked up. Finally, we reached a paved road, and I turned south to try and catch up. I reached 22X, and headed east again. I had no idea where the train was, other than it was ahead of me.
The new map I had purchased at the ESSO station actually showed where the railway went, and I still had to go a fair bit south to find the line again. That’s the problem with chasing trains on the prairies — the highways rarely follow the tracks. At least on the Laggan sub, I can keep up because there ain’t a lot of room — and there the highway *does* follow the railway.
I raced down Highway 24, hoping I’d be able to catch the train down there. Just as I came over a hill near to where the 24 turns east, I saw the train coming to the crossing. I arrived mere seconds before the train crossed it, but I didn’t have time to get a picture. The chase was on again!
Further down the road, I stopped in a farmer’s field east of Carseland to take a picture. As the railway was curving away again, I had to race down more highways to hook back up again. I turned out on to Highway 817 and then onto 901 to continue following. At this point, the train wasn’t too hard to follow — the tracks weren’t too far from the road. The train got held up in Strangmuir for 15 minutes to undergo some greasing, which allowed me to find a comfy little field that sported a small bridge that the train was going to go over. There I found one of CP’s rail traffic controllers (RTCs), who dispatched the Brooks sub (the line we were both chasing down). He didn’t go on shift until noon, so had some time to chase.
I caught the train again where the tracks cross the 901, along with a few others including an A-Channel truck. Then to Gleichen, where I met a rather racist CP police officer, snapped a photo, and ran off to Cluny. There, I met up with the RTC again. He suggested Bassano as the next decent stop, so off we went. This time, I followed him, and it was good that I did. He led me right to the best spot to get a picture. Pretty much where everyone else chasing the train was: an old CP railway station and a rather large yard.
There I met a couple of far more professional photographers who suggested my next venue: the Brooks Aqueduct. Once the train had left, we were off. Brooks is about 180 kilometres southeast of Calgary, heading towards Medicine Hat. Brooks is pretty much the last stop before you enter the vast, barren plains of the southern prairies. There ain’t much in Brooks, which really surprised me when I saw on my map a marker for “Brooks Aqueduct National Historic Site”. It wasn’t too hard to find. All you have to do is find the sign on the highway, and drive south until you see a huge concrete aqueduct, like a modern version of a Roman aqueduct.
But modern it isn’t. I parked in the interpretive centre’s lot, and was immediately met by Lee, one of the two interpreters at the site. She was a little puzzled by why I was there — though most of their visitors come from Calgary. I explained that I was chasing a train. Yes, I did get a rather strange look. She recommended that I walk down the aqueduct canal to the siphon, which was apparently the best place to see trains in the area. Thanking her for the advice, and promising to come back, I went off in search of my quarry.
The canal is a huge earthen trench built up on the floor of the shallow valley that Brooks sits in. Barely 100 metres to the north of the canal is the old aqueduct, no longer in service. (More on it in a moment.) I walked until the canal “ended” at the railway — where an inverse siphon runs under the railroad and re-enters the canal on the other side. The siphon works on the venturi principle — basically, what goes in has gotta come out.
I was well ahead of the train, which gave me a lot of time to wander around and find the best place to take a picture. By the time I’d found the ideal place, three more photographers showed up, including the guys who’d told me about the place. We took our positions and waited.
Soon, the light appeared in the distance, and the train raced towards us. Though not going at full speed, it didn’t take long to pass. I have to completely agree with Lee and the photographers — the aqueduct was the best place to see this train.
I returned to the interpretive centre, where Lee came out to meet me. I asked her for her perspective on the aqueduct. (I told you I was getting back to this.) Back in the early 1900s, CP was in the colonizing business. There was a lot of money to be made in bringing people to the west. Especially if you’d bought all the land around the railway tracks when you built them, and sold it off to the immigrants who paid you to come west. However, not all parts of the west were ideal for farming — some are quite dry.
Such is the case with the area east of Brooks. No significant rivers, no lakes, and little rainfall poses a lot of problems. To make the area saleable, CP had to provide water for irrigation. This lead to the need to dam the Bow River at Bassano, then move the water through canals to the east. At Brooks, the land forms into a shallow valley that created a problem — without massive (and expensive) pumps, there was no way to get the water to the east. CP’s engineering department came up with the solution: the Brooks Aqueduct.
At 3.2 kilometres long, and upwards of 90 feet tall, it was the largest aqueduct in the world at the time. It pushed all the boundaries of construction knowledge, which also led to problems. Most revolutions don’t go off very well the first time. The alkaline water dissolved the concrete, the lead expansion joints leaked constantly, the spars across the top of the sluice caused backflow, and the 0.01% grade kept the water moving so slowly that silt, plants, and even fish slowed the water flow. The aqueduct only ever reached 2/3 of its planned capacity. After an extensive and expensive overhaul in the 1930s, the aqueduct was turned over to the local farming collective.
By the 1970s, the aqueduct was costing too much to repair. The local governments decided to replace it with an earthen canal that provided more water than the aqueduct ever could have (even if it had reached full capacity), and doesn’t leak. The old aqueduct was made a National Historic Site in the 1980s.
I drove down the length of the aqueduct to get a good look at it. Well, as much as I could. Once decommissioned, the aqueduct no longer received maintenance. To prevent injury, a fence runs around the perimeter. A gap in the fence did allow me to sneak in for a couple of pictures from underneath. The western end, completely cut off from the original water supply, is now home to the local party hangout, identified from the graffiti, countless broken beer bottles, and the still-smouldering remnants of a fire. The view down the aqueduct is something else.
It was about then that I noticed the time: 12:45. I needed to be back in Calgary for a party at 14:00. I was going to be late.
I pulled into the car wash at 16th Ave. and Edmonton Trail just before 15:00. The car had turned a brownish green (from all the dust), with multicoloured speckling (from all the bugs). It was shiny in only a few minutes. Then it was my turn to get clean.
I arrived at Shantie’s house just before 16:00. This was a soccer party, and as near as I could figure, I was one of the only non-soccer people invited. Needless to say, I wasn’t too keen to leap right into the game. Mostly because I haven’t played since high school, and even then I was terrible. I resolved to sit in the weak shade of a tree (not all the trees here have sprouted leaves yet) and take pictures. The six-year old daughter of one of the guests noticed it right away and asked if she could use it. It’s a durable little thing, and I figured — could get some interesting pictures.
The girl, Shayla, took almost 150 pictures over the next few hours.
The game ended around 17:00 and we retreated to Shantie’s house (across the street from the soccer field) to engage in conversation and food. John (one of the other guests) tried to engage in a battle of wits with Shayla. The six year old won, hands down. It was just the beginning.
Shantie has some really great friends. They’re hilarious to hang around with, and are in no way exclusionary. They even knew when to pick on me because I brought veggie burgers. (Relax, I haven’t gone vegan — but I’ve had these sitting in my freezer for a year, and I gotta eat ’em.)
I ended up talking with Lindsay for over an hour about Japan. (She’d been there in high school.) We talked until it was just too cool to be away from the fire pit everyone else had gathered around. (I should note that it was gorgeously warm, and it was just a slightly cool breeze that was making it uncomfortable. Besides, we were feeling left out.)
By midnight, everyone had left, including myself. I’d been up for 18 hours, was harbouring a half-dozen sunburns, and needed some serious sleep.
Today was the Lilac Festival in Calgary. I didn’t go to it this year, as I felt I had more pressing things to take care of: namely the small army of dandelions that were laying siege to my front lawn. Screwdriver in hand, I went to eradicate the little buggers from my grass.
Most people use chemicals when they get rid of weeds. I’m not a big fan of chemicals in the yard, not even fertilizers. I prefer the natural, brute force methods. I even use an unpowered push mower to cut my grass. Yeah, it’s hard work, but you feel better for it. Especially when total strangers thank you for not using chemicals.
While there was still a lot of afternoon left, I went for a walk along the river, taking in the sights and sounds of the World Walk, or something like that, taking place at Prince’s Island Park. I didn’t spend long, so I don’t really know what it was all about. I had a mission: I needed to get my bike.
People were everywhere. Calgary becomes very active when it gets warm. When there’s a festival on, you almost have problems moving at times. Along all the major strips, the patios are open and full. Everyone is enjoying the outdoors again. Summer is definitely here.
Now if it would just rain so we could all cool off…

Fixing super heater tubes on CP 2816

It doesn’t take long for me to get back into the swing of (some) things. I’m already working on trains again. This time, it’s the locomotive from which I caught the train chasing bug.
I got a call from Don on Saturday, wanting the tapes I shot for 6060’s trip out to Jasper last year (see [[The Great Jasper Run, CN 6060 Stettler, Red Deer, Edmonton, Hinton, Jasper]]). We chatted briefly, then mentioned that I should drop by the roundhouse at CP’s Alyth Yard to see 2816 all steamed up. Asking if the engine were heading back to Vancouver for a six-month inspection or more work, Don replied that 2816 was making a run from Calgary to Banff and back with some of CP’s executives. I was to drop by around 11:00am on Sunday.
When I arrived, Don’s truck was nowhere in sight. Having never been here before, and coming at Don’s invitation — not CP’s — I was careful to wait for my escort. Don arrived shortly afterwards, and I followed him in.
2816 was not out in the yard, or even on the turntable (as I’d hoped). It was tucked inside, the smokebox cover completely removed, the superheater covers removed, and four men milling around inside. Present were Bill (2816’s lead engineer), Jim (CP employee, RMRS member, and steam locomotive engineer — Jim had run 6060 to Jasper with us last year), Al Broadfoot (who supervised 2816’s overhaul), and another man who I’d never met before.
It seemed that the night before, after Don had left, Bill noticed an odd noise in the smokebox. Upon investigation, he found steam eminating from one of the flue tubes. That could mean only one thing — a superheater had burst.
We had arrived to find them in the midst of removing superheater tubes. Luckily, they knew exactly which one was giving them trouble, but it was tucked behind a couple of other tubes that needed to be removed first. This involved using an overhead crane for support, and a forklift for leverage. Superheater tubes, especially in larger locomotives, are extremely heavy. Removing them by hand is torture (or so I’m told by the 6060 crew, who had to do just that).
I didn’t directly participate. Partly because Bill and Al don’t know me, but also because I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never seen this done before, let alone participated. I fell into my role of gopher. (Which I’m quite comfortable at, especially with people who know a lot more than I do.) That basically meant a coffee run.)
While all this was happening, I had long chats with Al. It would appear that my education of Al has been woefully one-sided. I’ve heard lots of stories and some generally not nice things about him. I’d always been a little skeptical … but not enough. Al seems to be a genuinely honest man, trying to keep locomotives in good running shape. This is what I gathered talking to him directly. He actually mourned the RMRS’ lack of a proper shop to maintain 6060. (This is something everyone agrees with.) Needless to say, if for nothing else, I’m glad I went just so I could talk with Al.
The troubled superheater soon slid out of the boiler. As it popped out and was slowly lowered to the ground, water seeped from the bend. Etched in the forged piece was a tiny hole, about 1/16th of an inch across. Possibly a thin-walled area, aggravated by a grape (a weld that has pooled into a sphere on the inside) causing an eddy, bored right through the side.
Normally, this would sideline a locomotive. But with CP’s resources, it’s a matter of cutting off the offending piece and getting in a welder to attach a new bend. Jim knew a good one in town who could come the following day to fix it.
We left 2816 in the roundhouse, covers off, superheaters laid out, awaiting repairs. It almost looked like a patient anxiously awaiting a dentist to fill a cavity. It’s due to run to Banff (Bamf!) on Friday. I’m pretty sure it will.

The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816

Most of you know how hard it is sometimes to catch a train. Sometimes you’re running late, or the train’s early, or your watch stopped and you’re not really sure what time it is — any number of a dozen reasons why you’d be running your heart out trying to get there before you hear: “Stand clear of the doors, please.”
Imagine trying to catch a train for two days. That’s what I did this weekend…
Okay, so I wasn’t trying to ride it, but keeping pace with it was something else, I’ll tell you.
Continue reading “The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816”