Incidental Railfanning

Meet at Solsgirth
Meet at Solsgirth

I’ve been wanting to fly my drone near some grain elevators in western Manitoba for a while now. Followers of this blog may have noted that I’ve recorded some aerial views of elevators like Barnsley and Elie, but I haven’t been back to western Manitoba for “vator fanning” since my two day trip in 2014. It’s just hard to get there, with a 2.5 – 3 hour drive from Winnipeg to reach the western elevators.

I made an ambitious plan to visit two dozen elevators over the course of almost a full day of travel and photography. As the date (August 24) approached, the forecast was calling for a lot of rain and possibly a lightning storm. I was worried, but the forecast improved somewhat the day before, so I elected to go.

Note that the majority of this trip will be documented on the Grain Elevators of Canada site but this post will talk about the railfanning aspects of the trip.

Heading Out

I left home at 1:59 AM, en route to McConnell to be there for sunrise. I crossed over the CN Rivers subdivision on my way out of Winnipeg, noting a headlight to the west and ignoring it. Focus, Steve, focus!

I drove around Portage la Prairie, then headed up highway 16 next to the CP Minnedosa subdivision. As I approached the Dundonald grain elevator, I thought I saw a headlight to the north/west. I pulled off onto the shoulder and waited. Sure enough, a train!

The First Train

Approaching the grain elevator at Dundonald
Approaching the grain elevator at Dundonald

Keep in mind that this was at 3:23 AM, so it was quite dark! I dialed my camera down to 1/20s at f/2.8, ISO 800.

I managed to eke out a couple of shots as the eastbound oil train rolled by. I think the leader was CP 8901… it was definitely x901 as you can see from the photo below.

CP 8901 in the darkness
CP 8901 in the darkness

Here’s the CP unit on the tail end of the oil train. I have no idea what the unit number was!

So much grain! And not the cargo!
So much grain! And not the cargo!

Once the train passed, I carried on my way toward McConnell.

I made a pit stop in Neepawa for an early breakfast… or I guess it was a second breakfast, since I had toast and milk before I left home.

Breakfast at the 24-hour Scottish restaurant
Breakfast at the 24-hour Scottish restaurant

Cardale

I stopped briefly in the small town of Cardale on my way to McConnell. I had scouted it out on Google Maps and I saw a few interesting buildings there.

It was only when I actually drove into the town that I felt a little uncomfortable, driving around their town in the middle of the night. I took a long exposure photo of this old garage and headed back toward McConnell.

Abandoned garage, Cardale

Shoal Lake

Ex CP Shoal Lake train station

While passing through Shoal Lake, I took a quick photo of the former CP train station. When I was here in early 2017, I spoke with the friendly owner. This time, I just took a photo and carried on.

As I was leaving the town, I noticed a westbound train leaving the Pioneer grain elevator on the west side of town. I saw the tail end pull away, and I thought, “great, a train to chase on my way to Solsgirth!”

Second Train

CP 8509 West approaching Solsgirth, MB
CP 8509 West approaching Solsgirth, MB

Since highway 16 parallels the CP Bredenbury subdivision, it was easy enough to get ahead of the train. My plan was to go to Solsgirth, put my drone in the air, and record the train passing the grain elevator there. I had plenty of time to set up.

Those plans went out the window as I approached Solsgirth and saw an oil train holding the main there. A meet!

A collection of new CP grain hoppers
A collection of new CP grain hoppers

I set up my video camera on the tripod and waited for the meet to happen. The conductor and a trainee walked up to the siding switch to do the rollby inspection on that side, while the engineer got down from the locomotive to inspect the other side.

AOKX 410325, ex SOO grain hopper
AOKX 410325, ex SOO grain hopper

There were some interesting cars on this train, including the new CP grain hoppers above, an ex Chicago & Northwestern grain car, and these two ex SOO cars.

 AOKX 410329, ex SOO grain hopper
AOKX 410329, ex SOO grain hopper

After the tail end of the train passed, the conductor and trainee lined the siding switch for the main line and they got underway – no time wasted!

Third Train

Smoking' up the prairie
Smoking’ up the prairie

The eastbound train had grimy CP 8575 leading, with bright red CP 5027 and CP 5021 trailing. I’m told those units – rebuilt to SD30C-ECO standards – are put on and taken off trains on the Bredenbury subdivision to help units get in and out of Minnedosa and related valleys. They are basically “helper units”. Everyone thinks the prairies are all flat, and they largely are, but there are some deep river valleys in the prairies that trains need help getting into and out of. If you’ve ever driven to Minnedosa, you would note the deep valley that the town is in.

I wasn’t expecting to see a tail end car, but as the end came into view, there was something orange on the end.

BNSF 987 on the tail end
BNSF 987 on the tail end

That was a nice surprise.

Here’s the video:

After this, I didn’t anticipate seeing any more trains. Most of the elevators on my list had no rail access, and there are very few active rail lines in southwest Manitoba. There’s just the CN Cromer subdivision and the CP Estevan subdivision (and the quiet CP Napinka sub).

A few elevators on my list were on the Estevan sub, but I wasn’t counting on anything.

I carried on to visit each elevator. I encountered a lot of rain around Birtle and Beulah, and drove south in an attempt to break out of the storm. As I approached Miniota, I saw a train rolling east, under the highway. This was the CN Rivers subdivision again.

Fourth Train

Container train at Miniota
Container train at Miniota

The weather still wasn’t great – I think it was still raining a bit – but I was able to find a safe place to park and run back to the overpass in time to catch the rear end of the train.

I think there was a train in the siding to the east, but it didn’t have its headlights on and didn’t appear to be moving, so I didn’t hang around.

Telegraph wires at Miniota
Telegraph wires at Miniota

I did take a few photos of the area for my own reference. I’d never stopped here before, so I wanted to document it a bit. Most railfans like a wooden bridge just west of the highway overpass – I could see it from the overpass – but I didn’t have time to hang around and wait for another train.

Virden

Yard tracks in Virden, Manitoba
Yard tracks in Virden, Manitoba

As I passed through Virden, I paused at the main crossing to document the area. There is the main line track, siding, and two back tracks in the downtown area. Of course, the CP station is still standing, and there’s even a tunnel under the tracks that was used to allow people to cross the tracks underground.

Roundhouse in Reston

Ex CP roundhouse in Reston, Manitoba
Ex CP roundhouse in Reston, Manitoba

The four-stall roundhouse in Reston is one of only three remaining in Manitoba. The others are in Dauphin and The Pas. Reston was on the CP Arcola subdivision until recently, and was the start of the CP Reston subdivision.

The sign on the side says “Colin C. Campbell & Son Seedsmen”. The Manitoba Historic Society page on the roundhouse said it was used for this purpose from 1930 to 1969. You can still see the outline of the turntable in the grass.

It does not appear to be in use at this time.

Back of the ex CP roundhouse in Reston, MB
Back of the ex CP roundhouse in Reston, MB

A Broken Bridge

Collapsing bridge between Dalny and Coulter, MB
Collapsing bridge between Dalny and Coulter, MB

I noticed this bridge in the distance as I was traveling between Coulter and Dalny. I thought this bridge was part of the CP Lyleton subdivision, damaged in several floods in the 1960s and 1970s. After the last flood in 1976, CP abandoned the portion of the subdivision west of Dalny. Coulter, Cameron and Lyleton lost their rail service.

However, this was a highway bridge. The railway line was south of the highway at this point, and the bridge isn’t there any more.

Those were the rail related parts of my trip.

Feel free to follow along the grain elevator part of it on Grain Elevators of Canada.

3 thoughts on “Incidental Railfanning”

  1. Nice job Steve! Like the Reston roundhouse. Nice to see the Silverton elevator getting a makeover! Hopefully the elevator gets a new coat of paint as well.

    • Thanks, Sheldon! I hope some use is made of the Reston roundhouse… it’s a gem.

      I was really surprised to see the Silverton annex get repainted. I too hope the elevator gets repainted and keeps its chequerboard.

Leave a Comment