Morning Light

Elie’s grain elevator at first light

In the previous post, Dark to Light, I covered my trip from Winnipeg to Dacotah along the CN Rivers subdivision. As the sky was starting to get bright, I arrived at Elie.


I’ve been to Elie’s grain elevator many times. It’s adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway and has been featured in many of my photos as well as great Winnipeg-area photographers like Jack Hykaway or Mark Perry. I took a few minutes to photograph the elevator again, and I flew my drone to get a few pre-sunrise photos.

Another view of the Elie grain elevator
Another view of the Elie grain elevator

I was hoping to see a train here. However, the signal lights were dark, indicating that no trains were around. I decided to relocate several miles west to the area around Fortier. I wanted to try a new location (here), a crossing near a bend in the track.


Signals near Fortier, Manitoba
Signals near Fortier, Manitoba

I arrived at Fortier and parked on a nearby road. The grid road that crossed the tracks was quite rutted and muddy, so I walked the 400m in with my drone and camera. I got everything ready and waited… and waited…

Yellow over red at mile 36.8
Yellow over red at mile 36.8

The west-facing signals were stubbornly stuck at yellow over red on the south track and red on the north track. Not a good indication of an approaching train!

I flew my drone for a bit to see what angles were available, and also just to document the area.

View of the crossing
View of the crossing

There I am standing in the middle of the grid road, with my car way up at top right with the Trans-Canada Highway across the top of the photo, just below the horizon.

I decided to take a close-up view of the telegraph poles with my drone… normally you can’t see these up close and personal unless they have fallen down.

Not many insulators left on this one
Not many insulators left on this one

I spent about an hour here. No trains came along, but I did record an episode of “Come Railfan With Me” that you can see/listen to. The topic? What to do while waiting for a train!

Come Railfan With Me!

Eventually I decided to move on.

I had a notion to visit Nattress and see if I could get closer to the rail inspection portal there. You may recall that I did see it but I didn’t get as close I would have liked.

I also wanted to try to get a drone photo of the Oakville grain elevator.

I drove west along the grid road (route 331), which goes through Oakville and Newton. I parked at the grid road just east of Oakville and walked in with my drone and camera. I didn’t bring my tripod or video camera, which was a small mistake… as I spotted a headlight in the distance to the west as I walked across the tracks.


CN 2551 passing the Oakville, Manitoba grain elevator
CN 2551 passing the Oakville, Manitoba grain elevator

I put the drone up and started recording video, then took some photos with my telephoto lens of the train passing the grain elevator. I really liked how the light was in the photo above, with a bit of fall colour clinging to the trees near the elevator.

The drone video turned out pretty well too!

Note the second unit with the white roof. The new ET44ACs (or are they ES44ACs?) are now being delivered with white roofs to reflect some sunlight and help keep the crews cool. I think it looks pretty sharp, too.

After the train passed, I flew my drone a little closer and took a few stills of the town. The drone was at the self-imposed 500m distance from me. The current Canadian drone laws say that I have to keep the drone in sight at all times, and I find that it is very hard to see at half a kilometre distance, so I don’t fly it farther than that.

Heading West

After retrieving the drone, I walked back to my car and carried on west. I came to road 31W and went north to the tracks there.

Back in late December 2018 I caught a train coming around the bend at Nattress. This time I wanted to try the roads on the north side of the tracks to see if they could get me nearer to the portal.

I took the first left north of the tracks, and quickly realized I was driving on a private road, so I did a quick U-turn. As I did that, I spotted a locomotive rolling east! Oh oh!

I quickly beat it toward the crossing and took the shot through the open passenger window.


CN 2903 at Nattress
CN 2903 at Nattress

I actually took several shots, but I liked this one the best as it showed part of the train coming around the bend. This was “just in time” photography!

I don’t know the train number, but this train had one locomotive on the head end (CN 2903) and CN 2884 brought up the rear.

CN 2884 on the rear
CN 2884 on the rear

Once the train had passed, I resumed trying to find a road toward the portal.

I think I found it, but it was very muddy and rutted and I didn’t dare drive my Civic farther. By this time it was 10:10 AM and it was time for me to start heading home.

I reluctantly turned back east and proceeded along highway 331, then out to the Trans-Canada Highway.

As I approached Fortier, I saw a headlight to the east. I drove north through Fortier and parked near the crossing. I got set up with the video camera and drone to record the train passing.

Fortier, Again

CN 8903 West at Fortier

This train had a lot of potash cars, along with a mid-train distributed braking boxcar. It had CN 8903 and CN 2514 leading.

I had some fun flying my drone around, trying different angles. It’s nice to fly it in an area where there are no obstructions to worry about. The last thing I want is to fly it into a power line…

After that train passed, I continued on toward Winnipeg. I decided to drive along route 427 parallel to the Rivers sub on my way into the city in the hopes of catching one more train.

As I passed Diamond, I could see a train ahead of me. It turned out to be…

CN 2903 East, Again

CN 2903 at Hall Road
CN 2903 at Hall Road

CN 2903 West, the train I saw at Nattress, had made it to Hall Road outside Winnipeg and was stopped there. I took a shot of both ends of the train, then continued to home.

CN 2884 on the tail end
CN 2884 on the tail end

I know many people think container trains are boring, but in my opinion, there’s something pretty cool about a wall of containers stretching on for a couple of miles.

Just One More Thing

Editing photos for this post

While editing photos for this post, I recorded a video so you can see the decisions I made and the edits I made for some photos here.

8 thoughts on “Morning Light”

  1. I do like the double stack trains and especially the distributed power ( middle is best) and I try not to think of the contents of all these containers importing goods WE used to manufacture. Sorry I had to say it.

    • Having worked for a local trucking company that did a lot of intermodal work, I can assure you that those cans are loaded with far more than just goods we’re importing from overseas, and there’s definitely stuff coming in from overseas that’s impossible to get in North America because it doesn’t and never has existed here, so we can’t really be unhappy about those.

      Any 53’ cans are domestic shipping within the continent and are not coming from overseas (although they may contain overseas goods that were transferred to them elsewhere). There’s a number of companies that use them to transfer products between their own facilities and I hauled quite a few like that.

      A number of containers contain people’s possessions as that’s really the only reasonable way to get their stuff from overseas to their new home here. Side note on that; we helped haul away containers to the landfill and well cars to the scrapyard from a derailment near Esterhazy once and there were several containers split open with people’s personal items destroyed and strewn about the landscape. Very sobering.

      A lot of containers are also loaded with products that we’re exporting. This is particularly so for agricultural products. I’ve hauled more beans, sunflower seeds, and grain seed than you can imagine. That went to countries all over the world. That made up the bulk of what we hauled, but we also had many other loads for export that were in all kinds of other categories. It was actually very interesting sometimes seeing what I was hauling and what far land it was going to.

      Anyway, I didn’t mean to write this much. I do agree that it’s unfortunate how much of our manufacturing has moved overseas, but there’s much more than meets the eye in a container. What’s in them can he just as interesting as the exterior. 🙂

      • Hi Lee, thank you so much for that detail on what is actually in those containers we see. The prevailing thought is that we are importing everything from China and exporting nothing, but you’ve pointed out that we do export a lot of things, and also transfer a lot of goods within the continent via container.

        Have you read the book “The Box” by Marc Levinson? It’s a really interesting look at the origins of the shipping container. I reviewed it here:

Comments are closed.