My Railfan Five, Take Two

Back in the fall of 2014, Eric Gagnon challenged several railfan bloggers to share their Railfan Five, a selection of five of our images from our own “railfan journey”. Mine is here.

Recently, Eric and Chris Mears and I decided to do the challenge again, and I believe Michael from The Beachburg Sub is in as well, so here is “take two”… five images I’ve taken since the last challenge that have particular meaning for me. If you’re a blogger, join in!


Sentinel, Alberta – September 2017

In September 2017 I “passed a half century” by turning 50. To celebrate / mourn / recognize that, my wife and I traveled through Alberta and British Columbia on a railfan tour. I wrote a series of blog posts about that, which I later turned into a book.

This particular image was taken at Sentinel, Alberta in the Crowsnest Pass. We had been sitting a little east of this location, waiting for a train, and I had given up and started driving when we encountered an eastbound train. We chased that to Coleman, where we found a westbound train, and chased that train back to Sentinel where I got this shot.

Why is this meaningful to me? Well, there’s a couple of reasons.

One – when planning for this trip, I had scouted a number of locations using both Google Maps (and Street View) and by searching for others’ images of the area using Flickr and other photo sources. I found this particular overpass and decided that I really wanted to get a shot here as I felt it would be particularly scenic. So it’s meaningful for me because it was a planned shot that worked out.

Two – I was all wrapped up in the adrenaline and excitement of the chase, having just chased a train one way, then chased this the other way. In fact, I had to park off the overpass and sprint back to the peak of the overpass to get the shot, so it was truly railfanning “on the run”. I remember walking back to the car after the train passed, still breathing a bit heavily, and saying to my wife that if we turned around and went home right then and there, I would be satisfied with the whole trip.

By the way, the title “Passing a Half Century” was meant as a pun but I think it was either too subtle or too unfunny for people to comment on. The “pass” was intended to refer to the mountain passes we went through – Crowsnest Pass and Rogers Pass – as well as passing the 50 year mark. As I always say to my kids, if you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny.

Rare Mileage From a Drone

The Prairie Dog Central crossing the Floodway
The Prairie Dog Central crossing the Floodway, June 22, 2019

This photo shows the Prairie Dog Central (PDC) tourist railway on a private charter, traveling over the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway’s bridge over the Floodway protecting Winnipeg. This was a private charter to celebrate the PDC’s 50th anniversary, and it carried PDC members and their families and friends. You can read the whole story here.

This photo is special to me because it is unique, and commemorates an event that may never be repeated. There were several people chasing the train on its way out to Hadashville, and more chasing it on the return, but nobody else had a drone up to capture this particular view. I don’t say that to brag but to emphasize the photo’s importance to me, and also as a reminder to try something different than other people are doing.

This photo ended up in the PDC’s excellent member magazine, and I’m proud of that.

The Piney Train Station

The train station in Piney, Manitoba

I heard about this decrepit old train station early in 2017. Naturally I wanted to go photograph it, so I convinced my family to come along and we took the drive down to see this beautiful, decaying station. The story is here.

This photo is significant to me because it really started me paying more attention to abandoned buildings. I had photographed a few in passing while railfanning or photographing grain elevators, but I didn’t pay too much attention. This photo really got me interested in documenting the demise of old structures like stations, churches and farmhouses.

I didn’t realize there was such a large community of people who photograph abandoned buildings. There are many groups on Facebook, for example. I’m strictly an amateur compared to many, as I usually don’t go out specifically to photograph abandoned buildings.

As an aside, the 49 comments (!) I received for my post was a record! Also it was the 3rd most popular post on my old blog site.

A Rocky Mountaineer Evening

The Rocky Mountaineer crossing the South Thompson River in Kamloops, BC, May 2015

One theme you may notice through this series of photos is intention. I unconsciously selected photographs that I planned out in advance, rather than photos I took because I happened to be “in the right place at the right time”. This is another one of those.

I love seeing the Rocky Mountaineer train. It’s a good looking train, and it doesn’t come anywhere near Winnipeg, so it’s rare and special to me.

I know some railfans really grouse about it, because it was originally a VIA Rail train, and since the Rocky started there has been no VIA service on CP through the Rockies. I am the kind of person who accepts the status quo and works with it, rather than complains about what could have been. I just don’t see the point in being mad about the past. It’s done.

ANYway, I had been to Kamloops a few times before this photo was taken and I always thought that the Rocky would look great on that bridge. This is CN track, connecting the CN yard in north Kamloops with the CP main line. CN interchanges with CP using this track and the Rocky switches between CN and CP tracks using this bridge and the rail line.

I’m pleased that it worked out. You can read more about that evening here.

The Maroon

Maroon at last
Maroon at last

Recent readers will know that I have been “on the hunt” for photographs of CP’s rebuilt units in the maroon “heritage” scheme and the five locomotives honouring the Canadian and US military.

I’ve been “going up” to the CP main line a lot in search of these locomotives. Since I live in the very south of Winnipeg, it’s a longer drive to get to the CP main than to the CN main. I’ve seen a lot of CP these days! Here are three posts about that: Searching for the Maroon / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / Third Time’s the Charm? Plus there are some other outings that I never bothered posting about, because I didn’t see any CP trains at all…

On “palindrome day”, February 2, 2020 – 02/02/2020 – I stopped by the CP Weston shops in Winnipeg to see if I could find one of those heritage units. Initially there was a train stopped in my field of view, but after a few minutes the crew cut off some of the cars and the rest of the train pulled away, revealing… a collection of non-heritage units. Sigh.

I took a few photographs, and I was starting to walk across the field toward my car when I heard the “ding ding ding” of a locomotive bell. I turned and walked back toward the shops, wondering what locomotive that was. In the background, I saw… MAROON!

CP 7013 came rolling along from behind the shop building, pausing near the casino before reversing to park on the side of the shops. I was able to grab a few nose-on photos while the conductor lined a switch, and before a local switch crew with CP 3087 and CP 4525 blocked my view. When the cars moved out of the way, 7013 was parked by the shops.

I noticed the different corporate logos on display and lined up the photograph above to feature the traditional “script” Canadian Pacific along with the CP Rail Action (faded) Red and the block CANADIAN PACIFIC lettering.

So… one down, many to go. 😉

Just One More Thing

I’m so grateful to have made friends in this hobby. Railfanning can be a lonely thing but it’s entirely possible – nay, probable – that you will make a lot of friends through this hobby. I’ve even met a few of them in person! 😉

Michael reminded me that in the last round, we mentioned one or more rail-related organizations that we intended to support. In 2020 I am supporting Transport Action in their mission to support sustainable public transport. You may remember them as Transport 2000 before they changed to a more perennial name! They do great work and could use your support.

Please go visit these good people who have participated in this round of Railfan Five:

7 thoughts on “My Railfan Five, Take Two”

  1. Great selections, Steve. I love the old station photo. I’m a sucker for history, so I love to see that old structure and picture what it must have been like in its heyday. Keep up the great work. I can’t wait to see more of the maroon. When the weather is better, I will be making my way to Smiths Falls in the hopes of possibly catching one of the special CP units. My five is now up, as well.

    • Hi Michael, I’ve linked directly to your post now – glad to have you join the fun!

      It’s funny, in grade school I hated history with a passion, but once I got out of school I gravitated directly to studying history. I guess it has to do with whether it’s voluntary or not…

      I hope you catch some maroon! Someday I want to visit Smiths Falls… there’s a lot of this country that I haven’t seen.

  2. Very nice Five, Steve! You’ve taken your collection to a new LEVEL (Post-Palindrome Day alert!) with your drone.

    I think that an important angle to this photo-selection process is that we think about what turned well, and I can’t help but think this will guide our future photography!

    Thanks for sharing these!

    • Thanks, Eric! Since I tend to DRONE on, I might as well get some photos while I do it 😉

      Reflection and review are important to identify what worked and what didn’t, so we can revise and get better. Continuous improvement!

  3. I admit it, the Pass pun went over my head. I didn’t know Transport 2000 updated their name so thanks for that.

    If Canadians want to significantly reduce the CO2 (and other crud) we pump into the air, we need to get freight off of rubber and onto steel, and passengers out of the air. Passengers would take over a decade and bilions to get started, but freight can be done sooner. First issue is that CP and CN need to improve their service and that means increasing capacity. Maybe we should spend some of that carbon tax money on tracks? Then all we need to do is get the horse to drink… the horse being both the railways and the consumer.

    • Hi Rick, we definitely need to change our transport modality if we want to reduce carbon emissions. I’d really like to see more local transport corridors created / enhanced, instead of these ridiculous < 1 hour flights. I don't see rail competing with long haul air flight, much as I'd like to see more versions of the "Canadian", but it certainly can compete within the Ontario-Quebec Corridor and in bringing people between major cities like Calgary-Edmonton and for pulling people in from suburbs around cities.

  4. While it is somewhat interesting to read about the circumstances surrounding a photo, it is always the photo itself that speaks not the circumstances.
    All good photos and I too like the old station best.

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