Rare Mileage for the Prairie Dog

The Prairie Dog Central on the Greater Winnipeg Water District railway
The Prairie Dog Central on the Greater Winnipeg Water District railway

It was about 8:06 AM on Saturday, June 22. I was laying in bed, wondering if I should get up or doze a little longer. I put my glasses on, checked my phone, and saw a Facebook message from a friend, from 6:40 AM.

“If you are up Steve PDC leaves GWWD at 0900”

I sat bolt upright. The Prairie Dog Central? Leaving the Greater Winnipeg Water District? What are they doing there?

It turns out that this was a special run for the Prairie Dog to celebrate their 50th anniversary! They were running east to Hadashville, about 58 miles, to have a celebratory dinner there before returning to Winnipeg.

Somehow they had managed to sneak the train over to the GWWD on Thursday without any railfans noticing. I guess the Winnipeg railfan community dropped the ball on that one. 😉

I jumped out of bed, used the washroom, dressed quickly, grabbed a bun and a drink from the kitchen and ran out the door, pausing to snatch up my camera bag on the way. Always leave your camera bag fully packed and ready!

At the GWWD

Prairie Dog Central cars at the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway yard
Prairie Dog Central cars at the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway yard

The PDC train was still in the yard (whew) with the steam engine on the point. Diesel 4138 was on another track in front of the GWWD shops. I captured the above image through the chain link fence, which explains the bit of shadow on the edges of the photo. I wanted to capture something that showed them at the GWWD yard.

Here’s a view from the “throat” of the yard showing the iconic water tower in the area.

Prairie Dog Central 4138 in the GWWD yard
Prairie Dog Central 4138 in the GWWD yard

You can see 4138, one of the PDC’s diesels, on the “main” with the smoke from steam engine #3 off to the right, behind the GWWD’s own passenger equipment. I don’t know when the GWWD last ran a passenger train but it has been well over a decade. I can’t imagine that equipment is in good shape.

Steam engine #3 waiting to run
Steam engine #3 waiting to run

I found an angle to photograph #3 while it was in the yard. It wasn’t a good angle but the train wasn’t in a photogenic location at all. I didn’t want to trespass so I stuck to the public areas and did what I could.

Waiting for the train
Waiting for the train

While I was waiting, Paul Newsome, the general manager of the Vintage Locomotive Society (owners of the PDC), stopped to talk briefly. He asked if I had my drone with me (I did) and if I could share photos with the PDC for their newsletter. I said I’d be glad to share any and all photos with them.

At 09:10 things started happening. #3 pulled onto the main and came up to the gates… and stopped.

Prairie Dog Central #3 and the water tower
Prairie Dog Central #3 and the water tower

A crew member got down and did a few adjustments on the front of the locomotive, then got back on. What I didn’t see was that they were attaching the diesel, 4138, to the rear of the train for backup. After that was coupled on, they started again and crossed Dawson Road. The crossing here is quite angled so it takes a long time for them to cross.

Crossing Dugald Road

Road power
Road power

I set up my video camera by the Dugald Road crossing for the next shot. I had my 70-200mm lens on so I could get a more “head on” look. I knew there wasn’t much of a side shot here from previous visits to photograph the Greater Winnipeg Water District.

It was a good opportunity to photograph GP9 #4138 on the tail end.

Prairie Dog Central 4138 bringing up the rear
Prairie Dog Central 4138 bringing up the rear

Morgan Turney, publisher of the excellent Canadian Railway Modeller magazine, was protecting the crossing. We had a quick chat before the train arrived, then he went on to the next crossing and I headed toward the Lagimodiere Boulevard crossing.

Skunked by CN

SKUNKED
SKUNKED

Unfortunately, CN had other plans and had a train stretched across the GWWD track. CN has 3 tracks coming out of Symington Yard that cross the GWWD tracks, and one of them was occupied. Apparently the PDC had contacted CN beforehand to coordinate, but something got missed and the PDC charter had to sit and wait… and wait… and wait.

Getting a little artsy
Getting a little artsy

I’m sure it was very frustrating for the organizers, and the passengers. It gave me some time to take photos of the train, but even that got old after a while.

Checking the journals
Checking the journals

They sat there for a solid hour, from 09:26 to 10:21 when the train finally moved.

Joy?

NO JOY.

Within a minute of the train clearing the diamond crossing, another train rolled across! It was almost like CN was thumbing their nose at the PDC.

Just one more train... you don't mind waiting, do you?
Just one more train… you don’t mind waiting, do you?

Fortunately, this train just pulled ahead over the diamond, then immediately backed up. It must have been putting its train together.

Crossing Lagimodiere Boulevard

Crossing Holden Street first...
Crossing Holden Street first…

At 10:28 they were finally under way again. They crossed Holden Street first. I was standing near Lagimodiere Boulevard so the above photo is a long telephoto shot.

They started pouring on the smoke as they approached me – lots of drama!

Hide your laundry!
Hide your laundry!

With bell clanging, #3 swept by in a hiss of steam.

My plan at this point was to drive around Symington Yard to get them at the Plessis Road crossing on the east side of the yard. I was pretty confident I could get there before them.

I really wanted to be sure to get a drone shot in. My thought was to get them crossing the Floodway on the concrete bridge there, beside the Perimeter Highway. This is very close to the Lyncrest aerodrome, and before June 1 this would have required special permission. The drone regulations in Canada changed on June 1 and now we can fly drones near aerodromes without special permission – we just have to watch out for air traffic and stay out of the way. Airports are still verboten to fly near without special permission.

I drove up Dugald Road and over the yard throat, then turned south down Plessis. As it happened, I easily beat the train there because they had stopped.

I wasn’t sure why – there was another CN diamond but only for a spur track, so I didn’t think it was for that. I found the reason for the stop soon enough.

Plessis Road Crossing

Tiptoeing through the weeds
Tiptoeing through the weeds

They rolled along the weedy track, crossing a second CN diamond (to a spur) before crossing Plessis Road. The cars stacked up on both sides of the crossing as the train approached, with a few impatient drivers going around the stopped cars and roaring through the crossing…

Prairie Dog Central #3 with the Winnipeg skyline
Prairie Dog Central #3 with the Winnipeg skyline

I liked the above photo with some of the downtown buildings showing. It’s important to give a sense of place to some of your photos, and I felt with this particular rare mileage run, it was important to show the train in its environment.

Here’s a “going away” shot of the train after it had crossed Plessis Road.

Going away
Going away

I quickly packed up and headed east along the gravel road there. I had scouted the area out in my phone’s map app to determine the route I would have to take to get to the right area to fly my drone. I knew I couldn’t stop again for the train without risking the drone shot.

Squeezing One More In

Little train on the prairie
Little train on the prairie

As I was driving, I saw the above shot developing and decided that I had to stop and grab a quick shot. I saw a car parked on the side of the road with another photographer there. It turned out to be talented young Jack Hykaway, recording the train. I got my shot and roared away.

(did you notice the diesel wasn’t on the end of the train any more? it was running along right behind the passenger train)

The Drone Shot

About to cross the Floodway
About to cross the Floodway

I parked my car next to a couple of others, just off the Perimeter Highway, then grabbed my drone gear and sprinted across the highway to get as close as I could to the bridge before launching. The train was coming!

Local railfan / modeler Larry L was there, waiting for the train. I waved and launched the drone as quickly as I could. It was pretty windy and my drone had a hard time making its way toward the Floodway against the wind. I didn’t get the drone quite where I wanted it to be before the train arrived, but it was “good enough”.

The shot
The shot

I mentioned the diesel was following. In the first drone photo above, you can just see the diesel crossing the highway while the steam train is going onto the bridge. Here’s a photo of just the diesel locomotive crossing the Floodway.

Prairie Dog Central 4138 crossing the Floodway
Prairie Dog Central 4138 crossing the Floodway

That was the end of my chase. After chatting with Larry for a couple of minutes, I packed everything up and headed home to start processing photos!

The Videos

The Prairie Dog Central on the GWWD

The above is my video of the Prairie Dog Central train on the GWWD, from three locations.

Naturally, a few other railfans recorded the train too. Here’s Isaac (“The Winnipeg Railfan”) and his video of the train returning to Winnipeg.

Another view of the PDC on the GWWD

Andrew Nelson was on board the train and recorded several videos. You can see him in my videos above! Here he recorded the train crossing the Floodway while my drone was overhead – although he was on the other side of the train from my drone.

Just One More Thing

Here are a few Prairie Dog Central-related items… and a GWWD item too.

24 thoughts on “Rare Mileage for the Prairie Dog”

  1. Dear Steve, great photographs, as a fan aboard the train with Mark P and Marcel B, our photos and chase is pale in comparison to yours. Great results. See you trackside, or near the VLS/PDC on Canada Day with Mark P.

  2. Great shots and videos. Thanks for sharing these, Steve. Yes, always good to have the ‘go’ bag ready to go, just in case. Or as they say in the GTA, the ‘GO’ bag.

    Eric

  3. Great write-up and photos, Steve! It was a very cool thing to be able to shoot. I was glad to see so many fans out too, even despite the rather gloomy weather. Well done PDC!

  4. Really enjoyed this post. Fine shots without the diesel, notably the almost broadside and the shots at the Perimeter Highway.

  5. Hey Steve, that’s an awesome story you wrote! I really like it.. Your Photos are awesome, very professional and right balance of light despite the gloomy weather we experienced riding the train, it turned out to be the awesome day ever! Thank you again for chasing the PDCR even though u were given short notice.. Heh

    • Thank you, Andrew! It was a bit of a challenge to avoid blowing out the sky – thank you, manual mode. I’m glad I had the opportunity to chase the train!

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Steve. Favourite still is No.3 with the water tower, Awesome ! Good idea they took the diesel off and followed the train; better photo ops. Rode the Leviathan 63 from Corinth to North Creek on the SNC and they did the same thing, following the train with an S-4 (I think).

    • Thanks, Steve, glad you liked this! I think they kept the diesel on for ease of clearing crossings while they were in the city. I’m glad they kept it off outside the city too… smart planning.

  7. I was one of the people stopped at the crossing while the train crossed at Plessis Rd.

    While I have never met you in person I saw a gentleman taking pictures on the south east side of the crossing and thought I bet that is Steve Boyko and I will have to check his site to see what his shots looked like. And they are quite impressive.

    Regarding the people stopping at the crossing, one thing I did not know until I came home and checked the online MPI drivers handbook is that most vehicles* can go through non gated controlled crossings as long as they stop at the flashing lights and feel that it is safe to proceed (i.e. the train is stopped or a safe distance away). *Does not apply to buses or vehicles hauling dangerous goods.

    A number of the stopped vehicles could have stopped and then gone across safely at the speed that the PDC was running if they had wanted to. The ones that were passing us could have been ticketed by the police though as they were passing in the no passing zone at the crossing (double solid yellow lines on each side)

    • Hi Clifford, thanks for visiting and commenting!

      Yes, it’s legal to stop and proceed at crossings without gates. Thanks for the detail on that. It’s definitely a judgement call and the PDC wasn’t breaking any speed records on that run!

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