Shining Flying Purple Wolfhound

Battleships confide in me and tell me where you are
Shining, flying, purple wolfhound, show me where you are
Lost in summer, morning, winter, travel very far
Lost in losing circumstances, that’s just where you are

“Yours is No Disgrace”, Yes

We often look for some deep meaning in things that we experience. It’s tempting to think that there is a larger plan behind world events, personal events, tragedies, even songs.

If you’re a fan of progressive rock (“prog rock”) like I am, you’ll have heard lyrics like the Yes song I quoted above. It’s hard to know whether Jon Anderson and bandmates had anything in particular in mind when he wrote that song, but people have spent a lot of time trying to read a deeper meaning into “Yours is No Disgrace” – is it an antiwar song? Railing against the excesses of modern society? Or just a bunch of words that flow nicely?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a song is just a song, and a railfan excursion is just a bunch of trains.

CN 2569 East

CN 2569 from the air
CN 2569 from the air

On August 2, 2021 I went out looking for trains. I had no particular mission, just a desire to see some trains and get outside. The air was hazy from distant wildfires, but otherwise it was a nice morning.

I headed west out of Winnipeg and ended up at mile 40 of the CN Rivers subdivision, just outside Oakville, Manitoba. I chose this spot because of the old telegraph poles with their fallen wires and the east facing “searchlight” signals. These old signals are being replaced by modern LED signals, so I’ve been trying to record them when I see them.

Eventually an eastbound tank train came along – CN 758 maybe? – and I recorded it from the air and from the ground. It looked quite nice in the early morning light.

CN 2569 from the ground
CN 2569 from the ground

Here’s the video of the train.

I didn’t think any other CN trains would be coming soon, so I returned to the Trans-Canada Highway and continued west to Portage la Prairie. Just before the turnoff into the city, I exited to visit the Tucker grain elevator just east of the city.

Luck was with me – when I arrived trackside and looked east, I could see a westbound CP train in the distance. Time to set up!

I deployed my tripod with its old iPhone SE on it as a video camera. I had never flown my drone here – I always thought it was too close to the airport in the south end of Portage la Prairie – but a quick check of the official NAV Canada drone app showed that I could fly here. A kilometre to the south, no, but here was fine.

Up we went.

CP 8907 and 9837 passing Tucker
CP 8907 and 9837 passing Tucker

The train had a couple of grubby red GE locomotives on the head end, with a rebuilt SD70ACu providing power in the middle of the train. Unfortunately these rebuilt locomotives are getting dirty like the rest of the fleet, so they aren’t as bright red as they used to be.

Stuck in the middle with CP 7039
Stuck in the middle with CP 7039

I followed the train into Portage la Prairie. The city is famous amongst railfans for the CN and CP main lines running parallel through the heart of the city. It’s interesting and you should visit, but in my opinion there aren’t a lot of good photo opportunities in the city.

The old ex CN and CP train stations do provide good photo props, though…

CN 2951 passing the former CN / VIA station in Portage la Prairie
CN 2951 passing the former CN / VIA station in Portage la Prairie

CN 2951 was leading a tank train through the city past the ex CN train station. The station is looking a little worn.

The second unit on the tank train was one of the 75 Citirail ES44AC locomotives that CN recently purchased. These were lease units and have been patched for CN and put into service. I imagine they will get the full CN paint treatment soon enough.

CN 3929 in Portage la Prairie
CN 3929 in Portage la Prairie

This was a unit train, but not a crude oil train. The hazmat placards on the tank cars included 1075 (propane) and 1202 (diesel) among others.

I followed that train east out of the city, heading back to Winnipeg. I noted that it wasn’t moving very quickly, so I deduced that it was stopping at Nattress to wait to cross the Assiniboine River.

The CN track between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie has two tracks all the way, except for the bridge crossing the Assiniboine (here). I don’t know why CN has never replaced this bridge with a two track bridge; maybe it’s not a big operational bottleneck.

The bridge itself is hard to get to – perhaps impossible without trespassing.

To get there, I drove south on Bower Road. The road passes through a neat “tree tunnel” before terminating at the CN rail line. However, there are prominent “NO TRESPASSING” signs short of the tracks, and there is no public crossing at the tracks.

The shot below was the best that I could do while remaining on the public road.

The rail inspection portal and bridge at Nattress
The rail inspection portal and bridge at Nattress

There’s the automated rail inspection portal – one of four around Winnipeg – and you can see some of the bridge. I was hoping for a big truss bridge.

CN 2951 West had indeed stopped here, clearly waiting for a westbound train to roll across the Assiniboine first. After a long wait, the crew exited their locomotive and took up positions to do the rollby inspection. They clearly didn’t want to be photographed, so you won’t see them in the photos and video.

CN 2925 approaching mile 50.4
CN 2925 approaching mile 50.4

CN 2925 was leading a westbound intermodal train. Note the west facing signals guarding the end of the two tracks, and the prominent “PRIVATE ROAD DO NOT ENTER” sign.

Here’s the meet, with 2925 on the south track.

KISS
KISS

The video:

I broke out the telephoto lens to capture a (somewhat obscured) view of the Nattress rail inspection portal in action. You can see a band of bright light on the side of the container from the portal’s LED lights.

Containers running through the Nattress inspection portal
Containers running through the Nattress inspection portal

You might ask why I didn’t fly my drone at Nattress to get a better look at the bridge. Unfortunately, it’s well inside the large “no fly zone” south of Portage la Prairie.

Drone fly/no-fly map around Portage la Prairie, MB
Drone fly/no-fly map around Portage la Prairie, MB

This map is a screen capture from NAV Canada’s online drone flight planning app, annotated to show locations plus CN and CP rail lines. You can see that Nattress is well within the red “no fly” zone from the Southport airport. Note that Tucker is just north of the “red zone” and therefore it’s OK to fly a drone there. The yellow “splash” is a cautionary zone around the Portage Flying Club; you can fly a drone around there as long as you stay out of the way of other aircraft.

Just One More Thing

Hey, Winnipeg area model train fans! Manitoba Mega Train will hold their annual model train show this year on September 11 and 12 at the Red River Ex Place (3977 Portage Avenue). They weren’t able to open in 2020, but fortunately they’re baaaaack in 2021.

There are a few limitations:

  • Attendees 12 & up must show proof of double vaccination
  • Everyone must wear masks
  • Only 50% occupancy

Visit https://www.facebook.com/ManitobaMegaTrain/ for more information.

3 thoughts on “Shining Flying Purple Wolfhound”

  1. Hi Steve. I’m kind of surprised that there are still searchlight signals on the Rivers Sub. I would have.thought that CN would have replaced them all with LEDs by now. The targets are getting quite faded. So, maybe CN is planning on replacing them fairly soon?

    Reply
    • Hi Brian, I imagine that CN will get around to replacing them eventually. They replaced the searchlight signals on the Redditt and Sprague subs a while ago. No doubt the Rivers is coming up.

      Reply
  2. The Sprague sub had the signals upgraded around 2015, and now they are tearing out several of the new ones and replacing them (both adding signals in new locations, and also replacing many of the ones from 2015 with BRAND NEW ones in the same location). Does anyone know why newish signals are being replaced with virtually identical signals (the only thing that appears different are the stands)? This is happening from around Giroux to Marchand (possibly even farther to the southeast). That has GOT to be expen$ive!

    Reply

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