New Brunswick Potash Operations

By Wendell Lemon

Construction began in 1981 at Penobsquis, near Sussex on New Brunswick’s first potash mine. The Potash Co. of America ( PCA) mine is beside CN’s Sussex Sub at McCullys, milepost 38.4. New trackage consists of one long through siding, a wye, a short stub track and a half-mile of double cross-over trackage. The double cross-over connects to the 5 loading and holding tracks at the mine and smelting facility. Potash and salt are both mined. Potash is shipped in rail cars and most salt leaves by highway. By 1983, PCA was well underway shipping potash to Courtenay Bay (Saint John) by rail. Power for these trains most times came out of Saint John and could be any two big CN units.

In the summer of 1983, a second potash mine and smelting facility was under construction by Denison Potacan Co. at Clover Hill, southwest of Sussex, New Brunswick. CN rail shipments to Courtenay Bay started in 1985.

Also in mid 1983, a 2.8 million dollar contract was let to Wheaton Construction Co. Ltd of Saint John to expand the two year old rail and ship facility at Courtenay Bay. The rail-to-ship loading of potash from the Penobsquis mine now had to be shared at Courtenay Bay with potash from Clover Hill. Clover Hill trains are 45 cars long.

The Denison Sub first appeared in CN’s 1986 timetables. It branched off CN’s Sussex Sub at Moosehorn milepost 57.2. This curvaceous 11.7 mile Sub snakes south from Moosehorn to Clover Hill, deep in King’s County. There is a 5400 foot through siding at Moosehorn for marshaling of trains in and from Clover Hill. The Denison Sub rises steeply from both ends which necessitates the use of multiple unit locomotives. A tight horseshoe curve is at milepost two.

CN began working both potash mines with local 594/595 or scheduled 305/306. Earlier train numbers were 411/412 and/or 544. Most times Saint John local 594/595 worked both mines using 305/306’s power laying over during the day at Saint John. There was 200 covered hoppers assigned to the Denison Sub trains. The steep Denison Sub grades found a need for General Motor locomotives as Moncton assigned Alco power locomotives all lacked dynamic braking except for two. We soon had SD40-2(W) numbers 5260, 5261, 5296- 5298 assigned to the Moncton area though they had recently been assigned to Tashereau Yard from Calder. We were told on June 19, 1985 that our Gordon Yard diesel shop would be doing some of the 90 day inspections. These units circulated between Joffre, Quebec and Saint John to keep them active and in the area.

Both mines had serious underground flooding. The Clover Hill potash mine drain their excess brine ( salt and water) to the Bay of Fundy through a 17 mile pipe. However they could not keep ahead of the water and shut down in 1997.

Just previous to the Clover Hill operation shutting down, the Potash Company of America ( Penobsquis) and Denison Potacan Co ( Clover Hill) combined to become the New Brunswick Division of The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan ( PCS). The PCS now became the world’s largest fertilizer company.

Saskatchewan Potash

The Denison Sub was quiet for a year or so and then potash began arriving from Melville, Saskatchewan for processing at Clover Hill. Saskatchewan potash train 738 started coming in March of 1998. There was an average of 98 ninety-one ton cars on each train. Between Moncton and Clover Hill, the potash traveled as train 588 over the Sussex Sub and into the Denison Sub. After a day being processed at Clover Hill, the potash was reloaded and taken to Courtenay Bay at Saint John for boat loading. Empties returned westbound a few days later. The trains were seasonal and one a week as the Clover Hill facility could not handle more. About 20 men were needed to handle the processing operation.

These 98 car trains took time getting from Moncton to Clover Hill. Speed on the Sussex Sub was slow at the time, especially for this heavyweight. At Norton the train was temporarily left on the main track or a bit farther on at Moosehorn siding. The first 25 cars were taken into the Denison Sub and left. They then made three more trips until all were in for processing. Crews were exchanged at backwoods highway crossings. A few days later, empties returned to Moncton as a 595 or part of scheduled train 305. Saskatchewan bound empties from Moncton became a 739.
On January 5, 2001, three CN locomotives ( 6011, 6066, 5329 ) ran light as a 588 from Moncton to Clover Hill to pick up 77 loads of Saskatchewan refined potash. It returned to Moncton and to Baltimore, Maryland. This may have happened only the one time.

The last Saskatchewan potash train arrived for processing at Clover Hill on September 21, 2005. It went by my home at Fundy ( Sussex Sub ) with locomotives 2621, 2408, 5261, 5614 and 90 cars. The 5261 in this last train was probably on the first train into Clover Hill back in 1985. The last train off the Denison Sub was on October 8, 2005 with 23 empty cars. According to an article in Saint John’s ‘Telegraph Journal’ in late October, 2005, PCS’s general manager stated the Clover Hill facility was done and would be dismantled. A week later CN announced the Denison Sub is ‘Out of Service’ and the switch points at Moosehorn were padlocked.

Loose Ends

The Penobsquis operation at McCullys also has water problems but does manage to stay ahead of the flooding. Seaboard tractor trailers are busy 24/7 trucking the brine from McCully to the mine site at Clover Hill. At Clover Hill, the brine is drained into the Bay of Fundy through the pipe already mentioned. For a short time, the pipe was plugged and the brine was trucked and dumped into Courtenay Bay.

Natural gas was discovered on Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan property at Penobsquis in September, 2000 by Halifax based gas explorer Corridor Resources. The potash facility began using gas for the smelting process starting in April, 2003.

Two elderly Montreal Locomotive Company shunters arrived at McCullys in early 1983 for making up trains. These model S4 locomotives were ex Asbestos and Danville #46 and #47. PCA renumbered them 92-010 and 92-018 and painted them white. A small trackmobile could also be seen shunting. PCA picked up a CN retired S12 shunter number 8241 in May, 1983. It was renumbered to SP1 and kept for parts of which little was used. The 92-010 worked the dumper at Courtenay Bay until 1992. In the summer of 1994, the three elderly MLW locomotives were scrapped on site at Penobsquis.

In July, 1992, a red 70 tonner, number 18, was purchased from Toronto locomotive dealer A. Merrilees for the Courtenay Bay dumper. It was found to be inadequate. The 70 tonner was eventually taken to the Penobsquis plant where it operated until April, 2006.
Also in 1992, the Courtenay Bay Potash Terminal (CBPT) was formed. The terminal was now a separate operation with it’s own name. A extensively rebuilt ex Penn Central GP7 #1600 arrived in the summer of 1994 from dealer A Merrilees. It worked the dumper, replacing the 18. In 2005, salt and potash tonnage handled by the CBPT was one million tons.

On April 1, 2006, Potash Corporation received an ex CN SW900 from A. Merrilees of Toronto. The unit is number 92-019 and to replace the 70 tonner at Penobsquis. The freshly painted shunter is green with a narrow white hood stripe. The 70 tonner has been purchased by A. Merrilees.

The Clover Hill operation never had a shunter. They utilized gravity, a cable winch or a tractor equipped with a coupler. There are 7 parallel tracks at the Clover Hill facility. The center main track, which is an inside the main gate extension of the Sub., is the arrival and departure track. The three northerly tracks are for loading cars. The 3 southerly through sidings are for empty cars. Three of the seven tracks are dead-end. Tracks are lettered LEO1 to LEO7 starting with the most northerly.

Copyright © 2006 by Wendell Lemon.