Exactly four decades separate the two images seen in this article. We’re standing at the edge of the huge Alyth yards in Calgary watching trains come and go, first in 1974 and again in 2014. There are two old shots we’ll try to duplicate and in one, much of what’s seen in back still exists. For the other it’s the opposite and unless you look hard, you’d be hard pressed to know that it’s the right location (but it is).
The old photos were contributed by and are copyright Keith Hansen. Thank you Keith, we had fun shooting the now versions. We hope you like them.
The location where these photos were shot is just east of downtown Calgary, along the CPR’s east/west mainline, in the communities of Ramsay and Inglewood. We’re in the former looking into the latter – the track is border.
In the first set, a lot of what’s seen in the immediate background in the old picture is still there and they’ll help us line things up. There is a feed mill (extreme left – we see only a sliver of it), the distinctive building to the far right (with windows on top – yellow in our picture), the road heading away just to the right of centre and even the power poles. They all help guide us.
In the second set of shots, the only constant is the low brown building seen in the far distance, the road heading away, and the power pole on the right. They all fit. However there has been so much change, that it’s hard to imagine it’s the same place. Note: our angles are off a wee bit in both “now” shots – a tall fence prevented us from reaching the proper spot. None the less, the results aren’t that bad.
Let’s look at the trains…
The first locomotive seen in the old picture, #8635, is a General Motors Diesel (London Ontario) model GP9. This example is from 1956 and was one of two hundred built for the railway in the years 1955-1959. These engines were equally at home pulling mainline or local freights and some even worked passenger trains. In later years they were demoted and could usually be found on lesser runs and in yard service. Even today, over fifty years since the last one was delivered to the railway, many, including #8635, still toil away in service. Talk about getting your money’s worth!
This specific locomotive was modified in the early 1970s for hump service (scroll down eight paragraphs to read what that is), along with a couple of her sisters.
The maker of the locomotive, GMD (also called as GMDD) closed in 2012 and was the last such factory in the country. In the 1950s, Canada had three locomotive builders!
The second engine seen in the old photo is a Canadian Locomotive Company H24-66, #8904, and was built under license from the Fairbanks Morse company in the US. This example is from 1956 as well and was one of twenty one on the CPR roster built in the years 1955-56. This was a pretty rare locomotive and was one of 22 found in Canada (CNR had but one). Even in the US they were rare and only some hundred were built by FM for railways there. To put it into perspective, the GP9 model mentioned earlier was one 646 built in Canada and one of over 3400 made in total.
This locomotive was originally built for passenger service and was one four so equipped. They did not work out well in this role and were soon relegated to freight service. They spent most of their working life in southern BC and Alberta. When built they were the largest and most powerful diesels on the CPR roster, a title they held for about a decade. Compared to locomotives from other makers, these engines (and all FM/CLC locomotives) were regarded as somewhat unreliable. Even so, the always frugal CPR kept theirs in service for some time, longer than any railways in fact. Near the end, they sure looked ragged.
This model locomotive was known as a Train Master, by its maker and like all CLC/FM units they could pull hard. The Canadian Locomotive Company, by the way, operated from the 1850s to the 1960s.
By 1974 the CPR’s small fleet of H24-66s, at that time numbering only a few units, were the last such locomotives in service anywhere (period). At the time, they all worked the Alyth yard exclusively, paired with a GP9 engine, and were used to push long trains over the “hump” (there’s that word again – scroll down four paragraphs to hear it explained). The last Train Masters were retired in 1975 or 1976 (reports differ). Either way, they did not have much time left when Kieth shot his photos.
The first rail car seen in the old picture, the one directly being the locomotives, is a tri-level auto rack. In the old days these were open, like the one seen in that picture, but the ones today are enclosed, which protects the cargo better.
Seen pulling the train seen in our “now” photos is AC4400CW, #9600, and ES44AC, #9353. Both were built by General Electric, in 1997 and 2012 respectively. These two models, which for the most part are visually indistinguishable from each other, are the most commonly seen locomotives on the CPR roster. The railway owns hundreds and hundreds and it seems that every train we see is pulled by them. General Electric is the largest locomotive builder in the world and nearly every railway in North America has some similar units to the ones seen here, on their roster.
The huge Alyth yards is one of the largest owned by the company. At its centre is a specialized hump facility (I know you’ve been wondering what that is). In simple terms: it’s a yard with a small hill at one end. – the train is slowly pushed over the “hump” and as each car crests it’s let loose to roll down the opposite side. Then it’s directed to a specific track (the Alyth hump has some 50) and slowed automatically by wheel retarders. This is a very efficient way to classify cars. In spite of this I’d heard rumours the Alyth hump has been closed recently and is instead now flat switched. This is unconfirmed. Where we shot our photo is at the entrance to the yard, or in the railway vernacular, at its throat.
Notice the number of large grain elevators seen in the first old picture, which today are all gone.
If you have an old photo you’d like us to use in a then and now post, by all means send it to us. Contact information can be found below.
To see more railway themed posts, go here…
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Cochrane Alberta.
Kelowna BC rail yards – 1989.
Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions train Big Valley Alberta.
Abandoned locomotive CPR’s BIG Hill – 1992.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: April, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.