Stop the presses folks…we’ve reached a milestone here. This post, which you’ll soon be enjoying, is the 1000th here at BIGDoer.com. Yes, our society has produced that many pieces and in only five years to boot! Not 1000 simple photo essays, but rather painstakingly researched history write ups, in-depth articles covering all manner of things old and abandoned, descriptive hike reports, our crazy obsessive Boler “problem” documented, all, we hope, nicely photographed and each accompanied by a darn good story. Been busy!
Raise a glass in toast, sit back, feet up, and read on. We guarantee the next story is going to be damn interesting. It’s worthy of being number one thousand.
The object of our attention is a locomotive. A steam locomotive. This is Canadian National Railways #1392, at the Alberta Railway Museum Edmonton. We’ll chronicle this century old engine, and it’s in operating condition by the way, as it’s prepared for a journey. We’ll watch as it get loaded onto a truck hauled trailer…I know, the irony…to be later sent on its way. Lots of curve balls in this game…a quagmire of mud and an engine set on “going off the rails”. Quite the experience! See it through our eyes…
The Venue: The Alberta Railway Museum, just northeast of town. They have an amazing collection of train equipment, from all eras and coming in from a number of different railways. Lots of stuff jammed into a relatively small space – something like seventy plus rail cars, freight and passenger, and locomotives, both steam and diesel. Like trains? Welcome to one heck of a playground.
Staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers, they do some amazing things here, doubly impressive given the tight budget they’re forced to work with. Museums are always underfunded it seems. Please help them out how ever you can.
The museum’s been on this site since the 1970s. It sits alongside an operating rail line, Canadian National Railways Edmonton to Fort MacMurray branch, which sees a couple trains per day. And lucky us, one showed during our visit. This track is their connection to the outside world, should something need to be delivered or taken away by rail – a lot of stuff comes and goes by truck though. I know! Interestingly, the museum sits alongside what was a spur line leading to a large military air base not far away.
We’ll only touch on the museum’s collection in this post. There’s waaaaaaay too much here and it’d be easy to get distracted. We’ll do a follow up article on the things we saw and documented during lulls in the action, which will be published later. And we’ll include a link here when that’s been done.
The Locomotive: Number #1392 was built in 1913 by the firm Montreal Locomotive Works, for the first half of the twentieth century the country’s largest such builder. They were in business from the early 1900s to the mid-1980s, making steamers until the late 1940s and diesels thereafter.
This locomotive was built for Canadian Northern Railways (CNoR) and was one of some fifty plus of the same design built in the years 1912-1913 by the Montreal firm. It’s classified (Whyte notation) as a 4-6-0, meaning four leading wheels, to help guide it through curves and such, six driven wheels, and none trailing. The arrangement was often called a “Ten-Wheeler”. Best described as a general purpose locomotive, it was one of hundreds on the roster and could be seen pulling local freights, mixed trains, work trains or on lesser passenger runs. They were tolerant of lightly built track.
In the early 1920s the Canadian Northern, along with some competing lines, joined together becoming Canadian National Railways. This locomotive, the others like it, all the CNoR owned, were folded into this new company. It carried the number #1392 the whole time though, regardless of whose name appeared on its sides.
The CNR classed #1392 as an H-6-G. H=company use denoting wheel arrangement and in some cases driver size (which in RR circles is important), 6=a subclass denoting a group of locomotives all having similar specifications, and G=a subclass again, denoting different batches built similar but produced at different times or by different builders. I hope this makes sense. Please, say yes.
The class number is displayed on the locomotive cab below the road number. Below is another number in percentage. It was used by the CNR to list the haulage rating of any particular engine. Without dissecting it too much, this means #1392 is good for hauling a couple/three dozen cars from the era, give or take, depending on grades and curves and such. But that’s perfectly fine given the smaller jobs it would be assigned. It was for yeoman service and nothing else. No glamour, no mighty accomplishments, just day after day toiling away on branchlines and back tracks with little recognition. They were the do-all worker bee of locomotives, if you will.
Steamer #1392 burns oil, heavy gooey stuff looking like some pot of Joe that’s been stewing away for hours and hours…truck stop coffee! It’s probable it burned coal in the early years – oil came into use later in the steam era. The oil and the water for the boiler was carried in a tender and together the pair, fully loaded, weigh in at some 130+ tonnes, is some 19m long and some 4m (and change) tall. As steam locomotives go it has modest proportions and capabilities and was simple in design.
This locomotive seems to have spent most of it’s career on the prairies. In the mid-1950s it was retired – diesels were on the scene you know – but instead of being scrapped was put in display in Edmonton at the exhibition grounds. Around 1970, the museum acquired it and brought it back up to operating condition. It runs on the short museum track some weekends.
Over the years, #1392 has appeared in many films and TV productions, the highly regarded Days of Heaven being a favourite of this author. Lots more too. The engine was on put on display during Expo ’86 in Vancouver…and I saw it there back then. We’re like old friends. Sniff, sniff.
The Job: Number #1392 is scheduled to join up with a couple other steamers, one working (Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions #41), one on static display, in celebration of Canada’s 150th, in Stettler Alberta. It’ll be put to work by the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions who operate well patronized tourist trains between there and Big Valley. The group masterminding it all, behind the scenes, Rails to Tales 2017. They moved mountains to make this happen.
Number #1392 has to get there though. I guess it could travel by flat car (quit laughing) but no one has that many weeks to burn – yes, train service is that bad today. It’s only a couple hundred clicks between the two points but they might as well be on opposite ends of the universe. Damn it, call a truck. The whole thing can be done in a day or two.
The engine is pulled from the locomotive shed. Providing the “muscle” is Number #4 – ex-Evraz Pipe, nee Stelco Pipe, nee CNR, always with the same number. This little industrial sized engine was built in 1956 by General Electric – yup, the same company that made your fridge. They’re the biggest locomotive firm today.
The trip to the loading area is short, but it takes some time. One switch is causing problems during the back-up move, the locomotive’s driving wheels insisting on riding up on the rails, and potentially coming off the rails, instead of following them. Caught in time, pull forward, disaster averted, and try again. Wheels are greased, the rails are too, the track tweaked and adjusted a little…with help from a backhoe and with care, attention and doing it oh so slowly, it makes it through. Success!
But the trip’s just started.
In behind the shop is the loading area, a large gravel pad. Normally that is, but today, after a night of heavy rain, it’s a mess, all soft and squishy. Not planned, not expected, but work has to continue. Water is pumped from low lying areas and in some places gravel is dumped to help stabilize things.
Everyone seemed little concerned with the mud. Looked bad to me, but then I don’t know a thing.
A huge goose neck trailer, equipped with rails, is spotted, a specialized ramp connecting it to the spur line. Number #1392 is inched closer. From here on in, a winch used to drag it up and on the trailer. It goes without a hitch, this part of the move taking some ten to fifteen minutes. The locomotive is chained down – don’t want it shifting during transport – and is ready to hit the road. Hmmm, what a sight that’d be, watching it roll down the highway. Anyway…
Next move in this game of chess, the truck backs up and connects. Wow, this trailer/truck combo all together is some kinda huge! On the spur, the tender is spotted in anticipation of the next loading go round. It won’t happen till the next day however. Blame the mud for slowing things down. It wasn’t so bad…these gaps in the action allowed us to explore the property between things happening. And you know how we love to wander.
Given the soft conditions, large blocks and mats are placed near wheels to help distribute the weight. It works, the rig slowly inching forward in the mud, some back and forth moves, to better align the trailer, a second truck via a tow cable sometimes providing assistance. Looks chaotic, looks nuts, how the hell are they going to get it done, but it’s all handled professionally and without so much as breaking a sweat. These guys were not intimidated. Not in the least. Slowing but surely the load makes it way onto more solid ground in the parking lot.
Clearances are incredibly tight, some passenger cars to avoid on one side, the hump of a grade crossing to go up and over, signs close in, miscellaneous this and that close to being in the way. Lots of obstacles and the whole rig is giant! It’s like threading a needle. Sometimes the locomotive is within a hair’s width of something big – see our pics. Other times it leans at extreme angles. Yet it goes off without a hitch. It’s taken a while, but by end of day everything is on dry ground.
Tomorrow, with the tender loaded, the convoy with head to Stettler for final delivery. Things go real smooth on that end I’m told – no mud there – easy as pie. Wished we could have recorded the full trip, but time constraints you know. Damn. But we saw it off!
The Firm: The guys doing the job, Inter-Rail Transport, are heavy equipment haulers. They’re staffed by burly fellows seemingly unaffected by anything thrown their way no matter how challenging; stuff that most certainly would have sent lesser companies and lesser crews running to the hills crying. No, the attitude is, in your best Larry the Cable Guy voice, just get’r done…like it was an everyday thing. Watching them do what they did was pure magic. And if it at times it looks as though they’re in over their heads, it was just that in appearance only. They didn’t flinch, not for one minute. That much mud and it’s a go. Ballsy!
If Inter-Rail is listening…just sayin’…the society would love to record more moves.
Team BIGDoer wasn’t the only media on hand to record this event. Lots of cameras on the scene this day, local TV stations, railfan press, official photographers of the event (Leo de Groot, in the visibility vest in some pics, one heck of a nice guy and looking at his work a talented fellow), most filming videos. Seems I was sort of alone in snapping pics. The event got good coverage and deservedly so. Hopefully our write up means something, even if it’s post-event after everyone’s gone home.
His stare, those demonic yellow eyes piercing the soul…he’s evil. This is the locomotive shop cat. You don’t mess with the locomotive shop cat. His name? No one knows, no one dare ask, but Mr Boss Man works…I guess. Beware rodents, birds, other cats, dogs, people, anyone who enter his domain. It’s his and he decides when you come, when you depart and even if you live. And stare-downs…don’t even bother, he’s world champion. We gave him a wide berth.
Lots of metal in this post, big machinery, old engines, rails cars by the train load, gargantuan trucks, but in reality it’s all about the human experience. The boy, standing there mesmerized, watching the guys who get the job done. The big machines that fascinate, but in reality, the people behind the scenes who make it all happen are the true heros. I’m a kid, this is my daydream, happy as I watch it unfold…just for me. The stuff behind the story is the story. Young Mr BIGDoer has gone home happy.
Class of ’63…the last one.
Aspen Crossing’s new locomotive gets delivered…another being moved.
Locomotives of the Great Sandhills Railway…a prairie railway.
The Little Yellow Locomotive…such a sad little thing.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2017.
Location: Edmonton, AB.
Article references and thanks: Alberta Railway Museum and all the helpful staff and volunteers there, Inter-Rail Transport and their amazing crew, The Rails to Tales Group, Alberta Prairie Railway Tours Stettler, Canadian Trackside Guides.
The Alberta Railway Museum is open to the public.