I guess you could say this was a weird choice for a hike, trekking along the rail line from south Calgary into Okotoks. Yea it’s odd, but we’re strange anyway. Not a terribly challenging undertaking, even given the long distances, it was less than pleasant in places given the hot humid weather and the swarms of mosquitoes that harassed us that day. Otherwise it was a pretty interesting trip.
This route was chosen as the previous year we walked the tracks into Cochrane from Calgary, which was a lot of fun. This route differs in a number of ways – for example there are no maintenance roads paralleling the line which means at times we’ll have to walk on the tracks proper (but as far off to the side as possible). Because of this we’ll be especially mindful of approaching trains – as any time is train time you know. In the end it’s not a problem as this is secondary line and we only saw one freight.
This trip dates from 2005, July 1st 2005 to be exact, Canada Day.
Starting at the Somerset LRT station we begin our trek south. The track here is straight and the topography flat – in other words it’s the least appealing part of the route. Along this way we pass acreages and farms and lots of ponds and wetlands just teaming with birds. Before long we are in DeWinton (or De Winton) and this where things get more interesting. There are some old rail cars and elevators to see here and the rail line takes a more inviting route, following some pretty valleys as it makes its way south.
There is a storage track right next to some grain elevators, which were filled with a number of old and interesting rail cars. Starting from the north we see two RCC cars, Remote Control Cars, also sometimes called Robot Cars. These housed radio gear that allowed the lead locomotives to communicate with the mid train “slaves” on long trains. Now a days this gear fits inside the locomotive nose but back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when this technology in its infancy, it took up a lot of space and needed its own rail car.
These two cars are in fact former locomotive themselves, being ex-CPR Canadian Locomotive Company, Fairbanks Morse (USA) designed model CPB16-4 engines re-purposed for this service. Originally built in 1953 (CPR 4455 and 4456), they were converted to their current form in 1971 before finally being retired in the early 1990s. Lettered for BC Rail (RCC 3 and RCC 4) they worked for this company and it’s predecessor Pacific Great Eastern hauling long freights to and from North Vancouver into the interior of BC. An interesting note, lasting as long as they did meant they were the very last CLC/FM engines to work for a major railway. I realize they were shells and did not function as a locomotive but they still looked like one – close enough.
Next in line is an old flat car in MOW service (Maintenance of Way). It was also gone on our most recent visit.
After that we see a couple box cars and a caboose and these were all still here when we dropped by in 2012. See our DeWinton report (link below) to get more history on them.
It’s not completely clear who owns all these cars and what they are doing here and why some have left and others have arrived in their place. On a more recent trip here in 2012, the RCC cars seen on the first trip were gone, being replaced by some old passenger train baggage cars.
In addition to the rail cars there are two old grain elevators in DeWinton. Both are now in private hands but in the past were owned by the UGG (United Grain Growers) and before that other companies. The most northerly one is in fact one of the oldest extant grain elevators in the province having been built prior to 1910 (exact date not confirmed). The second one dates from the mid 1920s. In spite of their age both are in fine shape. In the past there was a third elevator here, but it’s been gone since the 1930s.
Continuing south the route now passes through an area of rolling hills and valleys. Along here, in the valleys, there are a number of ponds and marshes and one could easily imagine they are in the middle of nowhere.
There are numerous birds to be seen along this section along with other wildlife like beavers and deer (we see a fawn is the grass). Lots of wild strawberries grow near the tracks and we make sure to pick our share. Recent heavy rains have filled the ponds to capacity and at times the water comes right up to the rails. This moisture also means there were lots of mosquitoes near here – thank goodness for Muskol – so we avoid any tall grasses and dense bush where they like to hang out.
Just before the line turns to the east, making it’s final push into Okotoks, we pass a square chimney. This is the remains of the Okotoks brick factory which operated here in the early part of the twentieth century. The hillside behind was the source of the clay needed to make the bricks.
Paralleling highway 549 and heading east now, the Sheep River is right next to the tracks and it is brown and muddy and running high due to the heavy rains that the region had been experiencing. In fact one section of the rail line appears to have been eaten away by the rushing waters and some large rocks and gravel were dumped in to stop the erosion.
Before long we are in town and our waiting car.
We had two dog encounters on this trip – not an odd occurrence when you travel rail lines. We carry dog treats and this seems to appease most pooches. We did have a close call however with a very large aggressive dog and luckily the owner called it back just before it got to us. This is a potential danger and we carry a loud whistle for just such a situation as he noise seems to drive them crazy. But it’s no guarantee.
A warning – just because we walked along the tracks here does not mean you should. Who are we kidding, it’s trespassing and potentially dangerous. We understand this and are always watching and listening and everything we do is carefully calculated.
We did another follow the tracks trip from Calgary into Cochrane and to see that report, click this link…
Calgary to Cochrane.
We did a recent report on the rail cars and elevators in DeWinton and to read it, follow this link…
DeWinton De Winton Dewinton.
If you wish more information on this route, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July 1, 2005.
Location: Calgary to Okotoks.
Distance: Did not measure, estimate 30km one way.
Height gain from start: Negligible
Height gain cumulative: Negligible
Technical bits: None.