In the summer of 1989 I was working in Vancouver BC and had finally accumulated enough cash that I was able to take a full month off, time which I used to explore my world. It was my first solo road trip! In the process I travelled all over BC and Alberta, taking in as many back roads as I could, with no real plans as to where I might end up. This first trip started a tradition that continues to this very day.
On this nice summer morning I found myself in Rosebery BC. It’s not so much a town as it is a rail yard with a few houses scattered about. The significance of the place, at least in railway terms, is that it was actually the transfer point where trains using the line were loaded onto barges. You see, this line, the CPR’s Nakusp branch, was isolated from the rest of the system and trains using it must be floated here from down the lake. It was a laborious and complicated process that was terribly inefficient.
The last train to use this line was in December 1988, although some reports say the final run was that following March. I visited the site in August 1989.
The line here headed north from Rosebery ending in Nakusp some 40km away. In the past, a second line headed south, travelling through New Denver and into the mining camps of Sandon and area. That’s another story.
At one point, before the advent of good roads, the trains did a good business and everything needed by the communities along the line was brought in and products like lumber and ore shipped out. It was the life line of the area and without everything would come to a grinding halt. In fact business was so good in the early years that two railways thrived in the area.
Built under the charter of the Nakusp and Slocan railway, it was almost immediately leased by the CPR. Completed in the mid 1890s the line would serve for almost a hundred years. Not bad considering. Rosebery was selected by default as it had a decent little harbour and a flat area where a yard could be placed, the only such land around.
In the early days, I understand that trains and barges were operating almost around the clock at times. In later years there was no set schedule and trains operated where there were sufficient loads to justify a movement. Sometimes that meant a train a week and other times it would be months before a wheel turned. The train, originating in Nelson, travelling through to Slocan City where it was loaded onto the barge, then unloaded at Rosebery and back on the rails to Nakusp, would take two full days to complete the circuit!
In later years, the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the only commodity of any significance moving on the line seemed to be wooden poles coming from a plant in Nakusp. Prior to that, fuel was brought in, and other lumber yards filled cars too but that business dried up or it was taken over by trucks as the roads in the area improved. Ore from the mines was shipped out into the 1950s.
Taking in the yard and barge loading area, I wondered around aimlessly taking pictures of what every caught my interest. Sadly, I was still poor enough that I had to be very selective of what I could shoot (film and processing being expensive). To bad, as I am sure I could have captured many more pictures.
On the flats there was a small yard, perhaps three tracks or so. Heading south, the line crossed over Wilson Creek and shorty after that ended, although the abandoned roadbed to New Denver and Sandon continued on.
Heading back, there was a wye here (a place where locomotives or other cars could be turned). By this point, it was likely not needed, as a diesels cares not which way it faces. In the past steam engined needed to be turned as they work well in only one direction and sometimes, even in the later years, a snow plough would be used on the line, and it was directional as well and needed to be turned at times.
This section of track was also the leads for the barge slip. They went down to lake level on a fairly steep grade (steep for railways anyway) and following them as they curbed around, we come to the barge slip. Normally it sits half on land and half in water, a transition point between the floating barge and terra firma. However, since the last train came through here some six months earlier, it had been dragged well out of the water for which I assume was eventual scrapping.
Being high and dry allowed us to take a good look at the whole contraption, including the underside which was normally not visible since it would be under water. Of particular interest is the way the whole thing seemed cobbled together (in true frugal CPR fashion). Some large wooden beams rested on some re-used freight cars trucks with truss rods, cables and bolted wooden braces tying the whole thing together. It looks frail and odd but obviously it worked. When this was made is anyone’s guess.
The whole thing rested on those freight car wheels which themselves used the same tracks the trains entering and exiting the barge did. They headed deep into the water, allowing the slip to be moved as needed up and down as the lake levels fluctuated. It was a simple sound solution, very clever. I assume every now and them the slip would have to be brought out of the water so the wheels could be greased and bolts re-tightened. Note how corroded the below water parts are. The transition rails were neat, simply old bits of track shaved down at an angle.
Clearly by the 1980s this whole arrangement was not only a money loser, it was a total anachronism. A train arriving by barge must have been quite a sight and a real opener for those boating on the lake.
Back to the yard, I follow the tracks northbound passing by a number of railway buildings. There was a section house, full of track parts and such, but I did not photograph it. Of note was the small size of the yard with some tracks only a few cars long. I guess it makes more sense when you realize that the barge only allowed a limited number of cars and trains were always short anyway. On my visit the tracks extended beyond the yard, but at some point between here and Nakusp had already been pulled up. A stop in that town conformed it and the small yard there was bare gravel.
In later years the tracks here were so bad, that trains often operated at speeds no quicker than a brisk walk. What a strange operation this was, one I am sure the CPR was happy to get rid off. I bet the railway would have dumped it earlier but one can assume government regulations may have played some part in its longevity.
The yards here and the while area was well grown over. It’s not clear when this section of the line was pulled up, but probably not long after my visit. My next time here would be 1999, but by the any hint of the operation was long gone. And I forgot my camera.
This line existed in this form as the surrounding area was so rugged making a connecting line in near impossible – the lake was the only way in. This line, unlike other abandoned ones in the area, has not been tuned into a rail trail.
To see some other train archaeology themed reports we’ve posted, go here…
Canadian Pacific Railway octagonal water tower.
Abandoned locomotive CPR’s BIG Hill – 1992.
Canadian National Railways Nordegg – 1997.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: Summer, 1989.
Location: Rosebery, BC.