One of the very last steam locomotives purchased new by the CPR, Selkirk 5931 was set aside upon retirement and now sits at entrance to Heritage Park in Calgary Alberta. This engine and her sisters were the most powerful locomotives on the entire CPR system and they could be seen holding down assignments here in the west. Retired by the late 1950s, two of this series were saved and put on display, including the one we see here.
This class of locomotive was built in three batches, starting in 1929. For this article we’ll only discuss the final group, to which 5931 belongs. She and her five sisters were built in 1949 and were classed T1c. At the time of their construction the great diesel transition had just started and these represented the last steam locomotives purchased new by the CPR.
Assigned to heavy passenger and freight trains the mountains, they served in this capacity for only short period before diesels took over that job. Later they were transferred to the prairies, operating east and north out of Calgary. These engines were to only last ten years in service and were retired by 1959. A sad ending.
When retied two of this series were set aside. 5935, the very last Selkirk and the final CPR steam locomotive purchased new was donated to the Canadian Railway Historical Association. It now resides at ExpoRail in Saint-Constant QC. The other, 5931 was stuffed and mounted and put on display at Mewata Park just west of downtown Calgary. It sat here, next to a tourist information booth until 1981, before making its way to its current location.
It was moved in a rather interesting way, and it was rolled forward on short sections of track laid on the street. As if progressed, the tracks behind were lifted and moved to the front, allowing the locomotive to roll forward yet again. Done in small steps, this procedure was repeated countless times until finally it arrived here. It was quite an event and took a couple days as I recall.
The locomotive we see appears compete and in reasonable shape (the paint is fading fast), but as I understand it, mechanically its in pretty poor condition. No worries I guess since it only has to look good on display.
An interesting story about 5931 was that it was for a time intentionally numbered 5934. The latter was to be the donated engine but when it was found to be in too rough a shape, the former was substituted and for appearances and to keep all the paperwork straight, the latter number was applied to it. Confused yet? After being moved to it present location it reverted back to it’s original number.
In the Whyte notation these engines would be known as a 2-10-4 – meaning two lead wheels, ten drive wheels and four trailing wheels. The former guide the train through curves and the latter support the massive fire box. These engines were oil burners and had massive tenders to hold the fuel and water needed. Equipped with all weather cabs, the crew was well protected from the elements.
By Canadian standards these were huge, but when compared to similar classed engines in the US, they were actually quite small. In fact, the smallest of their type. Regardless of that, due to their weight they were restricted to where they could travel and bridges in the region had to be reinforced in some cases to support them.
This locomotive and her kin in the T1 class were known as Selkirks. They were so named for the mountain range they crossed. In the US, this wheel arrangement would be known as a Texas type.
You may have heard that this class of engine were the largest of most powerful in Canada or even the British Empire, but that’s not entirely true. The CNR for example had some slow moving yard and transfer engines that beat the Selkirk in both categories (albeit by a small amount). In road service however, 5931 and kin ruled the roost.
This is no doubt this is a burly engine, but by today’s standards its capabilities are pretty modest. To put things into perspective, a single modern diesel engine has roughly twice the pulling power.
This Selkirk and all others, were built by the Montreal Locomotive Works in (where else), Montreal QC and were some of the last complete steam engines built by that company. They continued to manufacture this form of motive power for only a year or so more after 5931 was built, but for export. They did make components for same, like steam boilers, for a time after however, just not new engines after 1950. MLW as it was called, was at the time was the largest locomotive factory in Canada and was just making the transition into diesel production. The first engine of that type emerged from their shops roughly a year before 5931 was built.
This company, which dated from the early 1900s, constructed many of the stream and diesel locomotives rostered by Canadian railways. They built their last engines in 1984 and by then were owned by the giant conglomerate Bombardier.
Heritage Park was established in the 1960s and is a large living history museum and a worthwhile place to visit. There are enough exhibits and displays to keep you busy for a long time.
Alco S2 7109 also sits at the entrance to Heritage Park and to see this engine, built in 1944 and one of the first diesel engines the CPR purchased, go here…
Canadian Pacific Railway Alco S2 7019.
If you wish more information on this locomotive, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.