In this then and now series we do our best to duplicate Mike Dunham-Wilkie’s well known train photographs from 1978. In the originals he shoots from a bluff overlooking the small town of Wayne Alberta and below we can see a train passing by along with the town’s two grain elevators. On our visit a lot has changed yet that haunting landscapes remains.
To reach this vantage point required a bit of scrambling, but the results speak for themselves. The beauty of the valley, cut by the Rosebud River, is simply stunning.
In the first of Mike’s photos, we see a CNR freight working its way up the valley. Of interest railway buffs, this train was being pulled by two GMDD (General Motors Diesel Division, London Ontario – now closed) model SW1200RS locomotives. These engines, built in the period 1956-1960 or near the end of the steam-to-diesel transition era were purpose built for yeoman service and they could be seen in yards, on quiet branch lines and pulling local freights. The train we see here is likely one of the latter as soon it’ll soon gather up those three grain cars seen on the elevator siding.
These engine numbers can not be seen clearly so checking into their lineage is unlikely. Interestingly one is still painted in the CNR’s old green and gold paint, which was phased out in the early 1960s replaced by the black and red scheme seen on the other engine. By this date this it was mostly certainly one of very few locomotives still in these old colours and was likely repainted not long after Mike’s picture was taken. Many from this same class of engine worked well into the 1990s, and even beyond and as I understand it, some are still hard at work. Perhaps even the ones we see here.
The SW1200RS model was only built in Canada and was a variation of the SW1200 switcher modified for road service. Both major railways here purchased many.
The grain hoppers seen would have been fairly new at the time and fleets of these government sponsored cars were constructed to augment than them replace the huge numbers of inefficient grain box cars the railways were using. At the time of Mike’s photos it would have not been unusual to see either type of car at an elevator siding. Box cars were used well into the 1980s and even beyond.
This train included some MOW cars (maintenance of way) on the front end. These are used by track crews when working in remote or hard to get to areas and seeing them here may not be surprising as this subdivision with it’s many bridges and unstable hillsides was maintenance intensive (and one reason why the line is closed today –more on this below).
Both the elevators seen were built in the 1920s and interestingly both were destroyed in spectacular fashion by a huge fire in 1980. At one time there were other elevators in Wayne although where they were located is not known to me. Perhaps to the right of the others, but there is not much room there, so who knows? Of the two elevator companies represented, neither Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP – in original mineral brown paint) nor United Grain Elevators (UGG) exist to this day, at least not in the form seen. Through many merges and acquisitions they eventually joined, becoming Viterra.
The elevator siding is interesting in that it is stub ended. Typically the railway would use a run-through style siding instead (IE a connection on each end) which simplifies car handing. The topography and tight spaces here I guess prevented that and so this must have been a nuisance to switch for eastbound trains (the train we see is westbound).
Getting to our now image we can see that things have not changed much. The elevators are gone of course but the rail line still remains although it’s not in use. Some buildings have been added and others gone as well but not much differs however.
The last train through here was a few years back, ending almost a hundred years of service on the line. Oddly when it closed it was not pulled up…not yet anyway. This section saw only a couple trains a day by the end and this combined with high maintenance costs sealed its fate. Most traffic was through freights from Saskatoon to Calgary or the other way around, with little local traffic in between. The former could easily be rerouted with considerable cost savings and what little traffic lost would be no big deal. This is the CNR’s ex-Drumheller Subdivision – nee Canadian Northern or CNoR built under the charter of the Alberta Midland Railway.
Why the rails have not been pulled up is open to some debate, but there have been talk of a company resurrecting the line – but it’s just talk. Two stub end sections of this line remain on either end, one ending at Lyalta Alberta and the other in Oyen, right near the Saskatchewan border, served from Saskatoon.
The second image taken by Mike shows the train after it picked up those cars from the elevator siding and my shot duplicates that scene, minus a train for course.
Seen behind the locomotives, across the Rosebud River, are some orange patches. These tell us that a coal mine was located here, the Jewel Mine in this case, with that material being oxidized shale from the mine deposited in the waste dumps. If you are in the Red Deer River valley region and see this coloured material, it means you are near a mine. Many operated in the area over the years, and in fact Wayne was home to several. If you look closely, to the left and up a bit form the elevators, you can see another patch of this stuff, so another mine site. The last operating mine (late 1970s) in the entire area is now a museum, the Historic Atlas Mine.
In the last picture Mike was shooting roughly southwest. From here the line line follows a rather difficult route following this valley for many, many more kilometres to point near Rockyford. Along the way there are bridges, dozens and dozens of bridges, the topography and winding river forcing the railway to cross and recross it numerous times. This was an expensive line to build and maintain.
You’ll see in my pictures, the Rosebud River is near flood stage, and for the days leading up to our visit, it had rained almost non-stop. If you know the Drumheller area, you’re aware of the famous sticky slippery mud that happens after a rainstorm. This made my job a bit of a challenge as I had to climb the bluff above town to obtain my pictures. I choose to tackle the slope almost head on, my hill climbing skills coming into play here. If you wish to duplicate what I did, you can also use the road up to the prairies above, and then walk along the valley edge until you get to my (and Mike’s) spot.
Wayne is a neat little town, most famous for it’s well known saloon and the many road bridges one needs to cross to get there. A favourite for bikers on a warm weekends, it’s often wall to wall cycles. Wayne at one time had a population of many thousands but its fate was tied to the coal mines and as they closed there was little reason for people to stay.
I was hopeful my shots would duplicate Mike’s well, but the results were beyond my expectations.
Mike is the son of the late Dave Wilkie, a well known railway and ship photographer. In around 1980 I recall meeting them (or perhaps just Dave) at a local model train show, where they were presenting a slide show of his (their?) work. I may in fact have seen the photos used here at that time. The first image from Mike is (IMO) one of the best railways shots I’ve ever seen, by the way. Bar none.
Mike Dunham-Wilkie’s photos are under copyright and are used with permission and see his work and that of his late father Dave Wilkie, click the the link below…
Mike Dunham-Wilkie’s and Dave Wilkie’s photos
To see some other then and now style pictures we’ve taken, follow these links…
Calgary then and now – Devenish Apartments.
Silver Streak movie then and now – walking the tracks.
Coleman coal plant then and now.
If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: A rainy May, 2013.
Location: Overlooking Wayne, AB.