Mar 072013
Bert Pyke crane

While driving through Blackie Alberta something on the rail line caught our attention. It was as a small rail crane with its two attendant railways cars and having some time to burn we stopped to take a good look at this interesting machine. It’s sitting on an old siding and is being used to collect surplus tie plates and other bits of steel that littler the railway right of way. It’s self propelled, slowly travelling the line picking up steel pieces with its powerful magnet.

Built by Pyke Manufacturing Ltd of Oshawa Ontario, this company made all manner of railway maintenance equipment. Sometime called the Bert Pyke company, at the turn of the last century it was purchased by a US organization called Nordco, who continues to use the same facility to this day. Not much can be found about the original company, but it’s believed they were in business for some time. I looked up their location in Oshawa and the building looks quite old. And it’s no where near a rail line – odd!

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There was no identifying numbers on the crane, at least any that were readable, and without we won’t be able to research the lineage of this machine. However, this author has seen other cranes from this maker looking very much like this one, all dating from the 1980s, so it’s likely this one is also from that era.

While this crane was outfitted with a magnet for picking up scarp steel bits, they can change it out, replacing it with a standard lifting hook and perhaps even other attachments.

The flat car seen with it belongs to the “Soo” railway, sometimes called “The Soo Line”. This is the CPR’s US subsidiary, at one time known as the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (MstP&SSM). The railway’s title, first a nickname but later its official name, refers to one of the towns it served – Sault Ste Marie, also known simply as the “The Soo”. Soo: the English pronunciation of the French word Sault, meaning rapids or waterfalls.

The car was built in 1978 and was one of fifty three from that order made. Constructed at the home shop of Fond Du Lac Wisconsin instead of a commercial rail car builder, a sticker on the side proudly proclaims its birthplace. This is car is classed FMS under AAR rules (Association of American Railroads), which means simply a plain jane general purpose car.

The gondola’s number was unreadable but it’s a pretty standard example with drop ends. Nothing special here.

Both cars were quite beat up which is pretty typical of cars in maintenance of way (MOW) service. They get used and abused and are often very old either unfit for or otherwise retired from regular service. The crane too was rather battered looking and everything was covered in grease and oil. The three were a real motley crew.

Be sure to comment on this post (below pictures).

The flat car had some old rails running along each edge to help keep the scrap bits from sliding off the edge.

This crane seems to frequent the area around Southern Alberta, and I have seen pictures and videos of it working in at various locations in this region. In every case it was accompanied by the same Soo flat car we see, sometimes with a second car and other times with it alone. Here it’s in Blackie, south of Calgary and on the CPR’s Aldersyde Subdivision secondary line. This track sees a modest number of trains as day travelling north/south between Calgary and Lethbridge. The crane was on a siding which used to serve Blackie’s traditional wooden grain elevators (now all gone – one just recently).

If you’ve ever been along side a rail line, you’ll often encounter all manner of steel bits littering the right of way. Old spikes, tie plates, bolts, sections of rail, etc. These are often shoved aside when new rails are laid or when maintenance is done, and they get picked up later as time allows.

Behind the crane is a modern grain terminal, belonging to Cargill. Its tracks were empty save for a single grain hopper. Normally they load a whole train’s worth of cars here.

Update: June 2013. Reader Paul O’Shell, an expert on these sort of things sent us the following information on the crane…

Based on the location and markings on this particular crane, I am quite certain it is;
Model: 80-20 (20 ton capacity)
Serial No.: 8612 (12th machine manufactured in 1986).
Built: 1986
Delivered: July 8, 1986
Delivered to: Port Coquitlam, BC
Thanks Paul!

To see Blackie’s last wooden elevator before it was torn down click the link below…
Grain elevators and ghosts southeast of Calgary.

If you wish more information on this crane or anything seen in this report, by all means contact us!

Date: March, 2013.
Location: Blackie, AB.

Pyke rail crane

A Pyke rail crane seem in the small community of Blackie Alberta.

Blackie Alberta Cargill elevator

The large Cargill elevator towers over the town.

Soo Line flat car

The flat car belongs to the “Soo” railway, CPR’s US subsidiary.

Pyke crane

The crane was made by Pyke Manufacturing of Oshawa Ontario.

Gondola and rail crane

Maintenance of way (MOW) cars like this gondola always take a good beating.

Pyke Manufacturing Oshawa

They’ve been gathering old tie plates and other steel bits along the right of way.

Bert Pyke crane

The crane has a magnet which picks up the surplus metal pieces.


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11 Comments on "Pyke railway crane"

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Choo Choo Chuck
Choo Choo Chuck

Nice find. I have seen self propelled railroad cranes from Burro and Ohio, but not this maker.


I worked at Pyke Manf. in 1990’s as a assembler. In my time there we built several cranes. We also made ballast regulators, and tie cranes. The factory was located at 185 Hillcroft St. in Oshawa, a train marshalling yard was located directly behind it. The building was originally built as a repair facility for street cars back when Oshawa had street cars.

Wayne O'Shell
Wayne O'Shell

Doug….your name rings a “Bell” to me……..I also worked at PYKE Manufacturing Ltd. (Purchasing) from the mid 80’s thru early 2003 (NORDCO)….It was a GREAT place to work, with many dedicated and Proud employees..You are correct that PYKE Cranes were very popular, as were the Ballast Regulators, Snow Fighters, Brushcutters and Tie Cranes. Our Equipment had a reputation for being “Rugged and Reliable”in the Canadian Railway Market (CN, CP, BCR, ONR, Roberval and Saguenay)….even to this day there are many “PYKE” machines still in service. Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, Bangor and Aroostook as well as CODELCO (Chile) also purchased PYKE equipment during those days.

The Buildoing was demolished a couple of years ago after NORDCO moved all it’s Operations to Oak Creek Wisconsin. There were quite a few machines that were made with Pride that came out of that shop!


I worked for PYKE later part of 1988, only for a few months. I let my brother talk me into quitting to go work for him, and regretted it. It was one of my favorite jobs, was a variety of things for me to work on and most of the coworkers were great. Was going to point out train yards behind the building, but someone already did.

It is sad how little manufacturing is left in Oshawa compared to when I was younger. Was good work and pay, far better than most of what is out there these days.

Paul O'Shell
Paul O'Shell

In my June 2013 comments posted above, I failed to mention the CP running number of the photographed crane. It is (was) CP 4503-11
The crane was posted for sale on Canadian Pacific’s web site in November of 2014.

This crane along with several of its sisters have disappeared in the past few years with many more to go in the new few months!
Demolition of the Pyke Manufacturing facility at 185 Hillcroft in Oshawa, ON began in June 2013 and by mid-July 2013 there was nothing but a vacant lot.


I worked for Pyke in 1978 79 , as a assembler , a great place to work , we built some small and some pretty big cranes there , they had a very good crew of experienced trades men from all walks of life eager to share there knowledge.