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!
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.
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).
Delivered: July 8, 1986
Delivered to: Port Coquitlam, BC
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.