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Thread: Weeds, Hopper Cars and Road Kill...

  1. #1

    Default Weeds, Hopper Cars and Road Kill...

    June 23, 2006

    The phone rang at 09:02, it was Edmonton crew caller Howard, calling me as a conductor on CN train #550 north to Swan River, Manitoba for 11:00. All night I had been first out on the conductors pool. Up out of bed and into the shower I went as I set about the task to get ready for a 2 hour taxi ride, from my home terminal of Dauphin. I had been debating whether to book off the night before and go railfanning in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan, trying to shoot a CPR grain pickup running on a sub that only see's a couple of trains a year. No, continuation of employment and the need of hard currency forced me to take the call and go to work.

    The terminal of Swan River, Manitoba has easily got to be one of the forgotten and obscure outpost locations on the CN system in western Canada. At one time a very busy location with trains radiated three directions out of town. A passenger train last called at Swan River, 26 years ago in 1980. Torrential rains and washouts on the July long weekend in 1993, forced the abandonment of the line between Dauphin and Swan River. Now the incoming trains only come in from the west with a crew from Canora, Saskatchewan. The 3 man Dauphin crew arrives in a taxi, to connect with the Canora crew and will do all required work around town and surrounding area's. With all the work completed, the Dauphin crew will build and then later, hand the train back over to the Canora crews to take back west. Swan River these days has become a long-forgotten and neglected headache for the bean counters at CN's company headquarters. A 10 miles per hour, 85lb jointed rail turkey trail wandering amongst a sea of waist high weeds and grass.

    Upon arrival in the taxi, we set out upon the task in hand. Today we had a pair of SD50's back to back and according to the switchlists sent over the fax machine by the Train Movement Clerk in Saskatoon, we had a l-o-n-g day. 116 hopper cars and boxcars were to be spotted up at various grain elevators around town and at the Lousiania Pacific fibre board mill at Minitonas located 12 miles south of Swan River. The weather was absolutley incredible. One minute it would be hotter than blazes with 100% humidity followed 30 minutes later by raven black skies, torrential rains and wind. Another 30 minutes would pass and the sun, the bugs and the humidity would be out in full force once more only to be followed by the rain and lightning once more. At one point I was absolutely soaked to the bone from walking in the elevator track at the Agricore-United "C" in chin high, rain soaked weeds! That's how it went for the better part of 12 hours.

    After splitting our trip tickets, we were finally finished up just after midnight after making up train #587 for the Canora crew, that was resting in one of the motels in Swan River awaiting for us to finish up all our work. I had faxed all the switchlists and paper work to the clerk at Saskatoon, substituted all the work clothes and work boots for a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and sandals and then settled into the taxi for the quiet 2 hour ride home. A quick stop at Subway for a snack and a drink and we departed Swan River, tired, sweaty and exhausted.

    I usually don't sit in the front seat of our taxi, [ a clapped out 1995 GMC van that owner Ron Highfield of Red Rider Taxi's is trying to squeeze every last ounce of life, out of ] but today I guess it was my turn. I wasn't exactly all that tired and so I let engineer Ken and brakeman John ride in the back, sprawled out across the two bench seats, sawing logs about 30 seconds upon leaving the outskirts of Swan River. Southbound, we would arrive back into Dauphin in about 2 hours driving time.

    About 30 miles south of Swan River, I was still alert and engaged in a candid converstaion with the taxi driver, about nothing in general. Eugene is a nice old Ukrainian guy, a retired water treatment plant manager who has to take on a pile of odd jobs here and there in his retirement years, trying vainly to fund his wife's growing gambling habit. After slipping through the tiny hamlet of Garland, Manitoba in the pitch black of the night, we came upon a car traveling north in the other direction, going very slowly with his left turn signal on. I thought that was rather odd as I don't recall seeing a road on the left hand side, for that car to turn on to. Eugene was by the slowing car in an instant and flicked the high beam lights back on.

    Instantly it was upon us, I yelled to Eugene "it's a jumper". It certainly was no deer I saw, standing broadside on the highway was a 2 year old bull Elk about 25 feet in front of the van. We only had a second or two to brace before we plowed head on into that big Elk at 65 miles per hour. I remember hearing a very loud BANG upon impact and then the Elk was gone. Instantly the smell of engine coolant ran up my nose as we skidded to a stop on the gravel shoulder. The grill, the rad and the headlights blew up and the engine block was knocked off it's motor mounts and started to come through the firewall and pushed the dash out somewhat, into the interior. The hood was pushed up into the windshield but luckily it only spider-webbed and did not break into our faces. The side mirror and window on Eugene's side gave way and blew out all over Eugene and I in the front seats. Funny thing was, the air bags never deployed. I guess we only clipped the Elk's legs with the bumper but not enough imapct to set off the air bag sensors in the front bumper.

    Upon stopping just short of the water filled ditch, we all made sure we were okay. With adreniline now pumping, we were all standing out on the dark highway wondering what happend to the Elk. I grabbed a switch lantern and started to walk back to find it. About 100 yard back but about 50 yards from where we hit it, the dark brown bull was dead on the opposite side of the highway. Only a couple of years old at the best, life would be no more for the magnificent beast. With heart silenced, it had only laid there for 5 minutes but already flies were gathering on it's thick hide.

    Eugene was a little shaken up but he calmed down after a few minutes and he made a number of phone calls on his cell phone and soon had the calvary on its way out to help us. We stood out on the highway for about an hour or so, laughing and joking while another Red Rider Taxi from Dauphin came out and got us. A few cars stopped and and inquired as whether we needed help or not.

    Soon Cecil and taxi #4 had us back on the highway and headed for home but not before we nailed a racoon on the road about 10 miles from where the dead Elk lay. The crew and Eugene were in good spirits and we all laughed in the new taxi as we plotted to book sick arriving back at Dauphin, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! We'd then be able to have the whole weekend off...

    Just another day amongst the weeds, hopper cars and road kill...

    Mark Perry

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  2. #2
    ahockley Guest


    Thanks for submitting this essay... it's always nice to see new contributors. Overall I liked the essay. You did a great job relaying the description of the old, rickety branch line which was a good setup for the story about your trip home. I like the two train photos, on their own as well as with the essay. The first is a good illustration of the "overgrown" status of the line and the second works well with the weather you described.

    My only suggestion for improvement is a formatting issue... I'd prefer to see the photos integrated with the text, so that the image of the tall grass is adjacent to your description of the line, the weather photo is near the weather, and so on. If you need help on how to do this technically, let me know and I can provide more details.

    As-is, I'll give this one the highball for approval. If you want to make it a tad stronger I'd recommend integrating the photos more with the words.

  3. #3


    This guy is a hack, so don't be fooled by this dog and pony show. Based on this essay, I'm calling the Canadian chapter of PETA. I mean really, to go out and kill a poor wild animal so he could post something on an internet list? What's next? Derail a train? This kind of behavior should not be encouraged.

    Still, a good essay, I say thumbs up and send it up to the masses.

    Martin Burwash
    Last edited by Martin Burwash; 06-26-2006 at 05:44 PM.

  4. Default

    Interesting story. I like the 'day in the life' feel to it. Because of the nature (so to speak) of the story I have to agree with Aaron that it would be nice to have to images wound into the text so the reader could enjoy the photos along with what is being said. Thumbs up pending the format correction.

  5. #5


    Mark, here's the deal...

    This may need edits, or it may not. I'm going to leave this one up to you. You have two choices.

    1) Publish it as is, we have 3 yes vote (4 if you count me. As with others, I'd suggest, but not require, moving the photos into the text.)

    2) Insert the photo into the text and then publish. You can do that, or if you're not familiar with how it works and want some help, I'll do it for you then let you review the results. Since the reviewers have all said we can publish as is, and we're only changing formatting, I don't feel we'd even need to go through the process again, just make the edits and then publish.

    Let me know which approach you prefer, and then we'll go from there.
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Zanesville, Ohio


    I had typed pretty much what steve said in my reply, and then the computer refused to accept it. I too like the day in the life feel, and the story could be the start of an excellent essay on the end of the world, aka (by the sounds of it) Swan River.

    I would like to see the photos 'in' the text, but it is not a deal breaker for me.

    thumbs up for me.
    Chris Crook

    pictures and yap

  7. #7



    As soon as you reply with your preference on moving the photos, we can make this one public.

    OK, he's apparently not noticed the comments. I'm going to make this one public for now...
    Last edited by Bob; 07-11-2006 at 04:59 AM.
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  8. #8


    Forgot all about this submission. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. No idea how to put the images into the text. I say go for it it will make for a better read.


  9. #9


    Kill it and grill it!!!

    Great story.
    Sam Reeves Photography
    Celebrating 10 Years on the Internet 1999-2009
    Pacific Grove, California

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