Facebook Page
Old Time Trains

What's New ~ Articles ~ Stories ~ Archives ~ Photographs ~ Preservation ~ Library ~ Home

Turning Back the Pages of the Tattered Little Note Book
Part 2

By Bruce E. Mercer


Looking north at Chatham diamond. CNR tower at right. 1960
J.H.Shoemaker/collection of Bruce Mercer

In the late 70s, during my time as spareboard trainman, I was fortunate
enough to work in Chatham a few times; since the company officials were
based in Sarnia and St Thomas, Chatham was one of those outpost terminals
where the employees didn't have someone breathing down their necks.

About 3, 4 years before I arrived on the scene, the midnight yard job had
been abolished; this left a single day job, 7 days/week.
This assignment had many things to do - build Local #1 ( to Walkerville ) on
Mondays/Wed's/Fri's; build Local #3 each day except Sunday; and build the
Sarnia proper and Port Huron cars for Local #4, 7 days/week.
In addition, they pulled and delivered cars to both CN and CP interchanges; and
spotted local industy cars.

In the middle of Chatham Yard (south of the CN Chatham Sub.) was Monarch
Propane. This spur was actually an extension of the South lead of the yard.
It was still in place in 1978, came out in 1979 or 1980. (there is a
subdivision built on that land now, right next to the yard).
Monarch bought propane from Shell and/or Esso in Sarnia and had it delivered
to their unloading facility.

One the more interesting aspects of the yard job, was a trip down the
industrial spur immediately north of, and parallel to, the CPR Windsor Sub
in downtown Chatham. The switch is located north of the CSX/CP diamond and
actually formed part of the northwest quadrant of the interlocking.
I'm thinking that at one time this spur was joint switching territory for CP
and C&O.

The first customer was at Prince Street, Chatham Cash & Carry Lumber. At one
time there were 3 tracks for this once-large facility.
If you drive along Colborne Street, you can probably tell where the tracks
used to run. The spur continued over Adelaide Street and ended at the
Cherry-Taylor flour mill ( now Dover Flour), which is on William Street, and
the rails went right to the river's edge.
Across Colborne Street from Dover is a tavern - ? Parkview, Parkside..?
This was the end of the Mill track, which actually crossed the Dover lead on
a diamond !
Of course no signals were necessary, its all industrial trackage.
We used to spot these shorty low yellow boxcars ( C&O series 7xxx) that were
for soybean loading ( in bags).
I forget if they came in loaded from other mills on Subdivision No. 1, or if
they came in empty for Taylor to ship out.

One day, during my engineer training period, we were shoving 2 loads of
lumber and 3 loads of corn across Prince Street; the GP7 was facing south,
or west if you will; as the lead cars rounded the curve, I saw one end of
the hopper car spread the rail and hit the ties. I 'soaked it' of course,
but by the time we got halted, had 1 and 1/2 loaded hoppers off. Fortunately
they were clear of the CP main !

I've seen where the regular crew would come out of Cash & Carry with an
empty for CN, but also wanting to pull some cars off the CP southside
interchange. So they would talk with the CP operator at East End and arrange to perform a
'drop' within the interlocking, which of course is a No- No.
There was a crossover between this spur and the CP main immediately west of
the diamond, and it was real easy to drop cars if you were headed into the
CP yard on either side.

I'll relate some tales about the jobs and the people who were responsible to keep them rolling:

C&O 8401 (ex PM 11) 600HP SW1 EMD #1714 4/24/42

Chessie System paint scheme. Sarnia 3-25-84 Ron Cady

Note: This unit as PM 11 was leased to Lake Erie Navigation & Coal Dock, Erieau, until it closed in 1971.

One summer night in 1981, train SA-99 [ St Thomas-Sarnia ] was performing a
lift and a setoff at the north end of Chatham Yard.
To the best of my recollection they had the usual power of 2 district GP-7's
plus ancient SW-1 8401 returning from inspection and repairs.
Poor ol' 8401, built in 1942 for Pere Marquette as their 11, was the oddball
around the Northern Region to be sure.
As you can appreciate, a "war time" unit approaching it's 40th birthday
would need some special handling enroute.

Being summer time, 8401 was shut down, being hauled dead right ahead of the
first car in the train. After setting off, the crew lifted some cars and were doubling back onto
their train. Not sure what happened next but it seems that someone's radio suddenly went
dead. The last transmission the hogger heard was " 5 cars to a joint".
The next thing he heard was a big crunch as he hit the standing train at about 8mph !

The drawbar on 8401 snapped like a twig and they had to set it out right
then and there. I have it on good authority that a replacement came from the CN inventory of
drawbars in Sarnia. After sitting in Chatham for 2 days, the yard crew added it to the tail end
of Local 4 one morning, behind the caboose (since the drawbar was missing
from the south end). Off to Sarnia she went, where the car department replaced it.

If you ever visit the museum in Baltimore, you can sort of smile when you
stand next to this engine.

Restored as PM 11 at Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. April 1992
Bill Hakkarinen

Stop me if I told this one before -

One day the CP operator at Chatham told the C&O yard job to deliver their
last cut of cars to the south yard at CP.

When that time came, and the C&O crew radioed to the station to get a signal
to come north, they found that they had a CLEAR indication, which meant they
were going straight across the diamond instead of a RESTRICTING signal,
which would take them into the south leg of the wye.

Thinking the plans got changed, they came ahead and then noticed the CP
operator standing outside his office door, writing down the car numbers.
After clearing the southbound signal just north of the diamond, they
expected to get a Restricting signal in order to deliver to the north side.
Instead they got a Clear, which meant they were going back across the

Fuming, the C&O conductor told his engr. to back up, but stopped the
movement right at the office door, sitting astride the diamond.
He stormed into the operator's office and demanded to know just " what the
heck " was going on here ?! The operator calmly answered that he needed to check all the car numbers.
To which the C&O conductor replied " this may come as a complete surprise to
you, but they're painted on both sides of the car" !!

During the year 1980, 1 or 2 members of the regular Chatham yard crew were
changed off due to seniority displacement.

We were still handling unit acid trains, from Copper Cliff, Ont., via CPR,
to CIL at Courtright. The 'new' crew found a unique way to put 36 loaded acid cars into the C&O
yard, after waiting 2 or 3 hours for the CP connection train to show up from

Between the CP south yard and the north switch of the C&O yard, it's
table-flat, save for all the switches and crossing the CN diamond.
The lead, or ladder track, at the north end of the C&O yard, tips gently
downhill into each of the tracks. As you can expect, 36 loaded tank cars of liquid can do a considerable
amount of sloshing. The crew would couple up to the unit train, air and all.
Then they would struggle around the south leg of the CP wye ( remember,
we're still using GP7's) with the 4500 tons of sloshing acid, and head
south. After crossing the 4 lanes of Park Avenue, they would only use the
independent brake on the unit, to nearly stop, then close the angle cocks on
both the unit and the lead car, thus "bottling" the entire train.
A little tug on the throttle to get 'em going again, a man at the switch,
another to pull the pin, and off they'd go, "drop switching" an entire acid
train right into track 1. And the cars would keep rolling, and sloshing, until they got right into the
track. Then a crew member simply had to open the angle cock on the last car and
dump out the air to stop them.

I have no doubt that the entire train would simply roll out the other end of
the yard if you didn't stop it, such was the combination of that gentle
grade and the sloshing.

In June 1978, with only a few weeks of brakeman experience under my belt, I
got my first spareboard call to protect Local #1, otherwise known as The
Mixed. At that time, #1 was 6 days/week, Chatham to Walkerville on Mon-Wed-Fri, and
return on Tues-Thurs-Sat. It drew the usual single GP7 and a crew of 4....condr., engr and 2 brakemen.
I had only made 2 trips 'west' back in early May, both on CG-41/NI-42 St
Thomas/Detroit and return. And they ran in the middle of the night.
So my familiarity with Subdvision 1 was quite limited.
However, I soon found myself enjoying every moment !

As luck would have it, the regular conductor was on vacation, so a
spareboard conductor from St Thomas was filling in.
He went by the nickname of Breeder.
One of his off-the-job specialties was smoking meat on his rural property,
specifically fish and venison.
This particular day he had brought a couple of pounds of smoked Lake Erie
It was very good.
It was also a little salty.
It was quite warm that day.
It wasn't my fault the IN & OUT store is only one block from the tracks
after you finish your switching at Blenheim.

Do you realize that those concrete mileposts erected by the LEDR make good
targets ? !

There were two interchanges in Sarnia. The south interchange, being the primary interchange, is out by Sunoco,
where Vidal street turns into the St Clair parkway. The other, was locally known as THE NORTH.

Via The North, C&O gave cars to CN that were basically destined for Imperial Oil plant #1.
Those tracks were just out of reach for C&O itself to switch, so CN handled the moves.
In years gone by, this included not only tank cars for the various products
( oil additives, wax, transformer oil etc etc) but also box cars, which were
brought in with empty cans, and went back out with loaded cans, of the one
quart variety, for gas stations and the average consumer.
Imperial canned oil for many brand and lesser names, including itself of
course. Canadian Tire was one of them.

Then there was the time the Sarnia C&O boat yard crew rammed the tug/barge and we had to take our cars, and our engine and crew, to the CN ferry slip, and handle our traffic for a few days while the C&O slip and apron were being repaired (and the tank car of ethylene oxide was being fished from the river).

Windsor Ferry Dock

Pere Marquette Ry. ferry number 14 at CPR slip, foot of Elm Avenue, Windsor. c.1910.

Similar scene in 1973 Jeffrey Willsie

The Mixed

In the mid 1970s, C&O Local #1 was a 6/day/week train between Chatham and
Walkerville (Windsor). It of course traversed both Subdivision's 1 and 2.
It was still referred to by it's old PM ' name ', THE MIXED. For many
decades it really was a mixed train, trudging up & down the west end with
some sort of passenger coach, plus all it's regularly-required freight
switching duties. [I don't have a time frame for when the last coach - or
caboose - was actually used for revenue passengers, but I would imagine the
early 50s].

THE MIXED was provided with it's usual lone GP-7, one of the group assigned
for use in Ontario ( London-built 5730-5738, and EMD-built 5744, 5773,

The Chatham yard job would 'build' the train each Monday/Wed/Friday for it's
outbound trip along Subdivision 1, with cars marshalled in geographical
order from east to west. Conversely, the Walkerville yard job would sort of
build the train each Tues/Thurs/Sat for it's homeward trip. I use the term
loosely because by 1978, there was not much need for Walkerville to marshall
Local 1's train. Most of the work was done coming west on M/W/F and in a lot
of cases, cars were positioned for pickup at the customer's siding on the
eastward trip. This was done for a couple of reasons - less handling by the
single GP7; and the lack of room in Walkerville yard tracks.

Forgetting the trip I related last week ( smoked fish and beverages...),
I'll relate a typical day in the latter half of the 1970s as this job
bounces along the line.
On duty at Chatham at 1400, the typical consist might be any or all of the
following [ from the head end of course ] -

5 empty CN and CP covered hoppers; 2 for WG Thomspons, 2 for Milling
Products and 1 for Kent Grain, all Blenheim cars.
1 loaded CP 50 ft cushion box of newsprint, to position at Blenheim for
pickup by CG-41 later that night.
1 empty B&O or C&O ' DF ' box for Standard Tube, Blenheim.
2 empty CN, CP or C&O hoppers for St Clair Grain, Merlin
1 empty hopper for St Clair Grain, Glenwood [ this has to go to Coatsworth
for setoff the next day because the Glenwood spur switch faces east ].
2 empty hoppers for Tilbury Farmers elevator at Renwick.
1 empty hopper for James Geddes at Coatsworth spur.
2 empty hoppers for Wheatley, which by this time I believe was St Clair
Grain, or Wheatley Elevators.
3 empty ( a mixture of CN and CP ) 40 foot insulated boxes for Canadian
Canners, Leamington, located east of Erie Street in the Stock Track.
1 load of lumber for Bennie Lumber (later Beaver Lumber) at Hazelton St.,
Leamington, just east of the CR diamond.
2 empty CP insulated boxes to place on the CR interchange next to the
diamond, for HJ Heinz Co. Leamington.
1 or 2 insulated boxes for the Back Track at Ruthven ( don't remember
customer's name here, but more canned goods ).
1 insulated box for ' The Tobacco ' track in Kingsville; which is located
south of the main off the Lake Track.
2 empty hoppers for the elevator at Arner ( ? St Clair Grain or Harrow
Farmers ).
2 empty hoppers for Harrow Farmers at Harrow ( run around move necessary for
this, via the Team Track immediately east of Queen St ).
1 C&O box for empty barrel loading at the former Potato Co op off the Harrow
team track.
1 lumber for Regent Lumber, Walkerville.( yard job to spot).
1 CN double door (auto) box of plywood for Weldwood of Canada, located at
Pelton ( yard job to spot).

Except for Viney, this is not a hard pull for that single GP-7. Sometimes
the speed over Fargo diamond (CR) was below 10 mph, wide open, but after the
first few stops, like Blenheim, Merlin, Renwick, the tonnage got a little lighter.

The CN and CP cars came via Chatham of course; the insulated boxes would be
for Canadian destinations, usually Montreal and east, Winnipeg & west.
The newsprint was a regular move, cars were for Detroit Free Press,
Cleveland Plain Dealer, and a couple of other cities ( Akron and Cincinnati

In 1978 there were still many CP cushion boxes that were brown, in the
script lettering; a few of the green ones would show up, but they weren't
common. The lumber loads for Leamington and Walkerville were usually
bulkheads of 2x4, most often from CN origins, but CP also got their share.

Now that we have a feel for the marshalling destinations of Local #1, I'll
try and explain how certain moves were made, on an average trip westward.

After pulling out the south end of Chatham yard and re-lining the main
switch, Local 1 trundled off to Fargo and Blenheim.
At this point, I must correct myself somewhat - in the late 70's and early
80s, after GE Railcar bought out the North American Car leasing division,
certain groups of locally assigned cars went in and out of storage at
several locations on C&O. One of these was the Fargo passing track. One
could usually find NATX tank cars in a couple of different series crammed
into the south end of the track (the north end switch was immediately south
of the C&O/CR diamond at Fargo, and off that ran another switch that led to
the interchange here). By 1980, there were precious few, if any cars at all,
moving on this i/change. But, just in case, the storage cars were left at
the south end. Once in a while Loc 1 had to drop 1 or 2 off, or, dig 1 or 2
out of storage.

Arriving at Blenheim, and nearly always having work "downtown", Local 1
would throw the hand operated switch and take the west leg of the wye onto
Sub #1. If Loc 4 or the St Thomas train had left empty phosphate hoppers in the
North Siding for CG-41 to lift, and if Loc 1 had newsprint for '41', then it
would be added to the rock empties. Otherwise, they were allowed to take the
paper car downtown and leave it in track 1, across from the station.

After gaining Sub. 1 thru the other end of the wye ( hand operated switch
with electric lock), Loc 1 would back downtown through the west end
crossovers under signal indication. If they had cars to spot and/or pull
from Kent Grain and Thompson's, they could be in town for an hour. In order
to get to the south side to switch Kent and WGT, they had to go back through
the crossovers and either get a signal to use the Main, or take the electric
switches Off Power and save themselves the trouble of waking up the
dispatcher every time they needed a different route.

Kent Grain was referred to as " up the hill", since it was served by a hand
operated switch under control of electric locks, and it was all uphill to
the elevator, which was located on highway 3 immediately west of the main
intersection of Blenheim. I would say the grade was easily 3% or better on
this short, weed infested spur.

Thompson's of course were right behind the station; they were busy even
then. Generally 6 to 10 cars in that facility at all times.

On the north side off the passing track, was the small support yard and
north of that was Milling Products; further to the east was Standard Tube
who made automotive parts for Ford and GM ( I think...). Tube had a roll up
door and inside the building you could spot 2 or 3, maybe 4 boxes. That door
got replaced about once every 2 or 3 years, with some guys trying to sneak
up to it before it got opened, and then having something else go wrong.

After switching until the cows came home, it was time to head west.

If you had to spot the elevator at Merlin, and you weren't making a meet
with another train, it was an easy sort of move. The dispatcher lined you
into the east end of the passing siding, you stopped by the hand operated
switch just beyond the crossing, and did your work at the mill. Then you
just kept going west through the siding until you came out the other end
under signal indication. But if an opposing train was out there ( not
usually the case), or if someone decided it was a good place to store a
bunch of cars for a day or two, you had to back out the east end of the
siding again, and continue west on the Main. These things all take time.

At Coatsworth, Stevenson and Renwick, you got in to the elevator spurs via
hand operated electric lock switches. Nearly all of the hand operated
switches on Subdivision 1 came with a pipe-connected derail. For the
un-initiated, that's a high switch stand with an 'interlocking' pipe
connected to a derail some 20 to 40 yards away, all of which you had to throw
in one motion. In the warm weather and with proper maintenance, they were
alright. But in winter, well, you can imagine.

Any loaded cars taken from these 3 mills were usually left at the Stock
Track in Leamington for pickup the following day. Unfortunately, if the
Stock Track was having a busy week and wanted 3 or 4 cars spotted, and you
got 4 or 5 loads from Renwick and Coastworth, you were screwed, you had to
take the hoppers all the way to Walkerville and bring them back again next

The Lake Track at Kingsville was an unusual setup. Leaving the train on the
Main, you backed into the south siding with the solitary insulated box. You
had to backup about 10-15 car lengths before you got to the Lake Track
switch, it ran due south from the siding towards the water. I would imagine
it may have gone right to the water's edge back when Hiram Walker owned the
railroad, probably right to his cottage or his boathouse (?). Anyway, you
pulled into the Lake Track and then backed up again into the warehouse to
get the loaded car out. Set the loaded car out to the Lake Track, go back in
and spot the empty; then come back and tie on the load and shove back to the
siding; close the Lake Track switch and pull out the siding and back onto
the train before leaving town. Now, sometimes, the damn warehouse wouldn't
have the loaded car ready until a Tues or Thurs on your eastward trip.
In this case, the pulling and spotting of the car got complicated.

You left the train on the Main and backed into the siding, then backed into
the Lake Track (all because you're facing east now), then nosed into the
warehouse and took out the loaded car. While hanging onto the load, you
perform a drop switch on the empty and it rolls into the warehouse track
(considering that you have an experienced crew). After spotting the empty,
you still have the load coupled to the nose of the engine. So now you need
to roll that car by the engine, and you did this by leaving the load on the
Lake Track and then place the engine into the warehouse track. Provided the
hand brake works and the load doesn't end up in Walker's cottage, you back
up and retrieve it and off you go to the Main.

At Harrow there used to be a Green Giant canning plant, around the sharp
curve heading toward Walkerville. There were several tracks at one time.

Next - an overview of Walkerville operations and how THE MIXED got
altered to suit a change at Chrysler.


C&O 5730 at Walkerville in 1983. Bruce Mercer

Like so many other city yards, C&O Walkerville terminal used to contain
numerous industry spurs.....the list is long :
Catalano Fruit
Hiram Walker barrel siding
Hiram Walker tank farm
Regent Lumber
J-Z Foods
Imperial Oil
Motor Lamp
Motor Products
Duplate Glass
Markim II
Mid Dominion Coal
Allied Chemical
McMillan Lumber
Ontario Hydro ( 2 locations)
Chrysler plant 3
Chrysler tank farm
Weldwood Plywood

All of these were served by the yard assignments; I suppose in the good ol'
days there was 1 job every shift, at least 5 days/week. By 1978, there were still 2 assignments,
day job at 1000, and the night yard at 2200.
( there was something in the Collective Agreement that didn't allow for a terminal to have 2
jobs unless they started 12 hours apart; if the night job was desired to be
2359 start time, then the day job would have to be 1159; but I guess that
didn't fit with Chrysler's demands, pre-minivan production ).

It was generally the night yard's duty to take the CPR cars down to that
railroad's yard in Windsor, and also to turn any Weldwood plywood boxes that
weren't facing the proper side for offloading. C&O had a track named The
Wye, but in reality, had no wye in the area at all. In fact the nearest wye
on the C&O was at Blenheim Jct.

Sometimes the plywood cars arrived on The Mixed from CN Chatham interchange;
other times they arrived via the Walkerville interchange. In either case, it
was fairly strange to have to take the damn things to the CPR's turntable to
get them facing the proper way! CN of course had a table in their
riverfront yard, less than a mile from the C&O interchange (directly across
from the Walkerville passenger station) but it wasn't used to spin cars for
C&O customers. These were CN 59xxxx series 40ft double doors.

Venturing down to the CP yard, via the Windsor Sub from C&O Walkerville Jct,
was a treat. Technically the speed was 50mph, so the night crew, always bid
upon by St. Thomas folk, were in a hurry. They'd get the GP7 up to 50
alright, bouncing and hurtling past Powell siding and Lakeshore Jct.
Sometimes, they weren't in such a hurry. Late at night, couples who came to
watch the submarine races in a park on the north side of the CP main, were
suddenly bathed in the glare of the headlight. Older geeps had 2 wingnuts
holding the lens and bulbs into the socket, and if you unscrewed these, you
could turn the full power at a 90 degree angle to the tracks!

Since C&O never gained running rights through the Detroit River tunnel of
NYC until approx.1955 ( ? maybe 1956), there were ( ? still are ) tracks
within CP's Windsor yard that reflect the trackage rights from Pere
Marquette days of ferrying cars to/from Detroit. PM 9, PM 10, PM 11 and
numbers such as that, would be where the night yard would set off and lift
any cars to/from CP. Getting to the turntable was another matter, it being
on the other side of the lead. And you had to wait your turn, not only to
use the crossovers, but the table itself. Being a much busier railroad, CP
had shop forces (hostlers, etc) wanting to turn units, couple up power for
outbound trains, etc etc, all day & night. Sometimes the poor yard job might
sit around for an hour waiting to turn 1 or 2 cars of plywood.

Chrysler usually took a switch in the middle of the night, although usually
not before 5am. This plant today manufactures the infamous Minivan, but up
until it's retooling in 1982 .....they built cars such as New Yorker and
some of the commercial vans ( I think...?).

Nearly all the parts cars came via CN in 89ft high cubes. Just where they
came from I am not certain. One or 2 cars per week came C&O, but they were
60 footers usually with engines. Inside the building, you could fit 8
hi-cubes plus one of the engine cars.

So by 1980, the terminal was down to a single yard assignment, starting work
at 1400. Chrysler was about to embark on a retrofit of Plant 3, for minivan
production. So The Mixed got changed about 1982, into a 5 day/week job
that ran both ways over the road in it's tour of duty.

What does Chrysler have to do with changing the Mixed?
Well, not much, except, the yard assignment had much less to do with the
plant being retrofitted. No more bunches of hicubes waiting to go in, just a
few cars every week with a few parts in them.
Actually it was a combination of Chrysler retooling, and, many of the other
customers along Subdivison 1 going to truck, that caused the change.
In reality, the actual train service got better ( because cars lifted each
day went to their destination interchange the same night, or first thing the
next day). No longer did they have sit overnight at Coatsworth or
Leamington, waiting for the eastward trip to come back from Walkerville.
However, car supply was imploding.
CN and CP were less anxious to provide empty hoppers and insulated boxes, so
C&O was forced to 'import' their own hoppers for corn and beans.

Probably the only exception to the downsizing was WG Thompson, who built the
large facility at Blacks Lane (west of Rodney) with capability to speed load
a 65-car unit train in 24 to 30 hours. But the bloom was off the rose and
C&O, fast becoming CSX, was no longer interested in keeping it's own line
west of St Thomas.

In late 1982 or early 1983, they got trackage rights on CR's west end.
During 1983 and 1984 they operated SeaLand intermodal trains SL-3 and SL-4
via CR, with C&O crews piloted at first, and later qualified to run on their
own. ( these were the coast-to-coast container trains, double stacked for
most of the way,but single stacked to fit through the Detroit tunnel, and
delivered eventually to NYSW for Little Ferry NJ).

Merchandise trains 41 and 42 continued to operate on Sub. 1, until
abandonment was applied for in late 1985, and the portion St Thomas/West
Lorne was taken out of service. At this stage, these trains seem to have
been 'renumbered' from CG41/NI42, to DT41/ ?NI42. I can't say for certain
just when this occurred, because I was back in Chatham working the
spareboard ( after having worked Walkerville from Jan 1983 to May 1984).
So I was out of touch with the train numberings to Buffalo and Detroit
( I spent a lot of time covering assignments in Sarnia during 1985).
But I also worked Local 3 out of Chatham for over a year.
That too takes you out of the loop, so far as information goes.

I'm sure most of the readers are not really aware that while trains like 41
and 42, and SL-3 and SL-4, etc were running around the District, it wasn't
until 1985, give or take a few months, that the dispatcher's had a
base-station radio system!

That's right. The only way they had to communicate with a train that was out
on the road, was to pull a signal on them and get them to come to the fone

Or, get a station, such as Blenheim, Chatham or Walkerville, who had
localized base sets, to call that train and make contact with the crew.
The dispatchers, while still located on Wilson Ave. in St Thomas, used to
borrow a handset from the crew caller ( 50 feet away) and listen to the
Talbot yard job, or the hostlers, or maybe 41 arriving across town at CR's
BX tower. But that was about the extent of their radio capabilities.

After relays were installed at McGregor, Fargo and Rodney, plus one other
location (likely Wheatley or Leamington), it was like moving into a new era!
In retrospect, it was too little too late. The track was coming out and
although he could still ring you up even if you were over on the Caso Sub.,
you could feel the whole operation slipping away. I might also add, that
about this time, the centralization of the rest of the railroad into a
single dispatching center in Jacksonville was well underway. Some of the
relay locations interfered with our's, and we were constantly bombarded by '
foreign accents' handing out track warrants....

In addition to those plywood boxes, Walkerville yard usually saw this
traffic mix, from 1978 to the end -

inbound scrap in gons, for Zalev Bros, went via the ETR; most often in C&O
and B&O cars; outbound loaded 85,000 litre tankcar of "uncut" alcohol, from Hirams to the
west coast; boxes and bulkhead flats of inbound lumber for Regent's, mostly off CN
i/change, but a few via CP-Chatham. same for Beaver Lumber, just south of Tecumseh Road (formerly McMillan Lumber). outbound acid from Allied Chem, Amherstburg, via ETR to C&O, going to USA.
outbound cushion boxes of Kelsey Hayes automotive wheels, in N&W, C&O or
CPAA cars. [ these were HOT, even after the job was set back to 1700 start time, we end
up waiting until 2200, 2300, even later, to make sure these get to Pelton ].

In 1983, there were some 25 to 30 loads of ties arrived from the states;
believe these were eventually put down on Sub. 2; they were a mixture of
C&O, WM B&O and L&N rack-type bulkheads, specifically modified for OCS use.
They were coming, 4 and 5 at a time and accumulating over the winter. When
spring was beginning to poke it's head above the horizon, the Roadmaster
ordered all of them to Blenheim ! So this night, we left the ETR
interchange, with a single GP-7 and about 27 loads of ties, plus our empty
gons, our wheel car and a few others, and came screaming up to the circuit
at Tecumseh Road, at the break-neck speed of 7mph, wide open. That crossing
was 8mph I do believe, in order to give the timing circuit enough of a
chance to bring the lights on (cantilever flashers, no gates). I blasted on
the horn because if we had struck one of the dumb drivers from Windsor, we'd
never get going again. Plowed our way down to the Absolute signal at the CP
diamond and prayed that we'd get a Clear right away. And we did, so with
half a set brake, I pulled the train onto the very very short circuit for
Grand Marais Road, the gates came down, and we were off - like a herd of
turtles - for Pelton. Never so glad to get rid of that bunch of weight.

After the "fleet" of GP7's were retired, we did use GP38's in Walkerville.
Not a very good idea, given they were 267,000 lbs and that track was mostly

Changing out the engines in Walkerville used to be easy. In the days of The
Mixed running west on M-W-F and east on T-Th-S, they would basically switch
engines every other day. The Mixed left Chatham, with 5730 for example,
facing west. He would tie up in track 2 upon reaching Walkerville. The next
morning the day yard, at 1000, would use 5730. Meanwhile The Mixed was on
duty at 1500 and he would take, for example, 5738 which was in track 1,
already facing east.

After the day yard used 5730, the night yard would also use it. But he would
turn it on the CP table, along with any Weldwood boxes, and then it would be
facing east for the Mixed on the following day when he came to town. But
this was only done on the days that plywood cars needed to be turned. If
only the engine needed to be turned, well, it wasn't. And The Mixed would
leave town next trip with his engine running long hood ditch
lites required in those days !

But when The Mixed became 5 days/week, the engines began to get cycled via
Detroit. That is, on Sunday, St Thomas would send 5730 all the way to
Pelton, for setting off by CG-41. Except sometimes he would carry them
through to Rougemere and the hostler over there would have to make sure that
engine got right back on NI-42 for setoff at Pelton by noon Monday. One day
something happened and 42 never got there in time. So we had to wait for The
Mixed to arrive, used his engine for 3 hours and gave it back to him. Boy,
were they happy!

Things got easier after St Thomas shop was closed. The 38's would simply
come from Detroit, instead of making the journey from the other direction.

Blenheim and East

In the late 70s and early 80s, local service to Blenheim and customers east thereof,
was provided as follows -

Blenheim got switched by SA37 and PH42 ( 6 day/week trains St
Thomas/Sarnia ), and by The Mixed ( Chatham-based Local #1).
"Usually" on it's on outbound trips ( Mon, Wed, Fri) The Mixed would perform
the bulk of the moves around Blenheim prior to heading off to Walkerville.
On Tues, Thurs and Sat., the task usually fell to 37 or 42, simply because
The Mixed wouldn't leave Walkerville until mid afternoon.
A lot of times it got to be a 3 way meet at Blenheim, if Local 1 had a light
day coming east. You'd have 37 meeting 42 there and then Local 1 would show
up. The St Thomas crews figured it was #1 's job to switch the customers, but
the workload was dictated by the dispatcher.

Through trains CG41 and NI42 only set off and lifted at Blenheim. It would,
in reality, be useless to have those trains perform any switching. In the
first place, they were normally powered by 3, 4 or even 5 units, not a good
situation to be venturing into elevator spurs. And secondly, they were short
on hours, so best not delay (except in case of emergency).

At places such as Ridgetown, Rodney, Dutton and West Lorne, the work fell to
SA37 and PH42. There was ( or still is...?) a company on the Ridgetown spur
called Tube Turns. In the 70s they were shipping in steel in coil cars
(almost always Chessie family cars, B&O, C&O etc). I'm not entirely certain
what Tube Turns made with the steel, but they would get 4 to 8 cars per
month sometimes. I do believe NI42 would initially set off the cars at
Blenheim, then PH42 would take them over for spotting.

At the elevator in 'downtown' Rodney, SA37 and PH42 would perform any
switching requirements. My very first review-of-the-road trip was on SA37
with gp7's 5733 and 5744; we switched that elevator after leaving St. Thomas.

At West Lorne, there was still lumber business into what used to be Conklin
Lumber, a spur that connected southward off the passing track. I was
fortunate enough to switch this place a couple of times while learning the
road as a trainman.

Other elevators included Muirkirk, Highgate and Thompson's new facility at
Blacks Lane, west of Rodney. All of these were active into the 80s.
Of course today only Thompsons is active for rail shipments.

I never spotted any revenue cars at Dutton, Iona or Shedden, but the tracks
were used for short- and long-term car storage.
Dutton passing track was an active meeting point.


Starting in the late 1980s/early 1990s, WG Thompson began 'speed loading'
unit trains at Blacks (Rodney) on the Blenheim Subdivision.
They could load a typical 65-car train of corn and/or beans in 24-30 hours.

Their facility at Kent Bridge on CPR's Windsor Subdivision had the same
capability; however, they didn't have the available space for an entire train.

With CSX now running entirely from Detroit to Buffalo on the former CR
(CN CASO Sub.) getting these trains in & out of Rodney was a bit convoluted.
Typically, the empty trainset would come east from Detroit, to Fargo, then
depending upon either the on-board crew, or the existence of conflicting
trains, a run-around move of one description or another would take place.

At one time, I had compiled a list of over 90% of CSX train numbers, simply
by using a portion of their mainframe through the crew display and reporting
menu in the bunkroom at work. But one series of trains that eluded me were
the Ag trains, empty and loaded grain, etc numbers.

Typically, through my own experiences, empty trains coming to Rodney were in
the G8xx series, but never the same number twice ( or so it appears).
Outbound loaded trains would be in a series, apparently random, from G070
and up, through to G160 or so. I'm "guessing" the numbers, whether or empty
or loaded, were sequential, but they perhaps started over each month (?).
Point of origin (region) and/or destination (again, region) probably got
factored in there too.

Anyway, when a G8xx empty train would show up at CSX Rougemere Yard,
Detroit, either a crew already rested, and on hand in the terminal, or a
spare crew from St Thomas, would handle the train all the way to Rodney for
placement. Some real crazy moves were taking place during the early to mid
90s. Sometimes the rested crew off 321 (later 323) would take the G-train;
and a spare crew would be taxied all the way to Detroit to bring 320 (later
322) out. The reason for this, was that the G-train would not want to be
kept in the yard, so they would immediately keep it moving right off the
Plymouth Sub and through the tunnel. This was more of an operational relief effort,
rather than expediting for the customer's benefit !

Being 'unit trains', of course these runs would not typically do any other
work. However, that didn't prevent management from working the crew long
hours performing other jobs, before or after the unit train was handled. By
that, I mean that they would call a crew to make a Rougemere/Van deWater
Yard turn, Detroit to Windsor to back; then go off duty and right back on
duty, and climb aboard a G-train and take it to Rodney ( or, as far as they
could get). Under US FRA regulations, you were not allowed to work past 12
hours ( "work" being the operative could still be on-board,
"relieved but not released" from duty).

I won't get into this labor/management dispute any further, except to say
that there were loopholes in favor of the company, and the "12 hour law" was
quite a farce to anyone within the industry.

But once you crossed the border, and got out of FRA jurisdiction, they could
pretty well do whatever they wanted with you, beyond the 12 hours.
Of course, it was up to the individual to request relief after the 12 hours.
And it was also at the carrier's discretion that you could work beyond the
12 hours. Most of the money-hungry crews would milk things out, to 14, 15
even 16 hours. But a few of us - yours truly for example - would ask for
relief and the train would have to be parked. There was nothing they could
do except find a hole to store the train until another crew was available.

Anyway, once an empty G-train got to Fargo, 1 of 2 things would happen -
1. pull through the northwest connecting track and onto the CSX Sarnia Sub.,
and then backup all the way to Blenheim;
2. pull down the CASO main, past the Fargo diamond, run the engines back
thru LC11 or 12, and couple onto the van and the rear of the train, then
pull the train westward over the diamond, then shove around the connecting
track (with a trainman riding the point car); then once everything was on
the Sarnia Sub, pull the train, with the van right behind the power, over to
Blenheim and onward to Rodney.

Of course all of this changed after we went cabooseless; Option 1 kinda
went out the window, because no one wanted to ride on the cars and push all
the way to Blenheim. At Fargo, once you shoved through the connecting track,
and got off at the first crossing, you would not need to stay on, because
the next crossing was over a mile away.

The same power, after dropping off the empty cars, would layover in
'downtown' Rodney until the loaded train was ready (again, typically within
24-30 hours). Then the next available crew would taxi to Rodney,
gather up the power and the train and do the whole thing in reverse,
and off to Detroit they would run.

Part 3


What's New ~ Articles ~ Stories ~ Archives ~ Photographs ~ Preservation ~ Library ~ Home

Old Time Trains © 2006