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Edition #146, March 15, 2011

Saskatchewan Winter

Photographer: Kenneth McCutcheon

                                                                            Photo by Kenneth McCutcheon

Saskatchewan Winter

The snow plow was rebuilt by Canadian Pacific Railway’s Angus Shops at Montreal in 1925. The locomotive was built by MLW at Montreal in 1973. The 85 lb rail was forged by Algoma Steel at Sault Ste Marie in the mid 1900's. Our locomotive engineer for today, Devon, was born in British Columbia, learned his railroading on BC Rail and has over 30 years under his belt.Our plow foreman, Marcel, born in Quebec, worked for CPR all over their Eastern Region also has over 30 years railroading experience.

Today in a new century, the equipment, the infrastructure and the people have all come together in the central prairie's of Canada. They are working for and on a shortline railway in southern Saskatchewan,  the Great Western Railway and are participating in one of the most exciting elements of railroading, The Snow Plow Train.

For the author, it is the most exciting operation remaining in railroading today.   A throwback to another era, a left over from steam days, first generation diesels, stations with train order boards every 10 or 20 miles.  A reminder of a time when a young railfan could drop into a station, ask for train times, chew the fat with the operator or agent and maybe, when departing, have some old train orders or time tables tucked under his arm.

On a sunny and warm for January morning the crew assembles the equipment in Assiniboia for the 118 mile run west to Shaunavon. Winter has loosed its fair share of snow this year, the track has been dormant for over a week, and the endless prairies winds have been unceasing. Originally the plow was going to be on the head end of the westbound empty grain train, then it wasn't going to operate at all. Once sanity prevailed and the decision was again reversed, it was felt a single unit plow operation would be best.  Several hours later this decision would prove to be the correct one.  Two units would have been better.

Tuesday January 26th is one of those rare Saskatchewan winter days combining bright winter sun, no wind and just below freezing.   In the early morning light our train departs town shortly after 0900.   The locomotive, GWR 2001, is a little worse for wear having served on three railroads prior to its arrival on the GWR.  The snow plow 400773 served CPR for 83 years, purchased by GWR three years ago after a plow derailment. 

The photographer, a retired Rail Traffic Controller/Train dispatcher with 38 years working on the railroad, living the railfan dream.

The open prairie scenery, priceless.

Kenneth McCutcheon

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