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Edition #161, November 1, 2011

Engineer Spencer, Eastbound

Photographer: Mark A. Perry

                                                                            Photo by Mark A. Perry

Engineer Spencer, Eastbound

It has almost been seven weeks since my latest hip replacement surgery, so I finally got out today and shot my first real photograph in quite some time.  In fact it was my first digital pixel taken with my Nikon DSLR in a long time time actually, heck I havenít even done any hockey or church photography either for ages...........period, nothing!  Despite having one of the nicest falls on record since Iíve been bumming around this planet, with lasting vibrant colors and unseasonably warm weather for weeks and weeks on end, I sadly missed this yearís spectacular season shooting wise, I didnít even take even ONE pixel worth of images because my mobility just wasnít up to snuff yet [but it is coming along nicely, thank you].

But today all that changed, after waking up this morning around 0800, I got a text this morning on my cell phone stating ďoff to Sioux......#302/0945......gulpĒ.  I looked outside, it was overcast with strong winds with the temperature sitting at a somewhat coolish 7C/44F.  Not exactly great weather to be out taking photographs.  Normally I would have taken a big ďpassolaĒ but something happening today was special.  Seems one Ms. Susan Spencer has been set up on the CNís Engineerís spare board in Winnipeg, Manitoba and was making her first full fledged trip!  Granted she had already made a couple of short rescue [dog catch] trips but this was her first real stab at driving in the right hand seat since qualifying as a locomotive engineer, earlier this year.  Susan is a long time CNíer with 28 years service but only has five years seniority in the running trades.  Being set up on the engineerís spare board with only 5 years seniority was virtually unheard of when I hired out as a brakeman 30 years ago, heck it took me 9 years of service to just go to the engineers course and then I waited another 20 years until I was really set up running with any regularity!  But this is the new CN and things are hopping these days and here she was, getting called for her first trip, eastward on the mainline to Sioux Lookout, Ontario with a junk train #302 with two units on the head end, a newer CN GM and a older IC GE.  I wasnít going to venture into the CN Symington yard here to take her pic, it would be a hassle and the local CN management might not approve of it and Susan probably didnít want all the fanfare and hype brought upon her with some gimpy guy taking pics of her, on her very first trip.

So I drove to the east end of Beach Jct, [located near the entrance to Symington yard] and waited.  I sat in the parking lot of some marble cutting place, drinking McDís coffee and warding off strange looks from the security guy that kept driving very slowly around the parking lot in a yellow half ton staring at me, probably wondering what I was trying to steal!  Finally I hear a train coming around the wye and there is the 8871 slowly threading itís way across the crossovers onto the mainline, heading east to the suburb of Transcona, for a meet with a eastbound double stack train.  I brave the chilly winds and hundreds of Canada Geese looking for food around me on the grass and stood out preparing to shoot her.  Nearing me, the window on the big comfort cab slid open and I saw a faint wave coming from it. 

Wow.......Iím totally out of practice taking photographs and I fumble to get a shot, any shot!  The ISO is way too high, I didnít remember to change it after shooting hockey pics in some dark rink ages ago, so there will be some major graininess and the ditch lights are on full, blowing the exposure way over the top!  Thank God for auto-focus and Photo Shop....  I manage to capture that big smile on her face for just a brief second before she turns back into the cab, sliding the window back shut, to ward off the cold!

No time for an inspection of her entire train, Iím frigginí frozen, so I hop back into my pick up truck and drive east for about 5-6 miles with the heater on FULL BLAST and set up at a lonely dirt crossing just on the outskirts of the city.  #302 has to thread through the small yard at Transcona and it takes a bit of time for the 6000 ft train to regain the high iron.  To the distant east of me, I see a signal indicating CLEAR TO STOP, I guess Susan and #302 must be heading in at Dugald for another meet.  Soon I see the headlight on the horizon to the west and Susan has the 8871 in the 8th notch and I brave the wind again and shoot the train coming at me and also a going away shot of her in the cab, grain and all.....

As I write this, sheís probably half way to Sioux by now, white knuckling it all the way but Iím confident she will do a good job, she was worried about making her first trip, I think that is a good sign that she will not take any chances and try and be a hot dog.  I hope it is the first of many engineer trips she will make in her remaining 7-8 years she has left, until she retires.

But maybe you are quietly asking, so just who is this Susan Spencer?  She is my best friend, she is the person I want to spend most of my remaining days with now....

Mark A. Perry

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Revised: 10/22/11 15:43:40 -0400