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Edition #115, December 1, 2009

Lethbridge High Level Crossing

Photographer: J.P. Bell

                                                                                                 Photo by J.P. Bell

Lethbridge High Level Crossing

Sometimes things are more difficult than they appear. Canadian Pacific No. 2816 had just whistled for its departure from downtown Lethbridge, Alberta at 8:15 in the morning. I had driven north out of town on HW 3 and crossed the highway bridge over Old Man River. A glance to the left at the Lethbridge Viaduct, the highest and longest railroad bridge in the world, assured me there was no steam train yet. This soaring steel trestle is 314 feet high and spans the clear stream bearing a Blackfeet Indian name. The riverbank was lined with cottonwoods bearing the full glow of autumnís yellow colors.

Morning sun peaked out from below a large layer of overcast. Rain held off for the moment. Many times I had passed this high trestle in southern Alberta and hoped for a chance to see and photograph a steam train on the railroad bridge also called the High Level Crossing on the CP line to Calgary. I was about to miss it. I didnít count on having to thread my way through a housing subdivision to find the edge of the coulee for a photograph of this rare occurrence.

Scouting the location would have helped a lot, but my arrival into Lethbridge from Montana at midnight didnít leave much time for sleep or reconnaissance. I pondered for a time the view from the golf course on the valley floor, but decided on the higher vantage point from the rim of the canyon.  I finally found a parking spot and what appeared to be public space between the homes to lip of the canyon where I could gain a view of the trestle. RUN!

Cameras, tripod, and telephoto lens jostled in my vest pockets and on my shoulder as I ran. I made it to the couleeís edge and meet one other person, a railfan from England who had his point and shoot ready for action. We were not disappointed, and I made it just in time.  The trestle is 5,331 feet, just over a mile in length. The steam train seemed to float in midair as it glided across this deep valley.

Paul Bowles reminds us in the movie of his book, The Sheltering Sky, that because we donít know when we will die, we tend to think of life as an inexhaustible well from which we dip lifeís experiences. Bowles tells us in a monologue at the end of the movie that there is a finite number of times we will see a moon rise or think back to a childhood memory. How easily we forget that this limit applies to our own lives.  As I pack my gear and head for the car I am thankful that just once I saw and photographed a steam train crossing the highest and longest railroad trestle in the world.

Footnote: The High Level Crossing or Lethbridge Viaduct is 100 years old in September 2009. It still stands as the highest and longest railroad trestle in the world. There are no weight or train length restrictions on the bridge. John E. Schwitzer was in charge of building this trestle. At the time of its completion, the bridge was considered one of the engineering ďwonders of the world.Ē Schwitzer also constructed the Spiral Tunnels near Yoho National Park.

J.P. Bell

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