Tuesday, 14 April 2015

East Coast Icebreaking

Winter's gone, we don't have to review it, we all know what it was like, either too cold and snowy or too warm and dry.  Adios winter.

Back in March I had to take a jaunt home to Cape Breton for a few days.  I took along my most aggressive trail shoes, a small smattering of running shirts and a pair of shorts, and the Sony.  I managed to win the weather lottery and snagged what was probably the few decent days they had weatherwise.  Chilly air but bright and sunny and plenty cozy for running.  I was staying just outside the Coxheath area and the sidewalks were less than ideal for running on.  Apparently the plows gave up at some point during the winter and I had to make my way along 5 foot wide strips of ice (homage to my trail shoes for keeping me upright).

If you know Keltic Drive in the Sydney River area, you would be familiar with the railway bridge that crosses it just S/E of the vehicle bridge.  The county decided the sidewalk underneath it would be a convenient place to store snow.  With the new bridge in place and open, and Keltic Drive now very busy, I opted to stay on the west side of the area and not get smooshed by passing traffic (being from the area I'm a bit familiar with driving habits of the locals).

The harbour was as frozen as I've ever seen it in my life.  Enough that people were out walking on it, snowmobiling on it and making ice skating patches on it.  Not sure it was wise to clear snow for a skating patch given the strength of the sun and it's effect on clear ice after a few hours.  It is salt water after all.

Toward the outer harbour I was fortunate enough to catch one of the big ice breakers in action, keeping the laneways open to the coal port and government wharf.  The ship performing duty was the CCGS Henry Larsen, a 'medium' ice breaker.  They classify it as medium but it is no small ship.  It's the second largest in the icebreaking fleet, even larger than the classified heavy icebreaker Terry Fox.

Since I had to keep the zoom up for this, and reliance on handholding the Sony, I opted to allow yootoob to steady the vid for me for a bit more comfort in viewing,  Apologies for the occasional waviness that inherently results in the toob's stablizing algorithm.  It was a challenge for me to see the viewfinder with blazing sunshine over my shoulder.  It was great to keep me feeling warm and toasty, sucked a bit on figuring out what I was framed on.

Turn the volume up at the 1:27 mark.  You'll hear a train horn in the background.  That's the GP38-2s of the Sydney Coal Railway accross the harbour, somewhere on the trackage between the coal pier and the Lingan generating station.

These days the SCR is the only functioning railway on the island.  The long standing line from Sydney to the causeway was closed last year after seeing train service for the last 135 years.  While there I was staying at a house mere meters from the CBCNSR trackage just beyond were it crossed Coxheath Road.  It was eerie to see it unmaintained and snow covered.  Snowmobile tracks abounded along the line, the thick unplowed layer making an excellent pathway for skidooers.  Hard to say what the future may hold but for now there will be no other activity on this line.

I've rode on many a unit along those tracks.  As a kid we took a trip to Toronto, first boarding a big old F unit led CN passenger train out of the long gone Sydney station to Truro, then overnight service to Montreal and finally into hogtown.  VIA eventually came to be and the F unit led trains out of Sydney switched to rail diesel car service.  Smelly things the RDRs could be but I always enjoyed them, particularly while in college and sitting in the back at the bar, it's always fun to sit at a bar on a train.

Passenger service in and out of Sydney on a seasonal basis did revive on occasion with VIA's Bras D'or making a weekly touristy run but that ended in the early 2000s.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Let's talk about the weather, shall we?

It sucks.

So my winter was doing reno stuff, running when I could, which wasn't very much or often, working (thankfully) and grabbing the rare vid.  Since I do my railfanning on foot, this winter hasn't been particularly cordial towards my hobby, thus the lack of postings this last few months.  It's been hard enough just finding the time to run.

The mid-December ice storm kicked the year off on the wrong foot, and made the underfooting for a lot my running a lost less stable.  Last year and the year before I ran trail nearly the whole winter.  This year, maybe twice, and only when we had good snows down to get some traction going.  Actually one of the runs had superb conditions, even better than some summer runs, with hard packed snow nicely levelled by off-road cyclists.  Too much ice and thaw/freeze cycles to keep it in shape for long.

On the railfanning side and with the ice storm having set the tone for the year, my running stayed pretty local and sticking to the Lakeshore commuter runs.  But it gave a chance to visit a couple of locales I've not ventured to, such as the Birchmount Road bridge over the CP Belleville Sub.  This gives a nice view of the long sweeping curve from west to east:

From the same location, face east and you get the long corridor through the Kennedy GO Station:

Standing around outside waiting for trains isn't much fun.  At least commuter traffic has schedules so I canto time my run to arrive just-in-time and catch what I can.  Like this one, where I catch VIA's luxurious Glenfraser lounge car tacked onto the end of a Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal run, VIA combo 62/52:

Glenfraser is a pretty interesting car.  One-of-a-kind, it's a Canadian Car & Foundry unit built to the same dimensions basically as the stainless Budd cars.  VIAs fleet site has a whole page dedicated to this unit.  Since it's only one car, I do wonder how VIA decides which train gets to pick it up, it would be a nice bonus for a train trip.  However, VIA often rents it out for special functions so seeing it on the train you're about to board may not turn out as promising as hoped.

Cars like this is what made riding the rails such a thrill when I was a kid.  As a young-un, we did take a family trip once from my home in Sydney to Toronto and then back and all those images of getting set up in the sleeper bunks, eating in the dining car, hanging out the lounge, still there in my head.  When my wife and I were dating we did a trip from Toronto to Sydney while the railliners (more commonly known as the RDC cars) still ran from Halifax to Sydney.  The Atlantic ran from Montreal to Halifax for our overnighter and we took a nice big cozy bedroom for the trip.  The Atlantic was one of the last steam-heated trains in service.  When you sat on the toilet, the water was all steamy and warm, so you got this gush of nice warm air when you sat on it.  Wasn't a lot of money those days, a couple of hundred for the unit each way.  She wasn't quite as enthused with the railliners from Truro to Sydney thoguth, with their built-in diesel engines.  I always liked them, having spent many a ride from the Annapolis valley, sitting at the bar in the back.  Nothing quite like drinking a beer or two and watching the country side slide by out the window.

So, only a handful of vids this winter.  My yootoob page has a couple more.  When I get more time I'll be able to dedicate a bit more to the task.  Right now any extra time I have is spent getting in the miles to avoid becoming a non-runner.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

An emphasis on running

Being a runner I spend a lot of my time...running.  Running means training and if I expect to pop into the occasional race and not embarrass myself I need to get periods of solid miles in to meet the expectation.  With cooler weather and shorter days I get the chance to rise early and head out onto the darkened streets for morning runs.  The railfanning part has to take a bit of a hit since standing on bridges and at crossings isn't exactly developing my aerobic pathways.  Also the reno work I've been doing since spring leaves my weekends absorbed in stuffing studs with insulation, hanging dryall and running wires.

With this in mind I have a couple of months of dedicated training ahead of me that will encompass most of my extra time during the week.  Bedtime will be earlier so I can be up at 6ish and out the door.  Noon I get an extra 5 miles in from work as we have shower facilities and I take my gear with me each day.

Ideally I would be getting in 10-12 miles a day over two runs and longer stuff on the weekends.  That's not materializing and I've only managed those levels consistently for a few months a few years back.  However my brief foray into 70ish mile weeks granted me a 5 mile PR for race I'd done for many years.  Running is like building a fire from a forest you've grown.  The more time you put into building large, dense forest, the bigger the bonfire you can make when you fell those trees.  You spend a lot of time doing nothing but putting in as many miles as you can manage over periods of months at a time.  Then you switch gears, cut back the miles a bit and train hard, and bring that base to fruition.  This is hopefully my coming winter as I work to get as much time on my feet and see where it brings me come springtime.

How many trains can you catch in 30 minutes?

The nice thing about commuter traffic is that it's both predictable and constant.  Living close enough to the Lakeshore east line that I can listen to the engines throttle up from my back porch gives me a venue to catch a lot of commuter traffic.

Early mornings reflect a sequence of trains that have to cover a mix of long and short haul commuter traffic in a variety of services.  The nice thing about the mix of GO and VIA is the power options and the mix of express and local trains together on the same lines and makes for some interesting management.

Between 6:45 and 7:15 AM, you have 7 different trains in 6 distinct consists prioritizing themselves over the Kingston sub east of Union Station.  5 of those pass through in the first 15 minutes, often parallel to each other and can have as many as 3 consists over the stretch below Danforth Avenue at the same time.  On October 10th I decided I would capture all of this action into a single vid, which ended up being 5 minutes in length.

2 of the trains are on a single consist, being the VIA 50/52 trains that are tied together until Belleville, then split their respective ways to Montreal and Ottawa.  This is the first of the bunch that passes through and can often be in a drag race with a westbound GO express that departs roughly 1 minute later than the VIA depending on lateness of the VIA units.  With the GO units, the convention is to have express units use the same center track as VIA while the westbound GOs share the north track with local units.  Some track switches manage the overlap of westbound local and express trains.  All of this is within close tolerances as the units are often within short minutes of each other.

A couple of unique hits on this video.  One of the GO trains had dual MP40 units up front, an express EB train probably moving an extra power unit to Oshawa.  I also got a good throttle up for an F59PH leading WB with an MP40 pusher.  For the final sequence I managed to catch a head-to-head meet of the EB and WB units on the short bridge over Woodbine Avenue.  This was a good sequence of trains to catch in such a short period.

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to putty a window

Free time.  But is time really free?  Actually, yes it is, but it's also the precious item of all.  And this summer my free time, which is but isn't, has been spent doing some renovation work on an in-laws house.  Running and fanning has to play second fiddle for a while.  I still get most of my runs in but no time for any other casual activities.

But back to this reno thing.  Part of this is prepping the front of the propery for 'curb appeal'.  This is where people will look at it from the curb and get that good first impression.  It's important in this particular case and having a very windowy but aging front porch makes either a lot of work or a lot of expense.  Work, in this being time, is cheap, because it's free!  New windows aren't so cheap.  So my precious but free time this weekend was to tackle the task of tidying up these windows for curb appeal.  Well, not quite all of my free cheap time, but most of it.

This almost 80-year-old structure has original wooden single-pane windows surrounding the enclosed porch and time hasn't been kind.  We had a laborer do the work of cleaning off the paint and was also to remove the old glazing putty.  Problem is that putty after that period of time is in nasty bad shape and also hard as rock.  We tried lots of ways of getting it off but couldn't do it without breaking the glass, and it was clear that it would take a tremendous amount of time to do it if attempting to preserve the glass.  So we picked plan B, smashing every window and pulling out the old putty.  This proved more effective as well as faster and the windows were cleared of all the old debris in a couple of days.  Too bad they were also now cleared of all the old glass as well, leaving a well ventilated front porch.

We were lucky that our window supplier offered to cut the glass panels, admittedly he wasn't expecting to cut 34 individual panels.  So it took a bit longer than expected and we reimbursed accordingly.  On Friday I was able to pick up my new panes of glass, carefully transport them in the back of the Mazda 3 with generous layers of paper towel keeping the panels stable and safely together.  I managed to get them to the site each in one piece and double checked the sizing of each.  The windows held either 3 or 4 panels each, with some windows differently sized.  The cut has to be no more no less than 1/8 smaller than the openings so size is crucial.  Fortunately, they were all bang on in sizing and worth every penny paid.

The window frames had spent 3 weeks covered in plastic to keep out the elements and keep the frames dry while awaiting my new glass.  With 34 panels to install, I bought all of the packs of pushpins my local Home Depot had in stock and still ran out.  Plus a pint of interior/exterior primer for the openings, 3 tubs of DAP 33 glazing compound and a new 2 1/2 inch flexible putty knife.

Saturday was clean the frames, prime, and carefully pin the panels in place.  And I had a couple of hours left to practice my glazing technique.  I had already checked out some info on-line, watched vids, an so on.  It's a given that it will be harder than it looks so practice was imporant before I get to the real thing.

Sunday was glazing day.

Now, the DAP 33 is thick and doughy.  The instructions say to mix thoroughly before using, easier said than done.  You have to disregard the 'avoid contact with skin' notice on the label, grab a handful and knead it up like a small ball of pizza dough.  After you play with it a bit, it softens up and is more workable and sticky.  Your hands and your knife handle will be covered in this stuff before you're done anyway.

At first, this seemed impossible as the putty just wouldn't apply properly, it would fall off, curl and tear, and so forth.  The couple of hours of practice were important, and trying different techniques, since I have a whole batch of these to do.

A few things become clear.  First, patience is critical.  Second, softening up the putty helps.  I rolled it in my hands like making snakes out of modelling clay and pushed it along the edges with my fingers a little at a time at roughly twice the volume I would need, doing the whole panel at once.  Third, clean the area below, it's not horribly expensive stuff but you don't want to waste it.  So get rid of all the dirt and debris below to reclaim what falls.  Fourth, putty knives are specially made for this.  They are thin, flexible, and have rounded dull edges,  Since you are gliding this thing right against the glass you don't want sharp corners scoring your panels, that's not good for appearance nor longevity.  Don't use anything else thinking it will work just as well, it won't so invest a few dollars in a proper knife, mine cost $7.

Now, when you pull the knife along the edge, this is where technique really comes into play and it takes practice to get it right.  These windows are old, they don't have perfectly straight square edges, there's little nicks and groves and dips in the wood.  The knife has to follow this edge so those grooves reflect back onto that nice flat straight bevel you are trying to make.  Here's where the flexibility of the knife comes in.  When you draw the knife, press into the middle of the blade to force the end flat along the bevel.  This does two important things.  Those nicks and cuts in the wood have less effect on the layer of putty because the flat blade glides over with less variance, which makes the putty nice and flat with just slight waving on the surface.  Also, if only the end of the blade is against the surface, the putty tends to curl and tear.  This is because it is under pressure at the end of the blade and releases once it's free, causing the above problem and leaving a messy line.  With more of the blade surface against the putty, it isn't under pressure when it finally gets to the end of the blade, and stays perfectly smooth and flat.

After a while it was easy to get a long clean bevel in one smooth draw.  You also have to learn to play with how the blade is oriented along its length.  Keeping it straight in line with the edge gets a good full volume of putty into the grooves but can tend to gather a lot of excess on longer lines.  Too much excess, the putty pulls away from the edge, while too little doesn't fill the edge properly. Slightly turning the handle away helped clear the excess when necessary.  You learn to play with the orientation a bit to get the best result depending on how long the edge is and how much excess putty is forming.

The corners provide their own challenges.  To start a corner, I set the end of the blade to form the exact angle and bevel I wanted, then turn the blade on it's corner point until it was straight along the edge, as I note above, and then start the draw.  When I reached the far corner I'd set that angle using the side of the knife instead of the leading edge, drawing the knife out and away from the window.  Then clear the knife of excess and repeat on the next edge.

Finally, when done you carefully remove the excess materal from the glass and the frame.  This takes a steady hand because it's a free handed action.  Move slowly placing the knife edge near the material and gathering it up...more patience.

The smaller panels were about 13 inches by 5 inches, and I had 25 of them.  I got to the point I could glaze and clean one in 5 minutes, down from 10-12 minutes when I started, and a lot neater by far.  The 9 bigger panels at 27 x 15 took about 30 minutes each when I started to about 15 minutes at the end.

You will end up with a lot of smeary putty medium on the glass, especially near the edges.  Leave it for a few days until the putty sets up,  The edges will still be soft even then so take care in cleaning the glass.  Painting it first might be best as the paint will offer some protection for the putty.

If you mess up, you can just start again.  I had plenty of mishaps and had to refill the edge with putty and try again.  As I went along it got progressively easier and better in the end result.  Just keep the key items in mind: soft warm hand-worked putty, press the knife down flat from the middle, and watch the excess material to clear it effectively.

And be patient, time is free, sort of.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Recording under a bridge

Yesterday morning I ran over to the Danforth GO station to catch the morning commuter runs.  On weekdays it's a mix of services, VIA, GO regular service, GO express runs.  The regular services stop at each/most of the stations and the express units sail right on through.

The bridge grants a nice straight view along the westward tracks and you get a head-on type of shot of the oncoming eastbound units.  I usually shoot from Main Street on the bridge over the station but thought I'd shoot at track level for this one.

VIA 50 / 52 is a connected pair of trains that head to Montreal and Ottawa.  They depart together from Toronto and then separate in Belleville.  It makes a few stops along the way but not at this station so it has time to pick up speed before blowing through on it's way toward it's first stop at Guildwood station.

On this morning 50 / 52 was a few minutes late.  Waiting on a bench I caught sight of it's lights far down the track and positioned myself against a post, using it to help steady the camera.  The train was on the center track of three and my view is straight down the middle, it's a quite warm morning and the heat is eminating from the surfaces as it approaches.  Since I'm staying focused on the viewfinder and pointed westward, and it's noisy, I'm unaware of a GO express from Oshawa bearing down from the east on the track immediately to my left.

Trains, being rather large, displace a fair amount of air.  One train moving in open air pushes it out and up and draws some along with it as it goes.  Two trains in opposite directions and both moving quickly gives some additional dynamics to the whole process.  Have it occur under a bridge adds jan extra element.  Thus as I'm anchored to this post, VIA zips by on center track and at the same moment the express GO blows past me from behind.  A brief but violent swirl of air throws the viewfinder of the camera shut, immediately terminating my recording.  I quickly reopen the panel and feverishly hit 'record' until it started up again.  It would have been a good clip had it all been a single shot.  Unfortunately I ended up with two scenes and had to blend them together in editing, making the GO passing seem oddly brief.

Anyway, here's the outcome.  All part of the fun.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Railfanning without a scanner

In radio-free land, catches are luck and observation.  Well, really just luck.  And schedules.  Commuter trains run on schedules you can usually look up.  This works great near the source end but the destination end is considerably less reliable.  Such is true of catching the Canadian as it rolls through the Don Valley on it's four day trip from the west coast.  I've caught it by pure luck as late as 26 hours after it's scheduled arrival time.

I'm not big on long waits at crossings and locations, I give maybe 15-20 minutes if I have time, less if my run is more critical than catching some video.  The Canadian is a frequent target since it's in my running territory and usually the only train rumbling through lower Bala on a Saturday morning.  Since I don't know when it might arrive, I generally stop at a level trail crossing and look for signs that a train may have passed through, usually a clean path along the top of the rails free of the mud and dirt left behind by cyclists and foot traffic.  The line signals help but only one is in a convenient spot, and it's for the south section so won't tell me if the north section is occupied by traffic.

Last Saturday I ran over to the valley and stopped at the bailey bridge crossing near Don Mills Road to check.  The signal south was full green, unusual as it's normally yellow since it's not far before it feeds into the Union Station corridor.  I decided to check the north signal which meant following some trail near the rails that offers a peak at one point.  The signal glowed red, indicating a closed line north.  Southbound train?  Maybe, or maintenance work or something else.  I ran a few hundred metres further to an open viewing point and prepped the camera just in case.

Within a minute came a heavy rumble form the north, and the sound of a ringing bell, definitely the Canadian.  Passenger services through here always ring the warning bell.  The Northlander when it would pass through had a quite loud and distinctive bell that could be heard well before it arrived.  Sure enough, seconds later the Canadian pops into view, and on this morning had a decidedly sprite pace, unusual along this winding and aged section of Bala.  6435 lead, 6446 second, 19 Budds.  The location granted a slightly lowered view and from the bright sunlit side.  With the camera held well overhead to clear the ROW fencing, I grabbed my minute of video, another successful catch VIA's train #2 from Vancouver to Toronto.

After packing up the camera and heading back along the trail I rechecked the north signal...still red.  I'm not sure how long the interval is before it switches status, or maybe there was something up line still holding it closed.  Hard to tell.  Maybe I just got lucky.