My grandfather is a bona fide train nut. One of my earliest memories of our time together was heading down to the Dorval station in Montreal to just hang around the tracks.
Grumps, as we call him, would just hang around and gab with his buddies about nothing in particular. Each would hold a scrap of paper between their fingers with the scribblings of the digits of engines that had seen the past week. Just as birdwatchers jot notes of each species they spy, so do train watchers. Each engine spotted brings with it a story of where it was built and the routes it has taken across the country.
In the summer of 1985 we drove across Canada with my grandparents and he would scribble down each engine we passed on the prairies so he could rifle through his reference material when we reached a rest stop.
Finding a great spot for watching trains in Calgary is easy. A ribbon of track runs right through the centre of the city. He loved the view from the top of Calgary Tower, tracing the path of the engines and their cargo through downtown. The main Alyth train yard in Calgary is just south east of downtown and is home to dozens of spurs as the CP and CN lines twist east and west and north and south.
One of the best spots, however, is in the west of the city near Baker Park alongside Bearspaw Dam Rd NW. There are a couple of sidings where trains can rest before heading east into Calgary or west into the Rockies. There’s always something lurking and this morning we hit the perfect score as a crew was being dropped off to take a train into the yard. We saw them do their checks up and down the line, remove the derailer and flip the switches before turning the ignition and heading out.
My grandfather counted each grouping of cars on the train and scribbled down the 4 engine numbers as he balanced a scanner to his ear to listen in on the crew chatting about their schedule. When he gets back home he’ll look the engine numbers up online and send an email to his train buddies back in Montreal. After more than 40 years of hanging around the tracks, the method has changed, the madness has remained.[pictures taken with iPhone 4. processing done with Camera+ app]