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CNR 6167 and 6218: Northerns Over the Muskoka River

May 07, 2024

September 26, 1964 south of Bracebridge station

I was born just after the railway steam era ended in Canada. I have no memories, like many of my readers do, of regular service steam operation.

But, I did witness something remarkable, that being the early 1960s when the Canadian National Railways operated three of their magnificent Northerns in excursion service. For almost the first four years of my life, I had numerous exposures to number 6167, the 4-8-4 the CNR was operating from the Toronto area. She outlived her counterpart 6153, which bowed out of service at Montreal in September 1962.

After that, it was all number 6167, and consequently she started making longer forays, out of her usual territory, because the railway was down to a single Northern.

Now, as a two-year-old or three-year-old boy, one CNR Northern looks the same as another. Number 6167 became a good friend. I remember my Grandpa Wilson holding me in his arms in March 1963 in the backyard of his home on Eaglewood Boulevard in Port Credit.

Along the railway embankment not far away, we waved as number 6167 stormed past at speed, heading for Niagara Falls with my mother and father aboard the train. Moments to remember. That was my only experience of Steam Through Port Credit. But I can remember it to this day.

Life at my home in Barrie, Ontario was all blissful in February 1964, when number 6167 made her annual (but final) visit to the Barrie Winter Carnival. With my mother and father and younger brother, we chased the locomotive up to Orillia (my present hometown) where Dad caught her sitting at the station, waiting to return to Barrie after turning on the wye.

Now, later in that year 1964, something remarkable happened. I remember my dad telling me that soon we would see not one steam engine, but two! This was as my fourth birthday approached.

In fact, the day after my fourth birthday, with excitement boiling over, we ventured north on the CNR's Huntsville Subdivision. Sure enough, there were the two Northerns approaching us, northbound in cold and grey and drizzly weather. This was the first of two days of excursions featuring my old friend number 6167 and newly overhauled sister 6218.

We had some family friends in Huntsville, not far from where the 18-car excursion behind those two Northerns turned on the wye at Scotia. To his dying day, my father regretted visiting those friends while the Northerns struggled not once, not twice, not but three times to turn the train on the wye. Slipping on wet, light rail on tight curvature, shrouding the sky with black coal smoke and steam, generating incredible noise.

We missed that to visit family friends. I”m with Dad on that one. Non-railway friends are important, no question, but two Northerns turning on the wye at Scotia in rain in a last-to-be-seen spectacle is more important!

Now, almost 60 years have gone by since that memorable weekend. Of course, we chased the following day’s doubleheaded excursion to Brantford, and bid farewell to both locomotives at Hamilton in the yard.

Thereafter, for at least a year or two, every time my dad bought movie film or slide film or black and white film, and started loading his cameras in anticipation of another excursion, I asked him, Daddy, one engine or two? Just one engine, son, he would reply.

At a young age, I could not tell the difference between 6167 and 6218. They were interchangeable and equally fascinating. In fact, those two locomotives are the reason you are reading this broadcast and the reason your shelf is sagging with upwards of two dozen of my printed books.

Now it’s almost 60 years since that magical day on September 26, 1964, when I (and some of you) beheld those CNR Northerns in all their splendour. Some years ago, my friend David Oram was commissioned to compose and create a painting depicting these two engines crossing the Muskoka River just south of Bracebridge station, southbound on the first of the two days of that remarkable weekend.

Jim Brown and I furnished David with all the operating details and photographic references for him to create his painting. David is the foremost railway artist in Canada. You can see why in this composition. This is a signed print, number five of only 75 produced, for Northerns Over the Muskoka River. David gave this print to me out of gratitude for my assistance while he prepared his original painting.

Now, I have been downsizing of late, and for several years I have not had a place to hang this magnificent print as it should be presented, in a frame, on the wall, to be seen and treasured by those of us who remember Canadian steam.

I know my friend David will forgive me for the wish to have this print displayed somewhere where one of my valued readers can enjoy it and share it with his railway friends. Therefore, I am offering this signed limited edition print to one of my readers who supports the upcoming Steam Encounters in the USA vol. 1 as a “Benefactor”. If there is a single such benefactor, this print will go to him with my compliments. If there are more than one, I will draw the names from a hat and present this print to the lucky reader whose name is drawn.

We still have a couple of days to go before the deadline to decide whether this book is a go or not, and there is always a flurry on this last couple of days. I believe with that traditional last minute surge of orders, in combination with two or three benefactors stepping forward, Steam Encounters in the USA vol. 1 will be in your hands come August 1st as a treasured print recollection of a young Canadian photographer’s encounters with steam and diesel in the United States in 1955 and 1956.

One engine or two?

To place your pre-order for one or more copies of Steam Encounters in the USA vol. 1 as a Benefactor or otherwise, kindly navigate to this page and click the appropriate button:

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