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Fifty years ago today - Sunday, October 14, 1973

October 14, 2023

Even though today is normally a day off from working on my books, a voice inside my head this morning reminded me of where I was 50 years ago today and what was happening.

Then, I had recently turned 13 years of age. And the event unfolding before my eyes that day was the doubleheaded Ontario Rail Association steam excursion on the second day of a round-trip between Toronto and Owen Sound.

A week or two before this excursion, I had noticed something in the Barrie Examiner newspaper:

At the time, the article announced that an old CPR 4-4-0 would run an excursion from Toronto to Owen Sound and return. This had caught my father's eye, as he had chased the famed CPR tripleheader excursion on May 1, 1960, headed by the same Canadian Pacific American Type number 136 that was the subject of this 1973 newspaper article (the accompanying photograph showed number 136 disguised as number 144).

And then, maybe two or three days before this excursion to which my father had already committed the family to witnessing, we read in the same newspaper that not one, but two locomotives would head this extravaganza. "TWO locomotives," my father exclaimed. After which he headed to the local Woolworth's to buy a fresh roll of 8mm silent movie film.

I can't begin to communicate to my readers the magic of the post-regular service steam excursion era here in Ontario for this young boy. On January 24, 1971, we had stood freezing just north of Barrie, watching Canadian National Northern 6218 on a runpast at a place we called Thunder Bridge. We knew this would be the last time we would see number 6218. I had seen her on her debut excursion run on September 26, 1964, having turned four years of age the day before. And now we knew this would be the end. Shortly after that runpast, we said farewell forever to number 6218 as she made her final departure from the Allandale station:

But during that time on that final runpast with 6218, there had been whispers among the railway fans with their cameras poised, waiting for the locomotive to approach. There was word that, in Toronto, two Canadian Pacific steam locomotives would be reactivated.

My father passed this news on to me. I filed it away in the back of my mind. And that brings us to October 14, 1973, when we witnessed those very two Canadian Pacific locomotives southbound from Owen Sound.

I had been trying to persuade my father to drive us to Owen Sound on the Saturday, when the train would arrive. The night before, Friday, we were out shopping on Highway 26 (Bayfield Street in Barrie), which leads to Collingwood and beyond. I saw a Gray Coach bus go by with its name board illuminated in the front: OWEN SOUND. In the backseat of our 1970 Ford Fairlane, I tried to conspire a way I could get out of the car and onto that bus.

Anyway, we missed all of the Saturday, and we didn't see the departure from Owen Sound on Sunday. But we headed away from the house in Barrie mid-morning—on Sunday, October 14, 1973—westward, on back roads, in spectacular Ontario fall foliage.

As we neared the Canadian Pacific's Owen Sound Subdivision, Dad told us in those immortal words which had given me tingles for at least a decade: "Look for smoke." That was the most exciting phrase I could ever imagine hearing as a young boy: Look for smoke.

And, sure enough, somewhere north of Markdale, we saw smudges of coal smoke rising above the red and orange and yellow maples across the farmlands in the distance. Shortly thereafter, the splendid doubleheader appeared, led by former Canadian Pacific American Type 136 and former Canadian Pacific D10 Ten Wheeler 1057, followed by a train of steel tuscan red passenger cars, the green business car Temagami, and three vintage cars used in the filming of The National Dream (based on Pierre Berton's work about the building of the CPR across Canada, in which number 136 was the star).

Before I leave you with these pictures here, with a short caption under each, describing where they were, here is a map for your reference, showing the general topography:

One more thing before the pictures. I mentioned earlier how magical this business of steam excursions was for this boy. Would you believe I even produced my own handwritten newsletter, shown only to family and a couple of friends (who thought I was cuckoo)? I have one example of that remaining, composed just after that October 1973 doubleheaded spectacular:

With a special report from your correspondent on that particular excursion:

Anyway, this Owen Sound Subdivision of the Canadian Pacific captured my imagination on Sunday, October 14, 1973 (and please excuse the untrained photography by this 13-year-old with one of his dad's cast-off cameras):

Markdale station

South of Markdale, approaching

South of Markdale, broadside

Fraxa junction (just north of Orangeville)

Arriving at Orangeville, both whistles screaming

Leaving Orangeville

Runpast at Forks of Credit, approaching

Runpast at Forks of Credit—breathtaking, thundering, ground shaking, peal of whistles, cinders raining down

Farewell for me on this day, probably near Snelgrove

In tribute to that special day in 1973, I include a photo taken by my father of Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 number 2559 blasting out of Owen Sound yard, past the roundhouse and approaching his vantage point, with the southbound way freight to Saugeen. This was taken on Saturday, March 28, 1959 (Easter weekend) and it appears in our Canadian Branchline 2024 calendar (of which I have a couple of dozen remaining):

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