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Encounters at Stratford on Good Friday 1959

April 11, 2022

Sometimes, a lot of forensic research goes into framing photographic coverage of steam some 60 and 70 years after the images are exposed. This is a glimpse of such detective work undertaken recently for a spread of pictures in the upcoming Steam Encounters in Ontario vol. 2.

At hand was a group of four photographs taken by Jim Guerin at Stratford in 1959. One of these pictures is here, of engine 5611. Aside from the engine numbers visible and the date “1959”, I had nothing to work with. But I need to present this sequence for readers in the upcoming volume.

For starters, the 35mm slides were taken in sequence, on the same day and in the same location, and in close succession. The CNR steam engines involved are the 5611, along with 5548, 6211 and 5702.

Readers of my books know that in my narratives I like to recreate operations moment-by-moment, augmenting the coverage with photographs where possible.

In this particular sequence, since we were dealing with CNR steam at Stratford in 1959, it could only have occurred during the first four months of that year. And I recognized the morning passenger train connections (numbers 27, 29, 169 and 35). Armed with the appropriate employee time table, I thus established the window of time as between approximately 10:15 and 10:38 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

All four of the aforementioned engines were active until at least March or April of 1959, so I could not narrow down the date from that knowledge.

Knowing that engine 5548 was heading number 29 into London, I spent several hours poring over train assignment data from that terminal over the first four months of 1959. To add to that constraint, I knew that Hudson 5702 had come off train 29 from Toronto during our sequence, so she could NOT have been assigned to any train appearing at London that date. Ditto for Northern 6214, off number 27 at Stratford.

Where did that leave us? I ruled out every day in January except the 2nd and 3rd. Likewise, every day in February except the 17th and 24th, every day in March except the 27th and 31st, and every day in April except the 7th, 20th and 29th. Nine days altogether, but no other locomotive assignment information to narrow it further.

The four January and February dates in 1959 I eliminated immediately from a study of the wet ground and only traces of snow remaining. I have examined numerous photographs at Stratford from winter 1959 and the station area is snowbound until at least March!

Turning to Environment Canada historical weather information at Stratford for 1959, I ruled out the late April dates (with temperatures approaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks, there could not be any snow remaining).

That left March 27, March 31 and April 7. Here, the railfans of 1959 came to the rescue. They noted that as of Easter Monday (March 30), virtually all of the secondary passenger assignments out of Toronto were dieselized. That left Good Friday, March 27, 1959 as the day Guerin visited Stratford.

Pages 38 and 39 of Steam Encounters in Ontario vol. 2 will present the four pictures our photographer captured on the last Friday of full steam passenger train connections at Stratford. After that, the only steam he will encounter there will be on the occasions of fan trips.

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