VIA Rail Canada's fleet of inherited stainless steel cars soldier on into the 21st century. Largely unchanged on the outside, VIA's Chaleur (left) and Ocean (right) create a timeless scene from a generation ago on a snowy December 28, 2006, at Matapedia, Quebec.
Train time at Matapedia
By Gary Knapp/Photos by the author
It was during the early morning hours of December 28, 2006, that I found myself happily enclosed within this holiday scene at Matapedia, Quebec. I believe it might snow even more up here in Eastern Quebec than it does back home in Vermont! On this night, I was in my element! Let me introduce the participants in tonights night photo. On the left stands the consist of VIA 16 (the Chaleur), minutes away from departing for the scenic Gaspé Coast. On the right, the dome observation Park-series car bringing up the markers of VIA 14 (the Ocean), departing for nearby Campbellton, New Brunswick and eventually Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In the winter of 2006, the word was out that this holiday season would be last hurrah for stainless steel Budd-equipped Ocean consists, making this shot featuring two stainless steel consists questionable at best to catch in the future. So I drove up to Rivierre-du-loup, tried to sleep in a hotel room during the day, then drove over to Matapedia during the night planning on getting this meeting of VIA's two Eastern flagships around five the next morning. Afterwards, rather than foolishly sleep, I would follow along with the Chaleur up the breathtaking Gaspé Coast.
Arriving with plenty of time to set up, I met up the station attendant (or he met me wondering what I was up to more likely). I also met Jim Babcock, the local VIA maintainer. A valuable man to have around during "normal" operations when #14 is combined with #16 coming out from and returning to Montreal. This method of operation is not feasible during the Holidays when both trains run with much larger consists. Tonight's Ocean had twenty two to twenty five cars, while the Chaleur had a dozen. Imagine the multiple station stops required with both trains combined! They would never get away from their station stops!
In position atop the stepladder tonight, its snowing steadily, so I have broken out one of my secret weapons, the big black umbrella, with camera mounted on tripod sitting on a small wooden platform. First to arrive is the Chaleur behind a pair of the familiar VIA F40s, to their credit, the head end crew encountering me atop the stepladder offer me a wave in the holiday spirit. The F40s (always screaming in Run 8) seem larger than life up close in the ambient light as the stainless steel cars creep past me up along the stations left side for a crew change and passenger stop.
Twenty or more minutes pass by, then an air horn from the northwest behind me announces the arrival of #14, the Ocean. In contrast to the Chaleurs arrival, the trio of F40s powering the Ocean crawl into the scene, rolling past the station for several car lengths before the brakes start to take hold and the station stop is made. The view from atop the stepladder at this moment is one of success, while the Chaleur failed to pull down far enough to include its rear Park-series observation car, (later I would discover it did not run with one this season anyway) I would happily settle for this “all-stainless” view here at Matapedia!
In a few minutes two blasts from an air horn, then #14 releases its brakes and starts to move, slowly and smoothly, with the majority of its patrons fast asleep, the cars start to slowly accelerate past me. One of VIA's trademark “mid-train” diner dome cars comes by trailing a large number of sleeping cars. I’m counting the cars from the head end as they pass while I am turned around looking backwards as best I can to catch sight of and time the passage of the classic observation car on the rear.
I’m around twenty two cars when I catch sight of the dome emerging into the ambient light. It’s the third car back of me, so I turn back to the camera to watch 'em roll by. And then the universe delivers a gift! Out of nowhere, up the station platform comes a family! I have marked where I want the rear of the Park-series car, I glance at the family, knowing I have a flash unit beyond the corner of the station to fill the shadow falling on the cars from the building. Will they get beyond it? The Park-series observation car hits my mark, the shutter release sets off the lighting and the moment is captured! Up comes the image on the LCD screen... I yell out a "WHOO!" It looks great! The family nonchalantly walks by, pausing to ask where I am from, if perhaps I live in the area? No I reply I am from Vermont, the USA. I thank them for making my night photo, like most folks in this area of Quebec, they are bi-lingual, and the adults smile and say “You’re welcome,” the two kids oblivious to most everything at this hour, hang on to their father and grandmothers hands.
The Chaleur consist remained motionless during all this, and as I turned to my left and step down from the stepladder I meet two smiling faces less than ten feet away! A middle aged couple watched all the proceedings from the warmth of their room in a sleeper onboard #16. Unbeknownst to me, they were positioned slightly behind me as I concentrated on the Ocean departing. I quickly give the couple two thumbs up and a smile, then hold the camera's LCD screen up to the window for them to enjoy the results. They check the photo out and smile and wave.
Two short blasts come back from the head end of #16 and the brakes are releasing as the cars next to me start to move, the rail creaking! I wave goodbye to my audience and watch as the classic streamliner receeds into the darkness.