Ray Burns Summer 2002 Rail Travelogues - Part 3
Western Canada on VIA Rail Canada's Skeena
Friday, June 21, 2002
We slept in late and then checked out of the hotel around noontime, as our train departed at 12:45. The taxi service took care of our transportation needs and we had time to take more pictures while we waited at the station. I could see the train go on another set of tracks by the Canadian National Railway (CNR) building and then back up so that the engine was facing west, rather than east. So, it had basically turned around.
The Skeena that runs between Banff, Alberta, through Prince George, BC, onward, ever onward, until the train eventually reaches the Canadian west coast at Prince Rupert, BC, is one heck of a ride. This is a special trip for me as so few people have taken it when you compare it to the other VIA routes. You name it, much Canadian wildlife is in this neck of the woods.
The train staff was super friendly and accommodating. I think that they were being themselves! From coast to coast, it never ceases to amaze me of the friendliness of these people. I can certainly see it on VIA. It is so easy to make friends up here. Why just settle with just an acquaintance when you can meet a genuine friend? My very good and close friend, Guy Faulkner, who works for VIA, is more that than he is a business associate. A number of the room attendants that I had years before recognized and genuinely greeted me when they saw me. It's all in the state of mind!
Terry McIntyre was the quality Service Manager on board and the two great attendants were Chris Cabot and Lorne Lyster. Our lunch came shortly after we left the station. I had cold chicken, which was very good. We went through the mountains, zigging and zagging along the tracks, giving rail fans and tourists alike great opportunities to take excellent pictures of the train with breathtaking backdrops.
We eventually came to McBride station, a small stop on our way out west. As I got off the train I saw Matthew Wheeler talking to our Service Manager, Terry McIntyre, in front of the station. Now Matthew is a very well known Rail photographer and writer and he just happens to live a few miles up the road from McBride station. We met in 1999 when both of us were going east on VIA RAIL. He was writing a story for a newspaper about travel on VIA and taking his great pictures.
Soon we were off again and dinner was soon served. I had heated chicken, and again, it was good. I saw one bear that was pretty close to the train, and two deer. We did pass a number of bears but I missed most of them. Our arrival to Prince George was around 7:00 PM and we were very tired. Everyone debarked and the British tour group would prepare to go on BC Rail tomorrow morning. We took a taxi to the hotel and were soon booked into the Ramada Hotel.
We later went across the street to the "Tandoori Restaurant Indian Cuisine." I was not hungry but was so shocked that there was such a restaurant in these parts that my curiosity got the best of me. A very pretty girl named Mony (pronounced Moony) was serving us. She and her family were from Bangladesh. Everything was brought on a big stainless steel dish with a large rim around it and it had a number of stainless steel bowls with condiments in it. I ordered their vegetarian dish which consisted of five different ingredients. A little on the hot side, but that was okay. All you have to do is tell them you want it mild before you order & then you're all set. Their mango lassi (a yogurt mango flavored drink) was very different to anything I have ever tasted. But it was quite good!
Bob and I then went straight to our hotel room and "hit the sack." We were both drained! A lot of sunlight up here so you have to keep the heavy curtains pulled or else the light keeps you awake. We both slept well from our deep sleep.
Saturday, June 22, 2002
We were up by 5:00 AM, ready for the next day. We checked out and called for our taxi. It is not too far to the VIA train station, $3.50 by cab, but the BC Rail station is at another site and I hear that the cab fare is around $10.
We were at the station around 7:00 AM and I was surprised by the number of people in the station at this time. Our train leaves at 7:45 AM. Everything seems "laid back" out here so one just settles back and relaxes. The VIA gals at the station checked our heavy luggage for the baggage car and then we were soon boarding the train with the same crew that took us here. In fact, the same crew will be taking Bob and I back to Prince George tomorrow.
It is nice to have the same crew for a few days as that way everyone gets to know everyone. It gets to a personal basis and as you good folks out there know, all good people love good company. In fact I met Bob and Karen Ritchie, www.coastaldrill.com, of Campbell River, British Columbia, on the train. They are loyal "visitors" to TrainWeb through the Internet. Dave Schick, a tour Manager for a tour firm out of Richmond, BC, and Dolf de Vries, www.dolfdevries.nl, from Holland, who is a writer and whose wife is a photographer. I can go on and on, but you should be here and meet the people on the train yourself.
We soon had breakfast and I was very impressed with it. A good size plate of fruit, Raisin Bran Flakes with 2% milk, a raisin bran muffin with butter, and apple juice. I saw a deer this morning. Lots of river watching with very strong currents. Very dangerous waters! Many pictures of these beautiful mountains.
For lunch Robert had cold cuts with a different assortment of cheese and I had salmon mousse with carrot cake for desert. I missed quite a few bridges but did catch some of them with my camera. Many of them were pretty high. Great engineering feats! We passed a few Canadian Native settlements (Indians?). At one such place the train tracks went right through their burial site. I was told that the locals said "as long as passenger railcars came through the area they would allow freight cars to come through as well."
It's around 4:45 PM right now so we know that another 30 miles west we'll be coming to four tunnels in a row. That should be milepost 121 to 123, the Kitselas Canyon and Tunnels., which are best seen from dome or the rear end of the car.
The manifest on this 591 train set is:
F40PH Engine 6435
VIA 1 4002
Chris and Lorne, our stewards, are preparing our 5:00 PM dinner now. One gal that lives up here in the bush just got on the train. A romantic place, but rugged. This trip was much like northern Ontario, "heavy into the bush." I highly recommend that everyone seriously consider taking this portion of the trip, Jasper to Prince George, to Prince Rupert. I know that you will not regret it!
We arrived into Prince Rupert before 8:00 PM. It would have been nice to stay here for a few days but our schedule forbade it. I found it a pretty city with a beautiful view of a lake and other landmasses in the distance with a few boats loafing about. I took some pictures of the Crest Hotel, where we stayed, [(800) 663-8150, firstname.lastname@example.org] and its restaurant. A very nice place with a spectacular view. The owner did a good job putting his place together - well done! I noticed that the train crew likes this run as well. That should tell you something. You like to go salmon fishing? Well... There are so many other things to do here as well. I notice that the taxis are set up for natural gas rather than petrol. These people care for their environment, plus, natural gas is cheaper. We slept very well in our very comfortable beds. We left the window open all night, as the weather was just great. A grand place to retire!
Sunday, June 23, 2002
This morning we got up at 6:00 AM. It started to get dark around 11:00 PM last night. Who knows what time the sun came up this morning. It was long before we did, that's for sure. We were checked out around 7:00 AM and our taxi took us to the train/ferry station. The train was ready for us around 7:45 AM. We brought our luggage over to the baggage car and had our baggage put inside.
We said our "good mornings" to Steve McIntyre, the Service Manager (conductor), Lorne Lyster and Chris Cabot. Chris was mentioning to me that his girlfriend, Elana, was very beautiful. I told him that I would be the judge of that. Now I know what's on his mind as we're riding the rails. Sounds healthy to me!
Only eight people are going to Prince George today. This trip is one of VIA's great secrets. The low clouds snaking along the mountains are a spectacular sight. I have seen a few eagles flying around, missed a bear this morning and took a few photos of pictograms that were on the side of a mountain (Terry, the conductor had the engineer slow down so we could take a picture). It is believed that the pictograms were made around 200 years ago as a territorial mark by local Native Canadians (Indians).
I enjoy breakfast on this run. The same as last time, fruit bowl, healthy cold cereal, muffins, 2% milk, orange juice and fruit yogurt. Lunch is usually served around 12:00 PM but today we will have it at 12:30 PM. Of course there is always tea and coffee all the time as well as muffins and other pastries. Today is smoked salmon on a bagel, or chicken. I tried their chicken which had a lot of vegetables with it. Date square was served for dessert. We went over a very tall bridge just now so I took a few good pictures of that. We had gone through three tunnels and by the time you went through the third tunnel you could see all the way through to the first one. It's something most rail fans will not see except on this trip. This is almost like having a whole car for yourself. Marvelous!!
We stopped in "Smithers" at 1:50 PM. It's just a little town that is totally closed on Sundays. Expect many places in Canada to be closed on Sundays. It "forces" you to go to the basics and transcend into an inner peace that you possibly forgot existed. The lovely blue sky with powerful white billowing clouds, clean empty streets among quaint bundled up houses, beautiful tall green trees everywhere like an army of soldiers watching your every move and a passenger train that had quietly snaked its way into this secluded hamlet with only a few passenger cars in tow, make for a nonexistent make believe world. The issue here is that it is all too real!
The consist coming was 691 and the car numbers are the exact same as when I was going west to Prince Rupert, yesterday. It is easy for everyone to get to know everyone else when there are not too many people on the train and you are in a limited environment for a while. There are always rail fans on board and the rest of the passengers obviously enjoy train travel. Certainly there is a common bond there and the days go along very enjoyably. Everyone is certainly relaxed on our way to Prince George. I ate very little for dinner this day, in fact, hardly anything, as I just felt too filled up. Bob had a nice bottle of wine with his meal.
I later had a very long and great conversation with Jerry Crawford, who hails from Newmilns, Ayrshire, Scotland. I had met his wife, Evelyn, earlier. Her ancestors were heavily involved with rail, during their time. This couple, like so many other people that I have met on the train, have traveled many times, in many countries, by rail. There is always learning when meeting good people!
We came into Prince George around 8:00 PM and everyone picked up their luggage and went their different ways. I had our online crew pose together with the Station Service Attendants, Sandra Lapointe and Christine Scott. Super excellent service with wonderful personalities, the bunch of them! One looks to these people as friends more than not. I notice this phenomenon among many of VIA Rail's staff. This attitude makes half the trip and can certainly ruin one if personalities and service quality were reversed. Thank you VIA, for such a wonderful time!
We took a taxi to the Ramada Hotel and signed in. We were in room 540 this time. Again, a nice size room with two queen size beds with great room service. We pretty well stayed in our rooms as we got our things in order and relaxed for the night.
Monday, June 24, 2002
After a good nights sleep, Bob and I left the hotel after 8:00 AM and walked around a small portion of this city of 80,000 people and stopped in a small bakery/restaurant for brunch. This is prevalently a lumber community, but that industry has been pretty well devastated because of the US/Canadian lumber issues and problems. We later went to the bank to get Canadian money and change so we could then go to the Laundromat. It was nice to have a whole set of clean clothes again.
That afternoon we both ended up at the Railway & Forestry Museum where we met Trudy Swaan, General Manager, who keeps organization in check, Grant Mckinnon, mechanical genius, Michael Hodgson, sharp as a tack know it all (he really does!), Estelle Struck, volunteer (as are others as well). Estelle lived up in the Yukon by herself for a number of years. Now that's one tough gal!
It cost me $6 to get into the museum. Seniors and children are less. This site is one of the largest vintage rail collections in British Columbia and is set in a spacious park-like setting where visitors can enjoy a "hands on - climb aboard" experience. Though their main thrust is historical large rolling stock, there is also historical small rolling stock, logging machinery, mining equipment, agricultural machinery, fire equipment, radio equipment and heavy duty equipment.
Bob and I actually operated a velocipede, and that was a blast! Disneyland, eat your heart out! This great piece of equipment is arm and leg pumped. This is a short run, single person, rapid rail transit, and is certainly energy efficient. I took a few pictures of this yellow piece of equipment so you can see what it looks like. Michael was also good enough to take Bob and myself on a nice ride on one of their "speeders." Also, a nice working turntable donated from the CNR roundhouse in Prince George, is here as well.
I personally have a fond appreciation for farm equipment, so it was very nice to be able to see and appreciate what they had on site along with their rail equipment. Another display that I had a special appreciation for was the "Penny Station." This is an old train station with everything in it that was used in "the old days" by the stationmaster. There was also the wonderfully furnished living room and kitchen and the upstairs bring you to the bedroom section of the structure. The museum representatives have been negotiating with CNR (Canadian National Railways) to purchase one of CNR's beautiful large mechanical sites across the street from their museum. That would be a wonderful boon to this group and to the local community as well.
Some cities (not all) that have a rail museum, do not recognize on taking advantage of the prize that they have in their midst. These historical sites need more than grants and public donations to keep their existence and for growth! Rail museums bring in visitors; visitors bring in money and offer free word of mouth advertising. Public transportation coming into the area benefit as well. Politicians who do not fully support Rail Museums tend to forget that a Rail Museum is not the only place making money, there are also restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, Laundromats, you name it! Nice museums can be responsible for bringing in millions of dollars to a community with the proper financial and marketing support. It is something that the whole community can be proud of. It is also a great project to volunteer ones' services for the community as a whole. Work that one can be proud of, as not only the local populace, but visitors from other parts of the world are attracted to come visit the museum and the local area. A nice Rail Museum can put a local area "on the map!" Comprendez-vous?
The taxi ride back to our hotel cost $7. We picked up a few sandwiches and drinks and ate in our room and enjoyed the cable television. "Beddy bye" sneaks up pretty fast.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
This morning I got up at 7:15 AM, cleaned up, prepared everything for tomorrow's trip, and worked on my travelogue. Around noon I went to the Indian restaurant and found that it opens at 5:00 PM, so I went to a Chinese restaurant in the area. The interior looks nice and they did have a buffet. Period! I came back to my room and spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on my travelogue.
For dinner I went over to the Tandoori Restaurant Indian Cuisine. Again, I had the Vegetable platter and it was very good. So was the mango lassi drink that Mony had made for me. There is a picture of Mony and the meal that she served me that I took, if you're curious. A very pretty hard working gal that served a meal that tasted as good as it looked! I came back to the hotel by 7:30 PM to finish my travelogue for the day and prepare for the next phase of my travels. Remember, my travelogue with VIA ends at this point and now my adventure starts with BC Rail on their "Whistler Northwind," southbound. See you tomorrow morning up and early!
Ray Burns and the TrainWeb field crew did quite a bit of rail travel from June 9, 2002 to July 11, 2002, especially in Canada. Click on each link below to read the travelogues and view the photos and virtual tours:
To Read More Rail Travelogues
And View More Photos Of Rail Travel!