It’s the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and Saturday was a glorious day, so my wife and I decided to get out of town and see some more of Saskatchewan. (She grew up here, but I’m new to the Land of Living Skies and need to discover more of my new province.) Day trips are a pandemic-friendly activity, too!
We headed south from Saskatoon on Highway 11 in pursuit of some old friends – and caught up with two of them 155 km south at Aylesbury, SK:
The Modesto & Empire Traction Company – an industrial park railroad in California – became famous amongst modellers and railfans for its fleet of General Electric 70 Tonners. Well after most railroads had retired these small units, the METRR maintained a sizeable fleet in pristine shape. They were ideal for the tight curves in the Beard Industrial Park that they called home.
The METRR retired their 70 Tonners in 2009 in favour of more modern, more powerful, lower emissions locomotives, including several Railpower GenSets. In Saskatchewan, regional rail operator MobilGrain acquired seven of the GE 70 Tonners and uses them to switch grain handling facilities on two lines. Number 604 was built in January 1950, while 605 rolled off the line in February 1947.
MobilGrain is an interesting operation. While it appears to be a railway, it’s actually more of a grain terminal on wheels – one that can be easily located closer to the farmers it serves. Its technology is used to collect, clean, weigh, store, transfer, and ship grain – all with better traceability of the product.
MobilGrain operates two lines connected via trackage rights over the Canadian National. These railways play important roles in the company’s operation. The company owns a fleet of covered hoppers used to collect and store various commodities. When it’s time to deliver product to a customer, it’s transferred from these storage cars into interchange cars and shipped out via the CNR.
When we visited Aylesbury, it appeared to be a day off but ex METRR 604 and 605 are set up to do some transloading of grain using a grain transfer facility of the company’s own design.
When working, the storage cars would be rolled through the white building and dumped. Each compartment in the storage car is discharged into its own hopper, where the product is weighed. The blue loader has four chutes to quickly fill a cut of interchange cars on the outside track.
Because it’s loading one car to the next, the source of the grain is easy to track. As well, the loaders are designed to minimize the height from which grains are dropped to minimize damage to the product. (This is important to MobilGrain’s parent company, AGT Foods, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of pulses such as lentils. Apparently, lentils bruise if loaded from too great a height.)
While the 70 Tonners do the switching in places like Aylesbury, MobilGrain also rosters a fleet of more modern, six-axle EMD locomotives to haul outbound grain to its interchange with the CNR.
I called the METRR 70 Tonners “old friends” and with good reason. I’ve met them before – on a trip to California to attend the Pacific Coast Region NMRA convention in 2004. A group of us including Bill Kaufman, Jim Providenza, and Bill Schaumburg met up with Mike McReynolds – a retired METRR employee and goodwill ambassador – for a tour of the line. Here are some pictures I took of the 70 Tonners in their glory days:
I’ve even written about the METRR a couple of times for the hobby press.
I wrote a detailing/painting/DCC+Sound installation article featuring METRR 603 in its bicentennial scheme, for the April 2004 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine:
And I wrote a two-part layout design feature on the METRR, which was published in the October and November 2007 issues of Railroad Model Craftsman:
My wife and I really enjoyed the day out on Saturday, and the stop in Aylesbury prompted me to do some quick research into MobilGrain. I loved learning about this interesting operation that’s more than a railway, and I look forward to future trips, to visit other locations where it runs in the province.
Maybe I’ll run into more old friends there…