MET(RR) some old friends

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!

Aylesbury, looking north. Highway 11 is off to the right.

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:

ex Modesto & Empire Traction Co. 605
ex METRR 605, with 604 behind.
The MobilGrain transfer facility at Aylesbury, from the south end.
The hoppers at left are storage cars – like a grain elevator on wheels. ex METRR 605 is sandwiched in the middle of this cut.
ex METRR 604, on the right track, is on a string of interchange cars that will be loaded out of the storage cars.

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.

A map of the MobilGrain operation, from the company website.

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.

A pair of road diesels parked on the transfer track at the north end of Aylesbury. The hopers at left are the interchange cars to be loaded.

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:

METRR 609 and 606 working the park. Bill Schaumburg is looking for his next photo, at left.
METRR 604 in the shop.
METRR 605, also in the shop.
That’s me in the cab of 605! Photo by Bill Kaufman.
Our wonderful host for the day, Mike McReynolds.
The METRR is a class act: That’s the nicest looking track speeder I’ve ever seen.
METRR 609 and 606 along Yosemite Blvd in Modesto.

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…

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and retired amateur shepherd who trained a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

4 thoughts on “MET(RR) some old friends

  1. A fascinating read about a fascinating grain handling concept. And it looks like you enjoyed some fine fall weather.

    Cheers Jim

    On Mon, Oct 11, 2021 at 1:52 PM The Model Railway Show wrote:

    > Trevor posted: ” 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” >

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: