The Saga of the Bellequip Geeps

Part 2 of That ’70s Rent-a-Wreck Fleet

The story begins in the early 1950s, as Iron Ore of Canada was nearing completion of their Quebec North Shore & Labrador Railway between Sept-Iles and Schefferville QC. This was a massive project, with a mainline consisting of two full operating subdivisions running a total length of 357 miles (over 200 of which were inside Labrador), and all of it located in the harsh and desolate landscape of Labrador and the Quebec north shore. The railway was completely isolated from the North American rail network, requiring all their locomotives and rolling stock to be shipped by lake freighters down the St. Lawrence River to Sept-Iles QC. The QNS&L locomotive roster began with a fleet of GMD-London built ‘Geeps’, specifically 24 model GP7 units (road numbers 100 to 123), and 54 model GP9 locos (road numbers 124 to 177), all delivered between 1953 and 1960.

BQ_118b

Bellequip #118 (ex-QNSL GMD GP7 – blt 1953) sporting neatly patched CP Rail-style Helvetica bold/italic font at Smiths Fall ON on 20 Oct 1971. Bruce Chapman photo.

On an interesting side-note, the paint scheme the QNS&L selected their new diesels to wear came straight from the EMD styling design scrapbook. While that in itself is not unusual (several railroads chose GM designed schemes) they selected the same one chosen by the New York, Ontario & Western RR over a decade earlier. For anyone unfamiliar with the NYO&W, they operated through the Catskill mountains of New York state while avoiding any sizable towns along the way; and thus unsurprisingly became bankrupt during the 1930s, and fully liquidated by 1957. The ‘O&W’ dieselized early hoping the cost savings could help their railroad, and as a result they never rostered anything newer than their final 1948 purchase of a couple of F3A/B sets. So for any NYO&W fans who might be reading this, if you ever wondered what an ‘O&W’ Geep would look like, you should check out old photos of QNS&L GP7/9s.

PNC_177

PNC 177 (ex-Bellequip, nee-QNSL 177) was the last GP9 received by the Quebec North Shore & Labrador Rly in May 1960. It is seen here by the Medicine Hat AB roundhouse along with CP GP7 8421 on 18 May 1974. Bruce Chapman photo.

Actually the QNS&L was not the only Canadian railway to select a GM pre-designed diesel scheme worn by a US railroad. The Algoma Central selected the Delaware Lackawanna & Western (Lackawanna Road) passenger scheme for their locomotive fleet. But unlike the ACR who kept their Lackawanna colours until the end, the QNS&L dropped their attractive NYO&W colours for a bland dip gray with yellow end-stripes scheme in the mid ‘60s.

PNC_108

PNC GP7 #108 (ex-Bellequip, nee-QNSL 108) is an example of the QNS&L’s 1960s repaint dip-gray scheme. CP Rail’s patching efforts on these was never pretty. Unit is seen at Alyth yard (Calgary AB) on 12 May 1973. Bruce Chapman photo

The Quebec, North Shore & Labrador is hard on its locomotives. After all they are an isolated railway that operates heavy ore trains over rugged terrain through extreme weather conditions. So the QNSL Geep-fleet started to be retired early, once the company began purchasing large numbers of SD40/SD40-2 locomotives to replace them.

Initially the QNS&L sold 17 GP7 units and 14 GP9 units to Canadian Bellequip Ltd of Montreal in September 1971. If you had never heard of Bellequip, you are not alone. They were a short-lived Canadian locomotive leasing company who only lasted between 1971-72. The rumour back then among CP employees was that Bellequip was started by some CP directors to see if leasing locomotives made money, but this was never confirmed.

PNC118_Alyth_9Sept1975

PNC 118 with more hastily patched lettering (see photo of Belllequip 118 above) is seen here stored at Alyth yard (Calgary AB) on 09 Sept 1975. Photographer unknown

All ex-QNSL Geeps were loaded onto lake freighters for their one-way trip to Montreal, and of these most were immediately leased to the perennially powershort CPR. Once they arrived on CP property they were all cycled through St Luc shops, where their QNS&L markings were removed and replaced with ‘Bellequip’ lettering and road numbers in a black Helvetica bold/italic lettering font, the same used by then new CP Rail. While the dip gray ‘60s repaints did not look so great with the patched Bellequip lettering, the units still wearing the original NYO&W-inspired scheme seemed to be treated better, as most were carefully patched to mesh with their original paint jobs.

On February 29, 1972, established US locomotive dealer Precision National Corp purchased the entire fledgling Bellequip locomotive fleet, and these Geeps changed hands yet again. As before they were cycled through the CPR’s shops, but this time more brutally patched with new PNC lettering. In June 1972 a further 3 GP7’s and 17 GP9’s were sold to PNC with some leased to CP and 15 to CN. Eventually the 15 units leased to CN also wound up on CP Rail by November of 1972.

PNC122_Squamish BC 4-26-75

PNC 122 at Squamish BC on 26 April 1975. The 122 was one of a few ex-QNSLs be leased short-term by the British Columbia Rly in 1975. Photographer unknown

For the record, the 24 original Bellequip units on CP Rail (as of 01Nov71) were ex-QNSL – BQ (Bellequip) #’s:- 100 104 108 110 111 112 113 114 118 121 122 123 124 126 127 130 135 142 148 150 152 158 162 166.

By January 1973, when the CN leased units were added to the now PNC (ex-BQ) fleet, the 36 ex-QNSL units on CP Rail were #’s:- 100 104 108 110 111 112 113 114 116 118 120 121 122 123 124 126 127 130 132 135 137 138 142 143 144 145 148 150 152 158 162 164 166 170 171 177.

There is some discrepancy to whether QNSL GP7 #117 was ever within the PNC fleet. Bruce Chapman records it was leased in June 1974 (from his personal records when working for CP’s power bureau at the time) but this was never listed in a published all-time list in Extra2200South. This also would incorrectly put 46 PNC geeps on lease to CP Rail between 1973-74 when records only show 45. It is possible that the 117 was planned to be part of the fleet, but ended up becoming a parts source instead.

PNC3419_SmithsFalls_04Mar72

PNC GP10 #3419, a full Paducah Geep rebuild by Illinois Central Gulf for Precision National, rests in the back tracks at Smiths Falls ON on 04 March 1972 – Bruce Chapman photo

PNC’s other non-QNSL leased units on the property were GP7s 969, 970 and 971 (ex-Detroit, Toledo & Ironton), GP7s 1505, 1506 & 1507 (ex-Florida East Coast) along with GP10s 3419, 3445 and 3634. These final three were ICG Paducah-shops rebuild units that were refurbished specifically for Precision National, and they wore the full PNC green/yellow paint scheme.

Following the QNS&L’s lead, by 1975 the CPR had purchased over 200 new SD40-2 locomotives from GMD of London. With all these new units, an economical slowdown, and decreased grain shipments to the USSR and China; they began to return all their leased units. CP Rail also retired a large number of older units over 1975, including the entire fleet of CLC and Baldwin built units, in addition to storing all MLW FA- and FB- locos, and a good number of RS-3 and -10 diesels.

cnw4352

Chicago & North Western #4352 at Oelwein IA in 1976. Unit was ex-PNC, exx-BQ, nee-QNSL 145 (GMD GP9 blt 1955). Jim Sands photo

By April 1975 all the PNC units went off-lease and were either stored at St Luc or Alyth yards, or returned to Precision National. Several of the tied-up ex-QNSL units went on a short-term lease on the British Columbia Railway for a few months in 1975. After they all returned from lease, PNC sold most of these units to the C&NW and ICG. Many of these units went on to various regional and shortline railroads in the US through the 1990s and 2000s. In fact there are still a handful of ICG-rebuilt GP10s of QNS&L heritage still active as industrial switchers. So the saga of the Bellequip Geeps has yet to finish completely.

Old Soldiers

CP_8448

CP # 8448 leads the Espanola Turn through Nairn Ont. in the summer of 1973. In reality; this is a Van Hobbies brass model rebuilt with a Kato RS-3 drive. It is equipped with an ESU LokSound decoder with a 12-cylinder 244 diesel sound file.

Years after most other major North American railways purged their rosters of 244-powered ALCO diesels, CP Rail continued to employ a good-sized fleet of them throughout the ‘70s. Mainly due to chronic motive power shortages, and maybe a little by their corporate desire to milk locomotives for every mile they could to ensure their return on investment; the CPR would continue to operate 244-powered units until 1982.

In this light we find a pair of old soldiers in charge of the Espanola Turn on the CP Webbwood Sub, continuing to battle friction and gravity in defiance of the scrapper’s torch.

CP #8448, built by MLW in 1954, is noteworthy for being the second-last RS-3 to wear maroon and gray paint. She would eventually receive a new coat of Action Red in 1975, only to be retired the following year due to a major mechanical failure.

RS-10 #8464 fared a little better. Rolling out of MLW later the same year as sister #8448, she would persevere to the end of the decade. It should be noted that regardless of the differences in exterior appearance, the RS-10 is mechanically the same as an RS-3.

The model 244-diesel prime mover may have been plagued with reliability issues and earned a notorious reputation as a maintenance hog, but they endure at the time-warp known at the WRMRC – CP Sudbury Division layout. Here the 1970s never ended, and the burbling sounds of 244 diesels continue to echo throughout the Sudbury Basin.

That ’70s Rent-A-Wreck Fleet

Leased B&O F7A #4487 shares company with a CP RS-18 by the roundhouse at Quebec St Yard in London ON on an April morning in 1972 – John Brown Photo

Since our club’s layout models the CP Rail Sudbury Division in the 1970s, you might come to the conclusion that all the WRMRC’s trains would be powered by CP locomotives. Well, with the exception of the CN and INCO lines that we tie into, of course. So if you visit us for an operating session or an open house and spot a foreign road diesel (i.e. not owned by the railroad on which it is running) you may wonder, “What’s up with that? Are they goofing around? Are they pooling with other railways?”

Well, our gang does its share of goofing around; model railroading is supposed to be fun after all. But we try to minimize silliness on public tours.

Locomotive pooling, defined as competing railroads sharing their diesels for seamless operation between properties, had been going on in the US since the 1960s. The pioneers of power pooling were the NYC + CB&Q, and the Pennsy + UP who started the practice to get their hot freight though Chicago without taking days to interchange. But power pooling was not common in Canada until more recent times, mainly due to the fact that our nation’s two major railways were already transcons who didn’t need to share power, and free trade with the US was many years in the future yet.

However, in the years since the CPR retired their last steam engines in the late ’50s, they have experienced traffic peaks that outstripped their motive power capacity. Sometimes these peaks lasted for many years. That’s when Canadian Pacific needed to beg, borrow, and – in some cases – steal.

Welcome to the world of motive power shortages and locomotive leasing.

The CPR was leasing for most of the ’70s, but the height of it occurred in the first half of the decade. This was due to a motive power shortage stemming from the late 1960s when the Canadian government inked large contracts to export grain to the USSR and China. Additionally, Canadian Pacific began operating long unit coal trains to the newly opened Roberts Bank Superport in BC. Finally, the first generation of diesels (those that directly replaced steam) were getting tired and in need of rebuild, or outright retirement and replacement. This combination of events created a chronic locomotive shortage for CP Rail that lasted well into the mid ’70s. At its peak between 1972-73, the CPR had over 100 locomotives on lease.

CP4047_BO4517_BLE725A_London_27Mar73

A great example of the CPR rainbow lease fleet of the early ’70s, CP FA-2 #4047 leads B&O F7A #4517 and B&LE F7A #725A on a westbound freight through Quebec St Yard in London ON on 27 April 1973 – photographer unknown

As one could imagine, leasing over a hundred locomotives from multiple sources created a serious rainbow fleet. All those colours were mixing with the CPR’s own diesels which, by the way, was going through a corporate image change itself. If anyone wonders why the WRMRC chose such a seemingly unusual modelling era like the ’70s, this was an attractive reason for choosing it.

This rainbow leasing fleet offers a bumper crop of ‘Rent-A-Wrecks’ for us to model. And yes, many of them really were wrecks. The fleet of B&O F-units leased from parent Chessie System between 1972-73 provides a good example. Chessie had these classic cab units in storage prior to leasing. A number of them never made it past Windsor because the CPR judged them to be unroadworthy and sent them back to Detroit. Of the 20 or so that were leased, many were promptly scrapped by Chessie after being returned. They were literally running their last miles on the CPR.

If direct leasing wasn’t enough, the CPR was also known to… umm… “borrow” power. CP Rail did operate a pair of pooled freight trains between Toronto, ON and Buffalo, NY in partnership with the TH&B and Penn Central known as ‘The Kinnear’. During the dark days of the Penn Central era, the TH&B and PC power that lingered around Agincourt Yard over the weekends could end up on any turn jobs out of Toronto, so long as the units were returned by Sunday night. Borrowing TH&B power like this was OK, given the fact that TH&B was partially owned by the CPR. But Penn Central diesels? The bankrupt PC was in such disarray they never checked the odometers of their units to notice the added mileage. It was not until Conrail took over that anyone looked and began billing the CPR for the added mileage. The practice stopped soon after.

The upshot for us is that a Saturday #955 could show up in Sudbury with pooled PC and TH&B locomotives during those times. Train 955 “the MacTier Bullet” (employee sarcasm) was a turn job running from Toronto to Sudbury, returning back Sunday morning as a 50-series 4th class all-stops local. For that matter GO Transit locomotives (properly leased) could also show up on weekends in the later half of the decade.

Without getting into specific road numbers, the following is a list of known leased or pooled locomotives that could be spotted on CP Rail trains in Ontario during the 1970s:

  • 1970-71 – Chicago Great Western F7A & F7B units (owned by CNW but still in CGW colours),
  • 1970-75 – Bessemer & Lake Erie F7A & F7B units,
  • 1970-75 – Precision National ALCO RS-27 units (#901 and 902),
  • 1970-74 – Boston & Maine F7A & F7B, GP9 and RS-3 units,
  • 1970-71 – Illinois Central ALCO C-636 units,
  • 1970-71 – Bessemer & Lake Erie ALCO RSD-15 units,
  • 1970-73 – Lake Superior & Ispeming GE U23C units (winter only),
  • 1970 & 1973 – Duluth, Missabi & Iron Range SD9 units,
  • 1971-75 – Precision National / Bellequip GP7 & GP9 units (ex Quebec North Shore & Labrador),
  • 1971-75 – Bangor & Aroostock GP7, GP9 & GP38 units,
  • 1972-73 – Precision National GP7 units (ex-FEC),
  • 1972-75 – Precision National GP10 units (rebuilt ‘Paducah Geeps’),
  • 1972-73 – Baltimore & Ohio F7A & F7B units,
  • 1973-75 – Pittsburg & Lake Erie GE U28B units,
  • 1973-75 – United Railway Supply ALCO RS-3 units (#101-103 – former Reading),
  • 1976-77 – Chessie System (C&O) GP30 & GP35 units (pooled power),
  • 1978-80 – GO Transit GP40TC, GP40-2(W) & F40PH units (leased on weekends only),
  • 1978-80 – Algoma Central GP7 units,
  • 1979-80 – Chessie System (B&O/C&O) GP30 & GP35 units (leased),
  • 1979-80 – Norfolk & Western SD40 units,
  • 1970-77 – Pooled ‘Kinnear’ power (TH&B or Penn Central/Conrail units, misc. models)
PNC3419_SmithsFalls_04Mar72

PNC GP10 #3419, a full Paducah Geep rebuild by Illinois Central Gulf for Precision National, rests in the back tracks at Smiths Falls ON on 04 March 1972 – Bruce Chapman photo

Many of these individual leaser fleets have interesting stories themselves, and will be the subject of future blog posts. Stay tuned for more episodes of “That ’70s Rent-a-Wreck Fleet”.

CSI (Canadian Switcher Investigation): Sudbury – Episode 7091

In the railfan photographic archeology and forensics field, there is a dedicated group of crazies attempting to uncover the repaint dates of CP Rail diesels that operated in the Sudbury ON area during the 1970’s. These are their stories…

S-2 #7091 rests by the Sudbury roundhouse on 15 Aug 1986, only days away from official retirement and eventual sale to INCO as their #204. D. W. Hately photo from www.mountainrailway.com

Aside from our gang at the WRMRC, and the remaining local railfans who lived in the Sudbury area back in the 1970’s, few people know of the legend of CP #7091. This was one of four MLW-built S-2 switchers the CPR assigned to Sudbury yard from dieselization until the early 1980’s, all grouped in the early-7090 number series. They were all specially equipped with passenger buffers for passenger car switching (necessary for shunting cars off ‘The Dominion’ and later ‘The Canadian’ within the Sudbury terminal) so the group never strayed far from home over those decades.

The “legend” so-to-speak, was that the Sudbury shops personnel (who not only performed car repairs, rebuilding and repainting, but also local diesel running repairs and repaints) continued to repaint the 7091 in maroon and gray script well into the 1970’s, and they avoided sending the unit to Angus for any heavy repairs, knowing the unit would probably return wearing Action Red.

Over the years of collecting photos for our club archives, we quickly concluded this local legend of the 7091 was no legend. This was fact. Any 1970-75 era photos we found of the 7091 revealed a unit in relatively good looking maroon and gray script paint. For those unaware, the old scheme tended to weather poorly. So the pics were showing the Sudbury shops were indeed pampering the venerable old gal.

The plan worked for many years, but inevitably all good things must come to an end. One day a CPR big-wig from Montreal showed up at the division headquarters and, as the legend goes, saw a freshly painted maroon and gray 7091 working the west yard lead. And that was the end of that.

The investigation (and frustration) began after I first studied this photo of CP 7092 in Sudbury dated 09 August 1975.

 photo CP7092_Sudbury_09Aug77_zpsa3ekkyce.jpg

Photographer unknown – Sudbury ON – 09 Aug 1975

Notice at the very right edge of the photo, coupled in front of the 7092, is a maroon & gray script painted MLW switcher which we can safely conclude is the 7091. All the other Sudbury MLW switchers were Action Red by this time, and had been for many years by then. Nothing unusual about it, or so I thought, until I reviewed some other photos in the hopes of nailing down exactly when the 7091 was repainted.

Here is a Jim Parker photo of 7091 dated October 1974.

http://www.rr-fallenflags.org/cp/cp7091jpb.jpg

Jim Parker photo – Fallen Flags website

OK it’s unquestionably Sudbury because that old white icehouse was a definitive landmark. The icehouse was razed sometime by the end of 1974, so it’s feasible this photo was taken while the structure was possibly days away from demolition. Also we have a photo labeled from 1975, so it obviously would have been in this scheme the year prior.

Now here is another photo by the Sudbury shops building with the date identified by the photographer as 05 November 1975.

 photo cp7091_05Nov75_zpscij5buti.jpg

William Slim photo – from OK the PK

This is pretty late into the Action Red era. Back then, railway image was still a big deal and the CPR was aggressive in repainting things into the current image. Also, notice the scheme is getting a little worn here unlike the fresher look in that 1974 photo. So all is still well, and we can assume the 7091 lasted like this into 1976 possibly.

Now here is where the mystery begins, this shot of 7091 was posted in rrpicturearchives.net and the author wrote it was taken on Canada Day in 1977.

CP 7091 in old CP colors

Jack Smith photo – rrpicturearchives.net

Holy cow! 1977 and (never mind the colour shift in this reproduction) the paint is really fresh! Boy those guys in the Sudbury shops had guts keeping 7091 looking like this.

Problem is I eventually found that this date has to be bogus. The author probably took it on the 1st of July, but it can’t be 1977. That’s because here is a photo of the 7091 in action red candy stripes in a shot dated July 1978.

 photo CP7091_Sudbury_July1978_zpsiohktrjf.jpg

Photographer unknown – Sudbury ON – July 1978

So what’s the big deal? That was 1977 and this is 1978. So it must have been painted sometime in between right?

Well no. The 5″ ‘Candy Stripe’ scheme lasted until the fall of 1976, and was then replaced by the 8″ wide-stripe scheme. So that shot of 7091 could not have been taken in 1977, since this unit wore narrow stripe paint. It had to have been repainted sometime before 1976.

The ongoing mystery here is we still do not have a definite date as to when 7091 was finally repainted into action red. However, we have found enough photographs of her online listed as 1975 to conclude it probably lasted that long.

But at least we have learned at few things:

· We are reasonably certain the repaint happened some time between late autumn 1975 and June 1976 (when CP adopted the 8” wide stripe scheme).
· The Sudbury shops did indeed keep 7091 in good shape, as the legend went.
· You can’t totally trust the internet. That should seem obvious. But even in railway modeling, try to find as many sources of information as possible.

So in conclusion our club needs two models of the 7091, one each wearing different schemes. The script unit operates in sessions representing 1970-75, and the candy stripe unit for 1976-79. No wonder prototype modeling wasn’t very common prior to the internet age. How could anyone figure this stuff out before?

And so ends another file from the WRMRC’s Sudbury:CSI team…Canadian Switcher Investigation