Last Steam Railroading Link Gone, Published 8 April 1961
Coal kissed Ottawa trains, goodbye this week.
With the tearing down of the 50-year-old coal chutes in the Canadian National Railway yards just off the Queensway, the skyline has been changed, diesel has taken over, and nostalgic railway fans are saddened.
Shortly after the Coronation of King George V in 1911, the old Grand Trunk Railway decided it needed new coal-handling equipment.
After attempting to get into Ottawa for years, "The Trunk" finally bought the Ottawa-owned, Canada Atlantic Railway from J. R. Booth, the lumber king. The C.A.R. was concentrated on both sides of the cross-town tracks, with yards and shops along the Isabella Catherine Street sector. The roundhouse was at the foot of Elgin Street.
The new owners built their coal chute in the gore between the Rideau River Ottawa East track, and the Rideau River - Central Station track. This Palace of Bituminous had a capacity of 250 tons.
Here came the light engines of the era.
The GTR was using its Atlantics in 1911, with their 84-inch diameter wheels to whisk the light wooden coaches down the speedway to Montreal. They were the C.A.R.'s 618 type and they fought on a reckless time card, first the CPR's fast stepping 209-210-211s and later the 1000, 1001, and 1002. Those legendary days vanished when the big-wheeled 4-4-2s were demoted to the Parry Sound Line.
In their place came the svelte 300s with classy varnish and plush. Alongside them at the coal stop would be high-stacked and mid-Victorian relics, still running, such as 2344, and the tiny moguls of the 1890s like 2200s and 2500s.
The coal chute's finest hour came the spring before the Great War when the Grand Trunk decided to match the CPR 2500s with the famed Pacifies. These magnificent engines only went out of business in the late 1950s.
Later the GTR "imported" new freight behomoths, the 600s and 700s. They seemed to darken even the sky when they rolled up to the coal by the old roundhouse.
Railway buffs had to wait almost 15 years before their next thrill, Sir Henry Thornton elongated, powerful 6000s. Later arrived their younger but stronger brothers, the 6200s, the 4-8-4 Northerns.
Then the diesels came. It was oil they wanted, not coal. The crowning humiliation came when hoarse diesels honked derisively at the rusty old steam locomotives, near the coal chute on a siding, dead but not buried.
The coal shed was sold in I960, and the final chapter was written this week, by the wrecker.