The Alfred Peat Bog Railway

This shows a train and a locomotive attached to it with a bar coupling. Peat briquettes are being dumped on the ground for storage.  The CPR main line is in the background. One might wonder why there was no window in the cab but this might have been an advantage working in a munitions plant.  This picture was taken in 1928, the last year of full operation.  National Archives of Canada PA-17752.

While looking at my data base of industrial locomotives recently I came across an intriguing reference to a small 24" gauge locomotive built by the Fate Root Heath Company of Plymouth, Ohio.  It was delivered to O'Brien Munitions in Renfrew, Ontario, in June 1916 to help in the war effort.  However, the record showed that this "critter" moved in March 1920 to the Government Peat Committee in Alfred, Ontario.  Alfred station was at mile 46.1, near Caledonia Springs, on the now abandoned M&O subdivision and the Dominion Peat Company siding is shown at mile 45.06 in Employee Timetables of the period (Mile 0.00 was at Vaudreuil).  Duncan duFresne remembers coming through Alfred on CPR steam locomotives in the early 1950's and it would amaze him that he would running hard on a Royal Hudson with a clear stack, yet visibility of the way ahead would be impaired by dense smoke from the burning peat. This is the story of the Alfred Peat Bog Railway.

In 1906 the Department of Mines in Ottawa became interested in the possibility of using peat bogs as a source of fuel.  Many parts of the country, including the Ottawa area, were a long way from coal mines and so an investigation was made of many of the peat bogs in the country.  The surveys, many of them carried out by Mr. Aleph von Anrep of the Department, soon indicated that there were vast resources of potential energy and the project soon developed into a second phase.  Mr. Anrep developed a process for air drying and treating peat for fuel purposes and it was decided to carry out a pilot project at the Alfred Peat Bog.

In 1909 the Department acquired 300 acres of peat bog with an average depth of 8 feet.  Five miles of ditches were dug and a storage shed was erected with a capacity of  300 tons of dried peat.  A blacksmiths shop and office were also provided.  An "Anrep" peat excavating machine and conveyor were installed with a capacity of 25-30 tons of peat per day.  A circular field track of 600 mm. gauge was installed and eight steel dumping cars of 0.7 ton capacity were acquired.  Haulage was by means of a 1,200 foot long steel cable.

Full operation commenced in 1910.  A 500 foot siding was laid in from the CPR main line in that year and full operations were carried on from the middle of May until the middle of October.  By the end of the 1911 season the Department felt that the demonstration was successful so that a company organized by a Mr. Shuttleworth took over the operation and substituted some machinery for some of the more labour intensive aspects.  Full commercial operation started in 1913 but this failed almost immediately and the operation was dormant during the first world war.

A 1928 photo showing the peat being dug out and loaded into narrow gauge hopper cars. The rails are very light and the alignment is very poor. It is impossible to see whether the wheels are double flanged although this might have been an advantage on the poorly aligned track.  The cable that was used to move these cars can be seen lying to the right hand side of the portable track.  This is the Anrep machine.  The peat is being taken into the machine where is was mascerated and loaded on to the hopper cars.  As the peat was excavated the machine moved away from the camera position and the siding would be extended to keep up with the machine.  National Archives of Canada picture PA-17766.

The Department of Mines became involved once again in 1918 when a Peat Committee was formed with joint input from the federal and provincial governments.  Two miles of narrow gauge track, including switches, were obtained along with a gasoline locomotive and 16 cars.  A loading trestle was installed close to the CPR siding which was renovated.  The cost of the transport acquisitions and renovations was $13,000.

This 1928 photo shows the peat humus plant and loading to a CPR box car standing on the siding adjacent to the M&O main line.  Although a conveyor can be seen in the background, the boxcar is being loaded by hand using a wheelbarrow.  National Archives of Canada picture PA-17755.

During 1919, two types of harvesting machine were tested, the Anrep and the Moore system.  Both had difficulty with the caterpillar tracks which were used to move them over the bog and there was also a problem in obtaining boilers to produce the steam which powered them.  In the end locomotive type boilers had to be used but these had to burn coal because the fire grates were not large enough to burn peat.

A second train of harvesting cars, complete with gasoline locomotive, was ordered in 1920.  This second locomotive was the Plymouth which came from O'Brien Munitions in March 1920, the locomotive which set off my inquiries in the first place!

However there were some difficulties with the additional cars.  On 2 February 1920 an order was placed with Hammant Steel Car and Engineering of Hamilton for four side dump, V shaped, cars for the Anrep Spreading System. $152 per car. "Cars to have Hyatt steel roller bearings and cast steel double flanged wheels, patterns for which will be forwarded from William Hamilton Company of Peterborough. These cars to be shipped from Hamilton to the Peat Committee at Alfred, Ontario not later than March 15th".  Unfortunately Hammant was beset with a large number of orders and the cars were not billed until 28 July 1920.  This was too late for the 1920 season and the consignment was refused and languished for some time in the CPR freight shed at Alfred.  The double flanged wheels, which were used on the hopper cars which brought the peat from the field to the central drying area.  The double flanges might have helped the cars stay on the indifferent track which presumably had no switches.  A different type of side unloading open car was used to move the product around the plant and through weigh scales. The plant also had a turntable at this time.

The Peat Committee was disbanded on 1924 and all machinery was transferred to Peat Fuels Ltd. in April 1923.  Peat manufacturing terminated in the autumn of 1928 but some peat was shipped out during 1929.  The plant was closed indefinitely in 1929 and there the matter seems to have ended although there was an attempt to revive this in 1940.

I only have details of one locomotive coming to Alfred although the records indicate that two were used.  The second one to arrive, in March 1920, was Plymouth serial number 123, model AL-2, 24" gauge delivered new to O'Brien Munitions in June 1916.  The first machine remains a mystery although O'Brien Munitions had another Plymouth, serial 74 of December 1915, a 24" gauge model AL-1.  I do not have a disposition on this locomotive so it may have been the locomotive that went to Alfred in 1919 - I should caution that this is speculation and I would appreciate any additional information.

Similarly I have no disposition on either of the locomotives.  They may have languished until the early 1940's and then were cut up as part of the war effort.

The project seems to have been doomed because peat has a low calorific content compared with coal and only a thousand tons or so a year was ever shipped out, mainly to Ottawa.  Another disadvantage was the short season which was predicated by our severe winters.

Luckily there are a number of excellent photographs in the National Archives of Canada which illustrate the entire process.  I hope you enjoy this record of an interesting, if short lived, railway system which was vastly different from the CPR Royal Hudsons and other locomotives which swept past so close by.

This is a 1919 view of the Anrep Peat Fuel Manufacturing Plant showing rail hopper cars.  This shows more detail of plant from front.  National Archives of Canada photo PA-17420.

This 1928 view shows a  train of cars being weighed.  On the extreme left can be seen the bar coupling together with the front of one of the locomotives. This type of coupling might have proved useful in the event of frequent derailments of the cars.  The stock pile is shown behind the train of loaded cars.  National Archives of Canada photo PA 17756.

The stock pile is shown in the middle distance.  The standard gauge siding is on the extreme right and the CPR main line is out of sight to the right, or north, of this.   National Archives of Canada photo PA-17761.

(1) National Library, Sessional Papers of the Department of Mines 1909-1925, Annual Reports of the Department of Mines 1925-1940.
(2) The Mines of Ottawa - a guide to the mineral deposits of Southeastern Ontario and Southwestern Québec by John E. Udd, published by CJ Multi-Media Inc, 1999, ISN 0-9685147-0-7.
(3) National Archives of Canada RG 13 vol 257 file 625. 

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, May 2000.

Peat Bog Locomotives

In the May, 2000 Branchline I wrote about the Alfred Peat Bog Railway which was adjacent to the Canadian Pacific M&O subdivision, east of Ottawa.  I have just received additional information including two photos found in the Royal Swedish Archives (Riksarkivet). The photos were glued into a Canadian travel report issued by Sveriges Torvingenjörer (the Swedish Peat Engineers), an organization that conducted several field trips in the early 1900s.

The caption for the locomotive and train reads "Alfred Bog" while the caption for the locomotive on its own reads "Moose's Small Gasoline Transportation Engine"

These are very simple machines with a chain drive.  That shown with a train of four wheel hoppers is presumably taken at Alfred and could well have been before the arrival of the Plymouth locomotive in 1920.  The reference to “Moose” might be to Moose Creek which is on the VIA Alexandria subdivision, a little to the south of Alfred but still in bog land.

For this information I am indebted to Jan Ericson who wrote to me, and to his friend Bo Gyllenberg who found the photographs.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, December 2008.

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