15 July 2005
Climbing out of a sleeping bag at 0630 on a coolish fall morning isn’t normally a big deal but after hiking up this far, just the day before, the thinner air and the smell of an early frost makes a nice warm pocket a hard place to leave.
An old tin fence would offer some protection from the breeze so we could got out the cooker to build ourselves a good hot breakfast before we continued on. The smell of bacon soon overcame the smell of spilt oil and other lubricants that built up over those years before we really cared about such things.
Nothing had changed. We would have been very surprised if it had. Firstly, the sound of a train in the night, not 100 feet from our heads, would have got us up for sure and second, nothing is scheduled to move around here until late afternoon. Every second day the Winter Valley Regional Railway runs supplies and empties up to the mine, from about 20 miles down the hill, and after less than an hours work it can begin moving a heavy load of ore down grade into town.
Still set out from yesterday is a typical CN eight hatch reefer, now empty and airing out, as well as a still loaded bulkhead flat of lumber cut and wrapped at the Grande Prairie mill. Other sidings are collecting loaded cars for today’s shipment.
As we approach the east end of the Colder yard the mid morning sun seems to have a little heat. Or is it just our long walk thought the rough crushed stones that make up the larger part of the roadbed and ballast up here? The main mine head/crusher complex begins to dominate the scenery. The huge auxiliary power unit is housed in the relatively new building at the back.
As mining operations go on uninterrupted, there’s still regular maintenance work to be done around the buildings and the yard. A heavy rain washed away some ballast and it was repaired in “the old fashioned way”. One man – one shovel.
One small change. The last time we were up here the platform at the tiny station/warehouse had seen better days. Now a new, extended platform is in use. It doesn’t have to be big. There are few who use the train to get to and from work and because everything is put to work right away very little material is stored on site.
Looking back is our best view of the whole complex. There are a few people around outside and it looks like a quiet place. But inside it’s a bee hive of activity as a full shift begins the process of separating ore from rock. There’s money in both. The crushed rock alone is of such a high quality, and colour, that there is demand worldwide.
The train arrived while we were on our way back to our campsite. It was a quick, smooth operation out of sight behind rows of empty and loaded hoppers. With footing so bad up here neither one of us cared to risk getting a closer look but as we neared the end of yard we could see a few cars easing to a stop on the main line. The CN covered hopper was well warn but the WV boxcar, one of the few still in service, was in real good shape by the look of it.
Almost all the light was gone buy the time we arrived at our home away from home. The crew was climbing aboard the lead unit and the RPM’s were still at idol and drifting in and out of sinc in their old familiar GMD way.
As luck would have it the fella’s left the shack open on the promise we’d clean up after ourselves. For sure! Wood floors, comfortable bunks and a warm wood stove.
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