The Port Burwell I remember...all of it gone now,

13 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
The Port Burwell I remember...all of it gone now,
Posted by Miningman on Sunday, July 09, 2017 11:52 PM

PRR supplied the coal for Canadian Pacifc's SW Ontario operations.

I've talked about Port Burwell in earlier posts.  It's a very old town. The site of a battle War of 1812. Anglican Church built in 1820's still as is and in use. Beautiful. Great beach. Great burgers and fries. Still a commercial fishing town. Just a couple of hundred feet away from this scene. 

Everything railroad gone. Daily ex. Sunday passenger service came off in 1959. Coal heater and kerosene lighting to the end. Picture in Canadian Steam by David P. Morgan. Classic train indeed. 

CP 888 Port Burwell 6 July 1957 S.S. "Ashtabula" (sunk 1958)
Photo © Bob Sandusky

CP 882 climbing out of Pt.Burwell with train M659, 19 May 1956.
Photo © Bob Sandusky

CP 882 train M660 Woodstock-Pt.Burwell Mile 24.0 Port Burwell Sub. Highway 19, 19 May 1956.
Photo © Bob Sandusky

Extra 888 one of local way freights working out of Woodstock. September 28, 1957 
D10g CPR 12/1910 
Al Paterson/Bud Laws Collection 

  • Member since
    December, 2013
  • 669 posts
Posted by NDG on Monday, July 10, 2017 4:19 AM

Thank You!

I did NOT know about any of that! Be interesting to know how much coal a large system hauled just for their OWN Company uses re locomotives, heating and shops.

Yes, so much has gone.

Was talking to a man the other night on the telephone, Land Line, I DO have a Rotary Dial 500 Desk Set, Black, metal finger wheel, but it is not connected, and this fellow was discussing a Sunday Outing to Toronto the Good or some place from near Kingston and Collins Bay of the penitentiaries and he was just CURSING the traffic on the 401.

Went down to Hwy. 2 on the lakeshore to get by.

Made WORSE time than back in the FIFTIES w flat head sixes, 6 V. electrics, vacuum wipers and three on the tree.

He of the Scriptures who never got excited whilst I was throwing hammers.


  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
Posted by Miningman on Monday, July 10, 2017 12:44 PM

Pennsylvania-Ontario Transportation Company was formed February 16, 1906 under US law, with 50/50 ownership by the CPR and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Its purpose was to operate a car ferry operation between Ashtabula, Ohio, a major coal and ore port, and the fishing village of Port Burwell. Great Lakes Engineering Works of St.Clair, Michigan built a steel car ferry, ASHTABULA, capable of carrying 26 freight cars on four tracks. Primary traffic was coal from mines in Ohio and Pennsylvania, much of it OCS (On Company Service) for the CPR itself. In fact, this was very nearly all the traffic carried, along with a small amount of southbound forest products. Coal traffic in 1929 totaled 361,000 tons, while southbound freight was just 10% of that figure. Of course, the service did not operate during three months of winter, so the daily average of coal well exceeded 1000 tons! 

1095 leads the Mixed northbound out of Port Burwell as seen from the combine.

D10 839, Port Burwell, 24 September 1955. This loco was assigned to the port for switching the car ferry "Ashtabula" whose smoke is behind the water tank. The rotating racks on the right are for drying fish. Port B's fish industry was waning at this time, in favour of Pt.Dover, so the racks are disused. Photo © Bob Sandusky 

D10 892, off the Woodstock mixed, is turning for its return trip, Port Burwell, 24 Sept. 1955, looking north. 839 is poking half out of the 2-stall engine house while Note the coal bucket loader & 2 coal gons, 347051 empty, 347052 full. The rotating racks on the left used to be for drying fish nets. Photo © Bob Sandusky


No. 839, Port Burwell, 24 Sept. 1955, looking south. No.892 has cleared the turntable and is moving down past the station to pick up its loads for the northbound mixed. No. 839 is pulling out engine coal gons to get one filled up at the coal piles down the yard. Photo © Bob Sandusky


In 1912 the CPR facilities at Port Burwell included a 4-stall engine house with a 70' turntable and a 40,000 gal. water tank. By the late 1950's there was only a 2-stall engine house with turntable, along with a 20,000 gal. water tank, along with the station and freight shed The railway eventually owned four elevators. It was here too, that a dock was built to handle ships that would bring freight cars of coal from Ashtabula, Ohio. This would be the main traffic for decades, much of it for the CPR!

  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 7,940 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Monday, July 10, 2017 7:01 PM

Yes, there's nothing constant in the world except change, and sometimes change sucks.

On the other hand, it makes it more of a thrill when you go to your old stompin' grounds, have a look-'round, and then "HEY!  Looks what's still there!"

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
Posted by Miningman on Monday, July 10, 2017 8:17 PM

NDG- Hope you check out the pics I posted earlier today and the associated script. Was in this area and surrounding as a kid during summers at family farm. 

I am very grateful for my decision to leave Southern Ontario and come up here to Northern Saskatchewan .. there is no way I could tolerate the 401, or QEW, or any Hwy in Southern Ont, either as driver or passenger. Simply cannot handle it any longer. The Hwy here to Prince Albert 300km's is so empty you may see a dozen vehicles the whole trip. "Big lan.. verra few pipple!" Bit busier PA to Saskatoon but still not bad at all. 

The old CNR parallels that Hwy the entire distance. Always envision the traffic as it was in the steam days. Last passenger PA to 'toon was RDC's but that quit a long time ago. Now Carlton Trail Rwy. Seen locos in towns and grain hoppers but never anything out on the main. Track looks good in places and pretty thin in others. 

Here is what the CP tracks going to Port Burwell look like today. 


  • Member since
    December, 2013
  • 669 posts
Posted by NDG on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 10:28 AM

The photos are wonderful. Breaks one's heart to go back, and then sit in traffic when you once could travel in comfort by train, lake boat or Interurban to get there.

This branch is an example of how money had to be SPENT even before the Revenue began. Wages, Boat, Locomotives, Cars,Track, Structures, Fuel, Ashes, Water, Taxes and so on.

Big investments before the dollars started rolling in, then, tapered off.

Not the same.


Thank You.

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 1:21 PM

Amazing coincidence that the Ashtabula sunk just as steam operations were winding down was an accident. I think.

Google the story on the attempts to scrap the Ashtabula. She did not go down easy or without a lengthy fight and took some of her scrapers with her!

The folks in Port Burwell revere the Ashtabula, the PRR and the CPR. There are numerous paintings and remberances throughout town. 

Commercial fishing tugs still working. If you can find my earlier posts on Port Burwell there are more pics and stories. 

  • Member since
    September, 2011
  • 3,518 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, July 20, 2017 10:21 PM

Why didn't the Ashtabula run in winter?  The Lake Michigan car ferries ran thru the ice.

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
Posted by Miningman on Thursday, July 20, 2017 11:29 PM

Midland Mike- Not quite sure why not. Lake Erie does not freeze, once every 100 years or so. The shorelines build up considerable ice but you would think they could manage to clear that out...knowing Lake Erie and its history it can be a very treacherous crossing as it gets churned up with big waves real quick owing to its shallowness. 

I'm going to guess that it is a very nasty unsafe crossing during the heart of the winter. Just very hazardous and miserable. They stockpile the coal though to get them through and ran the mixed all year. 

Port Burwell is just out of that snow belt zone that hits the London area with massive snowfalls...they call it the Banana Belt. Prevailing winds carry moisture inland from Lake Erie north west and from Lake Huron south east and they either converge or take turns dumping one big pile of inland off shore snow on London. 

  • Member since
    August, 2008
  • From: Calgary AB. Canada
  • 2,188 posts
Posted by AgentKid on Friday, July 21, 2017 12:29 AM

When I read the article I thought it had to do with seasonal demand. There was so much demand in the US there was no need or available supply to sell into Canada during those months.

Just a WAG though.



So shovel the coal, let this rattler roll.

"A Train is a Place Going Somewhere"  CP Rail Public Timetable

"O. S. Irricana"

. . . __ . ______

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
Posted by Miningman on Friday, July 21, 2017 2:53 AM

Shipments of coal for CPR "on company service" , that is for locomotives, heating buildings and so on, continued uninterrupted in the winter months through the Buffalo/Ft. Erie gateway and also Detriot/Windsor. If anything coal demand would increase over the winter months. It was more costly to ship on these overland routes and a much longer haul, so it had to be about navigation and safety. Perhaps the insurance would not permit it. 

In any case, regardless of the overland route, they still shipped 12 months of supply over the 9 months and kept a large stockpile in key locations throughout South Western Ontario. 

When the Ashtabula sank steam operations were winding down and whole divisions were being or had been dieselizied and only a year to go for the reminder. Oil and Gas was rapidly replacing coal for heating purposes. 

If you lived in London, or Port Burwell or Port Dover it was only a half an hour trip stateside to Erie Pennsylvania by boat. An hour and some to Cleveland. If you went by highway you had to go around both the north and south shores of Lake Erie thru Buffalo or Detroit and would take 4-5 hours. Lake Erie was a graveyard in the winter, the ghost fleet of Long Point was famous with many wrecks, its shifting sand bars unpredictable and deadly. 

Shipping always stopped on the Great Lakes in winter even until very recent times.

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 9,120 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Friday, July 21, 2017 8:10 AM

The mention of possible seasonal demand for coal reminded me of the replensihing of the coal bins when I was in college. They were filled in the summer--when the demand for heating coal was low, and we got a good price. 

When a truck arrived, with seven tons, two of the boys working on the Building and Ground Crew were detailed to go inside and throw the coal to the corners as the truck driver stood in the fresh outside air and threw the coal into the bins. One of the bins had a LARGE hot water tank in it, and once the two boys decided to cool it off by spraying water on it; they regretted doing so. I was not one of those two.


  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 2,447 posts
Posted by Miningman on Friday, July 21, 2017 12:58 PM

Thank You Wanswheel! Made me a little homesick, but I'll get over it.

They call that route the Talbot Trail nowadays. The "North Shore" has been rebranded as "Canadas South Coast". It is a very picturesque and quaint drive, well away from the insane 401 Hwy and QEW both routes going from Detroit/Windsor to Buffalo/Fort Erie. Lots of inexpensive  farm fresh fruit and produce stands. Alas, no railroading anywhere.

Also repeating acres and acres of monster wind turbines, that are frankly, just horrid. Bird blenders. 

The railroads had branches down to every port along the lake. CPR, Grand Trunk later CNR, Wabash, New York Central and Pere Marquette later Chesapeake and Ohio and several interurbans, notably Lake Erie & Northern and the London & Port Stanley. Absolutely everything is gone.

It is stunning to think of the diversity and the importance not to mention the jobs that are gone now. 

They had paradise, now somewhat less.

Commercial fishing still going on in several Ports, most notably Port Dover which has a large fleet. One fishing shanty still in use in Port Dover, some of them still standing in Port Burwell and Port Rowan. 


Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!


Get the Classic Trains twice-monthly newsletter