Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Push, Pull and Jerk

A short history of the Pontiac Pacific Junction Railway Episode 4: The life and death of the railway

With the railway complete, the company shipped approximately 10,000 tons of ore between November, 1889 and July, 1890, most of it ending up in Chatasauqua, Pennsylvania, just outside of Allentown, although it appears that some of it was also destined for Cleveland, Ohio.
In that short time, the company made $925 in earnings which, even then, must have been a disappointing return on the investment and effort associated with the development of the railway. Shipments continued over the next several years but they were generally not enough to keep the iron mine or its railway profitable, and the endeavour was ultimately unsustainable.
During its last full year of operation, 1895-1896, the company shipped only 1,000 tons of ore and reported dismal earnings of only $20.00 for its troubles.
In November, 1896, the mine fulfilled a contract with an unidentified company in Pennsylvania for 1,000 carloads of ore, and this was the last major shipment to be carried over the PRR. The following year, the railway was listed as being “not in operation” and there is nothing to suggest that the PRR or its sole locomotive ever worked again.
It is telling, perhaps, that by late 1898, W.J. Poupore, Member of Parliament for the Pontiac and an early backer of the PRR, had appeared to have lost his faith in the railway and was lobbying instead for the construction of a canal along the Ottawa River to offer lower cost transportation options to local industries including the mine. Such a canal was never built, however, and the mine remained abandoned for the next several decades following its closure, save for a short period during World War I when ore that had been piled up at the site when it was still in production was carried out to the PPJR for use in the war effort.
It was also around this time that the PRR’s tracks, which had been inactive since the end of the 1890s, were lifted and shipped over to Europe to help with the allied war effort.
For most of the first half of the twentieth century, the Bristol Iron Mine, as well as the then abandoned roadbed of the former PPR, sat dormant.
With the economic boom of the 1950s, however, the demand for steel made the ore fields of the Pontiac profitable once again. In the spring of 1956, work to re-open the pits began when the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco), based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, invested over $16 million to construct the Hilton Iron Mine on the site of the former Bristol mine.
In order to carry in the heavy equipment needed to build the new mine’s facilities, and to carry its eventual output to the steel mills of Hamilton and Pittsburgh, it was decided to build a new spur line from the CPR Waltham subdivision, which ran along what had previously been the PPJR, to the mine site. Work on the Hilton mine spur began in May, 1956, when 75 CPR workmen living in bunk and cookhouse cars alongside the tracks in Wyman began clearing and preparing the roadway.
The new spur was built atop the former PRR roadbed for the first four miles (6.4 kilometres) south of Wyman before bearing to the east along a new route for an additional mile (1.6 kilometres) to service a previously undeveloped ore deposit. By November, the line was complete and busy carrying construction equipment to the new mine. Later, once the construction of the mine was complete, the railway carried up to 900,000 tons of iron pellets a year to the steel furnaces of Hamilton, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
This activity continued until the ore reserves finally ran out and the mine closed down again, this time for good, at the end of April, 1977.
The end of the mine would have been the end of the railway too, were it not for the presence of 15 million tons of “four-inch minus” granite rocks on the property. When two entrepreneurs, Maurice Lamarche and Gordon McGuinty, purchased the mine in 1977, they saw the value of this aggregate as railroad track ballast and set about selling it as such, keeping the need for a railway link to the former mine alive in order to carry out the heavy rock. Thus for the next 14 years the CPR continued to carry this aggregate along its Hilton Mine spur and Waltham subdivision down to Aylmer where it was then moved on to maintain roadways across North America.
Those operations too finally ceased on March 29, 1991 and the CPR abandoned both the Hilton spur and the Waltham subdivision, bringing an end to rail operations on what had been both the PRR and the PPJR.
Today there is little evidence of the PRR. South of highway 148 most of the former roadbed has been converted to a private road leading to the abandoned mine.
There are however, several hundred metres of roadway north of the highway, now used as a snowmobile trail. One can clearly see where the former tracks cross MacKechnie road just before it joined the PPJR, although the junction itself is now covered in weeds and low brush. Travelling along highway 148 itself, it takes a quick eye to see the cut through the forest where the PRR ran just a few metres east of Gold Mine road.
Other than that, nothing remains to mark the passage of either iteration of this little railway or the tons and tons of iron ore, pellets, and track ballast that were carried to the blast furnaces and railway beds of North America on and off for over 100 years.
It is truly a lost line.