Sunday, November 1, 2020

The First Royal Canadian Pacific Rare Mileage Charter

I'm writing this from my own memories augmented by a fairly detailed "trip report" written by John Harmon shortly after the trip ended.

The Royal Canadian Pacific Rare Mileage Charter in Strasbourg, SK

In July of 2000 my friend John Harmon sent out a report of a trip that he and his wife Elaine and John Wicks had just taken on the Canadian Pacific Railroad's Royal Canadian Pacific luxury excursion train. The RCP train was used for a multi-day sightseeing circle trip out of Calgary with off-train excursions enroute (e.g., a visit to Emerald Lake, a round of golf on some trips, etc.). During the trip John raised the idea of chartering the train and taking it off its normal route for those of us who collect "rare mileage". Unlike most railroads, the Canadian Pacific was receptive to the idea and on October 1 I received an email from John announcing the first Royal Canadian Pacific Rare Mileage Charter to take place from May 31 to June 4, 2001 at an expected price of $3,200 (US) including all meals, bar service, and tips for the crew. I signed up immediately and snagged one of the only 18 available spots. Ultimately there was enough demand for two sections (the second to run later in June) and the price crept up to $3,850 (or $4,350 for one of the few single rooms), partially because they added an extra night onboard to facilitate a morning arrival back in Calgary.

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Being a true luxury train aimed at an upscale market the normal service required jackets and ties at dinner. Our group, while able to afford the tariff mostly consisted of those who were not used to dressing for dinner and the railroad modified their dress code to "smart casual" which was alright with me (though I'd have been happy either way.)

Here is the detailed itinerary as published in late February 2001. Other than because of operational issues we pretty much adhered to it:

Thursday, May 31, 2001
LvCalgary09.00Train departs from CPR Pavilion in downtown Calgary
ArRed Deer11.1596.9 miles Crew change
LvRed Deer11.30
ArHardisty15.45152.4 miles Crew change
ArWilkie21.00131.4 miles Overnight stop.
Total miles Day 1 = 380.7
Friday, June 1, 2001
ArSaskatoon10.4599.6 miles Crew change
ArLanigan12.4575.8 miles
ArRegina16.25104.4 miles Crew change
ArMoose Jaw17.4041.6 miles Overnight stop.
Total miles Day 2 = 321.4
Saturday, June 2, 2001
LvMoose Jaw07.00
ArSwift Current09.30110.4 miles Crew change
LvSwift Current09.45
ArDunmore13.45140.7 miles Crew change
ArLethbridge18.45116.4 miles Overnight stop. (Engines change ends)
Total miles Day 3 = 367.5
Sunday, June 3, 2001
ArMontana06.309.7 miles
ArNemiskam10.1074.5 miles Engines change ends
ArStirling13.1557.0 miles Engines change ends
ArCoutts15.3046.9 miles Engines change ends
ArLethbridge18.3074.1 miles Crew change
ArOkotoks21.3091.9 miles Overnight stop
Total miles Day 4 = 354.1 (142.2 duplicated)
Monday June 4, 2001
ArCalgary10.0026.2 miles End of trip.
Total miles day 4 = 26.2
Grand Total miles = 1,449.9 (142.1 duplicated)

In early April of that year I had surgery on my left shoulder and was still in the middle of recovery when I boarded a Delta flight to MSP where I changed to a flight to Calgary. Because I was unable to easily manage my carry on luggage myself the airline granted me the boon of early boarding. Upon arrival in Calgary I took a taxi to the Palliser Hotel (a Fairmont, formerly a Canadian Pacific Hotel) to await friends Rick Moser and Dave Ingles. The train would leave the next morning from the Canadian Pacific Pavilion that is part of the hotel.

We were greeted on Thursday morning by David Walker who managed the Royal Canadian Pacific operation and who would be acting as the official host for the trip. He took us to the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, where the business car fleet is kept, and gave us some time to look around at some of the CPR memorabilia before giving a brief welcoming speech and we boarded the train to find that bellmen from the Palliser had already brought our luggage to our rooms. We departed a few minutes ahead of our 9am scheduled departure time.
Rick Moser, Dave Ingles, Chuck Weinstock
playing Rail Baron

Dan Carter, Rick Moser, John Wicks, Chuck Weinstock
playing Rail Baron

From front to back our train consisted of two diesels, FP7a 1400 and F9b 1900, business car Assiniboine for David Walker and some of the staff, a baggage car to provide head-end power to the rest of the train and to carry supplies for the gourmet meal service, Killarney to provide sleeping space for the crew and also some lounge space, the N. R. Crump which had four bedrooms each with two lower berths and two more with a single berth -- each room with shower, Van Horne with two double bedrooms and a single, a dining area used as a game room -- we played several games of Rail Baron here -- and an open platform, Royal Wentworth, running backwards, so it's open platform adjoined that of the Van Horne, with additional lounge space, and a dining area, and finally Mount Stephen, which contained the kitchen, a large dining room, a small library known as the Churchill Cubby, because that is the area that Winston Churchill used on his postwar tour of Canada for smoking his cigar, thinking, and perhaps having a drop or two, and a large lounge area with a huge open platform. Rick and I shared a room in the N. R. Crump on the first night, but found the ventilation system lacking and were moved to another room for the remainder of the trip.

At Swift Current

Our first meal is lunch consisted of smoked salmon linguini was served with an appropriate wine pairing which was quite nice. As some of us were getting ready to leave the table they brought in the main course -- if we had bothered to count the silverware in front of us we would have realized that there was more to come. The grilled venison medallion was terrific.

From Calgary we headed to Red Deer, south of Edmonton and then to Hardisty where, while the crew was being changed we were able to get off the train to take pictures at the depot. From there we headed to our overnight stop in Wilkie, just as the sun set.

At Paterson Grain in Dunmore

The next day (Friday) we headed to Saskatoon and after a caesar salad and herb-crusted sea bass lunch had a photo runby at a grain elevator at Strasbourg. We had a few more photo stops during the day and arrived in Moose Jaw with time to take pictures of servicing the train before a dinner consisting of roast corn wild rice cakes with salmon and beef tenderloin.

On Saturday we continued on the main line to Swift Current. About a mile east of Dunmore, where we’d be leaving the main line to head toward Lethbridge, we stopped and back into the siding of the N. M. Paterson grain elevator, the third largest in Alberta. After lunch (gin and tomato soup and free range chicken supreme), we were given the full tour. We crossed the famous high bridge near Lethbridge just after dinner (wild mushroom and vegetable strudel with roast quail and grilled salmon and scallops) and tied up there for the night.

On the High Bridge near Lethbridge

On Sunday a GP38 was cut in behind the F-units in order to give us bi-directional capability on the Stirling and Coutts Subs. After a runby on the High Bridge we turned south on the Stirling Sub, which we followed through Stirling and then east to Nemiskan, the end of operational track. We saw no signs of any business on this branch. At the end of track, we took a group photo on (and beneath) the platform of the Mount Stephen, with the F-units posed alongside. A lunch of roasted pork tenderloin was served on the return trip to Stirling and after reaching there we headed to Coutts, on the U.S. border. After running the engines around, we backed down to within 500 feet of the border. (The second section, run a few weeks later, backed right to the border--something those who rode continue to lord over the rest of us, but those folks didn't get quite the level of meal service that we did--a decent trade.) By the time we got to the border, the weather turned very nasty, with wind and heavy rain so no pictures were taken off the train. A final dinner (grilled tiger prawns, herb crusted rack of lamb) was served on the way back to Lethbridge. Due to slow orders we ran over three hours late and didn't arrive in Okotoks until the wee hours of Monday morning.

At the end of the Nemiskan branch

On Monday morning we made the short run to back to Calgary where we visited the CPR gift shop nearby. Some of our group toured the CPR Communications Center, but I (and others) rode the light rail out to Calgary airport to catch my return flight to Pittsburgh already wishing that I could experience the Royal Canadian Pacific again. As it happens there will be, I believe, a total of five charters and I will have the good fortune to ride three of them. Perhaps I'll write about those some other time.

Group photo at Nemiskan
(Group photo left to right: Tom Silvio, John Wicks, Don Clayton, Paul Morrissey, Bill Crawford, Elaine Harmon, John Harmon, Ed Graham, Dave Ingles, Rick Moser, George Burton, Chuck Weinstock, Phil Kondzelia, Keith White, Dan Carter, Ann Atherton, John Atherton, Dave Walker)