Correspondent Albert Baird is what we in the U.S. would call a "snowbird", spending his summers in his native Canada and his winters in balmy Brazil. Even so, he reckons that he has totaled up more miles by rail than by air, and while he has sampled many of the "best of the best" such as the Broadway Limited, the Canadian, and the Super Chief he professes a real love for the slow trains and locals. He writes:

"My most memorable trip, the one that epitomises what rail travel should be about, was on the Algoma Central in 1994. The Algoma Central was at that time an independent railway from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, 295 miles, with passenger service protected and subsidized by what in Canada is called remote services, i.e. where there are no roads. The through service by then was down to three days a week in the winter, a GP38-2, a homemade steam generator, two baggage cars and two coaches: no meal service. The Algoma Central also ran Agawa Canyon tours, 20 car trains with dining cars, but that was a seperate, and presumably profitable enterprise.

"We spent the night at a hotel in Hearst. We had planned a circle tour: by Greyhound bus Sault Ste. Marie to North Bay, by Ontario Northland's second hand Trans European Express from there to Cochrane, and by Ontario Northland bus from there to Hearst. At the Soo, we would pick up our waiting car. We arose early and had a substantial breakfast in the hotel dining room. Familiar with the routine, the hotel had also prepared a packaged lunch for the train. Number 2 left Hearst at 8:00 am and (was scheduled) to arrive at the Soo at 4:45 pm with a 15 minute stop at the division point of Hawk Junction at 11:30 am, one of the few places also accessible by road. There were 37 listed regular and flag stops; in point of fact, the train would stop anywhere. (Continued below)


From the pages of the Official Guide, June/July 1986

Algoma Central Ry. herald

Trains 1 and 2

Algoma Central Railway
May 24, 1986

1 Train Number 2
Ex Mo Km Miles Ex Tu
9 30A Dp 0 0 Sault Ste. Marie, ON (ET) Ar 6 10P
10 04A 23 14 Heyden, ON 5 36P
10 23A 40 25 Northland, ON (Goulais River) 5 18P
10 37A 51 32 Searchmont, ON 5 03P
10 46A 58 36 Wabos, ON 4 51P
10 56A 67 42 Achigan, ON 4 41P
11 08A 77 48 Ogidaki, ON (S. Branch Chippewa River) 4 29P
11 21A 90 56 Mashkode, ON 4 14P
F 92 57 Trout Lake, ON F
F 100 62 Pine Lake, ON F
11 39A 104 64 Mekatina, ON 3 58P
F 111 69 Pangis, ON (N. Branch Chippewa River) F
F 115 71 Spruce Lake, ON F
11 56A 117 73 Summit, ON 3 40P
F 122 75 Mongoose, ON F
12 10P 128 80 Batchewana, ON 3 24P
F 137 85 Rand, ON F
12 37P 148 92 Montreal Falls, ON 2 59P
F 150 93 Mileage 93, ON F
12 45P 154 96 Hubert, ON 2 50P
1 05P 165 102 Frater, ON (Agawa River) 2 35P
1 30P 183 114 Canyon, ON 2 10P
1 50P 193 120 Eton, ON 1 50P
F 197 122 Mileage 122-, ON F
2 08P 211 131 Agawa, ON 1 27P
F 213 132 Millwood, ON F
F 223 138 Sand Lake, ON F
2 26P 227 141 Tabor, ON 1 09P
F 239 148 Anjigami, ON F
2 42P 241 150 Perry, ON (Michipicoten River) 12 52P
2 54P 252 156 Limer, ON 12 40P
3 10P Ar 265 165 Hawk Junction, ON Dp 12 25P
3 20P Dp Ar 12 15P
3 35P 279 173 Alden, ON 11 58A
3 45P 286 178 Goudreau, ON 11 50A
3 57P 296 184 Dubreuilville, ON 11 39A
4 04P 303 188 Wanda, ON 11 32A
4 16P 314 195 Franz, ON 11 21A
4 25P 323 201 Scully, ON 11 09A
F 331 206 Wabatong, ON F
4 37P 334 208 Hilda, ON 10 58A
F 338 210 Mileage 210, ON F
F 341 212 Mileage 212, ON F
4 58P 350 217 Mosher, ON 10 27A
F 356 221 Price, ON F
F 376 233 Akron, ON F
5 30P 385 239 Langdon, ON 10 08A
5 44P 394 245 Oba, ON (Oba River, Albany Branch) 10 00A
5 58P 407 253 Norris, ON 9 45A
F 422 262 Hansen, ON F
6 31P 439 273 Horsey, ON 9 12A
6 36P 443 275 Mead, ON 9 08A
6 45P 452 281 Coppell, ON 8 58A
6 57P 462 288 Stavert, ON
—Jogues (Mattawishkwia River)
8 47A
7 07P 473 294 Wyborn, ON 8 37A
7 15P Ar 476 296 Hearst, ON (ET) Dp 8 30A

Train 1 (Sault Ste. Marie-Hearst): 36 stops, 9:45, 30.4 MPHTrain 2 (Hearst-Sault Ste. Marie): 36 stops, 9:40, 30.6 MPH


Equipment
Trains 1 & 2
Sault Ste. Marie/Franz/Oba/Hearst

Coaches....unreserved
Food Service car....Sault Ste. Marie/Eton only, Saturdays; Sundays (January, February & March)

This train handles checked baggage.
Meal and beverage service between Sault Ste. Marie and Eton, except on Monday and Tuesdays.

Sample fares one-way per person:

Hearst—   Sault Ste. Marie—
Oba, ON $8.95   Searchmont, ON $5.50
Mosher, ON $13.60   Frater, ON $17.70
Franz, ON $17.35   Hawk Junction, ON $28.40
Hawk Junction, ON $22.70   Franz, ON $33.55
Frater, ON $33.35   Mosher, ON $37.50
Searchmont, ON $45.60   Oba, ON $42.15
Sault Ste. Marie, ON $50.90   Hearst, ON $50.90


 (Continued from above - quotation from Albert Baird)

"A short walk brought us to the waiting train at 7:45 am. 8 o'clock came and went. The crew was looking for American railfans. The ACR advertised a "tour of the line". The package consisted of a northbound trip one day, accomodation at Hearst, and a return trip the next day. We could have done this instead of our more creative circle tour. A group of five had come up the previous day and the conductor was looking for them. He phoned the bed & breakfast where they were booked. Can you imagine Amtrak doing that? The staff had failed to wake them up. Familiar with their location west of town, he told the owners of the bed & breakfast that he would stop the train at the last grade crossing out of town and wait for them to arrive. We thus departed the station, only to stop a few minutes later. Aware of my status as a traveller and rail historian, the conductor approached me. I will never forget what he said. "We don't sell refrigerators or snow mobiles. We sell service. If we sell good service, our customers will come back. They will tell their friends and they will come as well. Then we will all have jobs. We have no connections except tour buses or taxis in the Soo, who will wait." It was obvious by his demeanor that he was being paid to do what he loved.

"If every crew, if every railway official had that philosophy we would have much better passenger service than we do now. The CNR's "Red, White and Blue" pricing (lower fares for off peak) and service improvements of the early 60's proved that people will ride the trains, even in an automotive society, if the service is convenient and timely, if it is customer oriented.

"Our band of US railfans arrived unshowered and unfed and barely dressed. The few other passengers organized a pool and we shared our food with them. The crew made them coffee from their private facilities in the baggage car. In any case, we could phone ahead and have a catering truck deliver food at Hawk Junction. I am sure our American railfans never forgot Canadian hospitality, and I am sure they and their friends came back, perhaps not to the Soo, but to Canada. And we got to meet, and hear the stories of, five interesting railfans.

"Would the whole industry was like that." <end quote>

I agree, Albert, I agree.