Article compiled by Jason Paul Sailer & Chris Doering.
In times past nearly every medium to large sized town had a rail yard and often located nearby or within it was a turntable and roundhouse. Their function was simple, to spin around steam locomotives as well as being a place to maintain and store them. These days few of these fascinating facilities are left although if one looks hard, remains can often be found, like those in Fort MacLeod and Big Valley Alberta and others. Steam locomotives, unlike diesels, need to be pointed forward when in operation, making these facilities necessary for the times.
This set up was compact (by railway standards) and worked well.
The turntable itself can be thought of as a bridge that can rotate on its axis allowing an engine to line up with any of the individual stalls (anywhere from one to several dozen depending on the facility). It rests on a center pivot, while the outer ends are supported by wheels riding on a perimeter track. Even with this three point arrangement, it was still important that a locomotive be accurately centered so that the turntable moved smoothly and easily. Power for turning was via an electric drive or an air powered motor supplied by either the boiler plant in the roundhouse, or by the actual locomotive itself (through its air lines). Some smaller turntables were moved by manpower.
In the roundhouse one could find machine shops, crew work and storage areas, and often a boiler plant to power everything. Each track would have an inspection pit, allowing access to the underside of the locomotive, and would be equipped with a big set of barn style doors for access (and ventilation).
This particular turntable was built in Ontario by the Dominion Bridge Company Limited, a large supplier of railway infrastructure pieces, as well as steel bridge components, steel holding tanks, and skyscraper framing. It was installed in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Medicine Hat Alberta yards at the turn of the century and used up until the 1970s, when it was removed.
It was later sold to Pat Dwyer Construction, a contracting company who used it during the construction of the Oldman River dam in southwestern Alberta. It was used as a truck bridge! After the project it was relocated to their gravel pit near Lundbreck, Alberta where it was stored until 2000. The firm then donated it to the Galt Historic Railway Park where it’s been ever since. Kerner Heavy Hauling moved it to our Railway Park that fall.
Future plans call for the turntable to be installed in a properly built pit and restored to running condition. The railway track on site would loop around this complex and would tie into the turntable. A small roundhouse, to mimic a combination Galt narrow gauge and CPR standard gauge facility, would be built nearby to be used as interpretive and display space and as well as multi-use venue for community events.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.
All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park and/or Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.