Waiting in Lambton Yard, CP Rail 8921 idled in the August sun. The only "DL600B" built in Canada was running well and performing its normal duties of working transfer service in the Toronto area.
The Empress of Agincourt
Any six-motor Alco is rare, but CP Rail 8921 has a history
that is uniquely Canadian
By Jim Boyd/Photos by the author
"'Where's the Empress?" was all Tom Henry had to ask when he called his friend in the Canadian Pacific dispatchers' office on that Sunday morning last August. "We're in luck," Tom said as he hung up the phone, "she's laying over in Lambton Yard waiting for some cars to be delivered; they expect her to be there about two hours." Tom is an official with GO Transit, a railfan and one of the prime movers within the Ontario Rail Association, owners and operators of a pair of ex-CPR steam locomotives. We were at his home in Brampton, Ontario, as his wife, Shirley, was getting breakfast ready. The topic of our discussion—and that phone call—was "The Empress of Agincourt," Toronto's most notable resident diesel locomotive.
I had known for some time that there was a mythical beast reportedly prowling CPR's Toronto terminal trackage, but it had always managed to elude me on previous trips to the area. All I knew about it was that it was some sort of big one of-a-kind six-motor Montreal Alco. During yesterday's excursion with Canadian National's 4-8-2 6060, the mysterious CPR 8921 had shown herself twice in the vicinity of Toronto Union Station. Tom identified 8921 as "The Empress of Agincourt," a Canadian-built DL600B that has spent the last decade or so of her career in transfer service between the yards in the Toronto area. Since she's based out of the CPR's big new Agincourt Yard, the railfans had given the Empress her name (the less respectful bestowed the title "The Agincourt Tramp," a name quite improper for a machine of such significance and breeding). It was satisfying to observe that even the railroaders recognized the name "Empress" without needing further explanation.
The day was sunny and warm as we made our way to Lambton Yard on the west side of Toronto. Lambton had been the city's big yard before Agincourt was built, and its reputation as a steam facility is almost legendary. We had little difficulty in locating 8921; she was parked in the open right near the yard office. Her bright red CP Rail colors were faded and looked a bit dusty in places, but her dignity was intact. Her lines were those of a high-nose DL600B, quite similar to those of the old Chesapeake & Ohio; Bessemer & Lake Erie; and Pennsy units, except for the distinctively Canadian feather-edge ends on the hoods instead of the traditional Alco notches. An interestingly modern touch was the end crossover walkway handrails, a recent innovation on CP Rail. She was idling smoothly without the rattling and trembling of the older Alcos. We examined her from all angles; it was quiet in the grassy and uncongested yard. The unit fit the scene rather well. A modern yard tower contrasted with the traditional wood yard office and some classic red wooden CPR cabooses—sorry, "vans"—contrasted with the bright yellow CP Rail vans. Two freight cars and a yellow van made up what was obviously's 8921's train on an adjoining track. The crew was in the yard office awaiting the arrival of another transfer with some cars which were bound for Agincourt.
At West Toronto Junction 8921 accelerated its short train, clattered across the diamonds and headed across te High Line for Agincourt Yard.
Tom made use of the pause in activity to describe 8921's history in the Toronto area. She has been used to handle cars between Agincourt Yard on the east side of town to Lambton and Parkdale yards on the west side. The "High Line" joins Agincourt and Lambton directly, while Parkdale is southeast of Lambton on the line that swings through downtown. The downtown line passes the CNR at Spadina and the CPR's passenger facility at John Street, continuing eastward to the Don Valley line on up to Agincourt. As the railfans see it, the CPR is apparently determined to wear out this one-of-a-kind oddball unit by loading it down with everything it can move as often as possible. The Empress has just managed to hang in there and is showing no sign of wearing out.
While we were contemplating this unique unit's fate, a burble of black exhaust to the east announced the arrival of CPR S3 switcher 6544 with the cars that the Empress was waiting for: four classic Canadian Pacific stock cars, complete with dark red paint and lime stains. We were more surprised at catching loaded stock cars in service than we were at finding a six-motor Alco.
The switcher dropped off the stock cars and the crew quickly brought the Empress to life. Two loaded and two empty stock cars were alternated in the four-car cut, so the Empress crisply batted them out to create a two-loads/two-empties block to be assembled into its train. It wasn't long before the train to Agincourt was made up: the Empress running long-endforward was leading two stock loads, two stock empties, a container flat, a covered hopper and a yellow van. We were just getting into the car to try to beat her to West Toronto Jet. when the Empress cast forth a modest plume of black smoke and moved off toward the east. It looked like we were going to lose the race, but there were apparently a few switches to be thrown in the yard and we arrived at the junction in time to see the Empress just entering the main line.
She made some healthy Alco sounds, churned out a bit more smoke and clattered across the CNR and GO Transit diamonds. The 2,400 horsepower had an easy time with six cars and a van, and the Empress of Agincourt quietly faded into the distance down the High Line for home. I said farewell to Tom and pointed my Maverick toward New Jersey while he headed back for Brampton. It had been a rewarding morning-it isn't every day you're granted an audience with an Empress.
I had really expected the story of the Empress of Agincourt to end here, but a little research into her background upon returning to the office revealed quite a bit more than expected about this truly remarkable locomotive. The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide confirmed what I had been told about 8921 being the only "DL600B" built in Canada, but it also indicated that its history was considerably more extensive than I had been led to suspect. Issues of Extra 2200 South filled in the details of the rest of the story.
The Empress of Agincourt began life in May 1957 as Montreal Locomotive Works builder's number 81603, an RSD15M, the Canadian equivalent of Alco's successful DL600B. It packed a 16-cylinder 251 engine with an output of 2,400 horsepower through six traction motors. The unit was given a specification number DL624, the first time that the "Century-style" designations were applied to an Alco locomotive (i.e., 6 motors at 2,400 horsepower resulting in 624). Montreal DL624 81603 rolled out in Canadian Pacific gray and maroon with CP lettering and number 7007 for seven months of demonstration on that road. A photo of the unit in this paint appears on page 258 of The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide.
Montreal Locomotive Works apparently believed in painting its demonstrators for the railroads to which the unit would be assigned, for in December 1957 the DL624 shed its CPR paint and number for Canadian National olive and yellow and number 3899. These colors were shortlived, however, for the CN tour was completed in March 1958 and the DL624 was repainted again, this time in Pacific Great Eastern yellow and dark green. From April 1958 to September 1959, the Empress wore her spec number as a road number and rambled up and down the spectacularly scenic British Columbia coastline as PGE 624. Extra 2200 South printed a photo of her in PGE colors in the October-November-December 1971 issue, and in CNR colors in January-February 1975. In September 1959 she found a permanent home when she was sold to the Canadian Pacific as 8921, the sole inhabitant of class DRS-24e. It is safe to assume that she returned to her original CPR maroon and gray in 1959 and was probably given today's CP Rail red in the early 1970's.
So the Empress of Agincourt was a pioneer, a boomer and forever one-of-a kind. She wore the colors of three different railroads under four different numbers and survived to find a home where she is both useful and appreciated. Ironically, she is no longer the only "DL600B"in Canada; U.S. Steel's Cartier Railway at Pt. Cartier, Quebec, is running the six ex-DM&IR DL600B's that they acquired from the Bessemer & Lake Erie.
Long live the Empress.
Postscript 2012: The 8921 continued to toil on long after Jim Boyd's 1976 encounter. The unit was rebuilt in 1988 by Canadian Pacific with a chop nose to increase forward visibility, giving it the appearance of an "alligator." The unit was forced into retirement in 1995 when it developed a problem with its trucks. Its prime mover was donated to another unit to keep it running. Realizing the historic value of the "Empress," CP donated her to the Elgin County Railway Museum in St. Thomas, Ontario, in 1997. The unit underwent a complete cosmetic restoration in 2007, thanks to generous donors. —O.M.V.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 1977 issue of Railfan.