Big Chute Marine Railway, the only operating example of its kind in North America, is one heck of a thrilling ride. Along with the two Hydraulic Lift Locks, Big Chute was the feature I most looked forward to on the Trent-Severn.
It did not disappoint.
The railway started life in 1919 as a temporary lock until a traditional lock could be built. The original version could only carry a boat 35 feet long and did not hold the boat level during the lift. Plans for the traditional lock were cancelled and in 1923 the carriage was upgraded to handle craft 60 feet long. In the 1960’s plans were again made to put in a traditional lock, but another problem became apparent: lamprey eels were devastating fish in the lower pool and a way was needed to stop them moving upstream. A traditional lock would allow eels to move up with the boats as the lock filled, so that was out. A railway lifts boats out of the water and does not carry an water upstream, so any eels stuck to boat hulls quickly fall off on the trip up. Thus, a new version of the railway was designed and put into service in 1978, capable of transporting boats up to 90 metric tons, up to 24 feet wide and 100 feet in length!
We, along with Serenity, decided to spend Monday evening chilling and watching other boats go through. On Tuesday morning we were first in line for the trip.
Although the railway can handle multiple boats in one trip, the lock masters decided to take Endeavor and Serenity through separately.
Endeavor, with her swing-up keels, was able to lie flat on the wood carriage deck with her stern just off the rear of the car. This allowed her rudders and motor to hang over the edge.
Serenity has fixed keels, so she was moved completely onto the deck and slings were used to support her bow and stern while she rested on her keels. Jim will post video of Serenity’s ride here.
Note: if you pause the video at the winch room scene you can see the massive mine shaft winches used to pull the carriage up the hill. On the circumference of the winch drums are the beefy disk brakes that control the carriage as it is let down the hill under its own weight.
The secret to keeping the carriage mostly level throughout the trip lies in these dual tracks. The eastern carriage wheels ride on the lower inside track, while the western wheels ride the upper outer track.
The cables that pull this massive structure, and its load, up the hill are attached to the carriage as this central point. Sure seem like small fittings for such weight! There are actually two completely separate winch/cable systems, either of which is capable of operation independently.
Boats like Endeavor, jet skis, kayaks and rowboats rest on the wood deck during the trip. Boats with rudders, propellors or keels underneath are supported by a clever, adaptable system of motorized slings.
Another interesting gadget is this control line winder, visible in the middle of the video. The crew on the carriage need to send control commands to the winch room. To do this a long control cable connects the carriage to the control building. This device acts like a big extension cord spool, laying out the control cable as the carriage moves away and picking it up again on the trip back.
Pulleys below lay the cable into a narrow channel.
After safely riding the Big Chute Marine Railway I thought we were in the clear.
However, my favorite distraction is gracing our bow, making it tough to concentrate on missing the rocky islands.