Thursday, June 5, 2014

Time Passes While We Watch

Watches and railroading go hand in hand..., if you'll forgive that clever little pun.

Having been raised in a railroad home, in a railroad town, in a railroad country..., I have many vivid memories of railroad timepieces.  As a young lad, I would often drop in at the yardmaster's office while I was either on my way to the 'Swinging Bridge' over the Vermillion river at Capreol for some swimmin' and fishin'.  With my fishing rod and a can of worms which I had caught the night before on the lawn beside the CNR station, I'd quietly let myself into the booking-in room, or the waiting room and take up a position where I could watch the activity behind the glass that separated those outer rooms from either the yardmaster's office, or the operator's office.

In the yardmaster's office, there seemed to be a lot of activity.  The yardmaster, the clerk, the car-checker, all appeared to be quite busy and in fear of not getting all their work done before the end of their shift.  They were too busy to notice me as I edged closer to the opening that allowed me to see more.  There were several typewriters, at least one on every desk and half of them were noisily clacking away, creating lists, records, crew sheets, train consists and yard reports.

In stark contrast to this circus of activity, the operator's office, on the other side of, and separated from the yardmaster's office was an oasis of peace and serenity.  At least that is the memory I have of it.  Everything about it was different from the busier hub of railroad activity 'over there.'  Even the smell of the air in the outer rooms..., the yard office vs. the waiting room.  They were both unique, both very "railroad", but different from one another.  Cigarette smoke and decades-old bulletin books in one, and old varnish and the smell of stale steam heat in the other.
The sounds were different too.  From the operator's office, I listened to the telegraph repeater running on with its 'clack, clack......., click, clack, click'.  The operator's chair would creak as he pulled himself closer to the desk in front of him and reached for the 'key' to respond to the magical, mystical message that no one but himself understood.

And behind it all, there was the steady, soothing sound of the Standard Railway Clock, that most indispensable piece of railway equipment which every railroader whose boots stepped onto the right of way had to consult before he could begin his day's work.  The railroad ran on the timetable and the timepieces that all railroaders who had anything at all to do with the movement of trains must carry at all times.  And every man had to compare his watch with the station clock, adjusting it, or marking on the train register the number of seconds his watch was out of sinc with that station clock, as in 3 sec fast, or 7 sec slow, etc. Only then did all the members of a crew compare their watches with each other.  Then the work could begin.

My father carried one, a beautiful, gold pocket watch that he treated as if were made of delicate egg shell.  It was attached to his gold watch chain which had a gold clasp at the end.  When he was dressed for work, his boots laced snug, his striped overall doubled over at the cuff and tied about his upper ankles with shoe laces to keep coal dust, cinders and the cold from getting at his lower legs while he was working in the open air cabs of early steam engines; when he had buttoned his shirt up to the last button under his chin, and wrapped his paisley scarf about his neck, he pulled on his wool cap.

Then, he reached for his watch and chain that stood on the little table in the hall, just below the oak cased telephone that hung there by the front door.  It wasn't a 'dial up' type phone.   You simply lifted the ice-cream cone shaped ear piece from the black cradle on the side of the oak box and a young woman's voice said "Operator..., number please."  You could give her the number, if you knew it, or simply say, "Hi Gladys, can you connect me with Stechyn's Lumber Yard?"  She would say "One moment, Please", and be gone.

The watch, he would gently slip into the watch pocket that was designed and sewn into the front of the overalls, just about at the center of the wearer's chest.  The clasp would then be clipped onto a spare button hole place nearby for the purpose.

He was now ready to go and, picking up his metal lunch box, would head off toward the station, walking proudly as he passed each home along the way.  This is the way it was.

Then, in June of 1964, I passed my rule exams and practical training and booked on the brakeman's spareboard.  When I arrived at the station to take my place on the crew of train number four to Ottawa on that sunny, warm June day, I went into the station to compare my watch with the station clock, which was set using the National Time Signal, and was often checked with the clock kept in the dispatcher's offices, nearby.

But my watch comparison ceremony wasn't what I had dreamed of, having watched railroaders check their pocket watches since  my earliest memories.  No...., CN had decided a few months before I hired on that all new 'hires' would not be allowed to use the old standard pocket watches, but must convert to new, "approved" wrist watches!  The Bulova Accutron and the Universal Geneve were the only two choices.

The Accutron emitted a high pitched whine, 24-7 and the Geneva couldn't keep time with a turtle!  Only those who had already been qualified to work using a pocket watch could continue to use them.  The beautiful, gold pocket watches were gone for me.  I would never be able to re-enact that age-old tradition of reaching down, and finding the gold chain slung between the clasp and the gold watch and, gently lifting my treasure from my pocket, let it slide effortlessly into the palm of my hand where it would lay, softly ticking it's warm song of our mutual love of railroading, and giving me the exact time of day.

I quickly and surepticiously pulled my sleeve up, only just far enough to expose the face of that pitiful, stainless piece of foreign hardware, which I then compared to the time showing on the face of the faithful old station clock, hung on the wall above the operator's desk.  I was humiliated.
Keeping my feelings to myself, I carried on through the first weeks of summer until I found myself on a work train, replacing timber culverts with steel ones on the Ruel sub, west of Capreol.  One day, while helping to steady a long steel culvert as it was being unloaded from a flat car to the ground, the back of my wrist struck a piece of chain, breaking the crystal, of glass on the face of my watch. I was almost glad to see it smashed.

When the crew finally tied up in Capreol after a couple of wonderful weeks online, I went straight to the local CNR watch inspector/jeweler with my damaged watch.  After he had given it the once-over, he declared it destroyed and I was faced with buying a new one.  However, he didn't have any spares, and would have to order one in for me.  He would sell me an Accutron, he said, but they had all be re-called because they would occasionally suffer a 'runaway', either gaining or losing an hour or three in the space of fifteen seconds!

I'd have to accept a 'loaner'.  It was a beautiful Hamilton 992B, a gold pocket watch on a leather strap with a steel clasp.  PERFECT!

As the days, and the spare trips rolled by, summer rolled by too and I was facing a nine or ten month layoff as the senior men came back from their summer vacations and the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence river froze up for the winter months, slowing freight traffic to pre-war levels.

When the Labour Day weekend arrived, I was given my layoff notice and a clearance that would allow me to look for work anywhere on my seniority district between Toronto and Hornepayne.

There's another story that could be told about the time between my last trip at Capreol, Ontario and my first trip at Jasper, Alberta, but in order to keep with the 'watch' theme, we'll just step off the westbound 'Super Continental' at Jasper on a very cold pre-dawn morning in mid December, 1965.

I checked my wrist watch, a used Universal Geneve that I had picked up from a young railroader in Capreol who had resigned to continue his education.  But, I also had the Hamilton, which had been offered to me by the CNR watchmaker when CN officials told him not to 'loan' it to any railroaders.  Rather, he was forced to buy a few extra wrist watches, leaving him with a couple of pocket watches that he opted to dispose of by selling them off at very reasonable prices to anyone who wanted one.  Since I still had one of his loaners in my pocket when CN made that announcement, I gave him some cash and kept the watch.

Jasper, the dividing line between the Prairie Region and the Mountain Region of CN's massive railway; all trains moving west of the west switch were governed by the dispatching offices and CN officials in Kamloops or Vancouver, and east of the west switch was the domain of the dispatching offices and management hierarchy in Edmonton.

Also, the west switch, for railway purposes was on the line that separated Mountain Standard Time from Pacific Standard Time.  In practical terms, you could be standing in the parking lot, west of the station admiring the beautiful lines of the CNR Mountain Class 4-8-2 steam locomotive on static display at 1500 (3:00 pm) and walk a hundred yards westward until you had passed the west switch, and it was suddenly 1400, or 2:00 pm.

OK...., so what?  Well, I quickly learned that when one is awakened from a sound sleep by the CNR Call Boy, an employee who was assigned to go around to the home of any railroader who didn't have a telephone, and there were still many..., I was one of those.  The Call Boy would wake the employee and give him his customary two-hour call, saying something like...., "Bruce Harvey, you're called for a drag west out of the yard for 0330."  "It's a bit of a short call," he said.  "I had to call the other brakeman too, and he lives at the other end of town."

He would only then leave once you had assured him that you understood the call and were sufficiently awake that  you would not go back to bed in a sleepy stupor.

Well, this time zone thing was a bit of a learning curve for me because every time I had to check my watch for the time of a First Class train at the next station where an inferior train (my train) must clear, I had to double check that I had done the math properly, to accommodate for the fact that the time west of Jasper was one hour behind that east of the west switch at Jasper.  Crews running east of Jasper didn't have to concern themselves about that for a number of reasons..., one being that they were working in only one time zone, and moreover, the Edson sub was controlled by Centralized Traffic Control and the dispatcher looked after all the meets between trains.

West of Jasper was all 'dark territory' and all crews had to be extremely alert at all times, checking their timetables, checking their watches and conferring with each other on the movement of their trains relative to that of other trains on the subdivisions.  It was very exciting work, and I loved it.

OK..., so what could go wrong?  Well, I took the call for 0330 and stumbled into the kitchen to put the coffee pot on.  Then into the shower.  While I was hopping on one foot, trying to force the other one into the leg of my jeans, I caught a glimpse of the clock on the stove.

The clock read 0310!!!!!  What?  That meant that I was already on duty!  He had given me a very short call, and I was already late for work.  I turned off the electric burner under the coffee pot and went to my meager pantry where I pulled out two cans of sardines and the last remains of a loaf of now-stale white bread.  I shoved this into my 'grip' while I frantically finished dressing myself for a long trip on the Albreda Sub.  I would be damned hungry on arrival at Blue River, but at least the Beanery would be open where I could get a meal within fifteen minutes of getting off my train.  I was already planning what I would order that the girls could put down on the counter in front of me in the shortest possible time.

As I hurried along the street through the darkness, was grateful that we were called 'out of the yard', which meant that even though I was late, the conductor could cover the delay as long as I was able to get the engine off the shop track and onto the train without mishap.

Emerging from the faint glow of the street lights, I pushed open the back door of the train crew's booking in room..., to find it empty.   There was no one there except me..., and Harry Lyseko, the operator who looked up at me and said...., "My, but you're early, aren't you?"  I looked at my watch, then I looked at the clock on the wall above Harry's head.  Then, it dawned on me.  I had been called on "West Time", and the clock on my stove was on "East Time."

I thought about going back to my apartment to make that pot of coffee and scramble up some bacon and eggs, but it was now only 20 minutes before the rest of the crew would begin to wander in.  I was resolved to do something about this, but what?

Harry waited until the entire crew had assembled before offering me up as the morning sacrifice.  When the laughing had died down, one by one, they all pulled out their pocket watches and showed me the faces on their cherished timepieces.  Each one had TWO hour hands.  One was a polished, blue-black hand that came with the watch, and the other was bright red, and had been installed there by the CNR watch inspector in Jasper.
When we eventually returned home, I made my way downtown to visit the watch inspector.  I presented him with my wrist watch and when he saw it he said he couldn't put an extra hand on "those damned things!"  "It'd be different if you had a turnip (pocket watch)," he said.  I pulled my Hamilton out of the watch pocket in my jeans and handed it to him.  While he removed the crystal and plucked the hands from my Hamilton, he told me that he wouldn't accept responsibility if I got caught using that pocket watch on the job.

You see, every Standard Railway Grade Watch must be accompanied by a "Watch Inspection Card" that has the corresponding watch number written and registered on the card.  It was one of those things, along with current timetable, rule book and medical card that some railway officers would ask occasionally ask to see if they happened to run into you on the job.

So, thereafter..., I wore my wrist watch and carried my Hamilton, seldom looking at the wrist watch, but always checking the 'turnip' first.

Do I still have my beautiful Hamilton?  Sadly, no.  The watch, along with my father's gold watch chain and my grandfather's gold fob all disappeared from our home during a real estate showing when we were asked by the realtor to leave the house while he conducted an "open house".   I miss it.  We made wonderful memories together.

Friday, May 9, 2014

SD40-2's On Ice

In the last episode, we took an uncontrolled ride down the controlling grade on CN's Lumby sub.  The train, heavily loaded with forest products including lumber, plywood veneer, wood chips and poles got away from me and, at times reached more than twice the allowable speed limit.  Right at the bottom of the hill was an old wooden trestle that had been downgraded to ten miles per hour.  We approached it doing upwards of fifty miles per hour and.... well, we made it and stopped without rolling over into the valley below, or causing any personal injuries.

However, there was considerable damage to the braking apparatus under all of the locomotives and that had to be fixed up enough to get them to the nearest facility, which was in Kamloops where they could be fully repaired and put back into service. 

Naturally, they had an envelope full of demerits they wanted to give to somebody and I was the logical choice; I had, after all, been in control of the train. At least until I was no longer in control of it. 

In an apparent effort to build an iron-clad case against me and not jeopardise the employment records of the other members of the crew, CN's local manager called upon one of the Engine Service Brakemen (ESB) assigned to the terminal to make a round trip on the Lumby Switcher to observe my performance and report back to the supervisor/manager.

So, the next day I arrived at the yard office to find my conductor and brakeman 'booking in' while the car checker was printing up a list of the cars that were to be spotted at the various industries on the Lumby sub.  As well, there would be cars already on spot that would have to be pulled and brought down to Vernon for furtherance to Kamloops and beyond. 

Don would spend a half hour or so on the phone with the shipping clerks at each of the industries on the hill, and from those discussions, he would decide which cars would be taken with us, leaving some in storage near the Lumby Jct. switch where there were four tracks used by both CN and CP crews to hold out traffic.

Through the partly opened door to the manager's office at the far end of the hallway, I could see "Bob", the ESB I mentioned earlier, casually slumped in a chair and deep in conversation with the manager.  This wasn't unusual.  Bob could quite often be found in close proximity to the manager and in fact, seemed to exercise considerable influence in the decision making process and operation of the Okanagan Division.  I took the brakeman with me and we went to check out the locomotive consist that we would use for the day. 

Once settled in, brake tests completed and cab swept out, I called the office to tell the conductor we were ready to go.  Within a few minutes, he opened the front door of the SD40-2 and stepped into the cab.  The look on his face told me that something wasn't quite right.  He pursed his lips and began whatever he was going to say with..., "Well..., " and he said it with a bit of a western drawl.  Don had a large repertoire of interesting, sometimes poignant, and always full-of-meaning sayings that he used at the most opportune times.  Sometimes serious, sometimes humorous, but always to the point.  I liked working with Don.

On this day, he finished his opening sentence with..., "it looks like were going to have company today."

"Oh" I said. "Who's coming with us, and why?"

"Well....," he said. "I don't know the 'why', but the 'who' is Bob," the local engineer, ESB I spoke of earlier.

 I knew by the look on his face that he knew much more than he was going to tell me.  He had a rather simple philosophy about almost everything, and it was obvious he was applying one of his favourites on this day.  "In any given situation, there's two ways to handle it..." he would say.  There's "Lever A" and "Lever B".  This situation called for "Lever B" (Leave 'er be) and I would find out the "why"soon enough.

At that point, Bob stepped into the cab and the brakeman, Eddy got up and gave him his seat. 

"What are you doing here today, Bob", I asked?

"Uh, the boss asked me to tag along to, uhhh, have a look at the subdivision and, er..., well, to see if, uh, well, how the track is, and, uh.....". He trailed off to catch his breath.

"You mean, you're here to check me out...", I said.

"Yeah", he said.

I asked him if he was here in an 'official' capacity, but he said "No", he wasn't.  I thought about asking him to leave the cab, as he had no pass or other authority to be on board my engine.  But then, I thought...., if he gets hurt while riding with us, that will bring the wrath of the Worker's Compensation Board of BC down on the neck of the manager that I held in such high regard.  I kept my mouth shut, neither giving him my permission to stay, nor asking him to leave.

We spent an hour switching, picking up and setting out cars in Vernon and at Lumby Jct. where both CN and CPR interchanged cars with each other.  Once our train was all together and the SBU attached to the rear car, we had a brake test, checked our paper work one more time and left for our day on the Lumby sub.

The first nine miles was all uphill, and we were pulling empty boxes, bulkhead flats and chip cars for two lumber mills; cars of sand and soda ash for the glass plant, and gondolas and flats for another industry that shipped raw poles for hydro installations and log house building.  We would get rid of most of those cars on the way out, and some on the way back.  All in all, we never stopped for a break, or slowed down for any reason.  We had to be back into Vernon in time to add all the traffic we brought in to the cars that the Kelowna switcher brought to Vernon.  The Armstrong switcher would leave their cars in the first CPR siding south of Vernon, at Larkin.  The 'north' would pick those up before tackling the hill from Armstrong to Monte Lake that evening.

The weather had been particularly cold and the snow, once it began falling in November seemed never to stop.  City streets were clogged with the stuff.  Both railways, CN and CPR did not have snow removal equipment in the Okanagan, so we simply pushed it around with the engines and swept and shoveled to find and move the switches. 

Eventually, we left Lavington, after switching the lumber mill and the glass plant and we headed for the Riverside Lumber mill, just a couple of miles west of the town of Lumby.  There, we would slow down to check the doors on the boxcars spotted at the 'studs' track, then look at the chips being loaded in the tail of the studs track.  Beyond that, the conductor and brakeman would drop off to clean a facing point switch so that we could arrange to 'drop' our train on the two mile downgrade that led to 'end of track' in Lumby. 

After leaving the glass plant, I let the train roll down a gently curving downgrade that ran for about a half mile, then straight across a meadow.  The speed of the train had settled out about 30 mph (speed limit 25), but I knew that when we began to climb out of that hollow, the speed would drop and the engine would pass the "Cautionary Limit" sign at less than 15 mph and would continue to drop to less than 10 as we passed the loading platform of the studs track.

As the engine passed the studs track switch, the conductor and brakeman were getting ready to check out the boxcar numbers, door seals, handbrakes, etc.  Bob was keeping up an excited banter with the brakeman about not much in particular and I was watching the track ahead for the large rubber tired forklift that was often found foul of the main track in that area despite the fact that I always blew the whistle, rang the bell and ran with full headlights and ditch lights.   That forklift driver had nine lives, I'm sure.

The track took a slight turn towards the right as we ran beside the loading platform and I took a minimum brake to warm up the shoes in case I needed them in a hurry. 

Before the brake valve exhaust had stopped hissing in the cab, I "plugged it", putting the train into emergency!  All conversation ceased immediately and all eyes were looking forward, then at me.  It seemed that I was the only one in the cab who could see that there was a potentially dangerous situation developing right in front of the engine, and we were about to tangle with it.

It seems that the mill, in an effort to find a way to get rid of the vast amount of snow that had been accumulating during that particularly heavy winter season, decided to use that forklift to scoop up snow from the parking lot, the chip loaders, the access roadways, and the concrete railcar loading ramps..., and pile it next to the beehive burner.  The burner gave off an inordinate amount of heat which melted the snow and...., voila..., there it was - gone!  Well, it was almost gone.

As we know, water takes several forms, it doesn't just 'go away.'  In this case, the snow turned to water and flowed toward the loading ramp, over the edge and onto the studs spur.  It didn't stop there either.  No..., it flowed onto the mainline where it froze in an ice sheet about ten inches thick.

With the train brakes set in 'emergency' and the engine softly idling, we rode up onto the ice and, the front truck turned slightly, directing the engine into the page wire fence that outlined the cattle rancher's property and the boundary with CN's right of way.  And that's where we stopped our forward movement. 

Addressing the brakeman, I said... "Eddy, tie a hand brake on 'er please."  "I think we'll leaver her here for the day and go home by taxi."

Then, looking at Bob, I asked him how he planned to write this up in his report.  "Do you think the boss'll find a way to blame this on me?" I asked him.

He dug a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and called the boss to tell him what had happened.  There was a silence on the other end of the line that was audible.

During the night... (The Kamloops shop staff didn't like having to come to Vernon in the dark, or in the winter, and this was both of those.) a truck arrived with something called a 'Hoesh', and by morning, they had the SD40-2 back on the rails.

Also the next day, I paid a visit to the boss in his office, but he didn't seem to want to talk about my 'ice capades' the day before, so I left, knowing that I was still doing a good job.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What’s in a Name?

Sometime shortly after we’re born, we assume an identity which is partly attributable to the genes we inherit, and partly by the name we’re given.  We grow up with the realization that our given names are a good fit with the personalities we develop, or perhaps that isn’t the case at all.  Those who wonder what the hell their parents were thinking when you were given your ‘handle’ may live their entire lives trying to gather up enough courage to have their name legally changed, and at the same time, avoid hurting mom’s feelings. 
While my mother was waiting for me to be ready for my birth, she spent her resting hours reading the classics, one of which was the story of the Scottish King, Robert the Bruce.  

On the night before the battle in which the 5000 man Scottish army, led by Robert the Bruce defeated the 20,000 man English army of King Edward II, Robert must have felt discouraged knowing that he was outnumbered 4 to 1 by a well-armed, and well-trained superior force.  As the story goes, Robert sat in a cave, trying to plan a strategy that might result in an outcome that wouldn’t see 5000 of his countrymen lying dead in the mud, their fallen flag covered with their own blood.

As he sat, staring into the small fire that was only large enough to warm his legs, he felt abandoned by his tactical skills.  Then, he noticed a spider working steadily to build a web near the roof of the cave. 

Despite the cold, the humidity, the smoke from Robert’s fire, and groundwater that seeped through the rocks onto the spider, it continued to  spin its web, feeding it from the spinneret on its abdomen and carrying it from anchor point to anchor point.  The rock was wet and the web didn’t hold very well, letting the spider fall toward the fire below.  With each setback, the little spider arrested its fall and climbed back to the roof to look for a better spot to anchor its web. 

As Robert the Bruce watched, the spider continued until, finally, the web was finished.  The spider then moved to the center of the web and settled in to wait for its first victim.  Job done.

Perhaps my mother felt there was a good chance, being born into a railroad family, in a small railroad town (Capreol, Ontario), that I would become a railroader too.  If that was to come true, then I would benefit from the lessons that came from the story of the King, Robert the Bruce.

One of the things about ‘names’ that has always fascinated me, while at the same time, eluded me…, is a nick-name.  Nick-names are humorous, serious, malicious or descriptive.  As I advanced through my many years of railroading, I was called many things, but none of them might be called a ‘nick name.’ 

Jump ahead to the year 1998.  It had been a very long, hot summer in BC’s southern interior. After a wet spring, the valley entered summer with a thick, green blanket of growth.  Weed growth along the roads and railway rights of way reached almost unbelievable heights of more than ten feet.

CN MOW crew backing into Kalamalka siding. 
Photo by the Author
BC’s Premier Gordon Campbell (Liberal) delayed cutting the weeds that grew right to the edge of the province’s highways and, following suit, CN Okanagan Division’s Operations Manager refused to release funds to cut the weed growth along the right of way, in the yards and at public crossings at grade (road crossings).  The unions complained, wrote letters, made phone calls and made strong verbal presentations to the Ops Mgr.  He would not be moved, reasoning that the snows of winter would knock the weeds down. 

We struggled through the summer, but the experience wasn’t without some drama, but that’s another story…., or two.

That same year, winter arrived with a vengeance.  It came early, and it came hard.  Week after week of sub-zero temperatures, strong winds and heavy snow filled the low-lying places in the valley with hard-packed, driven snow. 

The Ops Mgr was right.  The weeds were eventually beaten to the ground, however the sturdiest of them took a long time.  Those that had grown closest to the track collapsed where they had grown, the wind blowing them over the rails in a great blanket of slippery fiber, snow and ice.  On the Lumby sub, where the heaviest snowfalls are traditionally encountered, pulling and spotting industries was particularly hazardous due to not only the deep snow, but also the tangle of weeds that lay beneath the snow cover.
The work was intense under the best of conditions.  In bitterly cold weather, when the crew-men are bundled up in layers of heavy clothing, heavy socks, insulated boots, toques, at least two pairs of mitts, one wool and one leather…, a job that is, by nature a dangerous one, becomes treacherous.  Even small mistakes can bring dramatic results.

We started this day with a ‘rescue’ of the southbound CN train ex-Kamloops.  The night crew hadn’t been able to get out of Kamloops Junction until their mandatory 12 hours on duty had almost expired, and as a result, they had to leave the train at Monte Lake, where we found it and brought it into Vernon. There, the motive power consist of four SD40-2’s was broken up to provide three crews with power to run to Kelowna, Armstrong and Lumby.  At the end of the day, the three crews  returned to Vernon where the power was re-consisted into a four-unit consist to take all the cars that had been gathered throughout the valley all day.  Such was the normal cycle of activity in CN’s Okanagan sub in the 1990’s.
Photographer unknown
CN M420's northbound at Westwold, between Falkland and Monte Lake, ca. 2002.
Timing was everything with this operation.  Whenever the southbound freight had to be rescued…, and it happened way too often, the whole operation had to go like hell to try to make up some of the lost time.  If that lost time wasn’t made up, the northbound train would arrive late into Kamloops Jct, resulting in another rescue, this time the train would have to be rescued in Kamloops, causing even greater delay.  Once this pattern developed, it would often carry on all week, taking the weekend to get caught up and back on schedule.  All in all, a bothersome situation.

Brakeman Mark Goode and Conductor Don McMillan 

Today we’re late.  The office calls, wanting to know what time we might make it back to Vernon. 

We had gone up to Lumby, switching Lavington's wood chip plant, the glass plant and Lumby's mills.  We were on our way back with one more stop to make at Lavinton.

Leaving Lumby with twenty cars for Vernon.
Photo credit Len Vandergucht of Salmon Arm

The CPR crew hadn’t yet returned from Kelowna and might get back to Lumby Jct. before we do.  We would have to wait for them to complete their switching at the junction before they could get up to the north end of town to put their engine on the shop track. Our Kelowna crew managed to get back to Vernon and had placed their power on the shop track.  The Armstrong crew was on their way in. 
Timing is everything. 

Our last stop on the way back to the junction was at Tolko (Forest) Industries in Lavington.  We had already picked up a dozen loads of wood chips at Lavington on the way to Lumby. Added to the wood chips, lumber and veneer we pulled out of Riverside Lumber at Lumby, we arrived at Lavington with a long, heavy train.  We left the loads on the main line and backed into the mill with some empty bulk-head flats and some Rail-Boxes for lumber loading.  We pulled the loads and spotted the empties, and returned to the mainline to couple onto the cars we had brought from Lumby.
After the air had been cut in and the pressure in the SBU had come up to 80 psi, I set the brakes for a brake test.  Since the rear portion of the train had already been properly tested, we did a proper setup and release with a walking inspection of the Lavington pick-up.

With everybody on board, I release the engine brake and edge the throttle out.  It's a bit of a lift, at first, as the train is sitting on an incline, but soon the train moves more easily ahead.  In a couple of minutes, we're heading down a steep decline into a swale.  Highway 6, the road to Lumby, Cherryville and other southern BC centers lies at the bottom of the swale.  I set the brakes, partly to prevent the train’s speed from exceeding the legal speed limit of 25 mph, and partly to satisfy my need to ascertain that the brakes were working properly.  With whistle blowing loud, we cross the highway and begin to climb out of the hole and onto a mile of straight, level track. 
The brakes have applied and the train feels steadied.  I move the brake valve handle to release them, working power and watching the air flow meter and the brake pipe pressure reading on the TIBS display.  The brakes seem to drag longer than I expected them to and are slow to release completely.   The speedometer settled out at about 15 mph and the brake pipe pressure slowly crept back up to a level I was happy with.

The conductor is in the cab of the second unit, writing up his train.  The head end brakeman sits across the cab…,  watching my facial expressions. We discussed the fact that the brakes seemed to be behaving a bit strangely, but since they had both applied and released during our brake test at Lavington, and had applied again as we were leaving there, we weren't overly concerned at that time.

Now, up out of the swale and travelling over the straight track, there was only a quarter mile of the flat track left ahead of us. I checked the BP pressure again.  It was slow recovering…, too slow.  The brakes have released, but without a fully charged brake pipe, I would have fewer options available to control the train's speed going down the hill. Was it the cold weather?  The train line was reasonably tight, with only slight leakage before we left Lavington. 
The bright orange light on the front panel of the air flow meter was flickering on and off, meaning that the air pressure wasn't pumped back up after our latest application and release.  As the engine led the front of the train off the level track and onto the 1.5 to 2 % descent to Lumby Jct., I cursed CN for failing to provide dynamic brakes on our road power.  Sometimes, air brakes alone just weren’t enough to do the job. 

I thought about stopping to check out the brakes, put up some retainers, or put on some hand brakes.  But, with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, and feeling the pressure to keep the train moving toward Vernon, I decided to keep going. I was gambling that the brake pipe would continue to charge and that there would be sufficient air pressure available to slow or stop when we were approaching Cautionary Limits, or the spot where we might find other train movements using the track were on.
The speedometer began to edge past 25. With some reluctance, I reduced the throttle to ‘idle’ and took a light reduction from the brake pipe. A higher throttle setting causes the air compressor to put out greater volume at greater pressure, and I needed that compressor working hard to replenish our air reserves.  I followed that with a light application of the engine brakes.  I wanted to warm up all the brake shoes on the train.  We had been clipping the tops off snow drifts over the track and I was conscious of the possibility that a build-up of snow between the wheels and brake shoes would make braking difficult, if not impossible. 

Our speed was still increasing. Feeling that I was running out of room ahead, I decided to stop the train on the hill. I made a heavy brake application and waited for the full-set brake to stop the train. 

The speedometer climbed past 40 mph.  The brake reduction I had made hadn’t given me the results I wanted. 

My options were getting pretty slim.  

With only a couple of cards left to play in my hand, I pushed the brake valve handle into the EMERGENCY position!  The sudden rush of cold air escaping from the brake valve was loud and jarring!  In an emergency situation like this, "plugging her", or "putting her into the 'Big Hole'" was a head-end man's second-to-last card to play.

The last card is whether to stay and ride it out, or ..., jump.

The brakeman had a look of real concern on his face.  The conductor called from his seat in the second unit and, speaking in a soft voice, said…, “Have you heard from the CP crew?”
He knew we were not going to stop anytime soon and was now concerned about whether or not the CP crew would be working at Lumby Jct. when we arrived there. 

My most immediate concern at that point was that we would roll onto the old wooden trestle at the end of the Lumby sub at great speed and end up on Kal Lake road below the trestle. 
 CN train on Lumby Jct trestle
RBH photo
We  called the CPR crew on every radio channel that we had in common.  We knew they had a switching channel that we didn’t have, and feared that we wouldn’t be able to reach them in time to avoid a terrible wreck. 

The speedometer stopped climbing at just over 50 mph, the indicator needle bouncing slightly as the faded, yellow “Lumby Jct. One Mile” sign came into view in the distance.  I edged the engine brake on a little more.  The brake shoes had been getting hotter and hotter and were now smouldering, as they began to crumble and fall away from their hangers.  Brake shoe smoke was now filling the cab. 

The brakeman, began looking through the contact list on his cell and discovered that he had a cell number of one of the CPR crewmen.  A quick call discovered that they were switching at Lumby Jct. and they said they’d clear off the main line and line up the switches for us.  
Soon, they were monitoring our radio channel, waiting to find out how we were doing.  The main line was clear, they said, and if it was at all possible, they would try to help in any way they could.  They had two GP-38’s with dynamic brakes and would tie onto our tail end and use their DB to slow us down…, if they could catch us! In the meantime, they took up a position where they would be handy to help us, if help was needed.   They were also in a good position to witness a spectacular derailment if we failed to negotiate the curved trestle and piled up in the valley below.  

 I called the CN office to let them know our situation, as there were a number of busy road crossings at the bottom of the hill, in downtown Vernon.  These would have to be protected…, if we got that far.

 I glanced at the speedometer.  It was at 43 mph and dropping slowly.  The brake smoke in the cab was getting severe and the brakeman had the front door held partway open with his boot in an effort to clear away the acrid smoke. 

The three photos above are provided by Andy Cassidy.
They demonstrate badly worn brake shoes and shelled wheels similar to, but not as severe as the damage done to the wheels in our story.

I knew the engine’s wheels would be hot, blue and probably condemnable, but I didn’t care a damn for the wheels at that point.  In fact, if the wheels broke into pieces, we’d soon be in a pile-up, but at least it would be a pile-up on solid ground and not inside the Kal Lake General Store!
With the engine entering the steepest part of the downward grade, the east end of the trestle came into view. 
Snow began to fall.  It was a peaceful scene, but perhaps not for long.
The speed began to fall as the brakes began to take hold.  The train’s brakes were finally working!

Now, with most of our train on the heaviest down-grade of 2%, and the engine reaching for the wooden trestle, the brakes dug in hard, bringing the train to a stop. The ancient timber trestle creaked and groaned beneath the weight of the locomotives and the loaded lumber cars.  Rolling slowly across the span, the train finally came to rest  with the engine sitting just clear of the west end of the trestle, and clear of the Vernon-Kelowna main line.

Notice the CPR locomotives beyond the roadway. 
 They're standing on the Kelowna line, just clear of Lumby Junction.
Photo by the author
The wheels were very badly burnt, with almost every colour of the rainbow evident.  They weren’t cracked, but…, oh my…, they were cooked!  And the brake shoes?  They were non–existent.  Even the cast brake rigging that held brake shoes in position was burned off every truck. 
The engine consist couldn’t be moved on its own.  Half of the Okanagan sub's motive power fleet was crippled. 

We called a taxi to take us to the yard office where we booked off duty.  The night crew had arrived and were instructed to take the remaining two units to Lumby Jct and bring the crippled units to the shop track. They grumbled, but had no choice in the matter.
As a post-script, and because you’re going to want to know….CN sent a couple of truckloads of men and equipment from Kamloops to Vernon, where they worked for 16 hours to make the units fit to be moved back to Kamloops for repairs.  The temperature on the shop track while they worked was in excess of minus 32 degrees Celsius. 

And that’s how I came by my nick-name….., HOTWHEELS HARVEY.