Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Every Train Crew's Nightmare

In a previous blog, I made reference to large rocks that hang above the tracks in treacherous areas of railroad country. The following pictures will give you an idea of just how bad it can get.

The text below is from the initial (unofficial) report I received:

Initially (on Saturday), this slide was reported as being 40 x 80 feet.  Now that they have been able to get a better look at it, here is an update...

Wiped out the slide shed, 500 feet of track, 1/2 a bridge and almost made the Fraser River a lake.  
30,000 cubic meters of debris, not counting 3 blasts needed to knock off overhanging nubs.

 If you look closely, you will see a large, rubber-tired loader working on the scree at the edge of the slide.  Also, there is a large excavator on the right of way at the right hand edge of the photo.

You can also see the slide detector fence posts and arms (in photo number two) that give warning to approaching trains when a falling rock breaks one or more of the wires that are strung along the face of the cliff beside the track.

Cut from an email, we have Butch Whiteman's comments, below....

I've seen a few slides between Jasper and Vancouver in my time, but this is as big as I've ever seen.  It came down last Saturday and they finally got track passable this morning (Thursday).  I recall my Granddad telling me a story about slides that came down in this area during the winter of 1933 when he was called for a work train west out of Kamloops to clean it up.  Of course, they didn't have the equipment they have today to deal with slides like these, but it must have been a big one too as they were gone from home for 33 days!  While they were ditching, a slide came down on top of them - burying the engine but they were able to dig themselves out of it before suffocating.  The only casualty in that slide was the watchman they had posted on an outcropping who's job it was to warn the others if a slide came down.  He gave a warning and workers were able to dive under cars on the train to escape the rocks, but the slide took him into the river and he was never found.

Jackass Mtn. is the name of Mountain where this occured.  Because of the terrain in this particular area, the road goes up quite high to get over the "prone to slide" area and a Jackass that was used as mule to haul supplies up the canyon finally got tired of hauling heavy loads and just gave up...... he simply committed suicide and stepped off the trail into no-man's land.

And they tell us that 'crab fishing' is a dangerous job!!!

Photos submitted by Butch Whiteman, who spent many years of his railroad career working this subdivision, as did his father and his grandfather before him.
Photographer not yet known
Photo provided by Syl Peplynski
This photo was taken looking west, just east of the tunnel and rock slide.  The single aspect CTC signal at the left side of the photo would normally indicate stop, then proceed at restricted speed; however, the presence of the yellow sign with the capital letter R on it allows trains to pass the red signal without stopping, but must proceed at restricted speed. 
The 'white' signal below the red one is known as a "T" light, which is activated when one or more of the wires in the slide detector fence (west of the tunnel) is broken by a falling rock.
March 19, 1966 just a few miles west of the big slide we've been following.
Thanks to the unknown photographer for his/her photos used in this blog.
CN's website says the following about it...
 - On Saturday, November 24th, a rockslide occurred along the Ashcroft subdivision of the CN main line near the station of Falls Creek, BC. The incident, which was reported on November 24th at 1210hrs PDT, caused delays to our mainline trains running between Kamloops, BC and Vancouver
- The site was cleared as of 1020hrs PST on Thursday, November 29th. Customers should expect some delays as service through the area gradually returns to normal.

I would like to extend my most earnest gratitude to all those who have allowed Caboose Coffee to publish their photographs in this blog.  Special thanks go to Butch Whiteman for sharing his connection and for having a sincere interest in this blog as a tool to give others an insight into life on the railroad in a time when the technology was evolving from steam to diesel, from train orders to CTC, MBS and OCS.  Train dispatchers came to work to find that they were now RTC's and train masters were no longer respected from above or below.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Okanagan Valley Wine Train - Part Two

When we last saw the Wine Train, it was rolling happily through the Okanagan Valley, albeit with one of its two engines disabled.  The GMD1, CN 1437 ran, coupled to the 1652, an SD38-2 for almost a week before it was picked up the northbound switcher and taken to Vernon.  From there, it was hauled, dead to Kamloops.  We didn't see the ugly duckling again.

Instead, we got a different locomotive almost every week.  All of them were GP 9's that had been heavily modified, mostly for yard and transfer service.  All of them had the short hoods "chopped", or lowered, so that they resembled CN's fleet of SD40-2's.  For the most part, CN had done a good job extending the lives of these old engines which dated from the early nineteen fifties.

July 1999, northbound at Armstrong, BC
Bruce Harvey photo.
While some elements of the job went unchanged, day to day; others did not.  I enjoyed working an assignment that offered something different, an new challenge, something out of the ordinary and the Wine Train never failed to fulfill that need in me.
On one trip, a visitor climbed up into the cab while we were stopped in Armstrong.  He was an old friend who had been an operator until he accepted a position as a Rule Instructor.  Phil Moreau had worked in Boston Bar in the 80's and I had gotten to know him there.
Phil was taking a short vacation in Kelowna and had boarded the train there for the trip to Armstrong and return and I was glad to see him; I was even happier that he asked to ride with me in the cab between Armstrong and Vernon. 
 Since I had been away from the mainline for quite a while, working yard assignments in Vancouver until I moved to the Okanagan Division in August of 1995, I was eager to learn what changes were taking place Mr. Tellier, the new President and CEO. 
While Phil regaled me with stories about life on the mainline, my interest was piqued by one point in particular; according to Phil, head-end crews were now barred from inspecting their locomotives when they took control of a consist.  The assumption being that there were shop staff on duty to ensure that safety appliances, lube oil, water and fuel were all in order, there was no need for enginemen to check these items before departing on what could be twelve hours or more of running in some of the most inaccessible geography on the CNR..., the Fraser and Thompson canyons.  As an engineer of considerable experience, I immediately thought of a number of trips that I had made with heavy trains and single unit consists.  On a few of those occasions, engines had failed due to insufficient cooling water, low lube oil, running out of fuel or some other cause.
Phil went on to say that CN management had caused all fuel guages to be removed from locomotives and had followed up with an order that enginemen were not to inspect their locomotives, on penalty of discipline.
I wasn't overly concerned about this, because the Wine Train power was changed out at Kamloops once a week and fresh power was brought to Kelowna every Friday morning. 
However, the seed was planted, and I decided to inspect my locomotives more closely starting the very next trip.
On arrival in Kelowna for the next run, which was a Sunday, I stepped into my striped over-alls, put on my striped engineer's hat and laced up my boots.  On approaching the locomotive, a freshly painted GP9, the CN 7064, I observed that the customary red fuel gauge was missing from beneath the skirt and just above the fuel tank. 
Not a problem, says I, and bending over, I picked up a smooth, round, half pound rock from the mixed ballast beneath my feet.  Selecting a spot about a foot from the top of the tank, I gave the black, shiny steel tank a smart blow with my rock.  Expecting the muffled 'thud' that would indicate a full tank, I was slightly taken aback by the hollow 'clang' of an empty vessel.  I struck the tank again, this time at a spot about midway down and got the same response. 
Now, I paused to give this some thought.
The locomotive is supplied to Mr. Nagel under a "wet lease" agreement, meaning that CN ensured that the locomotive would be completely serviced and filled with all necessary fluids, including fuel.  In short, Mr. Nagel would not be allowed to undertake to service the locomotives in any manner.
In addition, if I were to strike the tank one more time, near the bottom of the tank, with the same results..., well......, it was Sunday.  Where would one find a fuel truck to fill this tank up on short notice..., and on Sunday!!!???
The conductor had driven over to Cecil's Perogy Palace to pick up some nibbles for our northbound run and to stop in at the Wine Train's offices nearby to get our paperwork off the fax machine, authorizing us to leave Kelowna and occupy the main track between Kelowna and Vernon.  I decided to wait for his return before banging on the fuel tank that one last time.
I set my smooth, round stone on top of the fuel tank and picked up my belongings from the ground at the ends of the ties.
The  engine had been left, isolated and shut down by the switcher crew when it had been brought from Vernon.  An engine, when it's running will give you a sense of a living creature when you reach up and take the stair rails in your hands.  When it's not running, it seems to welcome you, filled with the expectation that you will soon bring it to life and take it out on the road for a good run.  This day, the 7064 was silent, waiting in anticipation of a leisurely trip through the beautiful Okanagan Valley.
Today, all the freight trains were still; their engines put to rest on their shop tracks.  Today was our day to own the road.  Today was our day to shine.
I unlocked the cab and dropped my 'grip' on the floor behind the control stand.  My camera bag went on top of the heater in front of my seat.  The familiar smells of almost-fresh paint, oily brake exhaust, stale cigarettes and chemical toilet filled my senses.  I was at  home.

The Happy Hogger

Phil Moreau photo

Flipping on the breakers and setting the necessary switches, I went out onto the walkway and opened the carbody door to the 'start station'. 
In less than a moment, the engine came to life, and when I was sure that fuel was flowing through the fuel sight glass on the equipment rack, I backed out of the engine compartment, and closed and latched the door. 
The conductor was just getting out of the rented car, so I climbed down from the locomotive and met him in the parking lot.  Handing me a cup of coffee and a brown paper bag with a small order of perogies, he assured me that he had our paperwork in his grip and that he had spoken with the Okanagan Valley dispatcher, or OVR Rail Traffic Coordinator. (RTC) re: our expected arrival time in Vernon, where we would require additional clearance to proceed on OVR track from Vernon to Armstrong.
After he had run out of fresh information, I suggested he come with me to where I had left the stone resting on the fuel tank.  When I told him of my concern, he mentioned that his brother, who worked for CN at Kamloops had told him about the new edict regarding engineers checking fuel levels.  He asked me if I really wanted to tempt fate, risk discipline by checking the fuel in the tank. 
I told him that any CN officer who cared to take me out of service at this time would be risking his own job.  After all, the Wine Train would have to be cancelled as there was no other engineer available to replace me on less than six hours notice.  I felt confident that I could smack that fuel tank one more time.
Lifting the rock, I bent down and gave the tank one good tap..., a few inches from the bottom of the tank.  Clearly, there was little or no fuel in there.
Without speaking, the conductor handed me the company's cell phone and I dialed up Mr. Hanratty, the Operations Manager.  I found him at a sports event with his family. 
He was immediately upset with me for disturbing him with something that was clearly not possible.  The engine had only just arrived from Kamloops and he was positive that it had been fully serviced there.  He 'ordered' me to take the engine and put it on the train and do my job!!!!
"But don't turn off your phone, just in case I'm right and you're wrong", says I.
We gathered up the passenger cars and backed it over to the little station and waited for the passengers who were milling about in fairly large groups, to get on. 
I checked my watch.
Rail buffs came to stand below the cab window.  They took photographs and held up little children for a better look.  We completed our air brake test.  I called Mr. Nagel's on-board train fellow to ask how things were proceding and he told me that Mr. Nagel was coming up to the engine to speak with me. 
This was an event that always elicited a rush of excitement.  Sometimes, Mr. Nagel had met someone who professed to be an expert in the field of track-train dynamics and who could make some changes to the way the train was run that could save Mr. Nagel large sums of money, or cut hours off the running time each week.  Or, he might tell me that he had made arrangements with a local business or family, to pick up a large party at some milepost, or crossing along the route.  He would invariably want me to place the train in some location where the road bed was level, not overgrown with weeds, and always close to parking.    I always did my best to accomodate him.
Leaning out the window and looking back toward the station, I saw him, wading through the throng, waving at me, beckoning me to meet him on the platform.
Bob Nagel stood taller than six feet and I stood somewhat less than that.  He had a habit of standing quite close and leaning forward to talk. He leaned in and I backed up.  He moved forward.  I backed up again.  Finally, he hooked his fingers into the bib of my coveralls and held on while he began to explain what was on his mind. 
His big concern today was a special group of travellers he had on board.  For months he had been trying to get a group of travel agents to come out for a tour of the valley on his train.  This meant a lot for his business, for if all went well, his tour train would get a favourable rating, plenty of advertising and increased ridership.  I assured him that I would do everything I could to make sure that all went smoothly.
I climbed back up into the cab and sat down with my head in my hands.  Just as I was able to assure Bob that I would do everything in my power to ensure this trip would be memorable, I knew that it would be a memory that he would rather be able to forget, but would not forget....no matter what.
Without further ado..., the signal was given to proceed and I released the brakes, put the bell on and gave two smart 'toots' on the whistle.  We began to move northward into the late afternoon haze of a hot July day in the Okanagan.
The engine and train happily climbed out of the valley for twelve miles to Winfield, where we tipped over the hill to run two miles downhill to Woodsdale.  From there, it was level running along Wood lake and Kalamalka Lake.
At the north end of Wood lake, there is a narrow ithsmus that the railroad uses to cross from the east side of the valley to the west side.  This ithsmus separates Wood lake and Kalamalka lake and, besides carrying the railroad, it also has a secondary highway between Oyama and North Kelowna. 
As the train emerged from the trees at the north end of Wood lake and began to swing onto the narrow strip of land between the two lakes, the conductor yelled  "Soak 'er!!!"    As the engine was running long nose forward, and we were entering a left hand curve, I couldn't see what he could see, but I instantly slammed the brake valve into the right hand corner, putting the train into an emergency brake application.
Before the train stopped, I saw a small, dirt road crossing pass under the leading end of the engine.  There was a cloud of dust, and metal parts rolling away from the scene and into the ditch.  Getting up from my seat, I crossed the cab and looked out toward the lake and saw an old station wagon pulling a boat and trailer.  The boat launch had been rather busy and the the driver had pulled onto the railroad crossing, but not quite all the way across it. 
We had just taken part of  his outboard motor off the transom and left it in the ditch. 
While I recovered the air in the brake pipe, the conductor got down onto the ground and got the fellow's name and address for the report that would have to be filed.  Then he called me and asked me to pull by slowly so that he could conduct a roll-by inspection of the train.  I called the on-board train attendant and instructed him to go to the rear of the train and open up the vestibules to allow the conductor to get back onboard after the inspection.  He could then walk up to the head end while we continued on our way.
Soon, he called on the radio to say that the train looked good and he was aboard.  I began to notch up the throttle.  I activated the engines bell as there were quite a few people at the beach and near the track. 
I opened the throttle even more.  It felt good to be under way.  The breeze carried the scent of wild Sage and Ponderosa Pine.  It was a good day to be the hogger on the Wine Train.

Southbound at Kalamalka Lake
Bruce Harvey photo
The engine stopped running and, except for the ringing of alarm bells and the faint sound of the locomotives wheels pinging on rail joints, there was just an unfamiliar quiet.
I called the conductor on the radio and asked him if the tail end of the train had cleared the crossing to the boat launch where we had clipped the boat on the trailer. 
He said, "Yes, why". 
"Because, I think we've just run out of gas," I said.
"I'll walk through the train to the head end", he said.
"And, I'll wait here for you", I said, with a wry smile.  We were out of fuel.  Where else would I wait for him?
In a few minutes, the conductor arrived..., with an irate Bob Nagel in tow.
Bob had seen the conductor walking up from the tail end and wanted to know how long we were going to stopped here.  That's when Bob found out that the engine was "out of gas."
Bob was more than irate..., he was frantic!
There would be untold numbers of heads on pikes very soon!  And, I was to be fired immediately! 
Bob dug his cel phone out of his pants pocket and began calling CN officials in Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver...., wherever he thought they might be hiding. 
I called Operations Manager Dave Hanratty who immediately 'launched' at me for interupting his Sunday ... again!
I calmly waited for him to settle down, then I told him that the train was stopped at Oyama and the engine was "out of fuel".  He insisted that I was confused and that I should put the conductor on the phone.  The conductor then told him that he engine was, indeed..., out of fuel and no amount of threatening posture on his part was going to make it go one foot further...., without fuel.
After a half hour or so, the phone rang.  I overheard the conductor telling the person on the other end of the conversation that we were stopped at Oyama, and that there was very easy access to the locomotive from the road.  In fact, one could drive right up to the edge of the track beside the engine.
A fuel truck was on the way with a half load of diesel fuel.  Hanratty now owed a truck driver a favour.  That wouldn't sit well with him.
Another 45 minutes passed and we were still sitting on spot.  Dark clouds were now covering the sky and there was a definite chill in the air.  Bob Nagel was pacing up and down the line, cell phone to his ear. 
The on-board train manager, a Nagel employee came up to the front of the train where we were standing on the ground, planning out how the remainder of the trip might go.  The train manager said that the passengers were getting unruly and wanted to know why we were not moving. 
Nagel told him to tell everyone that CN had the track tied up and they'd be moving shortly.  In the meantime, he said...., "Break out the peanuts and pop..., and give everybody one of each....at half price."  I stepped in and suggested that he open the bars and let everyone have a couple of drinks on the house.  After listening to my arguments, he agreed.
The fuel truck finally arrived and the driver emptied his tank into ours.  Happily, the engine turned over and...., it caught!  We would be moving again as soon as we had re-charged the trains brake system. 
Not bad!!!  We were only one hour and fifty five minutes late and already we had covered nine miles.
The repercussions were only just beginning.  The caterers in Armstrong were expecting the train to arrive on time.  No one had advised them of the delay.  Dinner would be cold if there was even anyone hanging around the dining hall to serve the meal.  All of the on-board staff, who were being paid on an hourly basis would be on 'overtime' long before the train arrived back in Kelowna.  Nagel hated having to pay anyone at overtime rates. 
As the train was pulling through the CN yard in Vernon, the on-board manager called on their portable radio to tell us that we had an un-scheduled stop at the CPR station in Vernon.  All of the Tour Company operators who had boarded the train in Kelowna had decided they had seen enough and had called for a chartered bus to take them from Vernon to Kelowna. 
Well, that relieved the pressure somewhat, eh?
The trip was pretty quiet after departing Vernon.  On arrival in Armstrong, it was already dark, and there were no passengers on the platform, eager to go for the 90 minute round trip to O'Keefe and back.  I don't know what happened at Armstrong when we were away reversing the train for the return to Kelowna.  I felt it best to keep a low profile.
For the next couple of weeks after running out of fuel, management supplied two locomotives for the Wine Train to make sure that Mr. Nagel felt he was being looked after.

Two locomotives; a GP9 and an SD38-2 shown leaving Kelowna.
Bruce Harvey photo
In the next installment........  someone's rule violation puts my wife and I in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Okanagan Valley Wine Train - Part One

Rumours began to circulate around CN's Okanagan property in the spring of 1999;  a private operator from Edmonton was about to announce a new tourist train that would run between Kelowna and Armstrong in British Columbia's arid Southern Interior. 

The passenger equipment that would be in service on this train was to consist of a dozen cars that had been a part of CN's original 1954 order for its new Super Continental coast to coast passenger service. 

The Wine Train at Kalamalka Lake on CN's Okanagan Sub
Bruce Harvey Photo August 1999
For over thiry years, these trains criss-crossed the country, doing yeoman service for the Canadian National Railway's traveling public. In the mi-80's, CN began to move away from passenger service, and after some political wrangling, VIA Rail was created.  By January 1990, CN and CP ceased to own and operate their passenger trains...,  the Federal Government had taken over.

As routes and schedules were deleted from the nations' railway timetables, much of the older equipment became redundant, leaving a great many of the once-proud passenger fleet of the Super Continental relegated to storage tracks, awaiting their fate. 

Some of those cars were purchased by Mr. Bob Nagel's Edmonton based Nagel Tours, which was primarily a tour-bus line, operating between Alberta and south-western American vacation spots.

Late in June of 1999, Mr. Nagel's train showed up in Kelowna yard and preparations were made to launch a first class tourist train, catering to a clientele that was craving a daylight trip through the beautiful Okanagan Valley, dinner and floor show at the turn-around in Armstrong and an evening arrival back in Kelowna.

As the day approached for the first run of the train, last minute plans were being made for an efficient operating plan.  A small station was built to handle ticket sales, flags and posters were seen everywhere in downtown Kelowna, Vernon and Armstrong.  A "dry run" was made to determine running times between Kelowna and Armstrong, and between Armstrong and O'keefe.  The round-trip had to be completed within eight hours for a number of reasons.

The passenger train schedule MUST NOT interfere with the north-south operation of CN's freight schedule between Vernon and Kamloops, or the OVR (OKAN - ex CPR), which ran betweenVernon and Sicamous, the junction with CP's mainline between Calgary and Vancouver.  Both of these trains left town just ahead of CN's northbothe Wine Train's scheduled arrival in Vernon at approximately 1800.

This forced the Wine Train to operate out of Kelowna on a late-afternoon departure, necessitating a return to Kelowna in eight hours or less.   Besides, neither the onboard attendants or the paying public wished to be on the train beyond the minimum length of time it would take to get to Armstrong, have dinner and be entertained while they dined, and return home.

If there were no delays, additional 'Slow Orders' added to the already slow track speed, or blockages caused by either CN or Okanagan Valley Railway (CP), the trip could be made within those parameters.  Murphy, however..., had a round-trip pass that was good on all trains operating in 'the valley'!  In subsequent posts in this series, we'll come to know traveller 'Murphy' quite well.

The cars, still wearing a VIA Rail paint scheme of blue with twinned yellow horizontal bands that ran just below the windows, had been upgraded to include the latest in lighting, seating, sanitation, as well as Transport Canada requirements.  A former CN/VIA Steam Generator car, numbered 15475 had been gutted and re-fitted with a 275KW/ 440 volt Caterpillar diesel genset to provide on-board power for the train.  This generator wasn't tasked with providing sufficient power to supply heat to the cars, as no provision had been made for that amenity.  After all..., the train was going to operated in the Okanagan Valley on a summer only schedule!

The following information is courtesy of http://www.okanagan.net/ocarc/page5.htm
Among the cars in the Wine Train roster were:
Coaches: 5473, 5487, 5532, 5603, 5654, 5585, 5440.
Cafe Lounge: 752, 755.
E-Sleepers: 1128 Elmsdale, 1137 Enfield, 1157 Evelyn, 1159 Eldorado.
Steam Generator Car: 15475.
March 5, 1999, the following passenger cars arrived:
Coaches: 5446, 5522, 5590.
Club Galley Cars: 653 Mount Royal Club, 654 St. James's Club, 658 Boulevard Club, 659 York Club.
March 18, 1999, baggage car 9653 arrived.
With a 275KW, 480V, 3-phase Caterpillar Diesel generator now installed in the Steam Generator car, the following cars are converted for Head-end power:
All Club Galley Cars, Coaches 5522, 5585, 5603, 5654, Cafe Lounge 752, Elmsdale Sleeper 1128.
Baggage Car 9653 is used for maintenance.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Redman
The photo of 9158 is one I took and sent to you for your collection of F units. The location is Brandon North, the train is Via #4 and the date is Aug. 22, 1986

And for motive power...., well, I had expected CN to provide a nice pair of F7Au's similar to the 9158 shown above, to pull this train.  It would be the right thing to do.  But this was not to be.  When I arrived in Kelowna on the switcher, a couple of days prior to the Inaugural Run..., there sat a scurvy old GMD-1, the CN 1437.

CN GMD1 1437.
Photo taken by Mrs. Brock, (Mom) a passenger on the Inaugural Run of the
Okanagan Valley Wine Train.  I'm standing out on the front porch getting last minute instructions from my step-dad, Jim Brock.
My heart sank.  I called Mr. Hanratty, the Operations Manager for CN's operations in the Okanagan.  I asked him if the engine for the Wine Train was indeed going to be the 1437 that was in the yard in Kelowna.  He told me that CN had advised him that the engine I was looking at had been provided to Mr. Nagel as the best possible locomotive for his new business venture!! 

I called Mr. Nagel's Equipment Supervisor, George Bergson who was tasked with ensuring that the train was in compliance with all Federal regulatory requirements, and queried him on estimated tonnage of the entire train.  Once he had provided an estimate that looked reasonable, I dug out my CN and CP timetables and calculated the maximum tonnage for that unit on the grades that would have to be tackled on the round-trip run.  While the equated tonnage of the train indicated that it could be handled by the engine, I was still skeptical as the locomotive was old and the track was in poor condition.  My biggest concern was for the train and its passengers.  There were no spare locomotives available in the Okanagan once CN's Kamloops bound train left Vernon, so if we needed help to move the train, it just wasn't going to happen until the next day when the CN train returned from Kamloops.

The train had to run a total of 116 miles on CN and CP track, thirteen miles of which (CP's portion) was in very poor condition and carried numerous slow orders of ten or fifteen miles per hour.

Again, I contacted Mr. Hanratty to discuss my concerns with him.  Eventually, he agreed to supply one of the ex-NAR SD38-2's that were working on the Okanagan Division at the time.  This meant that the Kamloops bound train would have to reduce tonnage in Vernon so that we could have an extra unit for the passenger train for the Friday and Sunday runs.  It was plain that he was reluctant to do this, but I painted a pretty bleak picture for him.

He asked me to try the Armstrong hill with the 1652 isolated, using the 1437 by itself, to see if the GMD1 could handle the job on its own.  I agreed, but I really didn't think that the single unit could pull the train to Vernon, let alone to Armstrong and back. 

Finally, all was ready and I arrived at Kelowna, prepared to begin my summertime adventure on the Wine Train.  I was gratified to see the 1652 coupled up behind the 1437;  I was certain that it would come in handy.

CN GMD1 1437 and CN (ex NAR) SD38-2 1652
Photo Bruce Harvey collection

Roger and I got the power off the 'shop track' and moved it to the train, which we pulled out of the yard, backing it up to the station.  There was already an excited crowd gathering, ready to board the train as soon as it was parked in front of the station.

Mr. Nagel was surrounded by media, all trying to get a moment to talk with him about his bold new venture. All the while, Roger and I conducted the test of the air brakes. 

George Bergson, left - going over last minute checks with one of his team, Andre Bossers.
Bruce Harvey Photo

For nearly an hour, people climbed on and off the train, tour buses came and went, taxis dropped travellers off and then crept away.  TV news crews set up their video and sound equipment, interviewed Mr. Nagel, and talked with whoever looked like they might have anything to do with the new train service. 

 Bruce Harvey photo
There is a lot of excitement on the platform on the day of the Inaugural Run!
My Mom and her husband, Jim have come down to take a ride on the train.

Roger and I looked at our watches and then looked nervously at each other.  Time was of the essence and we would have to leave very soon to avoid getting caught on the road with our 12 hours expired. 

In an effort to speed things along, I gave a short blast on the whistle.  That seemed to work, because people were hustled onto the train, stepping boxes were lifted into the vestibules and the doors were closed. 

Photo courtesy Nagel Fun Tours Ltd. - Edmonton

The on-board train attendant gave the signal to leave the station and I leaned forward, turning on the bell and giving two short blasts on the horn.  The Okanagan Valley Wine Train took its first breath on CN's Okanagan subdivision, leaving Kelowna "On Time". 

I kept a low throttle until the train was away from the station and was moving northward on the main line of CN's Okanagan Sub.  

Roger Befurt, one of the CN conductors who worked the train that summer.
Bruce Harvey photo.  1999

Frank Mercuri stepped into the conductor's chair whenever Roger took time off .  Frank made many trips with me on the Fun Train

Note: as the summer wore on, several locomotives were supplied to pull the train.  Eventually, things seemed to settle out with chopped GP9's being supplied on a regular basis.

Roger was already double-checking our Operating Authority and, finding it in order he got on the cell phone, calling the CPR switcher crew that had left Kelowna just before we had brought the engine off the shop track.  We would keep in touch with them until they cleared the main track at Vernon, leaving the main line for us to use exclusively.  We had already received a call from CN train 455, to say that they were leaving Vernon and would soon be on OVR (CP) track.  We would keep in touch with them until they had moved clear of O'Keefe, just ten miles north of Armstrong. 

Leaving the little passenger station behind, Roger and I laid a friendly wager as to how long the 1437 would continue to pull its share of the load.  Together we agreed it might make it to Vernon. 

We rolled away from the yard and onto the main line. With one more road to cross prior to beginning the long, steep climb out of town, I reached for the handle to blow the whistle.  At that moment, the alarm bells began to ring and the engine revolutions dropped to idle.  Then the engine went silent altogether.  The old girl died on the highway crossing.

Photo courtesy of http://www.okanagan.net/ocarc/page5.htm
The 1437 had just died, and Conductor Befurt has gone back to the second unit to bring it on line.  Roger and I were both surprised by the short life-span of CN's 'ideal' locomotive.

 Roger smiled at me and handed me the company's 'flip phone' that had been on his desk.  I called Mr. Hanratty, the Operations Manager and told him that the 1437 had just died, but we could continue with the 1652.  Then, for some reason, he told me to keep the 1437 in the consist and run it dead for at least the next week.  "OK", I said...  That meant that we would have a quiet ride on the out-bound leg of the trip each day. 

At this point, I'll bring you up to date on the condition of the track on both CN and CP mainlines that make up their respective Okanagan subdivisions.  CN's track was rated at 35 miles per hour with some stretches of 25 mile per hour, while CP's line was rated at 25 miles per hour with long stretches of 10 mile per hour track. 

I would add, that in some places north of Armstrong, CP's track could have been restricted to five miles per hour with all movements preceded by a walking flagman!  But I'll cover that in another story, on another day.

CP track near Realm, about three miles south of Armstrong. Track speed...., 10 mph.
Photo Bruce Harvey

On arrival at Armstrong, we parked the train between crossings while all the passengers detrained and boarded unique 'country transporters' to be taken to the local Curling Rink, where a lavish dinner would be served by contracted locals.  During the dinner hour, the young men and women who worked as onboard staff, changed into "Show Girl" style costumes and performed a Las Vegas routine for the enjoyment of all the guests.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of the 'floor show'.

The Fun Train's People Mover!
Passengers were transported from the train to the Armstrong Curling Rink, where a sumptous meal was served while the beautiful young on-board staff members switched roles and became talented Las Vegas style show girls who entertained those in attendance.
This 'country shuttle' operated by Nagel Tours for over two and a half months before the local RCMP noticed that it was being pulled by a tractor with no license plate, by a young driver who had no drivers licence, pulling those carts that had no seat belts.  The RCMP, instead of providing a Police Escort for the business, instead ordered them off the road.  The passengers then had to walk the five blocks to and from the Curling Rink, making it tough to get into Kelowna on time. Pity.

Also during the dinner hour, we had to take the train up to O'Keefe siding, nearly 10 miles north of Armstrong on CN's mainline to Kamloops. 

Photo contributed by Phil Mason.
This was taken with the train standing on the mainline at O'Keefe while the engine is brought through the "siding" to be connected to the south end of the train for the return trip to Armstrong, Vernon and Kelowna.

Mile 64 on the CN Okanagan sub, between Armstrong and O'Keefe. About 6 fence posts to the left of the mileboard.., yes..., that's how we measure distance on the railroad..., you may be able to see a human form in pink. A local woman who lived beside the track (isn't that everybody's dream?) would get dressed up in a 'head to toe' pig outfit and come to the fence to wave at the passengers.   
Bruce Harvey photo

The Dancing Pig.... Someone's ticket for a free dinner at the Armstrong Hotel


This became a very popular event for travellers and passengers would crowd the window seats on that side of the train to catch a glimpse of this apparition.  Before the summer was over, the owner of the Armstrong hotel, the oldest hotel in BC offered a reward of a free dinner for two and a nights lodging to whoever could correctly identify the mysterious "pig".

Sorry about the quality of the picture.  I scooped it from Facebook, where you can find
The Armstrong Hotel and Rosie's Pub.  An honest-to-goodness old time experience.

The almost 20 mile round trip wasn't made with empty seats.  The Fun Train sold tickets in Armstrong through its reservation system for the short trip up to O'Keefe and return.  This trip took about an hour altogether and was a highlight of the day for passengers and crew alike. 

 Excited travellers waiting to board the train for the 20 mile round trip to O'Keefe.  One or two of those fortunate children will get to climb into the cab of the engine where they will blow the whistle, ring the bell and work the throttle. 
Passengers paid $5.00 for a round-trip ticket and almost always filled three 72-seat coaches, even happily accepting 'standing-room' only accomodation.
Bruce Harvey photo

One or two onboard staff members would make the trip to keep an eye on things and when the engine was being brought around, one of them would open the door on the (northbound) rear of the train and passengers would fill the vestibule to watch the engine being re-attached to the train on the south end.
Photo courtesy Nagel Tours Fun Train/Wine Train

 While Roger was cutting in the air and releasing hand brakes prior to conducting another air brake test, I would step down onto the platform on the nose of the engine and talk with the children gathered in the vestibule.  I carried small business cards with a stylized locomotive logo on them, and would give out a couple to children who seemed most interested in learning more about the train and engine.  On the cards, I printed instructions that would let them off the train first so that they could come up to the engine and climb aboard before a crowd gathered on the platform. Once they were safely aboard, I would let them sit in my seat, ring the bell and blow the whistle. 

In order to minimize delay to the train, Mr. Nagel arranged to have one of his service staff bring two trays of food from the dining hall to the engine for the conductor and myself.  The dinner usually consisted of roast beef, vegetables, potatoes or rice, salad and a quarter chicken, followed by a desert and a cold juice. 

D. B. Ruskin, President of the Okanagan Valley Railroad (OKAN) formerly CP's Okanagan sub joked that he was going to have to bring in a tamper and track maintenance crews to lift the track above the ever-deepening layer of chicken bones that was accumulating on the road bed.

Phil Mason photo.

Mr. Ruskin (right) seen here with his dog Puk, consulting with me on the operation of the train.  He also never failed to have a hot cup of coffee for the conductor and engineer whenever he was nearby inspecting his territory.  In this case, he had driven to Armstrong on his day off to talk with me about a problem we had been having with a small herd of cows getting through a fence and onto the track north of Vernon.  But that's a story for another day!!!

Once underway at Armstrong, we tackled the hill up to Realm and on to Larkin where the grade eased into a long, winding downhill drift into Vernon and another stop would be made to detrain passengers at the CPR station there. 

By then, darkness had overtaken our train and the engine's headlights picked out mileboards and whistle boards while the brightly lit coaches shed their light on the trees and shrubs along the right of way. 

With all the passengers off the train and clear of the platform, we pulled the train back over to the yard and put it away, under lock and key...., waiting for tomorrow, and another exciting run in the warm Okanagan sunshine.

Photo courtesy Nagel Tours

Bob and Patricia Nagel and family, Haven and Sterling - Kelowna