Thursday, February 21, 2013

Capreol, A Stout Little Railroad Town Cares For Its Own

It was early November, 1956 and the townspeople of Capreol, Ontario  were turning out in droves to attend the funerals of a number of the towns' finest young men who had drowned when they were caught in open water as a storm struck their canoes on a hunting trip.

The story of the tragedy that took the lives of these young men is reproduced here from among the many railroad stories to be found at the site of the following web site.  Please visit this site.


(October 1956)

 On October 12th, Patrick O’Rourke, aged 27, George Bowness, aged 39, Walter Dines, aged 45 and Audrey Lunn (Walter Dines’ brother-in-law) from Huntsville, Ontario, left Capreol to hunt moose. They traveled to the Ostrom area on Lake Donnegana, northwest of Capreol on the CNR mainline.

Tuesday arrived. The hunting party, failing to appear on their expected date, concerned Terrance O’Rouke. All four men were experienced hunters who had been in that area before. Terrance went up to Lake Donnegana to look for any sign of his brother Patrick or of the other three hunters. Before long, he found their canoe upside down, two sleeping bags, two boxes of unopened groceries, one can of gasoline and a paddle – all floating on the lake.

Once news of Terrance’s discovery reached Capreol, twenty-five CNR men went by train to the scene, late on Wednesday night. The OPP and the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests from Golgama began to organize a systematic search.

Some of the searchers returned home after one full day of operations. They were replaced by others on Thursday night. Along with reinforcements came Esther Prescott, wife of Capreol’s Mayor. Other woman included Florence Marteniuk, Mildred Fitzgerald and Mabel McKinnon who were ready to take care of the cooking. Every man had a hot meal when he came off.

Capreol clerk-treasurer, Alistair MacLean reported that the town was ready to collect money to assist the families of the four missing men

On Sunday afternoon, Allan Kelly, who was the leader of a group, discovered Patrick O’Rourke’s body in one hundred feet of water. The bodies of George Bowness and Aubrey Lunn were taken from the water on Tuesday, October 30th. They were flown to Gogama by the Department of Lands and Forests. The bodies were transferred by CN train to Capreol on Wednesday. It was after dark on Thursday evening when the last of the four moose hunters, Walter Dines, was recovered from forty feet of water. After nine continuous days of searching, all four bodies and most of the hunters’ equipment was recovered from Donnegana Lake.

Throughout the entire operation, the CNR gave its full co-operation. All trains west of Capreol were alerted to make unscheduled stops in the Ostrom station area to set down or pick up men and supplies. The Department of Lands and Forests, under the direction of the Regional Forester Keith Acheson, supplied an aircraft, a drum of gasoline for the outboards and a variety of cooking utensils. The OPP from both Gogama and Foleyet took an active part in the search. Their leaders were Constable Charles Locke of the Foleyet Detachment and Constable Wallace Gargales of Gogama. Wallace McKee organized a flotilla by lashing boats together. He began a designated pattern to drag the bottom of the lake systematically.

The Sudbury Daily Star credited the successful nine-day search to the 2,435 residents of the Town of Capreol, led by mayor Harold Prescott who organized the search; to the Canadian National Railway who provided an aircraft, 2-way radios, and men, including a diver, George Deavy.

George Bowness left a widow Dora and a daughter Madeline. Patrick O’Rourke left a widow Elsie and three children – Claire, Judy and Jimmy. Walter Dines left a widow Emma and five children – Dolores, Altreta, Arlene, Darlene and Louis.

This has gone down as one of the worst tragedies in Capreol’s history. It was also an event that stirred every citizen to action and demonstrated the morale of a small community under stress.
I've included the tragic story of the loss of those four men in order to highlight and underline the intense emotional stress that the residents of Capreol, were experiencing as they gathered in the homes of the deceased, and in a variety of 'watering holes', attending a wake that brought the little town to a twenty-four hour standstill.  Meanwhile, on the eastern edge of town four children, Tom Rupert, Lynn Dennie and Susan and Bruce Harvey, all members of CNR families, were walking slowly down to the end of Vaughn street, where they would enter the forest of jack pines and birches. 

My mother had suggested that, because hundreds of adults would be attending the services, it would be best if children did not attend. When she asked me to look after my sister while she and dad went to the funeral, I asked if I could take my sister for a day-hike in the woods near our home, returning in time for supper.  She agreed, saying that my friends Tom and Lynn might also like to go along, as their parents would also be attending the funeral. 

As we walked along the road that led to the beaver-dam crossing of the creek nearby, we talked about where we would like to go and how long we would like to stay. We had been forced to promised our parents that we would not go too deep into the woods. Neither my sister Susan, nor Lynn had any experience in the bush and felt somewhat uneasy about going out there, but since Tom and I were tasked with looking after the two younger girls while our parents were attending the funerals, Tom and I were confident that we could do the job.  After all, we had spent countless hours wandering the hills around Capreol, hunting, fishing, snaring rabbits and exploring the hills and valleys.  We felt quite at home there and did our best to make the girls feel comfortable about going on the hike.

Since we were only going to be in the woods for a couple of hours, it wouldn't be necessary, therefore to bring along my usual knapsack stuffed with all the necessities of bush travel; knife and sharpening stone, snare wire, waterproof matches, dry socks, snacks, compass and map. None of these things would be needed today, because, after all we weren't going very far and would be home for supper.
Four kids, ranging in age from 5 to 10 years crossed a wide, swampy area by picking their way across a long beaver dam and walked eastward on the Alderdale sub until we reached the Yard Limit board.  Then we climbed up into the hills for a couple of hours of hiking and playing.  Roxy, my Labrador-cross retriever came along with us. He never missed an opportunity to go exploring.

Time and miles seemed to melt away as we enjoyed ourselves in the warm autumn sunshine. The leaves of the oak and maple trees were in brilliant fall colours and the air had a slightly cooling effect on our faces.

All day long, we scrambled over rocks and logs, climbed hills and rolled down sunny slopes that lay deep with dry grasses, blueberry bushes and brown leaves.

 The realization that the sun was getting low and I was not really sure about our location was a sobering one. Looking around, I found that I didn’t recognize any of the hilltops that were still visible in the gathering haze. However, I still felt confident that we could re-trace our steps and be out of the bush in an hour or so, but there was a pang of fear rising in my young chest, nonetheless.  We changed direction to return to the railway tracks and home, but after an hour of hiking, we came across a fallen tree that we had seen less than a half hour earlier.  We were going in circles!

 Having exhausting all the theories I had at my disposal, I had to admit that we were lost. The decision to leave home without my knapsack full of tools and provisions was haunting me.

 As shadows deepened and crept out of the hollows with gathering speed, we sat down on a large, flat rock to discuss our options.  The temperature had begun to drop as sunlight took on a late-afternoon hue and we began to zip up the jackets that had hung open and loose all day. 
We were going to have to spend the night in the bush.  Now, all that remained was to find a spot to settle down and make a bed out of cedar boughs and birch bark.  We stopped for the night, near the edge of a boggy area, set low in the rolling hills common to the Canadian Shield. 

We had no matches, but thought we could start a fire by rubbing two pieces of wood until friction created a spark that we could fan into a blaze. We found what we thought would be the proper materials and set ourselves to the task of making fire our of cold, obviously damp wood.  Soon, blisters were forming on our hands and there wasn't even a hint of flame or smoke.  

The only water that we could find was stagnant and smelled bad. We had stopped for the day near the edge of a boggy area, set low in the rolling hills common to the Canadian Shield.  We would search for running water in the morning, but for now, I decided that I would climb to higher ground, find a tall tree and climb to the top for a look around.  I might be able to spot a shelter, or a cabin, or a light...., anything but the miles of Northern Ontario bush that we had been walking through all day.


 The author (left), his dog, Roxy and good friend, Mike Corrigan
Surveying the forest north-east of Capreol, Ontario from
a vantage point on the rocky Canadian Shield, ca. 1956

 Climbing to the top of the tallest hill we could see, I located the one tree that would allow me to have a 360 degree view of our surroundings; a big White Pine that stood a good thirty feet taller than the forest around it. 
  My father and my uncle, both experienced hunters and woodsmen, had often told me that water will always flow downhill and eventually, a stream will find its way to a larger body of water and that's where searchers will have the best chance of finding one who is lost. I knew that the largest body of water in the area was Wanapitei Lake, which couldn't be more than a few miles away. These thoughts went through my mind like a mantra as I held tightly to a cluster of branches near the very top of the White pine tree, looking in vain for lights or a large body of water. 

To make matters worse, a high, thin layer of cloud had now covered the sky.  I knew that if moss formed on a tree trunk, it would be on the north side of the tree because the sun never shone there. But I couldn't find a tree with any moss on it!  It seemed as if the forest had taken on a mystical air that was conspiring to confuse us, to take away all of the clues that might lead us home.
 As darkness fell, the temperature dropped even further and, knowing that we had to take advantage of the remaining light, I set everyone to gathering fine strips of birch bark from nearby trees.  This we stuffed inside our jackets and pants for warmth. Then we started to pull branches from cedar trees to make a bed to lie on and also to cover ourselves with. 

The trees and hilltops was now just a silhouette against the sky and we lay down on our bed, covering ourselves with cedar branches and began to cry.

Then.... The sound of an outboard motor... putt, putt, putting for about twenty seconds, then it stopped.  Again, it started and ran for a moment, then stopped.  We had only one chance, I thought, to get the attention of whoever was trying to start that motor.
I was trying to determine where the sound was coming from, as there was no indication that there was a body of water nearby, but that didn't really matter.  All that mattered was that there was a human being nearby and we had to get his attention. I said, "the next time that motor stops running, we have to yell and scream as hard and as long as we can, because if he gets that motor running he won't be able to hear us and he'll be gone." 

 The motor stopped once more and we made a tremendous racket, and continued until we couldn't yell and scream anymore. For a moment the forest fell completely silent. Then..... A man's voice calling out from the dark forest.... "Stay where you are.... we can see you!"

Two Capreol railroad men, Ernie Souliere and Ralph Lennox, had gone out deer hunting after the funeral services.   They found a spot on a hillside above a low-lying Tea Bush swamp and built a make-shift blind from cedar branches.  There they waited for the moose or deer they hoped would come to the little hollow to feed and bed down for the night.  But, as evening was approaching, they decided to leave their blind and hike back out to the tote road, where they had left the car, about a mile away.  As they were walking out of the bush toward their car, talking softly in the stillness of the forest, they heard the put-put-putting of a gas-powered motor.  Their conversation turned to an observation they had made during their afternoon hours, waiting for big game to appear.  They had heard the sounds of steam locomotive whistles echoing through the forest glens.  The whistles weren't sounding 'rule book' signals, but random blasts of long duration.  Then, seeming to come from a slightly different direction, multiples of three short blasts could be heard.  They sensed that these were significant in some way, but put it off as perhaps the whistles of trains leaving Capreol after the funerals..., perhaps engineers were blowing a 'last post' for their drowned comrades. 

That was touching.

Besides the sound of their boots rustling through the dead, fallen leaves of maple, birch and oak, and the intermittent sound of their soft conversation, they were completely alone in the growing darkness.

Then, startled by the frantic, panicked voices of four frightened children, they froze in their tracks. 

They had heard our screaming pleas for help.

When the putting sound of the motor started up again, we stopped yelling, feeling that our cries for help had not been heard.  We listen for a 'hoped-for' response from what we supposed was a boat owner who seemed to be having trouble keeping his motor running.  We listened intently...., hoping....

Then, out of the trees, on the other side of the swamp, came the sound of men's voices.   They yelled out...."Stay there!"  "We can see you and we'll come to you!"

In a few minutes, Mr. Souliere and Mr. Lennox walked out of the cedars and came to us.  We were so happy to see them, that we cried.  They sat down with us on our make-shift bed of cedar boughs and shared the last of their lunches, an apple and an orange.  Roxy ate the apple core, tail wagging, non-stop.  When I explaimed that it was a good thing for us that they were having trouble keeping their outboard motor running, they said they were walking and didn't have a boat.  The sound that we had heard, thinking it was a boat motor, was actually a diamond-drill operation quite some distance away.

 The two hunters carried the girls while Tom and I walked along behind with Roxy.

 When we arrived home, some time later,  we found that there was a massive search and rescue operation underway as the town had mobilized to try to find us. 

The CNR had virtually come to a halt on that day.  All the churches had been filled for the funeral services; the usual gathering places were in use as reception centers for mourners, gathering to pay their last respects and to talk about the drowned men, their families and the what the future might hold for a town grieving.

Then came the word that four children had gone into the woods and had not returned before darkness fell.  Half full glasses of beer were left on tables at the Legion, the Capreol Hotel and other places where townsfolk were gathered.

CNR offered steam engines to be brought off the shop track and taken out onto the Alderdale sub, where their whistles could be blown as a beacon of sound that the children might follow to the safety of the railroad track.  One engine took up a position near the Yard Limit board while another went out to mile 138, seven miles east of Capreol.  A third moved slowly between the first two, to watch for us when we emerged from the bush.   All three 'volunteer' engineers blew their whistles, hoping they were contributing to our rescue. 

The whole town waited in fear.

 Every light was on in the house as my sister and I climbed up the steps to the back door. Roxy wandered into his doghouse and we stepped into the kitchen.  The house was empty, and one of our neighbors came in moments later to tell us that our parents were on their way home from the search and rescue centre that had been set up downtown. When mom strode through the door, Susan and I were sitting at the table, eating from steaming bowls of homemade soup that mom had left on the stove. 

R. Bruce Harvey 02-21-13



Monday, February 11, 2013

Doing a Man's Job on the Canadian Prairie.

Again, we visit the life and times of a railroad operator.  In this segment, Andrew Puczko shares a few of his poignant memories as a train order operator on the CPR in such romantically named places as Manyberries, Bow Island and Fort Macleod, all situated on the Canadian Prairie.

A new posting for operators and station agents would often result in them stepping off an aging day coach, an old wooden way freight caboose, or a steam or diesel locomotive.  If it was their first visit to their new posting, their initial look at the surrounding country-side would sometimes cause them to draw in a deep breath, hold it for a moment..., and exhale slowly while they picked up their suitcase and their guitar..., and walk slowly to the station.  It could be a two story standard number three design, or an old, worn-out bunk car with a train order semaphore nailed to the outside near the door.

Source: Google Pictures
Photographer not identified

Railroading in the 1950’s


By: Andrew P. Puczko

 The life of a telegrapher –train Operator on the spare Board can be full of surprises, entertainment and boredom but not without tensions because we were involved with the movement of trains on single track, without automatic block signals.  Control of trains was done by train orders issued by a dispatcher, dictated by telephone.  An error in copying, repeating, recopying, etc., could result in a crash, a major disaster, and as a consequence loss of job, and possible criminal or civil charges.
Some may recall an operator on the CNR during the Korean War was criminally charged when he recopied a train order meet and did not re-repeat the corrected copy to the dispatcher.  It contained an error which resulted in two troop trains meeting head- on at Blue River B.C.    The operator was exonerated when the defending lawyer pointed out to the court that the Operating Rules read, “should repeat”, and not, “must repeat” train orders when recopying. The Lawyer was none other than John Diefenbaker, later Canada’s Prime Minister.

Besides having to be conversant with the rules and regulations of train movements there were other physical dangers.  Operators were obliged to stand beside trains passing by to detect any malfunctions of the freight cars, such as hot boxes, which could be dangerous, particularly in the winter.   Also hooping train orders to trains as they passed by, head end and tail end, required one to stand as close as a yard or so from the passing engine.

One incident occurred at Coalhust, the first station west of Lethbridge, where the Operator was hooping a west bound freight.  There was a very strong wind blowing across the track and the operator was leaning into the wind to maintain his balance and as the front end of the engine passed him, it cut off the wind and sucked the operator into the drive wheels killing him instantly.

On another occasion an operator was attempting to hitch a ride on the caboose of a slow moving train, miscalculated or slipped, and fell under the wheels and was also killed immediately. 

Many injuries occurred while unloading express from passenger trains, or unloading awkward and heavy articles, not to mention the half sides of beef destined for the local butcher.  Coleman was famous for sides of beef as the midnight passenger train delivered not less than six or seven carcases daily for the local butchers.  The miners of the Crowsnest Pass were heavy meat eaters!

There were compensations, however.  Often, while unloading express, a water melon would “accidently” fall to the ground and crack open.  Of course, it couldn’t be delivered in this condition, and so as not to waste good food, the melon was devoured later by the station staff.  In the summer fruit season, shipments abounded from BC in boxes of fruit that were consigned to relatives and friends on the prairies.  Often these boxes also fell and good fresh fruit was had by all.  If boxes didn’t break on the fall, the boards could be pried apart and a couple of apricots, or strawberries, could be retrieved.

In the beginning:

I broke in as an operator with the CPR on the Lethbridge Division on third trick on March 20, 1951 at Bow Island on the Taber sub, a villiage some 60 miles west of Medicine Hat on highway No.3.  I was so nervous that I now can’t recognize my signature on the first train order that I copied (see copy).   That date established my seniority date as an operator.

I worked relief at many stations on the Lethbridge Division but one episode I remember well was an event that occurred at Bow Island.  Pusher engines were stationed at Bow Island to assist freight trains up the hill toward Medicine Hat and the company maintained a bunkhouse for the engineers and firemen stationed there.  I was assigned for a week, and since several bunk beds were available at the bunkhouse I hunkered down there. I worked the third trick (12:00 to 8:00 am) and this one morning, after eating my breakfast along with other crew members who were not on duty, I cleaned up and  prepared for bed. Sliding into my bunk I felt something under the covers at the foot of the bed.  Thinking the sheets were crumpled I pushed harder and then felt something cold moving at my feet. In a panic, much to the delight of the crew, I jumped out of bed and rolled back the sheet to discover a snake curled up and much annoyed at being disturbed.  The chuckles and laughter in the room soon indicated just how the snake got there!  Thereafter I always checked for snakes.

A memorable Christmas:

The Christmas period of 1951 was a hectic one for me. I was working Burmis third trick from November 28 to Dec 22nd when I was called to Lethbridge Yard Office to work the third trick commencing the next day, Dec. 23rd.   This lasted until January 1st at which time I was sent to work third trick the next day, to relieve a sick operator at Fort Macleod until Jan. 5thafter which time I was sent back to Burmis to start on the Swing shift Jan. 6th.  Travelling between these assignments was done by freight, in the caboose.  I missed my turkey dinner that year but I remember, however, that the paycheque covering this period was well worth it!

Another Christmas lost was when I was relieving the agent at Coleman, in the Crowsnest Pass, from Dec 7, 1952 to January 21, 1953.  Of course, we were obliged to stay open until 5 PM on Christmas Eve.  I, along with two assistant agents, was living in the company bunk house with no cooking facilities.   After closing we wandered down town to have supper but found all the cafes and grocery stores closed.  We finally rousted a corner store owner, but all he had to eat were canned goods and stale bread.  So we had sardines and unbuttered bread and then to early bed.

Promotion Lost:

Some assignments on the spare board usually lasted two weeks to relieve a station agent on his annual holidays.  Arranging for accommodation for these stints was sometimes difficult.  If the town had a hotel one could rent a room at a discounted price.  Many small towns, however, did not have hotels so quite often I had to sleep in the back seat of my car.  On one occasion, before I had a car of my own, I used a corner of the freight shed as my sleeping area.   This was in August 1953 at Granum, the first station north of Fort Macleod, on the Macleod Sub. Not having access to hot water meant shaving was not part of my morning routine (electric shavers were not in vogue at that time).  It was not a busy station so I was not unduly concerned about my appearance.  So with a four day beard, and scruffy blue jeans, a very creased shirt the day started early with a visit by the Official Car carrying the Superintendent and guests.  Normally, they just drive on through but on this one occasion, wouldn’t you believe it, they decided to stop and chat!  What they encountered was one young unshaven, unkempt whippersnapper.  I don’t know who was more embarrassed, they or I.  Thereafter, I never wondered why I did not get any promotions.

On the lone prairie:

 Another assignment was to relieve the agent at Manyberries,Alberta.  Now Manyberries is "hell -and-gone-from-nowhere"—right in the middle of the bald prairies – rattle snake country. It is 180 miles south east of Lethbridge on the Manyberries sub.  This branch line ran right up to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (in those days) but has since been discontinued.  To reach Manyberries I had to catch the weekly mixed train which left Lethbridge at 7 AM.  All the shunting at the various towns on the way was done when running eastward, so when we reached Manyberries it was sometime past 7 PM, and it was dusk.  Upon arrival I hastened to the Station Office to OS our arrival and put the train to bed for the night. I got up at 6 AM the next morning to prepare the running orders for the mixed train to return to Lethbridge. For those not familiar with train operators and telegraphers, most of us were not really professionally proficient with Morse Code or copying train orders by wire.  Most lines on the CPR were serviced with telephones and therefore copying trains orders by wire was not usual. We didn’t get much opportunity to use the code and were woefully short of practice.  There was no telephone service on this sub and to make matters worse the Lethbridge dispatcher on duty that morning was known for his horrible hand at sending Morse – using his feet as they say.  Anyway I couldn’t read him and I began to panic.  I remembered, however, that one copy of each train order, at all stations, was kept on a hook under the desk.  I reached under and low and behold, there they were the previous train orders that were needed - they were identical for every run from that station.  I just changed the date and the engine number and repeated the order.  No Problem – the mixed train departed on time and arrived at Lethbridge that afternoon without incident!

 However, fate wasn’t done with me yet.  When morning light arrived at 8 AM I happened to glance down the platform and lo and behold, what did I see?  It was the express wagon loaded with express and freight.  The crew had unloaded the express on to the wagon the night before and left it on the platform.  It was cold enough that night to partially freeze the pop destined for the local restaurant.  I quickly rolled the express wagon into the freight shed and into the heated room.  By the time the goods were delivered it looked like everything was normal.  In any case I heard no complaints about the pop.
Saskatchewan blizzards:

 Another assignment was in the winter of 1953 – January 24th to February 19th.  I was to relieve the agent at Consul Saskatchewan, some 50 miles east of Manyberries on the Red Coat Trail (Highway 13 in Sask.).  Consul was on the Manyberries sub. Since no trains ran from Lethbridge to Consul, the only way to get there was via Maple Creek, my home town.  I borrowed my Dad`s car and drove south over the Cypress Hills to Consul, some 70 miles distant.  This was the longest, dullest two weeks of my life—I saw neither trains nor customers.  The snow was piled high and road traffic was at a standstill.  It was bitterly cold and I had to store the car battery indoors.  I wanted to make sure I would get out of there! Most of that line on the Manyberries sub has since been pulled up.

 Sugar beet Trains:

 Southern Alberta is known for its farms that grow sugarbeets.  A sugar factory is located at Taber Alberta to process these beets. Today the beets are trucked directly from farm to factory, but in those days,  when the crops were harvested the beets were transported and dumped on piles at various locations along the branch lines in southern Alberta, i.e., Manyberries, Cardston, Sterling, Turin and Lomond subs   and then loaded into gondolas by front-end loader.  Trains were then dispatched to these subs to pick up the loaded gondolas and moved them to Taber via Lethbridge.  This was usually done in the evenings and presented a very busy time for the second trick operator in the Lethbridge yard office with several trains running back and forth at the same time.  As I recall, this operations lasted about two weeks.

I was layed off at Claresholm, as an assistant agent, on November 14th, 1950 and was called back to duty to Taber on December 15th to process the hundreds of sugar waybills and prepare them for collection.  This sojourn lasted until January 15th, 1951 and I can’t remember where I spent Christmas that year.

To reach Taber I was instructed to catch the first drag west to Medicine Hat from my home in Maple Creek, and then catch the evening passenger train from there to Taber.  The first drag I caught happened to be a cab hop (engine and caboose only) going home to Medicine Hat and they were in a hurry, so much so, that they decided to  beat a superior eastbound train to  the next station  with  hardly enough time to make it.  Well, we didn’t quite make it as the superior train was waiting for us, the block signals having held them up for our arrival.  The railroaders in those days, however, laughed it all off, as this was apparently a common occurrence,   but not for me. I was left shaking at what I thought was a close call!

 Strong winds of the Crownest Pass:

I   was stationed for a month in November 1951 at Hillcrest, situated at the east side of the Turtle Mountain slide on the five PM to one AM shift.  This was a temporary position, at this station, in the winter months to accommodate the local junior hockey team, The Crowsnest Pass Lions, to telegraph the home game results to the various newspapers.  As stated elsewhere the westerly winds through the Pass was often and very strong.  The midnight westward passenger train was soon due and I was preparing for it.  I trundled the express wagon unto the platform and hearing the dispatcher’s bell calling for me I left the wagon and rushed to the office.  When done with the dispatcher, I returned to the platform to finish placing it, and to my chagrin I could not immediately spot it.  I then realized that the wind had rolled it down the platform and I found it straddled across the tracks.  These wagons were very heavy and sturdily built and I knew I couldn’t lift it back onto the platform.  Fearing that the passenger head end crew might not be able to see it in time and if they hit the wagon there would be hell to pay.  So I ran back to the office and grabbed my lantern (battery operated) and ran down the track to flag the train.  I got it in time and the head end crew helped me get it back unto the platform.  Whew!

This assignment has particular significance to me as this is where I met my future wife who comes from Bellevue, just up the hill from Hillcrest.
Many thanks to Andrew for his contribution to Caboose Coffee.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"I've Been Working On The Railroad, by Jim Munsey

Jim Munsey writes:

Shortly after the installation of centralized traffic control (CTC) began on the Mountain Region starting at Biggar, the regional signal engineer was promoted to the position of system signal engineer in Montreal.  His replacement had been assigned as ass't regional signal engineer for the Great Lakes Region, with headquarters in Toronto.  It was not long before I recognized this man as being exceptionally intelligent, highly competent and very easy to work with.   As the co-ordinator between the transportation and signal department, I worked very closely with him and his staff.  One day, the subject of automatic hot box and dragging equipment detectors came up, and since I knew nothing about them, I was anxious to learn how they worked.

Our new regional signal engineer told us of how he was able to convince his superiors on the Great Lakes Region to approve the acquisition and installation of a test unit on the main line between Toronto and Montreal.  He was put in charge of the project and it worked well, but for reasons he did not quite understand, the test was cancelled.  The installation was dismantled and the equipment put into storage.  I asked if the unit could be adapted for service on our region and was it avilable for us.  He later confirmed that we could have it and quoted a cost estimate for installation on our region.  I then wrote to my superior, the regional general superintendent transportation, outlining the history and approximate cost of installing the detector.  I recommended it be secured and tested on our region .   Approval was granted, but I cannot recall whether the costs were born by the transportation or the engineering department.

Equipment failure records on the Unity Subdivision between Biggar and Wainwright were reviewed to determine where this device could be most advantageously installed.  After deciding on a general location, the next important factor was to have it in a place where, if a defect was detected, the train dispatcher would have time to identify the problem on the pen-graph printout, decide on the action to be taken, and then have the ability to use the CTC block signals to stop the train.   End to end train radio was in service, but wayside radio which provided direct communication with the train dispatcher, was not yet available.  The place finally selected was near Artland, forty four miles east of Wainright.

The detector arrived and the signal department employees were not long getting it installed.  On the day it was being tested, I went to the train dispatching office to watch the proceedings.  The signal supervisor was sitting next to the train dispatcher.  He was wearing a set of ear phones and was talking to one of his people at the site on a service telephone.  They were trying to get the pen-graph adjusted to print out a readily identifiable pin deflection to indicate defects.

When reading a test printout of an eastbound freight train, the signal supervisor expressed concern for a high reading which appeared on the tape.  He pointed it out to me, suggesting it could be an error, but he felt it was more likely a legitimate high reading of a wheel on that train.  By that time, the engine on the train had passed a clear indication of the CTC signals at Artland and there was no way to stop the train until it approached the next siding ahead.  The train dispatcher called the operator at Wainright and asked him if he could try to contact the crew on his base station radio and instruct them to stop at once.  We all thought this was futile as the distance involved was far beyond the range of what is normally expected of a VHF radio.  A moment or two later, much to our disbelief and relief, the operator reported that he had succeeded in getting through to the engine crew and the train was being stopped.  Although barely discernable, the operator was able to advise the crew of the possible "hot box" and instructed them to inspect their train before proceeding.  The crew later reported that they had found a burned journal end and would be nursing it to the next station where it would be set off..  It was clear that if the new device had not detected the burning journal and the train subsequently stopped, a very serious derailment would have occurred.

There was some comfort in the fact that money saved by not having a major derailment was substantially more than the cost of the detector.  This incident hastened the acquisition and installation of more detectors and the extension of wayside radio.  Parameters had to be set and guidelines written to govern whether a train dispatcher, or other designated employee simply warned a crew of a potential defect, or took immediate action to stop the train for an inspection.  I never ceased to be amazed at the number of times a train dispatcher's instinct or "gut feeling" made him take the more restrictive action when the printout only required a warning.  Eventually, more modern and sophisiticated detectors were installed on all major lines at intervals to minimize the number undectected defects and avoid countless derailments.

Jim Munsey has written his railroad memoirs in a 320 page volume called,

A Collection of Stories About The Railway and It's Employees in Western Canada. 

This work has not yet been made available to the public, although I have made pleadings of Mr. Munsey in that direction.  I feel that the material he has documented provides a unique view of a great railroader who worked for a great railroad.  His contributions to railroading in Canada are many, and notable.

I am deeply appreciative that Jim has allowed me a copy of his work and, further..., he has given his permission to share some of his wonderfully amusing, informative and historical memories with you in this blog....  Caboose Coffee.

Jim Munsey has been inducted into the Railroad Hall of Fame as a "Hero", along with Sir Sanford Fleming, Nicholas Morant, Harry Home, Susan Anholt and other deserving recipients of the honour.

Read his bio here.