Friday, May 10, 2013

A Birthday Party - The ex-CNR 1392 steam locomotive is 100 Years Old.

In this blog post, I want to visit the Alberta Railway Museum at Edmonton, Alberta.
Any railway museum is a great place to visit, anytime.  It gives people of all ages an opportunity to get up close and personal with the railroads of the past. 
Some museums host static displays of different types of railway cars, handcars, speeders and lanterns.  There might be a replica of a working station, including the telegraphers wicket, the waiting room with a coal stove, and the operator's office with the sounds of Morse Code messages being transmitted between stations. 
When the Morse went quiet, as it usually did until the next message needed to be sent, the sharp 'tick-tock' of the Seth Thomas railroad wall clock kept time for the swinging pendulum that went from side to side inside the glass fronted door in the oak-cased clock.  Even when there was no one about, the sounds of the station told you that you were never alone.
Breathe deeply, and I'm sure you can hear those sounds from your youth, or recall them from your parents, or grandparents time, when 'train time' was gathering time for the small communities along the rail line. 

After the train had left town and the sound of the exhaust stack and the clicking of the trains wheels had faded around the bend and disappeared beyond the trees, the walk home promised carefree conversation, the scent of Lilacs in warm air and perhaps an ice cream cone at Gertie's Ice Cream Parlor.
Surely, this was the vision that men such as Shaughnessy and Van Horne; Sir John A. Macdonald and George Stephen had for the Canadian Pacific Railway. 
On the other side of the railroad map was to be found equally enthusiastic railwaymen; enthusiasts who had a vision, and believed in that vision.  Charles Melville Hays of the Grand Trunk, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann of the Canadian Northern, all contributed greatly to the eventual evolution of 'the people's railway.'  (see "The People's Railway" by Donald MacKay - 1992)
Museums hold wonderful collections of artifacts that, except for those that are cloistered away in private hands, one doesn't get to see. 
The Alberta Railway Museum is being featured here because of the love and devotion of its volunteers to a project that has stolen their hearts, all of their free time, and much of their own money, I'm sure.
I'm speaking of the ex-CNR H6g class 4-6-0, or ten wheeler that carries the number "1392" beneath her cab windows and below her headlight.
Courtesy Terry Wolfe of the Alberta Railway Museum
She was built in 1913 by Montreal Locomotive Works.  On her builder's photograph is a note that reads 3rd week of April, 1913.  She made steam until she was retired in June 1958, and was donated to the city of Edmonton, where she sat on public display in Exibition Park until the Alberta Railway Museum stepped into the picture.
 I have to admit that my exposure to the 1392 is limited, indeed.  In fact, the first time I saw her was when she steamed in Vancouver for Steam Expo 86.  There were many steam powered machines at that event, and one of the prettiest was the ex-CNR H6g number 1392.  She appeared in beautiful condition and showed well. 
 Unfortunately, my role as a presenter at the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers booth prevented me from getting more photos of the event, but I did manage a few.
 A Full House - by Bruce Harvey

 Upper left, Harry Home, Cal Elliot and Dennis Strate.  Buddies since their early days as firemen.
Upper right, Bruce and his wife, Susan on the pilot deck of the 6060
Middle left, Susan 'working steam' on UP switcher 4466
Lower left, another angle on the 'full house'
Lower right, the Happy Hogger, himself..., Harry Home on arrival in Vancouver with 6060
Enough about Steam Expo for now.  I'll bring you back to Steam Expo Vancouver in July 1986 with another story.
Steam Expo 86, as an event was testament to the love and devotion that volunteers give to the preservation of the wonderful artifacts of a time gone by.  But it's not just a page from the past that's significant in the preservation of railway equipment; it's the physical proof of the commitment of a nation, its leaders, in financiers, its contractors, its labourers and the families who stood by them.
But events like Steam Expo are simply the icing on the cake, if you will.  The real meat in the recipe is the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in the off-season. 
Inside the shop, volunteers spend countless hours and, I'm sure..., countless dollars from their own pockets, as all volunteer organizations are constantly in need of money to survive.
As well, there's more to a railway museum than the steam engine.  There's rolling stock to acquire, move, strip, repair, restore and, finally to make ready for certification.  Track must be maintained, switches serviced and structures to be kept in pristine condition. 
And there's testing to be done!  Here, a Cat Scan is being conducted by a volunteer.

For, without all that taken into consideration, there can be no valid reason to throw open the doors and say...
 "We're open. Bring your family for a fun day at the railway museum".
Why do they do it, you may ask?  It's not for the money they hope to receive during their short operating season.  It's not for the skinned knuckles and bruised shins, or the oil soaked clothing, or the dirt under their finger nails that they do this.

It's for the smiles on the faces of children as the brass bell begins to ring.  It's seeing a child plug his or her fingers into their ears as the engine approaches, whistle blowing.  It's knowing that, at the end of a long day at the museum, grandparents have taken their young charges home to tell them stories of a time long ago, when the haunting song of the steam engine's whistle drifted through their open bedroom window on the cool night air.
These are memories of a quieter time, a safer time; a time of oil lamps and long hikes to school.  There were station agents and grey mail sacks piled high on green baggage wagons.  People were polite to each other and, for the most part, you could believe the word of a politician.
What does a museum hold for you?  Why, it holds all the sights and smells of your youth, when your parents were young and a treat was getting two bits to go to the 'show' on Saturday afternoon and have enough left over for a candy bar or a soda.
Even if you don't take anyone with you, you owe it to yourself to visit the Alberta Railway Museum this year.  And, if you can make it.... go and visit them for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the ex - CNR H6g 4-6-0 steam locomotive.  And, if you can't make it to Edmonton..., visit your closest railway museum. 
Make plans to go this month or this summer, but don't put it off any longer than you absolutely must. 

May 18, 2013 starts the new season.
See and ride behind 1392 on the museum grounds.
Long weekends are planned as well as some special events.

Phone for information: 780-472-6229

Take a few minutes to visit the website and be sure to click on the video to see the 1392 in action.
Make sure you take enough time to visit all of the exhibits at the museum while you're there!  There's lots to see.
All museum photos courtesy of Terry Wolfe and the volunteers at the Alberta Railway Museum


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Terror on the Rails

Recent arrests of terror suspects, following extensive investigative work by authorities on both sides of the Canadian/American border, in which individuals are suspected of planning to cause a major disruption to VIA Rail Canada's services have brought to mind a somewhat similar set of circumstances and events.

In what became known as The October Crisis, a Quebec based para-military group called the Federation de la Liberation de Quebec, or FLQ finally got the attention of the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and the police and military when they kidnapped Pierre Laporte, a Liberal Member of Parliament, and James Cross, the British Trade Commisioner.  PM Trudeau enacted the War Measures Act and on the following day, Pierre Laporte was murdered, his body dumped at St.-Hubert, Quebec.

The FLQ had conducted roughly 200 bombings, had stolen large amounts of cash and military equipment and had stormed the International Firearms Co., killing the Vice President.  In a shoot-out with police, an employee was also killed by police bullets.

Canadians everywhere were stunned by the events as they were portrayed on every TV set and radio, with hourly updates.  No one knew for sure who these terrorists were, or what they looked like.  No one knew where they would strike next.  No one knew who, or what their next target would be.

The Nation was tense.

In Jasper, in October of 1970, the FLQ crisis seemed to be too far away to really concern us, however the military and police were rounding up hundreds of suspects, so it was perhaps wise to consider that the terrorism might reach the mountains; after all..., we had pipelines and oil fields, ocean ports and railways; who's to say they wouldn't target those facilities??  The matter was analysed, pro and con around kitchen tables, coffee shops, beer parlours and yard offices.  There was no definitive answer to the question.

Then, one evening my crew was called for a potash drag west and we trickled into the booking-in-room in the Jasper railway station.  My conductor, Joe Blasko and the tail-end brakeman,
Darryl "Dizzy" Dallyn were already there when I arrived.  The engineer, Ed Miller arrived soon after me.  We greeted each other with the usual passive nods, and "Hey, how are ya".

Blasko, a tall, slim man with thick, black wavy hair was standing at the operator's window, checking the train register for the arrival and/or departure of all First Class and Fourth Class trains that were due, or overdue.  Dizzy and I were leafing through the bulletin books to see if there was anything new that we should know about and Ed had stepped out of the room to use the washroom.

The operator, Harry Lyseko was just putting his stapler down on his desk as he handed Joe two sets of train orders with clearances attached.  Joe picked them up and stapled his Train Register Check to the back of the train orders, as was the custom.

He handed on set to Dizzy and one to me, saying "Check 'em over and give one set to Ed when he gets back". 

Standing nearly shoulder to shoulder, we began with the clearance on each set, checking the date, time, dispatchers initials, operators signature and the numbers that were listed for each order in the set.  Then we checked each of the orders for correctness as well, ensuring that we had a copy of each order that was shown on the clearance.

All was well, so we began to read them aloud to each other, stopping to discuss strategy at each of the "meets" and "waits" that we came across. 

Then there the usual "slow orders", "Form Y" track work orders and "Cars on sidings, etc" type orders. 

Between the last order and the Train Register Check was a sheet of paper that contained a message "to all concerned."  It was a form of bulletin advising all railway employees, especially train crews to be on the lookout for person or persons unknown who appeared to be acting in a suspicious manner on, or near the railway property.  The proper authority was to be notified immediately if such activity was noticed. 

Was this just a precautionary measure?  Or, did they know something concrete about an impending attack on the railway? 

Ed came back from the washroom and I handed him the orders.  I thought it best that I refrain from mentioning the bulletin about terrorists until Ed had finished reading the train orders. 

Ed was a large man with hands that had seen very hard work in their youth.  He had a boyish face with cherubic features.  It seemed that no matter what Ed was thinking, he was always ready to break into a smile.  

I liked working with Ed.

But his facial expression changed, and grew dark as he read the contents of the sheet at the back of the orders.  Apparently, Ed was one of those Jasperites who believed that the FLQ would target the railroad, and especially Jasper for some reason yet unkown. 

He looked around the room for some sign from the rest of the crew that his concerns were shared.  There didn't seem to be any.  He turned to me specifically and asked what I thought of the threat, which he was convinced that message made clear.  I said I thought anything was possible and let it go at that. 

Shortly, a heavy growl, pounding pistons and squealing, chirping wheels could be heard outside the door to the platform.  Our train was arriving on the main line and wanted a fresh crew to take her to Blue River.   Stepping out into the chill night air; the trees on the hillsides around Jasper were in full Fall colours, I climbed up the ladder and through the open door of the now-vacant F7 cab, the incoming engineer and brakeman having just stepped onto the platform.

Ed passed his big tin box up to me and I slid it between his seat and the brake pedestal, thinking that he might choose to use it to hold down the 'dead-man pedal', or sit with one of his size 14 work boots on it.  I checked the flagging kit for contents, then checked the white flags and class lights to be sure they were all in place.  Then I swept out the cab, making it ready to roll when Ed got aboard.

When he had finished chatting with the incoming engineer about the perfomance of the train and engines, he climbed to the cab, squeezing his big frame through the under-sized door, which he closed behind himself. 

He wound the window down and stuck his head outside where Joe was standing on the platform.  Joe have Ed a proceed signal and Ed withdrew his head from the opening and reached for the 'bell ringer' valve. 

Bell ringing, he notched the throttle open, each progressive throttle setting moving into its next position with a resounding 'click'.   With his right hand, he pushed the 'sanding valve' handle into the forward position, then with the same hand, reached into to the upper right corner of the cab to shove the headlight brightness and direction rheostat as far forward as it would go. 

F7 cab, courtesy Prince George Railway Museum
The ditch lights snapped 'on' and the ground, tracks, and the forest that began at the west switch were all bathed in the brightest of incandescent light. 

We were on our way.

I set the cab heater on the left side, in front of my seat and settled down to enjoy the ride.

As all railroaders who've handled one knows, potash trains are heavy brutes.  They can be hard to lift from a standing start and they're certainly hard to get stopped once you get them rolling.  We were facing a nineteen mile climb to Yellowhead, the Continental Divide and it was inevitable that conversation would break out at any moment.  Ed reached up and, in the near darknes that was our cab, he instinctively found the switch that controlled his overhead reading light.  He turned the light on, because as we all know, it's much easier to talk when a light is on than when it's not. 

Ed asked me which structures the FLQ would be most likely to hit on the Albreda sub.  I thought about it for a moment and said..."Bridges".  Bridges were most vulnerable, especially big bridges.

There were a number of bridges on the Albreda sub.  The first one we would encounter is the Miette River bridge, but we had already gone over it by the time Ed asked me the question, so he didn't have to worry about that one. 

There was a medium sized bridge near Grantbrook and another over the outflow at the west end of Moose Lake.  This was the beginning of the Fraser river, so the bombing of that bridge might be symbolic, if nothing else.

West of Valemount, on the long climb up to Albreda summit, there was the Canoe River bridge.  It was a big one, built high over the Upper Columbia river.

Full tonnage bulk train on the Albreda sub
Bruce Harvey photo

Frankly, I wasn't concerned much about an attack against the railway when there were higher profile targets such as the oil refineries in Alberta.  But Ed saw things differently.  He went very quiet, leaning a bit forward in his seat, peering around corners and staring at line-side stations and tool sheds along the way.

We met an eastbound at Rainbow, just east of Red Pass Jct. and Ed called them on the radio to ask if they had read the bulletin, or seen any strange people along the tracks.  They assured him that all was quiet to the west.

The eastbound had been instructed by train order to take the siding at Rainbow, and they had been tucked away for about fifteen minutes when we 'knocked down' the 'clear' westward signal taking us onward to Red Pass and beyond.

Ed set a brake on the train leaving Red Pass and we enjoyed a quiet ride down the hill to Swift Creek, where he began to prepare for the climb up the Canoe River hill to Albreda.

"We're half-way there", I thought.

With the train now making nearly track speed, we clattered over the west switch at Cedarside and launched into the hill.  Nothing to do now, but leave the throttle in the 8th notch until we could see the train order board at Albreda.

The speedometers needle shaped speed indicator made a noticable clicking sound as the pencil and paper speed recorder inside made a line on a graph that could be read later by anyone who found it necessary to look at our speed log.  It was a primitive 'Black Box' of sorts.  Our speed was dropping as we expected it to, and as the engines leaned into the load, the staccato hammering of four 567s were music to my ears.  I never tired of sticking my head out the window and listening to the engine exhaust as it echoed and reverberated in the trees and canyons.

When we were less than a quarter mile from the Canoe River bridge, Ed scootched his bum a little closer to the front edge of his seat.  The movement didn't escape me, as I had noticed that he had moved his right hand to the handle of the 24RL brake valve.  I was on alert, for Ed's sake.  I have to admit that I wasn't 100% sure that the Canoe River bridge would be ignored by a potential terrorist strike.  The idea had some logic associated with it, didn't it?

When the engines began to move onto the bridge, the sound changed, reflecting the fact that we weren't running on cold ballast any more, but on a steel web that was hung between the east and west banks of the river.  The bridge added a deep 'base' component to my F7 overture.

Then, when we were almost exactly in the middle of the span, there was the sound of a tremendous
explosion!!!  The engine seemed to leap ahead, then almost at the same time, fell back against the following train.

An alarm bell was ringing and red, blue and white lights were burning brightly on the electrical control panel behind Ed's seat. 

The mighty 567 in the engine room behind us was silent and the smell of hot oil and smoke seeped into the cab.

The look on Ed's face was one of shock and disbelief!  He was expecting a terrorist attack and had been vindicated!  Without touching any of the controls, he started to rise from his seat. 

"Where are you going?", I asked. 

"I'm getting off.", he said, his voice raised an octave or two.

"ED!!!"  "It's something in the engineroom", I said..., raising my voice in an attempt to get his attention turned around.

By this time, Ed was on his feet and was standing behind his seat.

The tonnage train was rapidly rolling to a stop, while the remaining engines in the consist tried in vain to make up for the loss of the lead unit. 

It was Dizzy's voice on the radio, asking Ed if we had lost an engine.  Ed looked at me, and lifting the radio handset from its cradle, answered "yeah, we lost the lead unit."

I was grateful that Dizzy had called when he did, because it was beginning to look like Ed was going to bail off in the middle of the Canoe River bridge.

 Ed set the brakes to prevent the train from rolling away eastward and Dizzy trecked ahead to make a cut.  We had to 'double the hill' with the head-end cut and run to Albreda to set them out, returning to the train for the balance. 

Albreda sub work train, June 1970
Engineer Cal Elliot, trainmen  Ben Leggio and Lloyd Crawford
Conductor Harvey photo

The train was eventually put back together and we arrived three hours off our expected time, with a cold, dead engine leading. 

I was glad to lay my head on the pillow in the bunkhouse as that was enough adventure for this trip.

When the post-mortem on the dead F7 was conducted, it was found to have suffered from a failed piston which severly damaged not only the piston but the cylinder as well. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Goy, Grassick and Harvey. A fine crew indeed.

It was just before Christmas on the south-west coast of British Columbia.  It had been raining for a month and was still raining as we arrived at the old yard office at Port Mann to wait for our connection to arrive from Vancouver.  It was just after midnight and this trip promised to be a good one. 

Conductor Jack Goy was talking with a young girl from the Car Control department who had just come in after being out in the rain for a half hour or more.  She was cold and wet, and Jack seemed to be trying to cheer her up.  She said she was looking forward to getting a better job, where she could work in the daylight and make more money.

Tail-end brakeman, Jack Grassick brought our train orders into the office after picking them up from the operator, and I was looking through the 'Bulletin Books', checking for anything new that migh have been added since last trip.

I was going over the orders with Jack when our engineer, Bill Halicki came in.  Jack gave him a copy of the orders and we went hunting for a cup of coffee from the staff lunchroom.  Our train had been delayed at the Fraser River bridge, and wasn't expected for about an hour.  We had time to kill, but we were warm and dry...., and..., we were "on pay."
Photo by G. Richard, courtesy of National Museum of Technology

I was looking forward to getting on the engine with Bill, as he was a cracker-jack engineer, known to be fast, but accurate;  one of the best with air and throttle.  It would be an exciting run.  Our train was the eastbound speed train, called 218.  It was made up of piggy back trailers on flat cars, containers on flats and other high-value traffic for the east.  There were always a minumum of three SD40-2's at the head end and the train was given priority over just about everything else on the road. 

I was in a good mood.

Grassick and I found the coffee pot full and fresh, so we poured four and brought coffee out to Bill and Jack Goy, who was by now deeply involved in a conversation with the young blonde car control clerk.  Grassick grinned and said that Goy would probably get the girl fired and would have to support her until she 'got back on her feet again.'

But the yardmaster stepped in and asked us to go to the train crew's area of the building so the staff could get their work done. 

We wandered away and sat down with our coffee to wait for our train.

But conductor Goy, who always seemed to have a smile on his face and an impish twinkle in his eye, walked back into the main office. 

Ten minutes later, he was moving from desk to desk, putting paper currency sized pieces of paper on everyone's desk tops.

When Grassick saw what Goy was doing, he laughed and went into the office as well.

Several minutes passed, and the two men came back, both of them enjoying a good laugh.

Now, I have to tell you a bit about conductor Goy.  He was a big man, not overweight, but tall, with a large frame, and muscular.  He enjoyed drinking Scotch, but only when he was off-duty and was active in his community.  But he was a prankster, and that's what had put the big smile on his face this night.

Jack Goy had taken five One Thousand Dollar Bills from the large wallet that was chained to his belt and had put them on the photo-copier.  After printing up numerous copies, the took the sheets over to the paper cutter and neatly cut the paper to create a stack of black and white, fake one thousand dollar bills.  Feeling magnanamous, Jack then went from desk to desk, giving each of the employees a $1000.00 Christmas present.  You might guess how that was received!

Google pix

A couple of hours later, we were flying through Chilliwack, whistle blowing for the Young Street crossing.  The rain was falling with such intensity that the windshield wipers couldn't keep up and it seemed that we were driving through a waterfall.

The radio came to life and Jack Goy wanted to talk with me. 

It soon became apparent that, in his joyful exuberance, and in the spirit of Christmas, he had left all of his $1000.00 bills under the cover on the photo-copier in the yard office.  Needless to say he was concerned and wanted to know if I had picked them up, or had seen someone else pick them up.

I told him that I had been in the waiting room with Bill all the while he was giving away tens of thousands of dollars to those under-paid office staffers.

I felt pretty sure I knew who had the money, but I would let it lie for a while.

Conductor Goy called once more about the money as we were going through Komo in the Fraser Canyon.  Again, I told him that I knew nothing about it.

Thanks to for the use of this photo

Arriving in Boston Bar a half hour later, we got off the train and made our way to the bunkhouse, where we left our gear and went back down to the Beanery for breakfast. 

Walking into the well-lit Beanery, we found a couple of local residents and and the shop foreman having coffee.

We sat down to order.  Goy removed his wallet from his pocket and searched through all the nooks and crannys one more time.  He was crest-fallen.

Grassick then said to the waitress that he wanted the T-bone steak dinner and.... well, he decided that he wanted to buy everyone in the place whatever they wanted. 

Expecting an immediate reaction from Goy, he was prepared; he slapped down a stack of $1000.00 bills on the table.  Goy snatched them up, even before they had a chance to settle there.

Goy was quite relieved, as you can imagine..., but he didn't buy coffee or breakfast for the crew.  I guess that was why he had a stack of money in his wallet and I didn't!!!  :-)

Grassick cancelled the steak dinner and opted for something much lighter.