Thursday, 28 February 2013

Disappearing Railway Scene

Grey weathered telephone poles with outstretched cross-arms adorned in glass insulators; all tied together with wires that whistled in the wind.

Once upon a time there was an age when people and freight moved over the rails and news and information travelled over the wires.

This was a once familiar scene that parallelled every railway line in Canada.

In the same manner that the automobile killed off passenger trains, so also has changing telephone and telecommunication technologies killed off the telegraph, wires and telephone poles.

This autumn image was captured east of London, Ontario, in October 1992.

Yes, there is a railway track hidden behind the grass to the left of the poles and Via Rail passenger trains continue to travel along those rails.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

First Impressions

Well you’ve clicked on the page and come this far anyway.

My first impression of steam engines was not love at first sight; at least not close up. There is one particular day that I can remember from the mid-1950’s when my grandfather took me with him for a walk over to the train station in Milan, Quebec, for an up close look at the black engine on the way-freight. I was terrified because I knew that huge hissing machine, snorting out wisps of steam, was going to whistle for the crossing upon departure. The torture was not knowing when.

As those of us at track side knew, the black metal beast exhaled loudly, almost like a huge muffled sneeze, and then shrieked out its warning for the crossing. I cried from fear and through a flood of tears begged to go home. That was the only time I could recall ever being up close to a working steam engine during the steam age.

What caught my attention and intrigued me though were those sneaky, silent, swift, shiny stainless steel Budd cars that had been assigned to trains 202 and 203 which normally whisked through town at lunch time and again in midafternoon. (Nobody ever referred to them as rail diesel cars.) If the trains had not been required to whistle for the crossing in town, then I am certain no one, except maybe for the station agent, would ever know when they were soundlessly playing through. The Budd trains were my favourite. They purred like kittens without any of that noisy hissing, huffing and puffing of those smoky old black engines.

They were fast! A pair of CPR Budd cars speeding through Magog, Quebec.

A day soon followed when there were no more black engines pulling any trains through Milan. I was not disappointed because I was too young to understand the significance of the events that had transpired. Milan’s train station was closed and the CPR water tower was torn down immediately following the end of steam.

In July 1959 at Magog, Quebec, (CPR Sherbrooke Subdivision) Donald Haskel recorded this scene of Canadian Pacific Railway ten-wheelers heading west to be scrapped. That wisp of black smoke is from a chimney in the background and not from the 814. The two dead locomotives and three pulpwood cars were set aside on the siding while the now diesel-powered local way-freight carried out switching duties.

As a youngster I heard the older folks grumble about those changes and lamenting the sudden loss of passenger trains. Sometimes I think those major events would not have seemed so traumatic for the public if the demise of steam and passenger services did not occur together. Anyway, that is a point for historians and experts to debate and argue over.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Donut Limited

CP Rail's "The Donut Limited"

Probably enough time has passed so that telling this story is safe without wondering about getting someone into trouble.

This scene of CP Rail’s diesel locomotive M-630 numbered 4511, with two other unidentified units, was captured in July 1984 at Sherbrooke, Quebec, near Landers, mile 70.6 of CP Rail’s Sherbrooke Subdivision.

We had stopped at a Tim Hortons for donuts and immediately I spotted the diesel lash-up idling behind the parking lot. Kie went inside to buy the donuts while I chose to grab a few photographs. While I was busy fiddling with the camera, one of the crew members carrying a bag exited Tim Hortons, quickly boarded the 4511 and then the three units highballed eastward to the Sherbrooke train station.

Circumstances observed indicated that the trio (which were seen a few minutes later at the Sherbrooke station) had been dispatched for a very “hot” freight shipment, hence a new name-train, "The Donut Limited."

The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, 1 February 2013

Leslie McLeod

Leslie once told me that he started working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1916 during World War I. He and another person had walked the railway from Milan to Megantic seeking employment. After nearly forty-seven years of service and at the rank of Conductor, Leslie McLeod retired from the CPR in 1963.

Milan, Quebec, circa 1965. Leslie McLeod (right) looking in on a cribbage game.

Leslie returned to his hometown Milan, Quebec. His house was on the north side of the track and not too far downhill from the railway crossing in Milan and in sight of the trains. When I visited, he often mused about going out on the front porch to give Train 952 a highball. I was ready company. Often the engineer would acknowledge Leslie’s highball with Rule 14g whistled in reply. 

Other times I would find Leslie at the station talking to the crew of Train 201 when the lone Budd car was sitting in the siding waiting for the 952. Leslie was there to catch up on the latest inside news; I was there to watch the trains. He once surprised me when he handed me a genuine Canadian Pacific Railway employee time table for the Laurentian and Farnham Divisions and then told me to keep it. He had obtained it from a crew member of the 201.

While Leslie’s livelihood had been the railway, his interests were hunting and fishing; fly fishing in particular. Once in a while he was game to walk the track from the small road crossing about a mile west of Milan (west of Mile 16) to Otter Pond and we would spend an afternoon fly fishing. He would do the fishing; I was just along for the outing. Anyway he did not talk much about railroading but he would always patiently answer my questions.

Over the years I did manage to glean enough information to learn that he worked on the Farnham Division routes. He most often referred to working on the trains operating from Farnham to Newport or between Farnham and Drummondville.

One time I asked Leslie if he had ever worked on the passenger trains over the Megantic Subdivision. He had and it was at that time he explained to me about passenger trains operating in sections. Most of his career was on the freight trains, however he had on occasions worked on second sections of Train 42 between Farnham and Megantic.

Another time I was with Leslie in Megantic and he commented about a large truck that was hauling a load of pulpwood through town on Frontenac Street. He remarked with authority that the truck was carrying more wood than could fit into a standard 40FT boxcar and he went on to speculate that a time may come when there will no longer be a need for boxcars. That was quite a comment to hear in the late 1960’s from a retired railway man. I never forgot that remark.

The last time I saw Leslie was in September 1973 just after the railway strike ended and just before I headed off to Vancouver. He knew I was hoping to find employment out west with Canadian Pacific.

In November 1974, as he did almost every day, Leslie had walked up the hill from his house to the post office (located beside the track) to collect the mail. He sat down, suffered a fatal heart attack and was gone. I like to think he was waiting to the give the 952 a highball.

The Oddblock Station Agent