Monday, September 5, 2011

A Grueling Voyage Through the Coast Mountains on The Super Continental


February 1972…  I had been called for the baggageman's job on Number two.  It was a short call, meaning that number two was due out of Vancouver in just over an hour when I got the call, and it was a 40 minute drive from my home to the station at Main and Terminal on a good day.  The crew office begged me to take the call, as they had gone through the entire spareboard and couldn't get anyone to take the call.  I suppose the fact that it had been snowing for several hours might have had some bearing on the reluctance of spare board men to accept the call.  When it snows two inches in Vancouver, motorists behave as if there was four feet of the white stuff on the ground!  

Equally daunting was the fact that when a brakeman took a call for number two, he could expect to be away for two days or more.  The train crews ran from Vancouver to Blue River, nearly 400 miles of mostly dangerous mountain and canyon territory.

Bruce Harvey collection....Photographer unknown

That assignment ran over three subdivisions where the speed averaged about 35 miles per hour.  Running time averaged over 12 hours one way...., on the summer schedule!  This trip was likely going to be somewhat longer than that.

The heavy snow would add another dimension to the difficulty that a crew would encounter on the road...that of snow and rock slides.  Avalanches were quite common in the Fraser and Thompson canyons at this time of year, and a late snowfall such as this would almost certainly ensure that we would be hitting several of them.

Bruce Harvey Collection....Photographer Unknown

I took the call, explaining that I would get there as soon as I possibly could, but would most likely be a bit late. They promised that they would advise the conductor.

  We left Vancouver a bit late due to heavy snow.  The train was loaded to near capacity and everyone seemed to be in good spirits.  The baggage car was loaded to the roof with baggage, mail and express so I was going to be kept busy for most of the 12 or more hours that we'd be aboard.

After climbing out of 'the cut', the train entered Great Northern's double track main line where Frank could 'let the shaft out', getting No. 2 up to speed.  

I could hear the whistle sounding for each of the road crossings, felt them as the passed beneath the baggage car.  

I loved this job!

The train entered a broad S-curve,  whistle blowing for Boundary Road…. 

A Vancouver police car had been dispatched to the scene and a tow truck had been summoned to remove a 1966 Chevrolet that was stuck in deep snow between the north and south tracks of the Great Northern main track near Vancouver.  The tracks cross four lanes of Boundary Road which separates the city of Vancouver from the city of Burnaby.  The Chevy had tried to make a U turn over what looked like a wide-open space.  In fact, it was actually the railroad tracks, now covered with snow.  

The tow truck dispatcher advised the police that due to the heavy snow that blanketed the entire city, there would likely be a three hour wait before a tow truck could get there.  Not wanting to wait for the truck to arrive, the officer decided to take matters into his own hands.  He ordered the four occupants out of the car and tied one end of heavy rope to the police cruisers bumper and the other end to the Chevy.

The police car, with red lights flashing was trying to pull the car off the median with a rope tied between the two cars.  

The Super Continental, with engine 6511 in the lead, was running downgrade as it emerged from the S-curve beneath the twin spans of the Trans Canada Highway.  Engineer Snyder pushed the bell valve lever over, activating the roof-mounted bell, and at the same time, he pulled on the whistle cord.  Blowing whistle signal 14L for the four lanes divided Boundary Road, he spotted the flashing emergency lights and the two cars which were engaged in a futile struggle with each other.  Snyder grabbed the automatic brake valve handle and threw it right across the quadrant into the “big hole”, putting the engine and train brakes into emergency.  A few seconds later, the Chevy disappeared from view and the engines' drawbar slammed into the side of the Chevy at fifty miles per hour. 

Hearing the train whistle, the officer leaped out of the squad car and, running around the end of his cruiser, he raised his arm, holding his hand up gesturing to the train with all the authority he could muster.

The impact caused the rope to part, but not before ripping one end of the squad cars' bumper from the frame.  The officer leaped aside, slipped on the wet snow and fell to the ground as the engine carried on down the track.  As the train slowed and stopped, I watched from the open baggage car door as the officer, slipping and stumbling, got to his feet.  Grabbing his hat out of the snow and jamming it on his head, he went to the rear end of his cruiser. Lifting the shredded rope from the ground, he examined the bent bumper on the back of the cruiser.

While the fireman checked the steam and air connections at the front of the engine, Frank climbed   down from the engine and stepped into knee-deep snow to make his way back to the crossing.  When he got to the scene of the collision, the police officer issued a citation to Frank for failing to stop when the officer held up his hand ordering Frank to immediately stop the train.  

Frank laughed at the officer’s ridiculous protestations advising him to serve the ticket to CN's Superintendent of Transportation in the depot on Terminal Avenue

The conductor and head end brakeman came into the baggage car along with Engineman Snyder, the police officer and the four young occupants of the Chevy.  The officer, making a supreme effort to calm himself, asked it the train could be moved off the crossing, or if it could be separated (cut) to allow traffic to move.  The fireman then came into the baggage car and told us that the steam line had been damaged and was now jammed under the pilot.  We couldn’t move the train until help arrived from Vancouver Diesel Shop to clear the damaged steam line.

At that time, a Vancouver tow truck arrived.

After a short consultation with the police officer, the driver got back into the cab of his truck … and drove away!  The officer went to his cruiser and made a call on his police radio; then he came to the train to tell us that, because the car had been on the Vancouver side of “Boundary” Road when the police had called for a tow truck, a Vancouver tow truck answered the call.  However, the impact with Number 2 caused the car to be thrown across the boundary into Burnaby, so the driver refused to hook onto the Chevy … it was a union agreement thing.  We learned that a new call had to be made to a Burnaby towing company in order to get the car moved to an impound yard.

Within a half hour, CN’s shop staff arrived with the necessary tools to remedy the problem with the steam line; a tow Burnaby tow truck arrived and moved the remnants of the car away from the side of the train.  Meanwhile, CN had dispatched two carmen from the Vancouver Car Department  to inspect the train.  After a thorough examination, we were cleared to depart. 

I closed the big sliding door as Frank whistled off and released the brakes and began notching up the throttle.  The train moved quietly away from the scene as snow flakes began to fall once more.  I lifted another scoop of coal from the metal bin beside my desk and tossed it into the cast iron stove nearby.  

Part two to follow in my next post.


LOU said...


Bruce said...

Hi Lou,

Nice to see you again! Thanks for dropping in. I'll be adding material to this post soon. you'll be surprised with what I've got coming for you...

Cheers, Bruce

scott davidson said...

Es ist nicht einfach ein passendes Gemälde für einen Säuglingsraum zu finden, aber es gibt viele Künstler die für Kinder gemalt haben, wie dieses Kunstwerk zum Beispiel. das Gemälde ist von dem englischen Künstler Stanley Spencer und kann hier auf als Nachdruck bestellt werden. Und Sie müssen sich nur für Ihr Gemälde und für die passende Grösse entscheiden.