The railway was overwhelmed by the amount of grain traffic being handled through the mountains to the coastal ports of
The CNR had only just begun to take possession of new higher horsepower SD-40 locomotives and were hauling larger, heavier trains. As the new SD40's arrived on the scene, they were mixed with motive power that was nearing 20 years of age in an effort to relieve the power shortage. In fact, there were shortages everywhere. In addition to staff shortages, the company found itself searching for cars in which to carry the grain to ports for shipment to overseas customers. Some cars of questionable vintage that were in rather deplorable condition were acquired from sources in the
We were psyched up to do this...we were ready to go out there and fight to break a train out of the yard and go home. However, this was not to be. Instead of being called in freight service, were called to ‘spread the yard’. For those of you who have no idea what that entails…let me tell you how it worked.
Photo Credit Don Jaworski
Using just the locomotive and an ancient contraption called a Spreader, the crew, along with a group of track maintenance workers, pulled cars out of tracks until a track was clear. Then the engine and spreader would go into the track and begin to shove snow off to the side. The spreader operator let compressed air into big black cylinders and the wings extended full width, pushing snow even further to the side of the track, leaving a smooth, flat surface that was just above the level of the rail head. This process would be repeated until all tracks in the yard had been cleared and all the boxcars had been returned to their respective tracks.
We worked at it all day. When the work was complete, we booked a few hours rest, then retired to the bunkhouse to shower and clean up. Then came the inevitable decision to hike up to the hotel for dinner and a few glasses of beer. After devouring a hot meal and some cold beer, we walked to the bunkhouse and a comfortable, warm bed. I fell asleep as my head was settling into the pillow.
The assigned snow service crew was ordered eastward from
The snow train was comprised of only the plow, engine and caboose was making pretty good time. The first meet on the subdivision was to be at Albreda, mile 91.6, some 40 miles east of Blue River. We were in Automatic Block territory which provided track occupancy indication signals and train orders. The dispatcher told us via the operator that the meet at Albreda would be with the westbound piggy back train and he'd be at Albreda for both the snow train and us. A double meet for him and clear sailing for us.
All went well and we left open valley and headed into the hills. We passed Red Sand, Pyramid and Lempriere at a pretty good clip of nearly 30 miles an hour. We listened in as radio conversation between the snow plow train and the speed train began to take up the airwaves. The westbound "speed" was at Canoe River and they said they would be in the clear ... in the siding at Albreda before the snow plow arrived. Since Albreda had a spring switch at both ends of the siding, it was an easier place to get in and out of than many others, even allowing for the fact that it lay at the summit of Albreda Pass within sight of Albreda glacier.
Then, a call from the snow service train as the engineer called out to their caboose...."we've just hit a moose". "Do you want to stop and take a look?" The conductor said, "No" "We'd only hold up the 217 and the train behind us". This, he said in direct violation of an Order directing all trains hitting large animals to stop and ensure that the carcass is removed a safe distance from the track. this directive was in place to ensure that the animal had not caused any part of the train to de-rail. The conductor then said..."Oh yeah, the plow must have thrown it clear of the main, because it's way up the bank."
Photo taken from a post card. Photographer unknown
I called to Lorne to tell him to stop the train because there were wheel marks in the snow indicating we were derailed. He refused. Sensing that time was running out and being less than a few hundred yards from calamity, I took the conductor's air valve in my hand and yanked it open. The train's brakes applied in an emergency application and more than a hundred empty boxcars lost their speed and momentum and stopped on the snow-covered mountain side alongside the North Thompson River.
"I can't believe it", he said. "I'm on my way up"
"Bring some tools", I said. We'll drop the re-railers and get them in position."