Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Lulu Island Branch (Part One)

In the 60's, 70's and 80's, the city of Richmond BC was attracting more and more light and heavy industry.  Warehousing, small and medium manufacturers, re-packaging and freight forwarding companies were thriving.

Richmond, being built on a large, flat island composed mostly of peat bog and sand called Lulu Island, had lots of room to expand and CN Rail was there to service the needs of industry.  CN's access to Lulu Island was via a steel swing span that straddled the North Arm of the Fraser River just west of New Westminster.

One of the things that made working trains in the Greater Vancouver Terminals fascinating, was the geography that one traveled in the course of a day's work.  Westbound trains arriving in Port Mann/Thornton yard after their trip through the Rocky Mountains and the Coastal Range, down the Thompson and Fraser River canyons and the seventy two miles of Fraser Delta would still have a long and interesting route to take before reaching their ultimate destination.

As an engineer, I might begin my day at Port Mann and take a train to North Vancouver, through the two mile Thornton Tunnel, or by-pass the tunnel and proceed into Vancouver itself.  We might have been required to take a train to the CP interchange at Sapperton, then pick up a train at Sapperton and go to North Vancouver, deliver it to the BC Rail interchange at Lonsdale, then pick up a train from the BCR and take it to Port Mann.

At times, we were sent out of Port Mann with cars for New Westminster and Lulu Island, or from Port Mann to Tilbury Island where we would pull and spot the rail barge from Vancouver Island.  

Photo credit unknown.   Likely Seaspan source.

In short, there was never a dull moment, especially when working the spare board, from which we could be called to go to any number of places that CN serviced.

Occasionally, I would need to take a break from the helter-skelter of the spare board life and I would take a job that had regular hours and predictable days off.  Especially attractive were the jobs that started and finished on Lulu Island.  As a rule, those jobs were self-administered.  There was a yardmaster on duty in the modular yard office at Mile 7 on the Lulu Island Branch Line, and motive power was kept on a small, open shop track nearby.

While the switchmen changed into their work clothes, retrieved their radios from their lockers and had a chat with the yardmaster, the engineer would bring the engine off the shop track.

The most senior men on the seniority list could be found working the Lulu Island jobs.  There were a number of reasons for this.  First, there was usually only one job working on the whole island at one time, so there was little chance of getting in someone's way; second, the crews weren't bothered by front-line officers who spent the majority of their time at Port Mann.  And last, but certainly not least...,  the crews knew that unless things went seriously awry, they would be "off duty" within a very short time after having gone "on duty".

The men who worked Lulu Island were very good at their jobs.  They knew the rise and fall of every meter of track, they knew how well cars would roll and where they would stop after they let them go, free rolling.

Within a half hour, they would have their train made up, air charged up in the train line and brakes checked, usually on-the-fly.  Soon enough, the train could be seen leaving the yard with the sun at its back; the cars swaying from side to side as they made their way between cranberry fields and blueberry fields; between low, wet peat bog and fast moving muddy brown waters of the Fraser River.

Andy Cassidy has come up with another gem for us!  This photograph is of the Lulu Island Yard, looking west.
As you can see, the engine and crew have left the yard, leaving only the birds and crickets to keep the yardmaster company.
The yardmaster could then lean back in his chair, put his feet up on the edge of a desk drawer that he'd pulled out a bit..., and open up the morning newspaper for a couple of hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet.

Occasionally, the conductor would call in, asking him to phone a particular industry that was supposed to have the switch unlocked, or the warehouse door opened, but had failed to do so.  The yardmaster at Port Mann would usually call at least once to find out what tracks might be clear in the yard at Mile 7 so he could put together a train for the 22:30 Port Mann to Lulu Island Tramp to deliver that night.  But, otherwise, it would be a quiet day on the Island.

Well before lunch, the crew would call in on the radio and tell the yardmaster that they would be back in the yard in about a half hour with X number of cars.  The yardmaster would give them a track to pull their train into and then lift the phone to call the crew office, who would order up a taxi to take the crew back to their respective pick-up points.  The taxi agreement came about due to a 1969 re-distribution of work between the trainmen/conductors and the switchmen.  The company agreed to provide free, or almost free taxi transportation to employees going to and from work almost anywhere in the Greater Vancouver Terminal.

(Yes, I realize there's more to the Taxi Agreement than that, but I'll save that story for another time)

The crew would pull into the yard, cutting off their train in an empty track and take their engine directly to the
shop track.  If they had a caboose on the train, they would leave it on the tail end for the next shift to pick up.

Most days, these jobs would tie up with less than three or four hours on duty, being paid for eight or more.

No one seemed to be concerned about this, for during this time most yard assignments were working on a "quit" system, where they would put in five hours without taking a break (ostensibly) and then be released to go home, or to take another shift at time and a half.

Above photos credit Bruce Harvey.   Occasionally, there were casualties of the "Quit System"

In the case of Lulu Island, it had been set up so that there would be a "clean up" job on Saturday mornings, and this was part of my assignment.  I worked four days at Port Mann and one day at Lulu Island.  On Saturday, we were tasked with cleaning up any last minute spots that might not have been completed by the third shift on Friday.  Once that had been done, the locomotive had to be taken to Port Mann and traded off for fresh power which we would bring back to Mile 7.  To avoid having to bring cars back to the island from Port Mann yard, we would turn off the headlight and move slowly onto the shop track from the west end of the shop complex so that we wouldn't be seen by the yard supervisors in the control tower to the east of the shops.   Once on the shop track, we would lock up the locomotive, as per the regulations and slowly sneak away from the shop with the replacement locomotives, using the same route.

Photo credit - Bruce Harvey.   

This is Neptune Terminals and, as we used to refer to or maybe still, the East Leg.  The phosphate rock silos are on the right and Seaboard Lumber is on the extreme left in the photo. The tall building in the middle is the Phosphate Rock load-out building equipped with a track scale. This is where the Phosphate Rock unit trains used to be loaded..  Clark Grey...North Vancouver

A quick call to the Operator of the New Westminster rail bridge and we would be off to New Westminster and Lulu Island.., and home.

On one such Saturday morning, I picked up my girlfriend, Susan at her North Vancouver apartment and headed out to Lulu Island for an easy "train ride".  As she slid into the front seat of my 67 Ford Fairlane 2-door hardtop, I couldn't help but smile.  While I hadn't been very specific about dress code that might be required for a ride on a freight train, I assumed that she would find a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt.   But no..., she was wearing lovely white slacks, with a white, fine wool sweater and white sneakers.

Oh well, there was no time to waste, so I said she looked fine and we were off!

It was a beautiful sunny day out on the island.  The only sounds were those of the songbirds in the birch trees, and the lovely throbbing of a pair of EMD SW1200RS class road switchers, which were sitting on the shop/service track just west of the yard office.  Susan stood, wide-eyed and excited taking it all in.  The crew foreman and his helpers had just arrived, and came over to introduce themselves.

The yardmaster had our switchlist ready and it showed that we would have a pretty light day.  There were ten cars in the yard to pick up and deliver to the CPR at New Westminster.  We were then to go over to Port Mann and change power at the shops.  The YM had called Port Mann Diesel Shop for the engine numbers that we would be bringing back to the Island, and had checked with the yardmaster at Port Mann to see if there was any traffic to be picked up in the yard for delivery to the island.  Apparently there were a half dozen cars in the yard to be taken to Lulu Island, but we knew there would be a 22:30 Tramp out of Port Mann on Sunday night and they could bring the cars to New Westminster and leave them there.  The 0700 Lulu Island yard job would be able to pick the cars up in New Westminster on Monday morning.  In short, if we could avoid it, we would not be bringing the cars with us out of Port Mann.  The rationale for this decision was this; four days of each week, we were the cleanup crew in Port Mann yard.  We never went home in less than six hours on duty, while all the other crews left work after five  hours.

On Saturday's, we expected to take a little back, and we generally did.  Sometimes, we'd plan a lunch and have a  "tailgate picnic" on the caboose after parking the train on an industrial track.

While the crew was strapping on their radio belts, I took Susan out to the shop track and helped her get aboard the engine.  Soon, we were pulling out onto the "main line", actually Rule 105 territority, and heading for the Fraser River rail bridge over the North Arm of the Fraser.

This is a plate steel swing span, with long timber trestle approaches and is operated by a bridge operator who is a CN employee.  At the time, it was a fellow named "Tony" who worked the assignment on Saturdays.  Tony was a Maintenance of Way guy who was one of the senior employees in his craft.  Saturdays were an easy day for Tony and gave his family a little extra income each payday because it was an overtime shift.

Tony began his day at 0700 and finished at 1500, when the next man came on duty. Unless closed to allow a train to cross the river, the bridge remained open for marine traffic.  To get across the span, the engineer would call the bridge operator on a yard frequency, telling the operator where the train was, how many cars it had and when it was expected to return, if it was going to be going back before the shift change.  As you can see in the Andy Cassidy photographs below, the bridge operator worked from a small cabin on the swing span in the center of the bridge.

 The Fraser river, for many miles upstream was classed as "Tidal Water".  During flood tides, or when the tide was rising, the flow of water in the river was "upstream", and when the tide was ebbing, the flow returned to its normal out-flow course.  However, when the tide was in ebb mode, all the water that had been pushed upriver by the rising tide for nearly 40 miles, now came rushing out of the valley in a dash for the ocean.  For railroaders, it was a fact of life that trains would often be parked somewhere, waiting for tugs and barges to pass beneath or through the swing and lift spans around the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.  Marine traffic had superiority over rail traffic.

On this particular Saturday, I called Tony and sounded one long blast on the whistle in accordance with Rule 14 M (1).  When he answered, I told him we had left mile 9 and were coming toward him.  He said he could see the smoke from the diesel engines' stacks and would close the bridge as there was no river traffic in sight.  Rolling up onto the trestle, I reduced the throttle and let the train's speed reduce to ten miles per hour.

"You comma da stoppa sign, eh?"  "I heara onea river boat onna da radio".  "OK", I answered.  "We'll stop at the stop sign".

Within minutes, the bridge began to swing to the closed position and, when it was secured, Tony called to tell us it was OK to cross the bridge.

The morning air had been quite warm and it promised to be a hot day as the sun was getting higher in the sky, lighting up the highrises on the skyline to the north.  We had been running with the windows open and the cab forward configuration of the two SW1200RS's, coupled nose-to-nose placed us in a position where we had a full wall of glass in front of us.  The view of the forest and the river was unimpeded by either oily car-body or clouds of yellowish white smoke coming from the stacks.  The scent in the air changed dramatically as we climbed up onto the trestle.  We were leaving the warm air of the peat fields and birch trees and gliding over the cold, muddy brown water of the river, rushing below us.   With the change in temperature came a distinctive smell of the river.  It wasn't a bad smell, just different from that of the wild fields we had left only moments before.

Once we were off the bridge, shut the throttle off completely and controlled our speed on the trestle with the engine brake.  The two helpers on the crew retired to the second unit, leaving the foreman, Susan and I in the leading locomotive.

The music of the railroad filled the inside of the cab.  Radio traffic between CN freight trains operating on the Burlington Northern tracks between the New Westminster rail bridge and Vancouver could be heard.   Port Mann yardmasters were calling yard engines with changes in their switch lists, while crews on different trains in the area called each other to make arrangements to watch for each other, or to help each other fit between road crossings.  The engines danced along the tracks, in tune with the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rail joints. All the while, the sound of air being released from the brake valve and the diesel engine throbbing inside its steel jacket created the underlying base for the symphony.

Soon we were gliding down the hill toward the New Westminster docks.  I picked up the radio and, changing channels, called the New Westminster bridge operator to advise him of our impending arrival.  I told him that we would be setting out some cars at the dock and would like to "run light engine" over to Port Mann.

We were advised that the bridge was open for marine traffic and, would close to allow two trains across, after which he would have to open it again for more marine traffic.  He expected that it would be at least 90 minutes before things would begin to thin out, but we could come up to the signal on the CN highline in case there was a break in the traffic.

I told him we'd take our time in New Westminster and call him in an hour or so.

I suggested to the crew that I knew of a place where we could get a nice breakfast and everyone agreed that it sounded like a great idea.

Bringing the train to a stop on an empty track in the small yard on the docks, we locked up the engine and walked over to an older one-story building just across the road from the tracks.

Photo Credit - Andy Cassidy
A lot has changed over the years, but the track hasn't moved, and the "pink" building across the street may be the location of the old "Farmer's Market" of the early 80's.  RBH

Inside, was the regular Saturday morning Farmer's Market where one could find just about everything home-grown..., and..., a free...all you can eat...pancake breakfast!!!  Just a perfect storm for a bunch of railroaders and a stowaway girlfriend, wouldn't you think???

After we had filled ourselves with pancakes, syrup and coffee we walked about the market for a look at what folks had brought to sell or trade.  The only thing I bought was a half pound bag of home made pepperoni, which I stuffed into a deep pocket in my overalls.

We wandered back out to the engine and let ourselves in, where we called the bridge operator again.  Much to our surprise, he had a short spell between vessels and was wondering if we would like to take advantage of it.  We said we would and that we would be up at the signal in five minutes.  He said he'd take us if we could get there quickly, otherwise we would be waiting for more than an hour.  Being a light engine movement, we were able to scurry along the dock and cross the CPR and BC Rail tracks to get onto our highline.  Just as we pulled up to the signal, it turned from red to green.  I whistled off and released the brakes.  We were on our way.  There was a ten mile per hour slow order on the bridge, but when the bridge tender asked me to make sure we didn't cause any delay to the ocean-going barge that was already getting close, I opened up the throttle and we scooted across the bridge in very short order.

Once off the bridge, we had to find our way onto the shop with our engine, and leave the shop with the replacement engine without being noticed by the yardmaster in the tower nearby.

We decided to creep onto the shop from the west end, out of sight of the tower and creep off the shop at the east end, in full view of the yardmaster.  I believed that if we moved slowly enough, we wouldn't draw attention to ourselves and would stand a good chance of escaping from the yard without having to spend a couple of hours switching out boxcars for Lulu Island and other destinations.    You see, if the yardmaster got hold of us, he could keep us in his yard for several hours before releasing us to go back to our starting place.

This was to be avoided if at all possible.

Photo credit Bruce Harvey
CN F7A's at Port Mann on their way to the US ca 1980
We got onto the shop track just fine.  But getting off the shop track with our new power might prove to be a bit more difficult.  We could see someone standing behind the large glass wall panels in the upper offices of the tower, holding field glasses to his eyes.

Photo Bruce Harvey
Tramp job dropping their caboose into the cab track
Port Mann Control Tower - center rear

He was scanning the New Westminster rail bridge and the tracks leading from the bridge to the yard.  He had probably heard us calling for the bridge while at the docks and I knew he would love to get us into his yard for a few hours of switching.

Photo credit - Bruce Harvey
SW1200RS waits for fresh switch lists as the crew foreman consults with the yardmaster in the top floor offices of the control tower.

But we held to the plan and moved the locomotive at a snail's pace out of the shop track and then back out the way we came in.  I made a quick call to the bridge tender to tell him we were coming at him with two units and no cars.  He said he could close the bridge for us if we hurried.  We were already hurrying, so that wasn't going to be the issue.

Photo Credit Andy Cassidy.  Track to New Westminster dock is seen on right.

Photo Credit - Andy Cassidy

We had to get across the bridge before it became apparent to the yardmaster that we were gone...

Breathing a big sigh of relief, and knowing that we'd have to pay the piper in the coming week in Port Mann, we worked our way through the maze of tracks on the dock and back onto the CN line to Lulu Island.

A mile from the Fraser River Bridge, I laid on the horn once more....one long blast.  I hoped that Tony would hear the whistle and close the bridge.  I didn't want to use the radio, for the yardmaster at Port Mann would, by now be looking for us.

A half mile out, I blew the whistle again and slowed to ten miles per hour as the engine began its ascent up the timber approaches to the span.

"You comma da stoppa sign, OK?" Tony called..., loudly.

"Damn", I thought.  But it was too late now, anyway.  We were now too far away to be called back now.

"I gotta da tug-boat comin', but I takka you first".  "You gotta comma now!"

Photo Credit - Andy Cassidy

"OK, Tony", I said.

"And, by the way Tony"..., "I have something for you".  "OK", he said.  "I meeta you onna da bridge."

As we were nearing the end of the timber structure and about to roll onto the last stationary structure, we could see the river clearly in both directions.  To the east, the river was clear of traffic for a mile or so.  To the west however, there was a tug and barge approaching the bridge on a flood tide.  The tug had reeled in its tow line and was furiously backing into the oncoming barge in an attempt to slow it down or impede its progress altogether.  When the tug captain was satisfied that he had his stern against the hull of the barge, he reversed his engine, causing the stern of his vessel to be pushed under, leaving the winch and bitts awash.

Photo Credit - Andy Cassidy

I slowed the engine to a crawl as we passed the bottom of the ladder where Tony stood, smiling.  Reaching out the cab window, I dropped the bag of pepperoni into his waiting hands.  Raising the bag to his nose, he closed his eyes and took a long sniff of the contents.  As a broad grin spread across his face, Tony gave us a big wave and climbed back up into his cabin, high above the Fraser River.

On arrival in the office at Mile 9, the yardmaster was trying to be serious, trying not to laugh as he told us that the General Yardmaster was driving out from Port Mann to give us a piece of his mind and we were to wait for him.  That certainly wasn't going to happen.

We left the property, satisfied with our Saturday railroad adventure and eager to begin our two day weekend.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Railway clothing - Bib Overalls

The Author - Kelowna, BC July 1999
Overalls are popular with farmers, painters, and small children alike. They are comfortable, covered in pockets and straps for holding tools, and are firmly rooted in American history. While some form of overalls have been around since the 1700s, the bib overall that many of us know and love wasn’t invented until 1851.
Railroad worker in overalls
Tired of patching up her railroad-worker husband’s clothing, Abigail Carter took some canvas and a pair of dungarees and combined them to create the first pair of bib overalls. The item was an instant hit not just with her husband but also with other railroad men, gold miners, and the men in similar professions. Out of this demand H.W. Carter and Sons was born. Overalls were now available to everyone, and a fashion legend was born.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Since You Asked....

Within the first few hours of posting the story of Toujours, the German Shepherd dog, I received numerous requests ... well, three of you wanted to know what eventually happened to the dog!

Photo Credit http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/germanshepherdphotos7.htm

I thought that I could get away with the subtle suggestion that 'Toujours' survived and was living the life of an adventurer; a cross between Rin Tin Tin and the Lone Ranger.  I inserted the photograph of a beautiful German Shepherd smartly poised on a hillside that might well have existed a short distance from Dunster, overlooking the serene Robson Valley.  I felt sure that you'd be happy with that, but no..., you wanted more.

OK.  Here it is.

With the Fall Change of Card in 1970, I found myself facing a bleak and arduous winter as the junior yard foreman working in Jasper.  Working as Yard Foreman on the midnight shift can be bad enough, but to be that same Yard Foreman working a full seven hours and forty minutes, five nights each week, at forty below zero (that's Fahrenheit, too) would be gruesome.  But there was more.  I would be working under the heel of the dictatorial General Yardmaster, Nick Wolfe.

The crew office was hushed as Joan Wallater, a crew office employee was finishing up her task of arranging all the green, yellow and red metal tags that carried the names of every employee.  These tags would soon be hung on the big, green board mounted on the wall behind her desk.  On that board, neatly stenciled and painted in white paint, were the job assignments that were currently part of the Jasper Terminal.

In a column on one end of the board, one could see the passenger train assignments; 1 & 2 on the Albreda and Edson subs.  9 & 10 on the Tete Jaune and Fraser subs; then came the  east way freight, the west way freight, the freight pools on the Edson sub, the Albreda sub, and the Trunk, or Tete Jaune sub.

Far over at the other end was the heading, "Work Train Assignments", including a ballast hauling job that was scheduled to haul crushed rock from Hinton to the Shaver Pulp and Paper Mill near Grande Prairie on the Grande Cache sub.   The mill wasn't yet ready for the ballast, but it had been bulletined and the successful applicants had been notified, but not yet assigned.

There was so much seniority on the hauling job that the head end brakeman, a Jasper fellow named Jack Flewin had to relinquish his conductors' seniority temporarily in order to bid the job as a brakeman.

It's confusing, but perhaps I'll get a chance to explain it more fully in another story.

The last column read "Yard Assignments";  Day shift, Afternoon shift, midnight shift and swing shift, all were there.

While the majority of the young brakemen in the room had no idea what job they would end up with for the winter, I knew full well what my fate would be.  I was the junior qualified conductor in town and the worst job one could imagine was the 2400 midnight yard, which was to be my home for six months.  Cripes!

As the seconds ticked by, a couple of the men who were just senior to me tried to get Joan to tell them what jobs they got.  She steadfastly adhered to the unbreakable rule that "no one learns their fate until exactly 1200 noon, when the name tags are finally hung on the nails above each assignment on the big, green board."

Without looking up, Joan picked up three name tags; one green, a yellow and a red tag that read
"HARVEY, R.B." and, turning toward the board she began to raise her arm and moved toward the yard assignments on the board. As was the custom, the junior conductor was placed on his assignment first and, in seniority order, the rest followed.   I was the first to be assigned.  I thought that we might as well get this over with.

I turned to leave, but the room was filled nearly to capacity with young men wanting to know which jobs they would hold for the duration of the Change of Card.

Behind me, someone swore out loud.  Then another..., and an uproar broke out.  Two or three of them began pushing toward the table that held the bulletin books.  Reaching the table, they madly flipped the cover of the bulletin book open and tore through the pages.

I looked back at the board and saw Joan smile slightly, as she stepped off the small stool and turned, returning to the array of 'tags' that were laid out in order of seniority on her desk.

The gods had spared me at the very last minute.  In fact ... just before the board change was to take place, CN decided to activate a work train that they had posted in the bulletin books some weeks earlier.

At the time the job was posted, it was to be for a Conductor-Pilot and one brakeman to accompany a Wellman Crane on the Tete Jaune sub;  duration was to be two weeks, more or less.  The crane would be assigned to pick up scrap metal, including old rails, tie plates and spikes from an upgrading program that had taken place a year earlier.  There would also be some clean-up along the Tete Jaune sub mainline a few miles west of Red Pass Jct. after winter avalanches had brought down a lot of trees and rocks, depositing them near the tracks.

The job would tie up on line and the conductor and the flagman would have to 'batch', rather than eat in restaurants.  That meant there would be little opportunity to make the kind of money that could be made by a brakeman or conductor on the road.  There would be little opportunity to get into town for an evening at the 'water hole' and no amenities like showers, refrigeration, electric lights or a bathroom.

Apparently, there had been no bidders for this job. It's no wonder there were no applicants.  When the job was posted, there were freight trains to ride and money to be made.  No one would willingly tie himself to a 8 hour per day work train that made only 500 miles per week and required the crew to "batch" online.  No sir!!!  Not while crews were 'doubling the road' and making their miles in two weeks or less.

All the qualified conductors in town had given that golden goose a pass when it was pasted into the bulletin book in August of that year.  It remained in the book, seeing no light of day until ..., well until Joan Wallater got up from her desk and hung my name tags on the Tete Jaune sub work train, duration two weeks more or less!

I walked out of the booking in room and around the station to the platform where I found the door to the Assistant Superintendent's office.  Mr. R.B.Hopewell had been in that office for several months and seemed to be a pretty decent man to work with.

I asked him for particulars of the job and after giving me a briefing on what would be required and how long he expected it to take, I was told to show up in McBride in time to go on duty at 0700 on Monday morning.

Late on Sunday evening, I boarded train number 9 and took my seat opposite the conductor's desk.  I was very excited about taking my place on the working list as a conductor on the work train, as opposed to being the foreman on the midnight yard.  However, I was still stinging from the anger shown by my 'brothers' in the crew office who remained quite suspicious about how I managed to side-step the midnight yard.

I tried to keep silent about it, but word had spread through the railroad community.  I was a marked man...but, I wasn't going to let it bother me too much.

On arrival at McBride, I was told by the operator that my caboose was in the cab track and the Wellman crane, CN 50368, an idler car, a supply car and bunk car for the crane operator and his helper would be arriving on 487 later that day.

Photo Credit   Don Jaworski

As this was my first 'assignment' as a conductor, I was eager to get my caboose tidied up and stocked with whatever supplies we might need for two weeks out on the subdivision, so I made my way across the yard to the caboose track and let myself into the old wooden caboose.  This cab had been made out of an old wood sided ex-Canadian Northern Railway boxcar in 1920, but it had been carefully tended over the decades by men who loved and respected their homes away from home.  It was clean and tight; all the usual tools and supplies were stocked and stored in their proper places.  The water tank was full and the oil tank, which supplied the big oil stove was full to the top.

 I took one last look around my caboose and, cupping my hand over the top of the glass chimney of the oil lamp, I blew out the lamp before slipping into my eiderdown sleeping bag for a few hours sleep.

The fall of 1970 saw the Tete Jaune and Fraser subs to be the last of CN's western Canada mainline territory to have cabooses still assigned to conductors.  Once the new bunkhouse was in place in McBride, the cabooses would become 'run-through', and would no longer be taken off the trains at McBride, to be returned with the conductor to Jasper, or Prince George.  Construction of the new bunkhouse was well under way, but it was not yet finished.

Note:  The first run-through caboose on the tete Jaune sub was as follows;

Dec. 19/70... I made history today on the Trunk. Had the honour of being the first conductor to use a run-through caboose out of Jasper to Prince George. The guy behind us was a run-through too, but the 3rd had to use his 'old' cab as there were no more left. Cold weather (30 below) has forced the mainline to run 50 car trains and as there aren't any assigned cabs left there, they have to have preference on steel cabooses. The cold weather has only been here for 1 day, and when they start running 50 car trains in as well as out, things will work themselves out so  run-thru cabs will be available for use on the Trunk as well. But as it stands - run thru cabs officially started on the Tete Jaune & Fraser Subs on Dec. 19, 1970 & I was the Conductor on the first train out of Jasper. B-487 - 36 loads & 14 empties = 3337 tons. SD-40's 5000-5005 Engineer Savoie, Trainman Sikkes & Tilby (maybe it's Tilley) ordered 1110, out 1335. Arrived McBride 1630, off 1720.

by Butch Whiteman, now of Edmonton, Alberta

In the morning, I met with the Road Master and we went over the work that he expected us to accomplish in the next two weeks.  Since the work covered the entire subdivision from Red Pass to Raush Valley, and the best speed that the crane could be expected to make, pulling our small train, was about 10 miles per hour, I decided that I'd ask the Chief Dispatcher to intercede and have CN assign a locomotive and full crew to this job.  That was quickly shot down by the Road Master, as his budget wouldn't allow for such an extravagance. Besides, he was only going to allow me to work a maximum of eight hours each day!  There's no money in that scenario for me, my brakeman or the crew of the Wellman Crane.  Oh well, it was daylight work with the weekends off and we'd be tied up in Jasper in two or three weeks.

By late morning  train 487, the westbound freight from Jasper had arrived, bringing Don Barr the only brakeman on the crew, and the rest of our 'outfit'.   I expected the crane and its outfit to arrive with the westbound, but the in-coming crew told me that it had been set off at Dunster.  Scotty Sheriff, the arriving conductor, said he would pick up our caboose from the cab track and take it out to join the rest of the outfit that afternoon.

By late afternoon, Don and I were waving goodbye to Scotty and his rear brakeman, Doug Gateman after giving their train a roll-by inspection.

Photo Credit   Peter Cox

As the sound of the F7 and GP9 locomotives faded away, the silence of the forest and the Robson Valley filled the brisk autumn air.

Besides the crane, there was an idler, a supply car and an operator's bunk car. There was also another bunk car belonging to the train order operator who had also been assigned to the job.  That was a big relief for me, because it meant that a lot of pressure would be taken off me when the train orders were being copied and delivered by the operator.

The crane operator, his helper, the train order operator, Don and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the caboose after dinner, making plans for the week.

We spent the better part of the first week trundling up and down the track between the siding west switch Eddy and the siding east switch Croydon, picking up scrap iron; sometimes, being pulled and sometimes being pushed by the big, black crane.  Wherever there were smaller pieces of iron to pick up, such as old tie plates and spikes, the crane crew would hook up the big electro-magnet which would swing under the boom.  For rail loading, we had a low sided gondola.  The magnet then was disconnected and a set of tongs was attached to the boom and rails would be lifted from the ground and lowered into a low-sided gondola.

We were given a list of locations where we were to be met by track forces, who had traveled to the working point by motor car, or speeder.  We'd load them onto the caboose and they'd travel with us all day, being dropped off where they had left their speeders near the end of the day.

The train orders provided for us by the train dispatcher in Prince George, and copied by our assigned train order operator gave us authority to operate as a 'work extra' which was designated "Work Extra 50368".  Our working limits were outlined in our orders and usually encompassed the main track between siding west switch Eddy and siding east switch Tete Jaune, a distance of nearly thirty miles.  This was usually more than we required on any given day because the crane, pulling the caboose, idler and gondola would only make about 15 miles per hour on dry rail and being pushed by a tail wind.  The crane's main air reservoir feed valve had been having trouble maintaining standard air pressure for the brake system on the train.  This resulted in the pressure dropping without notice, stopping the train and not allowing it to move again until the problem was overcome.  This ate up quite a bit of time and the Road Master was beginning to show some irritation because of the delays.

One day in particular, the pressure dropped, stopping the train on the mainline at Shere, mile 30.1.  Don bled the brakes off the train, but the brakes would not release on the crane.  After several hours, the crane operator and his helper managed to get the brakes released on the crane, but couldn't get the regulating valve to function.  He had only enough braking capacity to handle the crane and one car, so I had him move our train carefully into the siding where Don and I took a look at our situation.

We didn't have enough time left on our work orders to get back to our outfit at Dunster without getting an extension of our working limits, so we hung up the phone and tried calling the dispatcher for more time.

Our portable dispatchers phone in the caboose and, due to the fact that the crane was having difficulties with air brakes, we had left the train order operator behind in his bunk car at Dunster.

That's when I spotted a motor car, or speeder on the open deck of the crane's idler.

I used the crane to lift the speeder from the flat car and set it on the main line, facing east.  Don and I prepared to make a quick run over to Tete Jaune, about 5 miles to the east.  So there we were, sitting on the hard center seat of this cold, dead speeder..., looking at the barest of control panels.  Slowly, we turned to face each other and admitted that neither of us had a clue how to start the thing!

A couple of the track men who were accompanying our little work train walked over to our side and gave us a quick course on firing it up and getting it moving.

Good enough!

You flip this switch, hold the choke open and, giving the crank a sharp turn..., she fires up!

We're off to Tete Jaune where an operator named "Frenchy" lives and works.  We may be able to get there before it gets dark and before Frenchy goes off duty for the day.  The speeder's headlight had been broken some years earlier, so we each brought our electric switchman's lanterns along to light our way on the return trip.

The trip was loud, noisy and windy as the machine had no windscreen, doors, roof or windows, but we had fun driving it and soon arrived in front of the station at Tete Jaune.

Frenchy came out the front door to welcome us, offering coffee..., something to eat, a glass of wine???

We graciously declined, saying that we had a half dozen track laborers waiting in our caboose at Shere and would be late enough getting back to Dunster with them.  All we needed was an extension to our work order so that we could get our crane and outfit back together for the night.

Soon, Frenchy had us all fixed up with a clearance and orders, and we went back outside into the gloom of 'last light' in the Robson Valley.

We climbed back up onto the speeder and got ready to fire it up.  While Don flipped switches, I got the crank out from under the seat box and shoved it into the hole in the side of the machine.  With the first turn of the crank, the motor came to life with a substantial puff of blue-white smoke.  I climbed up onto my seat and we both turned our bodies to the west, released the brake and cracked the throttle open.

The speeder leaped to life..., and moved eastward!

Grabbing the brake lever, I got it stopped and we both began moving levers back and forth on the control deck.  Nothing we did could get that speeder to move westward.  There could be only one solution.

Don lined the switch to the west leg of the wye, beside the station at Tete Jaune and I opened the throttle a bit.  The speeder crept forward until it was clear of the mainline.  Don lined the switch back and got on.

Pushing aside weeds, saplings and tall grass, we put-putted toward the tail of the wye, where we thought we'd line ourselves over to the east leg and push the speeder back out to the main by hand.  Good plan.

However, hidden in the grass was an old plank crossing, which we hit at about seven or eight miles per hour, derailing the speeder and sending it off the track into the weeds.

After several minutes, we managed to struggle it back onto the tracks and roll it past the switch at the tail of the wye.  Things are looking better now.  We will shove it up the grade to the main and it'll be headed west for the run to Shere.

After working up a great sweat, pushing and heaving the heavy speeder, it was finally on the mainline.  I lined the switch back for the main and Don flipped the switches and, taking the crank from under the seat and inserting it in the hole in the side of the engine housing, he gave it a mighty turn.  The engine started and, grinning as if we had done something incredibly sensible, we got aboard and released the brake.

When Don opened the throttle, the speeder began to move..., backward..., eastward..., damn!

I immediately shut the machine off and got down onto the ground beside the speeder.  With my lantern shining its light beneath the motor, I saw wet oil covering the bottom of the motor.

"OH, NO!!", I thought.  Did the oil pan get punctured when we derailed on the west leg of the wye?  Did we wreck the transmission?  Why is the speeder now going backward?

Don put the crank back into the hole and gave it a spin.  The motor started up and, when the brake was taken off and the belt engaged, the speeder moved..., backward..., again.  I turned it off and we got back onto our bellies and looked underneath for a clue to this mystery.

Not finding one, we got back up and went through the start-up procedure again.

This time, I turned the crank handle.  Don released the brake and inched the drive lever into position.

The speeder began to move again...., but this time, it moved westward!  This is what we wanted all along, so we planted our butts firmly on the hard, plywood benches on either side of the motor and opened the throttle.

Holding our 6 volt lanterns out in front of us, we made our way through the darkness toward Shere, where the crane, idler car and caboose were waiting for us.

We rode along the track on the bone-crunching speeder, alone with our thoughts because it was too loud to speak, even if we yelled at each other, sitting side by side.

And it came to me in a flash!

Don is left handed!  I'm right handed!  He turns the crank counter clockwise and I turn it clockwise.  The motor runs in whatever direction it is cranked to start it!  Crank it clockwise... it runs forward.  Crank it other wise ... it runs backward.  I decided that it would be best if we didn't share this story any time soon.

When we arrived at Shere, the problem with the crane's air regulator had been patched up, so we loaded the speeder back onto the idler and pulled the train out onto the mainline, heading for Dunster.

On arrival at Dunster, the train order operator told me that we were to move our outfit to Tete Jaune the next day so we could be closer to the ditching work that needed to be done between Red Pass and Rearguard.  There would be at least one week's work to be done there if we had no further trouble with the air supply from the crane.

The next morning, we marshaled our train for the trip to Tete Jaune and, while the last of the odds and ends associated with the crane's auxiliary equipment was being stowed on the idler, and our orders were being put together in the operator's bunk car, I walked along the dirt road that ran parallel to the tracks on the north side of the station to meet with the Road Master who had driven out from McBride.

There, I met a young woman, walking with her two daughters. They must live nearby, as we'd seen them walking along this road at times during our stay at Dunster.

But this time, they were accompanied by a beautiful German Shepherd dog.

I stopped to talk with them.

His name is "Toujours", they said.  They had found him on their porch one morning.  He was wearing a collar with a name tag bearing his name.  He had been limping, so they took him in and looked after him.  They asked their neighbors if anyone knew about him, but nobody confessed to having heard of a missing dog in the area.

The children thought he must have come from somewhere in the Robson Valley, as his name fit in well with the area.  They laughed and called him "Toujours from Tete Jaune."

He didn't seem to want to live anywhere else, so I suppose he remained with the family for as long as he wanted to.