Saturday, June 16, 2012

Salmon Fishing From the Train

Everyone can recall a story in which one or more of the Company's rules, or some law or another has been broken.  Often, these rules or laws were broken on a more or less regular basis, either to make the job easier, or..., just for fun!

This story takes us on a train ride that involved a crew breaking the law causing a lengthy police chase.  As well, everyone enjoys a story that has a happy ending.  

Some time ago, Butch Whiteman, a life-long railroader who came from a long line of railroaders sent me this story.  He told me that I could post it on Caboose Coffee, but that it would also be published in the CN Pensioner's periodical newsletter.  

While some of you are CN Pensioners and will most likely have read Butch's story in that organizations' newsletter, I'm sure that others of you, and many non-CN readers will enjoy it too.  

Let's see what Butch had to say about this family adventure.

This story dates back to the Fall of about 1960 when CN still had wooden cabooses. It was just after radio was installed in the Dispatching offices and equipped on engines. In the wooden caboose days, each train crew was assigned a caboose as it became their home at the turn-around point. My father was a Conductor working out of Kamloops Jct. at this particular time and was assigned to the Freight Pool on the Ashcroft Sub.

Kamloops Jct. is located about 5 highway miles from the city of Kamloops. Because of the distance and because few people owned cars at that time, CN operated a bus service from the CN Station on Lorne Street in Kamloops to the Junction where crews reported for duty. The Dispatching office was located in the Station on Lorne St. and if a person walked to the station and was there ahead of the bus, it was common practice for road employees to drop into the office to see what was happening on the road, and get an idea of when they were coming back home.

Business was not all that brisk on CN in 1960. This was a time before any type of unit trains like lumber, coal, sulphur or potash were running. There was the odd long train of grain and grain empties operated, but we didn't have long sidings yet to accommodate long trains in both directions on the same day, so they were infrequent. Intermodal traffic was still years away and not even a pipe dream at that time.

CN operated about 4 - maybe 5 - trains a day each way in addition to the two transcontinental passenger trains. Our eastbound speed train was called No. 420 and it followed passenger train No. 4 out of Vancouver everyday except Monday.

I was a young brakeman still living with my parents at home at this time. I was called one morning for No. 420 and was going to be on the crew going on the Clearwater Sub. from Kamloops to Blue River. I walked down to the Station and because the bus still hadn't arrived from the Jct. to take us there to work, I went into the Dispatching office to see what was going on. 

CNR Kamloops Station a little the worse for wear.
When I entered the office, I recognized the Ashcroft Sub. Dispatcher standing in the middle of the front office talking to the Asst. Chief Dispatcher.

As soon as I entered the room, he looked at me and said: "This is the Conductor's kid.... we better tell him what's going on." I didn't know what the problem was, but I knew my Dad was coming from Boston Bar to Kamloops on the Ashcroft Sub. this day and no doubt whatever it was, had something to do with him.

They told me that the R.C.M.P. had received a report that fish were seen being loaded "into the cab of the hot-shot" at Boston Bar. 

 Fishing of salmon going upstream to spawn is illegal except for the Native population for their own use. The purchasing of such fish is illegal. The Fisheries Dept. wanted the train stopped, the caboose searched and to confiscate any fish found, and charge the employees with poaching. Of course, the Railway was obligated to comply with whatever instructions the police gave.

When this report was given to the CN Dispatching office, the train still had not reached Lytton which is about 25 miles east of Boston Bar. As Lytton was the closest place from Boston Bar where the train could be stopped and the search done, the police wanted the train stopped there so they could make their inspection. The Company complied with the request by giving the train a red train order board which requires the train to come to stop for orders. The R.C.M.P. intended to get on the caboose at the moment the train stopped and instruct the crew not to leave until they completed their search.

Because the Dispatcher didn't have any orders for the crew, the Clearance showed 'orders nil'. Now by rule, only the engine has to stop at the train order signal..... not the caboose. When the Engineer read the Clearance and saw that there was no restrictions to his train at that location, he released the brakes and pulled out of town, picking up speed as he departed.

The police were not in position to get on the caboose when the train stopped and as it picked up speed too quickly for them to get on while it was moving, they lost their chance to make their inspection there. The Police Officer did yell at the tailend crew on the caboose as it passed him (presumably to stop), but they thought he was just yelling hello, so they yelled hello back to him and continued on their way.

The CN rail line is not all that accessible to any roads on the Ashcroft Sub, so the police decided to wait until the train got to Kamloops Jct. to make their inspection.

When this part of the story was related to me in the Dispatching Office, I naturally wanted them to get in touch with the crew on the radio and tell them what was going on. But at that time, radio was brand new to us, and no one was sure just how much monitoring was being done by the Railway Transport Committee or even the R.C.M.P., so nobody would take a chance on 'going public' with a warning of this nature. However, they did tell me that they had tried to get a warning to my Dad via the Engineer on Passenger Train No. 1.

Like me, the outgoing Engineer on No. 1 that night had stopped in to talk to the Dispatcher while waiting for the bus. After the situation was explained to him, he said he would call the crew on the radio and tell them that the machinist had left a monkey wrench on the engine at the Jct. and he was going to throw it off to them at the switch, and ask them if they would take this wrench back for him. But instead of it being a monkey wrench, it would be a fusee with a note attached to it advising the crew that the police would be waiting at Kamloops to inspect the caboose for fish. They told me that this was the very best they could do.

Shortly after being advised of all this, the bus arrived and I got on to ride over to the Jct.

At the Jct., the bus stops at the Engineers booking-in room before it goes on down to the Yard Office where I was going. When the bus stopped there, I glanced across to the yard and saw that No. 4 had just arrived on the main line and the outgoing Engine crew was climbing up into the cab of the engine. This told me that the train had just arrived.

After I got off the bus and walked over to the yard office, I saw two uniformed R.C.M.P. constables standing near the beanery door watching the passengers move about. They looked inconspicuous enough, but I knew the real reason of why they were there. My Dad's train still hadn't arrived at that point in time.

I decided to walk down the yard and around the curve toward the west switch where the train entered the yard, and where the police couldn't see me get on the caboose. I did this and when I got on, I told my Dad that the police were there to take any fish you might have. Dad looked at me strangely and said "we haven't got any fish".

With that exchange, I detrained from the caboose and walked back toward the yard office, watching as my Dad and his tailend brakeman got off the moving caboose opposite the yard office. The police jumped on as both the tailend brakeman and my Dad got off, but they couldn't get in as the caboose door was locked. I was in the yard office when the police came in and made the Brakeman go back with them to open the caboose and wait for an inspection of it. I had to attend to my duties going out on the outbound train, so that was the end of it as far as I was concerned.

When I got back from my trip to Blue River, I found out what really happened: It was true that neither my Dad nor any of his crew knew what was going on. The police turned that caboose upside down looking in every cupboard, the coal bin, the water tank and under the mattresses for fish, but of course, couldn't find anything.

My Dad told me that when their train started moving at Lytton, the tailend brakeman was on the back step and in position to retrieve their orders on the fly at the station. Both my Dad and the brakeman had seen the police at Lytton and heard him yelling at them, but with the noise of the moving train, they thought he was just yelling hello, so they yelled hello back and carried on.

The message attached to the fusee thrown off at the switch at the meeting point was meaningless to the headend brakeman on Dad's crew. He knew they didn't have any fish on either the engine or the caboose so he didn't even pass the message back to the tail end, leaving my Dad and his tailend brakeman totally in the dark about what was going on.

At this point, I started thinking about the passenger train and what was going on with the engine crew trading off opposite the Engineers booking-in room at the Jct. No. 4's out-going engine crew was climbing up the ladder into the cab of the engine which is normal, but the incoming engineer and fireman were back at the doorway into the engine compartment of the engine which is not so normal. My uncle happened to be the Engineer on the in-coming passenger train.

The Fireman was passing down garbage bags which turned out to be bags of fish that my Uncle had obtained from the Natives at Boston Bar. This was going on right on the mainline and in plain view of everyone including the police, but their focus was not directed to anything on the passenger train. What turned out to be "the cab of the hotshot" wasn't the caboose of No. 420, but rather the Engine of No. 4.

My Mom ended up with a sockeye salmon to bake and I have to admit, this one did seem to taste especially good!

1 comment:

LOU said...

SOMEBODY knowed what they wasado'n or you coulda-gota-sacka-trash for supper ! ! ! !