Friday, December 7, 2012

The Okanagan Valley Wine Train. Part Three

In the previous two episodes, we learned a little about how the Okanagan's premier tourist train came about.  We also learned that, like anything else in life, if we leave the door unlocked..., "Murphy" will let himself in and disrupt the peace and order in one's world.  The locomotive ran out of fuel at the worst, and perhaps the best possible time and place. 

As the summer of 1999 wore on, the Wine Train continued to keep to its scheduled five trips each week from Kelowna to Armstrong and O'Keefe..., and back again.  Most of the time, things went well; the train left the station on time and arrived back at the station on time.  In between, there were no dull moments.

There were impromptu visits by politicians, swinging through their ridings and constituencies;  rail fans from countries such as South Africa, Australia, Holland, Great Britain, Spain, Egypt, the United States and Quebec came to Kelowna to ride the train, enjoy the scenery and share in the experience.  Many, if not all of them stopped by to say hello to the engine crew, who gladly invited them aboard, sometimes to ride part of the way in the cab of the engine.  All of those who were invited to ride in the cab were grateful and polite, with one exception.  There was one man who insisted on showing me how the throttle and brake should be used to obtain the best results.  I stopped the train and had him ushered back to the coaches to finish his evening there. 

You may recall that I mentioned a problem we had with a farmer's herd of cows which kept pushing the right of way fence over to gain access to the thick, lush over-growth of weeds on the right of way???  
There always seemed to be a 'cattle drive' happening somewhere along the right of way in the Okanagan Valley.

Well, on one occasion, we had to call Mr. D. B. Ruskin, then President of the Okanagan Valley Railway (formerly CPR Okanagan sub) to advise him that we had struck and killed a cow on his track.  I requested that he attend the incident, as the animal was underneath the train and he may have to arrange for assistance to remove it before the train could proceed.  I asked him to bring a good flashlight, as the valley was now in darkness.

Within a few minutes, Mr. Ruskin arrived, flashlight in hand.  He swung the light back and forth over the track and soon found the animal's carcass under the engine, with some severed leg parts lying on the right of way nearby. 

He turned the flashlight off and turned away from the dead animal's terrified gaze, while digging in his jacket pocket for what I thought was his cell phone. 

Instead, he pulled his handkerchief out and held it over his mouth, breathing rapidly.

At that precise moment, Roger Befurt, the conductor emerged from the darkness behind the locomotive with a rather large part of the cow's front leg, gently cradled in his arm.  Grinning broadly, he stepped in front of the President of the railway and asked him if he would like to take the severed leg home for his dog.

That was when we discovered that our friend had an intolerance for "blood sport!!"

 In short order, a couple of husky, slightly inebriated, young, testosterone-loaded passengers emerged from the darkness to lend a hand.  They each took hold of a leg and dragged the carcass from the tracks..  Roger and I climbed back aboard the engine while the passenger/helpers got on the train to a standing ovation from the passengers.

Whistling off, we got moving again, slowing only to allow Mr. Ruskin to step off at the highway crossing a quarter mile from the scene of the incident.   

On another occasion, trackside vandals threw stones at the train, breaking windows in the cars.  They were quite surprised when I stopped the train.  Mr. Nagel got off the train and marched them to their parents, who soon agreed to pay for the damage. 

On one occasion, the train arrived in Kelowna with bullet holes in its side.  RCMP were called on more than one occasion to deal with threats to the train and its occupants, both from outside and inside the train.  One day, while running northward between Winfield and Oyama, I saw a man step out from behind a barn near the track and raise an assault rifle, aiming it at the locomotive, and perhaps myself.  I called the police and they dispatched a squad to check into the reason for the call.  As I learned later, they discovered a young male teen who had an imitation M-16 assault rifle. 

Another threat to the train's reliable operation was my own union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in Kamloops. 

To provide a bit of background information; Mr. Nagel had become convinced that if he ran his train under freight train rules, as pertains to collective agreements then in place between the CNR and the engineers and conductors unions, he would be able to do so with only an engineer and a conductor, this eliminating the need for an additional trainman on the crew.  This option would then fall under the "Conductor Only", Agreement 4.3.  Part of that agreement stated that when a train is operated as "Conductor Only", any work other than setting out 'bad order', or damaged, cars, all work was to be paid for at a rate of twelve and one half miles per hour for each hour, or part thereof.  Loosely interpreted, (the union's way of looking at things) it meant that each time the engine was brought to the train, or taken from the train to the shop track, or moved from one end of the train to the other, a minimum charge of twelve and one half miles per hour (X 2 for the conductor and the engineer) would be levied against the train owner/operator. These miles were not to be counted against the monthly mileage limitations of either the conductor or the engineer, as they had been determined by the collective agreement to be non-penalty miles.  Each day, there were an average of six to eight of these claims that we were eligible to make.  While the union insisted that I claim all of them, I knew that, by doing so, I would be punishing Mr. Nagel severely and jeopardizing my own job by pushing operating expenses beyond revenues.  (The train ran, many days with only two or three cars loaded.)

One of my "brothers" was convinced that I must be working beyond my monthly mileage limitation of 3800 miles per month and insisted that I be removed from the 'working list', or 'board' to serve a penalty for my perceived infraction.  I argued my point that I had not violated the mileage agreement with the union, as many of the miles that I was being paid for were 'penalty-free' miles, being accrued under the 'conductor only' agreement.  Most of the miles I worked, I was compelled to report, and others were..., shall we say...."tax free."

When I discussed this with my wife, we agreed that it had been some time since we had taken any time off to enjoy the summer, so I "booked off for miles", sleeping late the next day. 

After a nice brunch, I moved our Dodge van into the shade and gave it a detailed cleaning, inside and out.  After removing all the seats, I shampooed the carpets and upholstery, then re-installed the seats, even the two single rear seats that had not been in the van since we bought it.  I polished the windows, inside and out, scraping off the bug goo that had accumulated over a couple of weeks of driving in the hot sun.

Why I decided to put those seats in on that day I will never know..., but I did. 

While the vehicle was drying out, I went inside where Susan had tea ready.  We thought we'd go out for dinner that evening..., perhaps in Vernon, or perhaps in Kelowna as we lived halfway between the two cities. 

We opted to go to Vernon to have dinner at our favourite Chinese restaurant, so we decided to have a "date" and got dressed up for the occasion.  As I left the house, I picked up my work 'grip' and carried it to the van.  Susan had washed my striped overalls, my striped hat and my red bandana so that I would be ready to return to work when  my mileage penalty was expired.  I thought to be off for two trips, as the 'brotherhood' had ordered.

Darkness was settling in as we emerged from the restaurant.  The air was warm and the sky..., clear.  Stars were beginning to show themselves and Night Hawks darted about in the last glow of the sun's light. 

The night was filled with the heavy scent of romance, so I suggested that we take a leisurely drive on one of the North Okanagan's beautiful highways.  We discussed a drive northward to Monte Lake, or eastward to Lumby.  Susan suggested that since both of us had ridden the Wine Train often, but neither had actually witnessed the train from outside, perhaps we should find it, and follow it like so many other train buffs, or "foamers" do.  Yes, I thought, it might be very nice to get some pictures of "my train" running in the evening gloaming, coaches all lit up, people inside sipping, laughing, dancing in the aisles! 

I looked at my watch and determined that the train would have left Armstong by now..., heading south.  We should find it near Larkin, if we leave right away.  I could visualize the shot that I would get of that beautiful train, rolling through the valley with the track illuminated in front of the locomotive and the trackside ballast lit by the interior lighting in the cars.  I took my camera from its bag and set it on the floor beside me. 

We were off!

Fifteen minutes later, I pulled the car to the side of the deserted highway and got out with my camera.  I waited, and listened.  The only sounds were those of the crickets in the tall grass and the gentle breeze in the Ponderosa Pines.

I got back into the car and, feeling a bit uneasy, pulled out onto the road and continued northward, scanning the deepening darkness for any sign of the bright headlight and ditch lights in the tree tops, or on the hillsides.  All was still, and the only lights to be seen were those of scattered farms with their barns' yard lights and the porch lights of the farm houses. 

Checking my watch again, I was certain that the train hadn't gotten by us.  It must still be north of us, perhaps it had been delayed at Armstrong. 

I began to have concerns that it might have met with misfortune; perhaps a minor derailment, perhaps there had been a collision with a vehicle at a level crossing. 

In any event, the train was by now seriously delayed.  Susan and I were happy that we had decided to come out this way for our 'after dinner drive," for my elderly mother was aboard the train.  She had bought her ticket to take a train ride, with her son at the throttle, but the union had interfered and knocked me off the job.  She was being pulled by some stranger, and not her boy.  At least, if the train was disabled, I would be there to take her home in our now squeaky clean van.

After checking all the available train-spotting locations north of Larkin, we finally arrived at the station at Armstrong.  There were nearly one hundred and seventy five Wine Train patrons milling about the empty cinder platform.  Some were wandering up and down the empty, darkened sidewalks, peering into closed shops.  The train was nowhere to be seen.

I parked the van and we found my mother standing in a group of senior fellow travellers, as there was nowhere to sit.  I asked her where the train was.  She replied that there had been some sort of problem, but no one from the train had given any explanation to the passengers.  None of them had any idea where the train was, or when they might expect to get aboard and into their seats.

Susan found me in the crowd, and said that she had located the Nagel's in a parking lot across the street.  She was concerned because it was obvious to her that something terrible had happened to the train.  She said  that Bob Nagel was on his cell-phone, using strong language in a loud voice.  Members of his family were standing near to him, looking stressed and anxious.

When Mrs. Nagel saw me, she immediately came to me, saying that she knew that I could fix whatever it was that had happened.  I said I'd try, and stepped in front of her husband, who was obviously extremely upset. 

I asked him what had happened to the train! 

He snapped!  He shoved me away from him, so filled with rage that he could barely put words into a sentence.  A verbal melee resulted, involving the train's owner and its regular engineer, with their respective wives stepping in, to keep things civil.

Fortunately for Mr. Nagel and his travelling passengers, reason prevailed and things settled down.  Mrs. Nagel assured him that I was there to help him and it would be in his best interest to give me a chance to make things right.

At that, I asked him who he had on the other end of the cell phone conversation.  He said he was talking to the Vice President of the CNR!  Bearing in mind that it was now 21:00 in BC, it would be somewhat later, where ever he had gotten hold of the VP!

I held out my hand and Mrs. Nagel told Bob to give me the phone.  She felt sure that I could prevail with a solution to this mess!  He gave me the phone. 

I introduced myself, and asked who I was speaking with.  He said he was the man who had the authority to help me get this thing sorted out.  At that, I suggested that perhaps it might take the two of us to get it sorted out.  I asked him where the train was, and why it wasn't moving.

Then he explained to me what had happened to the train and where it was now sitting.

The train had unloaded its Kelowna/Vernon passengers at Armstrong and had loaded about 40 locals for the trip to O'Keefe siding for the 'short-haul' trip.  The train had travelled the ten miles to O'Keefe and then had been 'reversed' for the trip south.  They then left O'Keefe siding for the ten mile run to Armstrong. 

The movement between Armstrong-O'Keefe-Armstrong had been handled by clearing the train as a 'work extra'.  This allowed the train to make the round trip on a single set of orders, as work trains are authorized by their clearances and the Operating Rules to move freely in both directions.  If it had been run under rules governing other classes of service, ie. freight or passenger, it would have to obtain a new clearance with all of the accompanying associated paperwork with each new clearance.

It was just quicker and easier to do it as a 'work train.'

What happened????

There was another player in the mix that needs to be explained to you so that you will fully understand the complexities of running trains in this, and any other territory.

The Roadmaster/Section Foreman was one of the hardest working fellows on the railroad.  He was a tough, well tanned fellow with an impressive resume covering all elements of trackology.
CN Okanagan Division's MoW Foreman, Carmine Pucci
RBH photo

He supervised a large territory with widely separated segments.  The north end of the Okanagan sub between Campbell Creek (junction with CP's Thompson sub) and Armstrong, the Lumby sub, between Lumby Junction (just south of Vernon) and the south end of the Okanagan sub between Vernon and Kelowna.  On most days, Foreman Pucci had crews performing track work on all three parts of his territory and he drove back and forth, supervising, delivering supplies and moving his men from place to place. 

One of his 'time-saving' tools, was to take out a 'work block' on that part of the Okanagan sub that ran between the CN/CP junction at Armstrong and the CN/CP junction at Campbell Creek.  Because there were no foreign road (CPR) trains operating on that piece of track, it was felt that it would be OK to leave the 'restriction' in place with no expiry time or date.  Each day, when crews went to work, they would recieve a document outlining Foreman Pucci's work limits and an instruction to all trains that in order to pass through his work limits, one had to contact him, personally, by radio or by cell phone for permission to proceed through those limits. 

I felt uneasy about this arrangement, but when I raised it with my peers and with my supervisor, it became apparent that I was the only one who felt there was a risk of 'overlooking' the order, due to familiarity.  My effort to have the order cancelled at the end of each working day was over-ruled.
Conductor Befurt at Armstrong. 
In this photo, he was speaking with Foreman Pucci, requesting permission to pass through his work limits in place between Armstrong and Campbell Creek.

Failure to gain permission to pass through the work limits carried with it the potential for disaster.  A train operating under such a rule violation might strike a maintenance of way crew, killing or maiming the men working there.  Or, a track crew might have a rail out, preparing to replace it; the train, hitting an open piece of roadbed could end up overturned, killing the crews.

Our erstwhile Roadmaster, overloaded with responsibility, determined that he could save a good deal of time if he simply left his work block in place, weeks on end, rather than cancelling it at the end of each day and requesting a fresh one from the Rail Traffic Controller (RTC) each morning.

You may now recall that I mentioned earlier that "Murphy" had a pass to ride this train.

The roadmaster's workblock was the one thing that the crew of the Wine Train overlooked on this day.  They had forgotten about Foreman Pucci's work limits in effect and had entered those limits, traveling from Armstrong to O'Keefe.  As was the custom, they left the train on the main track at O'Keefe and brought the engine through the old siding to get ready to return to Armstrong.

With the air brake test completed, they began their descent of the hill to the junction with the CPR/OVR at Armstrong.   The train had travelled several miles before the conductor realized that something was very seriously amiss! 

Both he and the engineer had failed to contact Foreman Pucci for permission to enter and travel through his work limits!!! 

They were at a crossroads.  They had two options..., but which one would they take. They brought the train to a stop.

Not impossible, but certainly difficult to get to on foot.
The O'Keefe hill by RBH
To his credit, and I do admire him for his honesty and integrity, he stopped his train, as the rules require under such circumstances. The conductor called the RTC and reported the rule violation, knowing full well that it could spell the end of his career, his honour and the respect he enjoyed among his peers. 

If he had refrained from making that call..., if he had just remained quiet, no one would have ever known about their rule violation.  It would have just 'gone away.'  But, he did the right thing!

The rules stipulated that the crew be 'removed from service' pending investigation and a replacement crew ordered immediately. 

As it turned out, that was easier said than done.  Of the engineers stationed in Vernon, each in turn advised the crew dispatcher that they had been partaking in a long standing social tradition among rails on weekends, their assigned days off.  They were partying, and under Rule G of the Canadian Railway Operating Rules, they could not accept a call to duty. 

There were no assigned conductors available in Vernon and no engineers or conductors in Kamloops would take a call to work on this "foreign" road.  Even if a qualified person could be found in Kamloops, it would take hours for them to show up in Armstrong.  It was much too late already.

But here I was, not only available, but on-site and sober.  Plus...., I knew where I could get a good conductor on short notice!

The VP asked me if I had been drinking this evening and I assured him that I had not.  He asked me if I could find a conductor, as he had been told there were none to be found.  I told him that I would get a conductor for the train and that I was confident that he hadn't been drinking or was otherwise impaired. 

I then told him that I had been removed from the working board by the BLE and he laughed, saying that he would look after that little problem.  I smiled.

The conductor I had promised?????   The junior qualified conductor in the terminal was a close friend of mine; a terrific family man and a damn good railroader to boot.  I knew where to find him and had his cell phone programmed into mine.

I gave Ed Bewly a call and found him where I knew he would be; he was at his cottage on the shore of Okanagan Lake with his wife and three young children.  Ed immediately understood the severity of the situation and said that he would have to go back to his home in Vernon to get his 'grip' with all of his required text books, timetables, etc.... nearly twenty five pounds in all. I told him that I had been speaking with the Vice President and that he should call a taxi and come directly to Armstrong.  CN would pay the cab fare.

Ed Bewley, in happier times. Unfortunately, Ed was killed 'on the job.'

I also called the crew on the Wine train by cell phone.  The conductor told me that they were stopped on the hill near mile 65, a relatively inaccessible location on the steep valley flank.  I told them about my conversation with the VP and after a telephone discussion with the Chief Dispatcher, they were released to bring the train down the hill to Armstrong, where they would get off the train, turning it over to Conductor Bewly and myself.

While I had been kept busy making arrangements for a replacement conductor, arranging for the train to be released under the control of the engineer and conductor who had violated the rule in the first place, Susan had been speaking with Mrs. Nagel.  They had another problem that needed to be dealt with.

The Nagels' had been working hard to recover from the terrible experience they had when CN had failed to fill the fuel tank causing the train to be stopped enroute, due to engine failure.  If you recall, there had been a contingent of Travel Agents on board when the train 'ran out of gas', as the newspapers reported.  The Nagel family had placed a great deal of their hopes on those travel agents having a great trip on the Wine Train.  A favourable report from that group would give the enterprise a much needed boost in patronage, perhaps launching the fledgling company on a successful journey.

But CN's negligence had driven a spiral nail into the lid of that coffin!

So Nagel's marketing group had reached out to the International market, coaxing a group of Japanese travel agency owners to take a ride on his train.  The future of the Wine Train could very well hang in the balance. 

The Japanese tour operators were among those left stranded in Armstrong, waiting for a train that had been derailed by rule violation, and the inexcusable lack of a reliable back-up plan. 

I went to my van and opened the large rear door, removing my grip, my boots, striped overalls, my striped hat, and my red bandana.  Under a street light, I meticulously transformed the smartly dressed gentleman in pressed slacks, white shirt and tie and broad-brimmed straw hat, to the elegantly attired locomotive engineer, fully garbed and ready for action. (Wife, Susan, insertion here: he looked a real "Dapper Dan" )

Wine Train Engineer Bruce Harvey in Kelowna, August 1999

It was dark by the time the train arrived, bell clanging in the warm night air.  The crowd on the platform was silent, tired, disappointed, and certainly seeking a washroom, as none had been available in downtown Armstrong for their wait of several hours, after dinner.

While the passengers were being loaded, my wife came to the cab of the engine to tell me that Mrs. Nagel had asked her if she would agree to take the Japanese tour company owners back to Kelowna in our van.  Susan readily agreed and had already gotten them comfortably seated in the van that I had meticulously cleaned and in which I had placed the two extra seats, not fully understanding why I had felt compelled to do so.

The trip to Kelowna was uneventful, except that when we arrived at the station in Kelowna, the taxiis and buses that would normally gather to pick up fares from the train, had all left the station and gone away, adding further insult to injury for our traveling public.
Wine Train - southbound near Kelowna International Airport
photographer unknown

Susan's trip to Kelowna with her van chock full of Japanese business people was a memory not to be soon forgotten.  She found, within minutes of leaving Armstrong, that none of her passengers could speak a word of English, nor could she speak a word of Japanese.  However, using sign language and gestures, everyone enjoyed the hour and a half drive down the valley.

For her yeoman service to Nagel Tours, Susan was presented with a "Lifetime Pass", good on the Okanagan Valley Wine Train. 

And for my service to the enterprise, ...


Dallas said...

So, what ever happened to the Wine Train?

I enjoyed reading the three part story.

Dallas said...

What ever happened to the Wine Train? I happened to see it for sale, but what's the rest of the story?

I enjoyed that.