Friday, April 12, 2013

A Young Man's First Rule Class

In July of 1964, I was a new brakeman, wide-eyed and ready to take a call to go anywhere and do anything.  Capreol, the Ruel sub, the Bala sub and the Alderdale sub were my oyster!!!

I had just graduated from CNR's intense 'new employee' training program.  It had been a gruelling two weeks or more in which I learned a great deal more than I imagined I might have to know. 

For some reason, the young men in my class were taken over to the RIP tracks where we learned how to place car jacks under one end of a gondola and raise the car off its truck.  In the days before roller bearing equipped axle journals, all bearings were of the friction variety, the weight of the car and its contents being supported by a brass and babbit bearing that rested on top of the axle-end, or journal.  The bearing and the journal were lubricated by using a cotton pack, and sometimes, wads of cotton threads called 'waste.'  Waste was used extensively on and around steam locomotives, as well as in the journal boxes of rolling stock. 

 But now that the last of the magnificent steam engines were gone, the cotton waste that had been stocked in the Stores Departments was all but used up,  Journal lubrication was now effected by the use of pre-formed cotton pads that fit beneath the journal, wicking oil up from the journal box onto the underside of the journal, coating it with a thin, even coating of oil when the axles were turning. 

The object of our training on this day, late in June of 1964 was to teach us how to do what every brakeman and conductor had known for over a hundred and some years...., we were there to learn how to change the 'brasses' and lubricating pads on the 'B' end of this gondola.

Some of the material presented in the training program had already been covered by listening to the stories my father and my grandfather told.  Dad was a locomotive engineer and his dad had been a carman.  In fact, almost all of my family were railroaders, had married railroaders, or could hardly wait to becomer railroaders.  There were some exceptions to this axiom, of course, but we didn't invite them to family picnics or other fun events very often.

After the practical training..., climbing on and off moving cars, tieing on handbrakes, setting retainers, bleeding the brakes off cars, getting a half hour learning baggage car routines, learning how to speak to a dispatcher, copying rule 264 authorities and lining 'dual control' switches and other critical 'need-to-know' stuff, the rule class was about to begin.

When we all showed up on the following morning, we were instructed to proceed to the Rule Instruction Car, which was parked - on steam - immediately west of the station.

My father had given me a subtle tip that he felt would help get me through the next week or so.  He suggested that I take a desk in the front row - center of the classroom.  The second part of his advice was to pay attention, keep my mouth closed and do not offer to share any of my enthusiasm with the instructor or my classmates.  In other words, he said .... sit still and learn!

The Instructor was the infamous Joe Madigan.  Nobody called him "Joe".  He was always referred to as "Mr. Madigan", or "Sir".

Mr. Madigan was 'old school' and dressed the part.  His suit was a classic three piece pin-stripe. He wore a fresh tie with a gold tie clip and his shirt sleeves showed a bit of gold from his cuff-links.

He wore his pocket watch in his vest pocket, with the watch chain fed from the watch through a button hole in the vest, ending in the pocket in the other side of his vest.

His black leather shoes were polished to a very high gloss.

He spoke to us for about twenty minutes on the serious nature of the rules which we were about to study, be examined on and, perhaps even leave with a passing mark!

We received a couple of days of classroom instruction and were then given our brand new rule books; the 1962 Uniform Code of Operating Rules, or UCOR.  We were also given a pale green work book with a large capital letter "B" on the cover.  It was the Holy Grail of would be brakemen..., it was the "B - Book".

This was the book in which we would write down the answers to a myriad of questions that would determine our qualification, readiness and willingness to become a CNR brakeman.

I didn't expect to have any trouble with the rules per se..., but since my handwriting was disgraceful, I was concerned that would negatively affect my qualification.  I was wrong.

At least, I was wrong about that. 

When we had finally completed our "B" books, we handed them in for grading by Mr. Madigan. I had been extra diligent in ensuring that my work was legible, even though it was written out in pencil, which smudges if you're not careful.  I was pretty confident that Friday afternoon, that Mr. Madigan would smile with approval on Monday morning, as he handed my my signed Rule Card, allowing me to take it to the yard office and..., showing it to the yardmaster on duty, would be placed on the the trainman's working board to await my first call to work.

On Monday morning, I took my seat along with a dozen or so of my fellow students.   When our instructor arrived, he didn't appear to be in either a good frame of mind, or a bad one.  He didn't speak to any of us.  Instead, he slowly made his way up and down the rows of students, setting their complered and marked "B" books on their desks in front of them.

Mine was the last to be set down.  He didn't even look at me, rather he walked around behind his desk and sat down.  I glanced down at the cover of my book, and didn't see a mark on it. 

When he spoke, he informed some that they had passed their examination and could leave the Rule Car.  One or two were given an 'oral' re-examination of a small number of rules that they had shown they didn't completely understand. 

What did he say to me?  Apparently, I had not been very careful about accurately recording my answers (taken directly from the UCOR).  It seemed that I had left out some commas, so I was sent home to find my errors and correct them.  I wouldn't be allowed to book on for work until my corrected "B" book was approved by Mr. Madigan. 

I remembered what my dad had told me, so I thanked him and got up to leave.  At that moment, one of the students decided that he didn't like the criticism that he had recieved from Mr. Madigan.  He banged his fist on his desk and, loudly and forcefully stated that he felt his work was good enough.  He wasn't going to correct any mistakes.

Mr. Madigan rose from his chair and strode to the student's desk.  He picked up the "B" book and tossed it into the khaki metal trash can beside his desk.  He then 'assisted' the student to the door at the end of the Rule Car and escorted him outside.  The man had been fired before he was hired.

Good move, Joe!

By noon, I was back with my corrected work book and was issued my first Rule Card, signed by "Joe Madigan - Rule Instructor".

I was off to find the yardmaster!

After a week or two of working freight and passenger trains from Foleyet, Hornepayne., Brent, Ottawa and Parry Sound, I was called for a Ruel sub work train, performing a variety of OCS work.

I was the junior member of the five-man crew.  The conductor was "Tates" Vaillancourt, rear trainman was Romeo LaRoche (sp), fireman Gus Normore and engineer Rin Lancia.

We had been out on the Ruel Sub for a couple of weeks before we were allowed to run back to Capreol for a weekend at home.  On returning to work the following week, we were ordered to haul fire fighters and their equipment from Gogama and Foleyet to Tionaga, where a stubborn forest fire had become entrenched between two arms of Horwood Lake.

Of the many readers of Caboose Coffee stories, there is a contingent of telegraphers, former operators, station agents and dispatchers.  In searching for a link to Tionaga, I fell upon a link to a wonderful online book called "Tionaga" by Kelsey Stephenson.  This book truly is a great read about W.R. (Bill) Stephenson and his life, and of course the lives of his family members as they lived the life of an operator and station agent in many a remote northern Ontario line-side posting.  Unfortunately, I've been unable to 'lift' a link to put into this blog, but if you "Google" the word Tionaga and add Kelsey Stephenson, you will likely find yourself wonderfully entertained for a full seventy two pages of stories and photos.  A great read!

Back to June, 1964:

working as the head-end 'shack' on the work train was all very exciting. I got to sit up high in the cab of the beautiful green, yellow and black MLW RS 18, looking over the activity on the station platform as the engineer pulled past the station, bell ringing and diesel smoke rolling off the top of the locomotive, washing over the men and equipment waiting on the platform. 

The men who had gathered to get on the train had been pressed into service by the forest service to fight the fire at Horwood Lake.  Fortunately, railroaders seemed to be exempt from conscription into fire service as we were considered "essential service employees."   I had spent some time fighting fire in the Northern Ontario bush before I was 16.  I had lied about my age and signed with a forestry crew before my parents were aware of what I had done.  Of course, my mother convinced my father that he should get me out of there, so my fire-fighting career ended abruptly with an order to leave the fire and go home by the quickest available means.  I hitch-hiked.

When we pulled up in front of the station at Gogama with flat cars, gondolas, a water car and two cabooses, I saw the envy in the eyes of some of the young men who were about to climb onto our train for the forty mile, mostly open-air ride to Tionaga, where they would detrain. I'm sure that some of them would have liked to trade jobs with me at that moment. 

 They were about to be taken out to a location even more remote than Gogama, where they would be dropped off amid a cloud of mosquitoes, black flies, (sound ON) horse flies and deer flies.  The No-See-ums wouldn't attack them until after sunset!

That evening saw my putting the engine away on the shop track at Foleyet, then off to get dinner and a night in bed.  Tomorrow, we would run straight to Capreol, "van hop" where the job would tie up and stand down. 

This note was sent in by Larry Ayerst, of Capreol Ontario:

Hello Bruce. Reading your little note about the rule car brings back a memory of my very first rules with Joe Madigan. You must have been with him during your early years here in Capreol eh? In 1959 I had hired on the Signal Dept. as a helper. The time came to write my D book. Joe always wanted us to introduce our selves and when he heard the Ayerst name, he asked if I was related to Tommy Ayerst. When I informed him that he was my Dad, he said that seeing as I had been around a railroader all my life  that I should know all the answers.
This statement made me nervous as hell and he kept firing almost every second question at me. Naturally, I couldn't answer all of them and he said again that because I was around a railroader, I should know it all.
Getting really flustered, I finally replied that "if my Dad was a jeweller, should I know how to repair watches?"
He told me to get out of the car immediately. I left and went back to work. A month later I was working in Allandale as Maintainers helper. seeing as the Rule car was in the spur, I went to see Joe. He asked me if I had ever been in the car before. I replied yes and he had kicked me out. He said OK, sit down, you'll be alright. I sailed through everything and he shook my hand and gave me my card.
Go figure eh?
Almost the middle of April and we just got a two day snow storm. Won't be golfing for two or three weeks. Stay well Larry.

Larry, perhaps my dad had been ejected from Joe's Rule Car at one time or another and that's why he gave me that 'heads up!'  Bruce
From:   Clark Gray, North Vancouver
Hi Bruce:

 As usual, enjoyed your latest story.

Just a small point, as I remember growing up on the RIP track, the material referred to as "waste" and used in the steam engine cabs for wiping, etc. was a much more finer material than the journal box material.  The journal box material used for lubricant was more coarse and was referred to as "dope".  Think my memory is correct on this one.  I remember the journal lubricators you referred to as coming into use in 1959, possibly a little earlier.

Clark Gray

Clark, your experience on the RIP track dwarfs mine,  and I defer to you on that.  Glad you enjoyed it.

You see folks, I told you that most of my stories are true!!!!  RBH

1 comment:

wayne said...

Or did you mean most of your stories had some truth's in them!!! Excellent site Bruce.

Wayne King