Monday, August 22, 2011

Rule Class at Red Pass Junction


Bruce Harvey Collection.  Photographer Unknown

Rule Class at Red Pass Junction

It was just after 8:00 am, March 29. 1966 when the westbound freight eased to a stop in front of the depot at Red Pass Junction, BC. The head end brakeman backed through the narrow cab door behind the engineer and let himself down the ladder to the ground. I picked up my back pack from the cab floor and thanked the engineer for the ride, as I too backed through the door. I had been called earlier that morning to deadhead to Red Pass Jct. and wait for a special rail inspection car that had left Prince George and was expected to arrive in Red Pass Jct. before noon. I was told that I would be needed as an extra crew member to guide the car and its occupants over the last 45 miles from the junction to Jasper.

The head end brakeman met me at the door to the Operator’s Office as he was leaving with a set of dispatcher’s train orders that would help get their train down the mountain from the Yellowhead Pass we had just crossed and into the valley bottom some 30 miles further on. Number 2, the east-bound Trans-continental was running late due to a rock slide in the Fraser River Canyon several hundred miles away, so all west-bound freights, running as extras had to get updates on the passenger’s progress in order to keep out of the way and still not be delayed too badly themselves. The slide had been a major disruption to service in the mountains and it would take a few days to get operations running smoothly again. Patience was to be the order of the day.

I sat down on the bench on the station platform and watched each car as it rolled past when the train left. As the caboose passed the station, the operator held out a wooden “y” shaped apparatus with a set of orders with a clearance attached on a string and the tail-end brakeman, standing on the lower step at the rear of the wood caboose put his arm through the “y” caught the orders on his arm and waved to the operator and me.

I stayed on the platform for a few moments and listened to the sound of the engines wander back and forth through the deep valleys.

Inside, I found the operator, Gerry Taylor sitting at his desk with his earphones in place, speaking to the Dispatcher. He “OS’d´ the train out of Red Pass Jct. at 0809. When he set the head set back on its cradle at the side of his desk he turned to me with a broad grin and asked me why I was left behind. After I explained that I was called to meet the special observation car from Prince George, he laughed saying that it hadn’t arrived at McBride yet.  They were still somewhere out on the Fraser Sub.  It was already beginning to look like it would be a long quiet day spent in Red Pass Junction…population 1…now 2.

Red Pass had once been a much larger community than today. Old timers in Jasper told me that there had been a hotel, a school, a store and a post office; and numerous families living there.  I suppose that was around the time of the First World War when both the Canadian Northern and The Grand Trunk Pacific ran side by side westward across the prairies and into the mountains to Red Pass.  At Red Pass, the tracks diverged; the Canadian Northern taking a south-westerly route to Kamloops and Vancouver and the Grand Trunk taking a north-westerly route to Prince George and Prince Rupert.

But today… there was just Gerry and I…and the ravens and squirrels.

I hung around the station waiting room for a few minutes, reading faded and yellowed notices and bulletins that spoke of train schedules and hours of operation.

Stepping outside, and looking both east and west, I realized that, being a type “A” personality, I was going to have a VERY long day. The next freight to be expected at Red Pass wouldn’t arrive for at least 8 hours…and that was just a guess.

I wandered across the tracks that stretched from here to the Pacific in one direction, and to the Atlantic in the other, and made my way down to the shoreline of the river, where beautiful Moose Lake emptied its contents into the  Fraser River.  I sat down on a rock to watch the water birds as they worked the shoreline for little creatures to eat. Picking up a flat stone, I raised my arm to attempt to skip the stone across the Fraser River. This was probably the only spot on the river, which is several hundred miles in length, where one might attempt to set this ‘record’ as the river was only about fifty feet wide at this point.

Gerry’s voice stopped me! I turned to see him approaching with a fishing rod in his hand.  You might not want to scare the fish”, he said. “Maybe you can catch something for our lunch”.

“Thanks a lot”, I said.  “I’ll give ‘er a try”. He spent a few minutes showing me where he had caught an occasional trout, and he went back to his desk inside the station.

Photo by the author

Well, I tried…and I tried. I saw a few fish break the surface of the water only to disappear again without taking notice of the lure I was throwing at them. There were a pair of Ospreys working the lake and they seemed to be having better luck than I was. After an hour or more of walking up and down the shore, tossing the lure (I had only one lure) into every likely looking bit of dark water that I could reach, I reeled in the line and sat down on a rock to consider my next move.

A man’s voice broke the stillness and I quickly turned to see two men, dressed quite well in dark slacks, top coats and leather gloves walking toward me. One of them asked me what I was doing there so I explained that I was a CNR brakeman who was waiting for a special inspection train from Prince George and that I was to accompany it to Jasper once it arrived at Red Pass. The men seemed curious about the operation of the railway and asked me lots of questions about trains, and train orders; trackside signals and whistle signals, air brake tests and employee tests.

Carefully removing their nice leather gloves and placing them on a rock beside me, they sat down and asked me if the railway was required to test employees on their knowledge of rules and regulations. “Oh yes,” I said… “We have to take periodic Rule Exams in order to keep our jobs.” “We also have to have a Medical Examination and submit our watches to watch inspectors as well.”
I showed them cards similar to the ones shown below:


Explaining the importance of knowing our medical condition and keeping fit for duty, I went on to describe how important it was to ensure that our watches were maintained in prime condition so that we could operate under train orders and time table schedules without endangering passengers, crews and equipment.

One of the men took the lead with his questions and asked me how we kept track of all the dates of all the different examinations. I told him that we were issued a ‘card’ for every one of the different tests. I proudly showed him my medical card, my watch card and my rule card. The rule card showed that I was qualified in “B” book rules and was due to re-qualify in about three months at which time my current rule card would expire.

They asked me questions about the Automatic Block Signal System that was used on the Albreda sub, and then asked about the Centralized Traffic Control System that was in place on the Edson sub, just east of Jasper.  I explained the two systems and how each one worked.  I also gave them examples of train movements within the two systems and how the rules determined how trains, engines and crews functioned with regard to opposing movements and following movements....I was on a roll!  I was grateful that they didn't ask me any questions that I didn't have a reasonable answer for, like Rule 4 which covered how regularly scheduled trains such as passenger trains,  were run when the timetables changed, twice a year.  That rule was one that tripped up many an experienced railroader.  I knew of fellows who booked off work on those two days, just so they wouldn't be at risk of screwing up, or being involved in a very scary incident.

He looked each card over carefully, turning each of them over in his hands reading the handwritten comments on each side. As he finished reading each one, he handed it to the other man who read them as well. When he had gathered them up again, he said “well, son, you’ve given us a pretty complete tour of the railroad and its operations.” “I see that your rule card is about to expire, so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do…” “I’m going to give you a passing grade on the rule exam we’ve given you today.”

Rule examinations were always conducted in a classroom setting, whether in a room above the station, on a crate in the Express Shed, or in a converted passenger car, called The Rule Car which travelled from town to town.  Although there was a provision for a "verbal" rule exam, I had never heard of it ever taking place.

I chuckled…thinking, “I don’t know who this guy thinks he is, but he can’t take the place of a real Rule Instructor and give me a pass on…”   He opened his wallet and removed a card from within, saying....“Here’s your new rule card”.   "You've convinced us that you know what you're doing out here and you're good for another three years!"

He filled out the blank spaces and signed the small brown card and handed it to me…

it was signed by Mr. John Procyk, the Chief Rule Instructor for the entire Mountain Region!!

The two men chuckled quietly as they turned and walked toward the station.


dorothylochmaben said...

Nice story Bruce ! Not such a long useless day after all.

Linda said...

Bruce, you have writing talent galore!! I'm so happy to see you using it with all these very interesting stories.
I've read through each one and loved them all.
Don't forget to write about the wonderful 'MINI" tray in Capreol to up the line. Did you know we had a place at Lake Minapuka (sp), and also a caboose at Milage 9 out of Folyet, we had to repaint from CN colours right after we got it finished, because of fear new engineers coming around the corner would maybe think it a wreck on the track. What great tain memories I have too, but from a very different perspective! Did I ever tell you the story of how it was sold?? Interesting!!
Hey!!! I didn't realize how cute you were back in the High School days but that picture rang a bell!! Ohhh to go back in time!!
Great writing...keep at it!! Thanks Susan for the tip!
Love Linda

LOU said...

Sounds like one of 'YOUR-BETTER-DAYS' and that's the kind I like remember and share also. Really enjoy'n YOURS !!!!!!!!!

Bruce said...

RandyN posted a comment regarding this story on my other blog,, saying that his grandfather had worked as a station agent at Red Pass Jct and at Lucerne, 22 miles east of Red Pass. His grandmother grew up in CNR stations and has fond memories of those experiences.

Randy, I would love to talk with you grandmother about her childhood along the CNR mainline. Please write to me at

Thanks, Bruce

The BarkerLetter said...

Got marooned at Red Pass for four hours enroute to Jasper, in November, '76. We passed the time throwing rocks in the river from the trestle.