Friday, December 30, 2011

There Will Be A Reckoning

To quote the late John Denver who wrote...,  "Hey, it's good to be back home again".

After two and a half days of  blood tests, cultures, x-rays and 'hallway medicine', I was released from the hospital yesterday to return home.  Initially, I had reservations about this, as my symptoms hadn't improved to a point that I felt I was on the mend.  However, all the test results came back negative, and a change in drug treatment was prescribed.  

I came home to my own bed, home cooking, my loving wife and a very happy dog.    I'm feeling better today than I have in many weeks.  

Our thanks and gratitude go out to all of you, and there are many who sent messages of concern, your prayers, and strength for us both. 

I too, wish you a very Happy New Year!


It was bound to happen!

I wrote a story that appeared in the last installment that was not entirely accurate.  The story was based on something that was shared with me over 45 years ago by an old-timer from the mountain country of the headwaters of the North Thompson River.

I realize that the odds of my source being unsure of the details are virtually non-existent, so..., the error must be mine.  And there is more than one error in the story of "the runaway log car".

The good news is that a number of readers have been thumping on the tom-toms and I now have a pretty good idea what really happened out there on that fateful day.  Information, recollections and theories have been pouring in for a couple of days and I will work on a re-write which should appear within the next few days. (It's New Years, after all)

Many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to fill in the blanks in my story, and many apologies to those of you will have to go back and read the even-more-exciting story a second time.

Let me take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a very happy New Year.  From the warmth of our caboose to you in your homes, we wish you a very healthy and prosperous 2012.

The Harvey Family

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

As Promised, Three Stories by Guest Story Tellers.

When I arrived in Jasper in 1965, I found the majority of the men I was called to work with were quite willing to share their extensive knowledge of, not only railroading, but also all of the local and regional history, color and culture.  At that time, many of the communities west of the BC/Alberta border were accessible only by rail, river or air travel.  The major roads and highways that one finds on today's maps either didn't exist, or were traveled only during the dry months.

Some of those who shared their stories with me were sons of the early settlers who came to the area, either with the railway construction crews just after the turn of the last century or..., were pioneers in their own right.

The following story, as related to you by Ray Matthews, a retired CN conductor, and later, an officer of the railroad is one that was told by one of those early pioneers, a son of an early settler family and CN locomotive engineer named Ken Cook.  Ken's family lived and worked in a small town named Gosnell, deep in BC's central interior.  Ken was born at Gosnell circa early 1900's.

During Ray Matthew's many years of working in the mountain territory of BC and Alberta for CN, he heard many tales from men like Ken Cook, so when a photograph came to me via an email chat group, it stirred up a memory of a story that Ken Cook had briefly described to me forty-six years ago.  It was a tale of high adventure, riveting anxiety and 'seat of your pants' railroading.

CNR T4b Class Steam Locomotive number 4326 at Gosnell, BC   1953
From the collection of Thom Cholowski:  Saskatoon

Feeling that I was rather short on details for this story, I emailed Ray to ask him to fill in with any details he might have at his disposal.  The following is provided by Ray:

Hi Bruce, You’re right on all counts. Ken Cook was born there (Gosnell)  and often talked about the area. I think he had a trap line around there and he told me he had walked up toward the headwaters of the North Thompson river, about 40 miles. I think his trap line ran up that way.

You are right about the runaway log cars as well. I really can’t recall enough to be really sure, but I think the west mixed train, 391, was switching at Gosnell. They had kicked a load of logs onto the train, and went back into the log spur with the engine. The joint didn't make, and the car of logs started to roll westward. It ran thru the spur switch and Ian MacRae, who was the rear trainman found he couldn't get the flatcars' handbrake applied because of the logs overhanging a bit. So away it went with the mixed train’s locomotive in pursuit.

They called the dispatcher, who I think was Arden Dixon. He in turn called No. 4 which was just east of Thunder River. He told them to stop and get off the engine, but the crew figured they could get into clear at Pyramid. The just made it when the car came around the corner at what they figured was around 40 mph. The mixed train’s unit got in touch with No. 4, told him to stay at Pyramid, and continued after the logs. I am not sure whether or not they caught up with the car or if it stopped, but it all ended somewhere west of Thunder River. No idea of discipline, or even the date for sure, but it was certainly after radios were in practice, and ABS in operation. That's all I can tell you for sure, and some may be quite incorrect. After all, it was around 50 years ago.

Ray Matthews - Mission, BC


Our second story is one that is offered by Jim Munsey, of Edmonton Alberta.  Jim's career covered many years with CN where he got his start as a train order operator in western Alberta.  During the course of his lengthy career, Jim rose through management to hold very responsible positions in major CN centers across Canada.  He was the son of a Telegrapher and grew up living in stations where his father worked and spent his own lifetime working for CN Rail. Through his career on CN, he was an Operator, Dispatcher, Rules Officer, Superintendent of Transportation and Manager of Safety and Accident Prevention.
This is one of Jim's reminiscences, about one young brakeman's early experience working on the Alberta Coal Branch.

Setting up retainers on the coal branch was a fairly frequent occurrence and as I remember, it was mostly done on the run. I admired the guys who would brave the dangers of walking along the top with their brake club and I doubt if I would have had the courage to do the same. Your story reminded me of one you might enjoy.

When my buddy Bob Reynolds first hired on as a trainman on the coal branch working out of Edson, he made his usual three student trips and was placed on the spare board. Without much experience, he was called as the head end trainman on a Cadomin turn with Harry Wilson as the hoghead with a Santa Fe engine.    They picked up a full tonnage train for a 4300 at Cadomin which as I remember, would have been about 48 loads of coal.

CNR 2-10-2   CN T4a Class Steam Locomotive Also known as a Santa Fe class engine
From the collection of Bruce Harvey

When they left Cadomin on their way back, it was a New Years eve. In those days you worked when you were called and there was no consideration for statutory holidays. Before starting down the hill from Mercoal to Coalspur, Harry decided he needed some retainers on the head end. Being a close friend of Bob's dad, fellow hoghead Freddy Reynolds, and knowing Bob was a greenhorn, Harry didn't have the heart to send Bob back on the move in the dark so he stopped at Mercoal. With brake club and lantern in hand, Bob started back cross the top and soon heard what sounded like rife fire. He assumed it was firecrackers being set off by holiday revelers. When he got back to the engine they took off and continued their trip home.

A few days later, Don Weeks, who had also hired on as a trainman about the same time as Bob, was having a beer or two with Bob and I.  He told us that while in the beer parlour at Coalspur a few days earlier, he overheard a fellow telling his friends about a wild New Year's party he attended in Mercoal.  Evidently, someone spotted this strange light bobbing up and down moving southward in the pitch black about 20 feet off the ground. Someone offered a bottle of whiskey to anyone who could shoot the light out with a hunting rifle.

Surprised,  Bob realized that what he heard was real gunfire!  He thanked his lucky stars that nobody was good enough, or was too dunk to hit his lantern or any part of his body.

Harry Wilson was a real character. He had a brother living in Jamaica and every Christmas, his brother would hollow out two loaves of bread, shove a bottle of 100% over proof rum into the each cavity and wrap them up as Christmas presents. Bob and I decided to pay Harry and his wife a Christmas morning visit and I recall Harry taking the lid off one of these bottles, walked to the back door and after opening it, he threw the lid as far as he could onto the snow in his back yard. Bob and I had a couple of swigs and left to attend a 11:00K church service as he had promised his mother he would do . We arrived late and the church was nearly full so the usher took us down the aisle to the front row. Bob's dad was sitting on the aisle near the front and was we passed him, he was winding his railway pocket watch. He was so surprized to see us;  with a startled look in his eyes, he immediately quit winding his watch and put it in his vest pocket.

Jim Munsey - Edmonton, AB


Beginning in 1974 and 1981, (W.C.) Butch Whiteman worked as a Trainmaster for CN in the Mountain Region.  In 1978 I went to Red Deer as the Trainmaster as I said. From there I went to Prince George in 1981 as Ass't Supt. for the Northline. Then I spent 2 years in Montreal as a system operations control officer, coming back to Edmonton in 1984.

I've either personally worked or have had responsibility on virtually every subdivision on the Mountain Region including Vancouver Island. And there isn't a subdivision that I haven't been over - either by train or on a hi-rail. Some of it is a little more familiar than others, but I've been on them all - including a lot that have been abandoned for years.

Butch Whiteman writes the following for our third story:

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. 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 door, 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. 

Showing inaccessibility of CN's Ashcroft subdivision
Photographer not known.  From the collection of Bruce Harvey

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. 

Photo credit Bruce Harvey

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! 

Butch Whiteman - Edmonton, AB

Great stories gentlemen!!   Thanks for sharing them with us.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Arrives on the Albreda Sub.

For weeks, the railroad has been working 24 hours each day in an effort to clear a backlog of traffic.  A couple of major snowstorms that have blown in from the Arctic closed the rail line temporarily.  Crews battled the elements as the snow filled trackside ditches and formed deep drifts across the landscape.  In places where the wind was kept away by steep mountain terrain, the snow fell, and gathered where it lay.  Fir and cedar trees became laden with heavy snow while the roofs of section houses, motor car sheds and telephone cross arms carried great caps of snow that seemed to flow like slowly melting ice cream.

Snow plow crews, working around the clock became exhausted; as the snow continued to fall, it became ever more difficult for the plows and spreaders to throw the snow over the tops of the increasingly higher snow banks along the track.  Eventually, the snow that the plow threw up the bank slid back onto the tracks as the caboose passed.

Trains following the plow tried valiantly to keep moving up the steep grades, pushing through snow and ice. Far too soon, the pipes that delivered dried sand to the rails in front of the driving wheels became plugged with snow, stopping the flow of sand.

Well aware of this, we had spent nearly an hour using hammers, pipe wrenches, fusees and lengths of wire coat hangers to clear all of the sand pipes on every engine in our consist before we left Blue River.

The plow train is running ahead of us and has a thirty-five minute head start.
Photo Credit: Phil Mason - CP equipment is similar to CN's

All is ready and we pull ahead slowly while the tail end crew does a run-by inspection of the train.  Once they're on, the throttle is opened up and the exhaust stacks bark with the determination of a dog-sled team leaning into their load.  We leave Blue River behind us as we head east, and home.

Photo Credit:

Roaring through Red Sand and Thunder River, we throw ourselves at the steep grade ahead.  As we begin our ascent, the staccato barking of the exhaust changes its tone, the high pitch of steel wheels running on steel rails changes its song, lowering its voice to match the low groan of the big diesel engine behind the electrical cabinet at the back of the cab.

Now we wait while the locomotive does it's work.   I pour my first cup of hot coffee, cream and sugar from my Thermos bottle.  The engineer takes a half-smoked cigar from a pocket in his over-all bib where the gold chain is attached to his pocket watch and to a button hole in the bib.  Clenching the cigar between his teeth, he strikes a wooden match against the control stand and lights the remnants of his cigar.

Photo credit: RBH.  Engineer Clarence Neis and brakeman Spike Hudson

The old time children's song comes to mind as the sound of wheels on rail joints makes a clickety-clack sound.  The wheels are saying..., "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can".

Opening the window and listening to the sound of the wheels on the rails, I can hear the driving wheels slip and chatter as they fight to maintain their grip on the snow covered rail head.  Inside the cab, a white light flashes brightly in front of the engineer.  Every time one of the locomotives wheels slip, the 'wheel slip' warning light flashes 60 watts of light into the engineers eyes.  The engineer pulls a paper cup from the holder beside the water bucket.  He carefully pulls at it, spreading it out on his lap as the cup's folds yield to his efforts.  In no time, he has flattened the cup into a white, waxed paper disc.   He pushes the round paper into the recess in the control stand dash board in front of him.  We know the wheels are slipping, so there's no need for the continuously flashing warning light in the cab.  The sanders are left on, despite the wheel slip warnings.  Perhaps one or more of the sanders on trailing units are not yet plugged.  We have to keep the train moving; to stop in this area might mean not being able to re-start it on the hill.  It occurs to us that we might have to "double the hill" if we stall before reaching the crest at Albreda.

The speedometer is dropping, just a little.  Snow on the rails, blocked sanders and a tonnage train were taking their toll on our progress.  The speedometer needle settles in, bouncing between 8 and 10 miles per hour.  The radio crackles with the conductor's voice.  He's been thinking the same thing as we have..., will we have to double the hill?  If we stall, the tail end brakeman will have to go flagging in accordance with Rule 99; handbrakes will have to be set on the tail end portion of the train to hold it in place while the engineer and I take thirty or forty cars up to Albreda, leave them secured in the siding and return for the remainder of the train. This could necessitate a change in our train order authority and would result in a serious delay to our train and any others that would be on the subdivision, whether moving eastward or westward.

I believe this photo is of an ex-CNR F7A in Prince George's railway museum.

We told him that we were holding at 8 mph and would let him know the minute that a change was noted.  I think he breathed a sigh of relief, simultaneously with us.

Night was falling, and the temperature was dropping.  The rails grew colder, and as they did, they became drier.  The wheel slip light did not flash as frequently as it had.  The speedometer picked up a couple of miles per hour.  The conductor called saying, "That feels better"!

The rail gods were smiling on us, and we knew it.

Soon, the engine rattled over the spring switch at the west end of Albreda siding.  The speedometer continued to climb.  The little white station building came into view and, above it the semaphore train order signal stood erect, displaying a bright green light against a clearing winter sky.

Picking up the radio handset from its cradle, I pressed the mike button and called out..."Clear board Albreda!"

"Clear Board Albreda", replied the tail end brakeman.

Photographer unknown.  Photo depicts a typical train order board that was used to inform crews on trains of the presence of updated train orders, or instructions governing the movement of their train relative to other trains operating in their territory or on their subdivision.  

With the speedometer now passing 25 miles per hour, he notches the throttle down a bit and taking the automatic brake valve in his hand, he makes a reduction in brake pipe pressure to activate the train's brakes.  We're tipping over the top of the hill to begin our descent from Albreda to Cedarside and Valemount.

The worst of the trip now seemed to be behind us.  The snow wouldn't be quite as deep on the hill between Jackman and Red Pass, and from Red Pass to Jasper, it would be pretty easy going, being relatively flat or, at worst, a few miles of gentle descending grade from the Yellowhead Pass, where water flows both east and west, to Jasper.

As our engines clattered and rumbled across the steel bridge over the headwaters of the Fraser River, another "clear board" welcomed us at Red Pass.  Like Albreda and Valemount, the train order office was darkened.  The only light in the darkness was the green light on the semaphore signal.

One more train order board to Lucerne, and we'd be home free for our final run to Jasper.

With the train order board at Lucerne bearing "green", now several miles behind us, the engineer called the yardmaster at Jasper for instructions.

"Yard your train in track three", he said.  "And put your power to the shop...if you can find room for it!"

There was just one clear track left in the yard when we arrived and it had been kept that way in anticipation of our arrival.  We were the last train on the road, and once we had tucked it away, put the power to the shop track and delivered the bills to the office.... everybody was going home; in time for dinner, family and friends.

It was Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spotting the Tilbury Island Rail Barge

The 1900K Tilbury Island Turn isn't the worst job a spare board hogger could be called for on a Saturday night in December.  When I called the crew office at 1500K, I was told that they were going to order at least five extra yards for Port Mann, one for Vancouver's downtown Main Yard, one for Lynn Creek and a number of Transfers between Port Mann, Vancouver and Lynn Creek.  It was only a couple of weeks before Christmas and rail traffic was quite heavy.  The plant was working to capacity in order to get the yards cleaned up so that westbound trains wouldn't have to be set out on line over the holidays.  Can you imagine the security concerns that would be placed on CN's Police Force of two officers with authority over territory from Prince Rupert to Vancouver?

Catching a yard assignment, or a transfer wouldn't be all that bad, but when there are so many crews working in the Greater Vancouver Terminal at the same time, a certain chronic problem could develop.  CN had purchased  Motorola 8-channel radios for their train and engine crews to conduct their railway business on.  "Railway Business" was actually a pretty broad paint brush that included end-to-end communications between head end and tail end crews on transfers, train-to-train communications between transfers and road freight engines while they were in the yard, communications between the control tower in Port Mann and every job that was working anywhere on the south side of the Fraser River, all communications between transfers and tramp jobs, with the New Westminster Rail Bridge, and communications with the Burlington Northern Dispatcher at Sapperton/New Westminster.

Photo Credit....Forums-Radio

Some nights,  the radio traffic became so intense that many trains and engines came to a halt while they waited for a break in the transmissions so they could try to get instructions or to broadcast their locations, etc.  At night, all yardmen used electric hand lanterns to give signals to each other and to their engineers, but at a distance of 20 car lengths or more, and two or more crews working on adjacent tracks, it became very difficult to determine if the signal you were seeing in the dark was meant for you, or for the engine near you.

Some crews would occasionally resort to raiding a caboose for fusees which they would use, just so that their signals would be unique.  On one occasion, my foreman and his helpers pulled out their "fog whistles" and we worked on whistle signals until radio traffic settled down.  Oh, yes...."fog whistles".... Port Mann yard could get pretty foggy, so crews would use whistles, similar to those you might envision a traffic cop having clenched between his teeth.  If there were too many crews working in close proximity, the same problem arose.  I'd be hiked up on one "cheek" with my left foot braced against the base of the control stand and my head pushed out of the window, listening for signals from my crew.  If I was in reverse and moving backward, I would stop on a single blast...then would hear two or three 'back up' signals and a stop....all at the same time.  In that case..., everybody would come to a halt until things got sorted out.

This would be one of those nights for the crews working the lead jobs in Port Mann, but I was going to Tilbury and would be out of the fray for several hours.

After checking our watches with each other, reading and signing the Bulletin Books, checking our BN orders and clearance and gearing up for a wet night, we headed out the door and into the wet, blustery mercury vapor lights that illuminated the shop tracks.

We soon found our assigned locomotives; a pair of 4200 class GP9's of 1957 vintage.  They were coupled up, back to back with their long hoods leading and their rain-streaked steel bodies glistening in the yellow-orange light from the big overhead lamp standards.  A big low-pressure front had moved in from the Pacific and it hadn't weakened as it climbed over Vancouver Island to the west.  The wind caught the diesel exhaust from twenty locomotives, tearing it from the spark arrestors tucked snugly against their roofs and whipping it away into the darkness beyond the shops.

The waters of Georgia Strait would be ugly tonight.  The wind had continued all day from the south-west, swinging through the south-east and back again.

MV Shelley Ann II.  Our home for nearly five years.

Our boat, the Shelley Ann II had been lunging at her lines most of the day and all evening and the Coast Guard had been broadcasting warnings of gusts that might reach 90 knots at Vancouver International Airport, just a few miles downriver from Port Mann yard and even less from Tilbury Island.

We knew that it would be difficult for the rail barge, the Seaspan Greg to come up the river from Steveston to the rail barge slip at Tilbury, and even more difficult to place the barge in a position where we could pull and spot it.  Tonight's operation would be a delicate one.

On our way from the shop tracks to the yard, we reached into the caboose track and pulled a serviced caboose out to put on the east end of our 12 car train that had been made up in the yard and left on the number three switching pull-back at the west end of the yard.

There was just enough room to shove the caboose onto our little train and still clear Sullivan street, a small, local access road that crossed over the main line, the by-pass tracks and the four pullback tracks.  CN vehicles and local gill-net fisherman who tied their boats up by the log booms at the edge of the river were the only users of this road.

Once the engine was coupled on to the west end of our train, the car men were called out to conduct our air test.  Within ten minutes, we had the 'all clear' from the car foreman and we crept out of the yard.  Soon we were on the westbound "main", part of a two track entry/exit for traffic moving to and from the New Westminster rail bridge and traffic to and from Townsend, Brownsville and Tilbury.  We passed the Gyproc plant where we stopped to line a switch that would take us beneath the easterly, or southern approaches to the New Westminster rail bridge on a route that would parallel the Fraser river toward Delta and Tilbury Island.

First, we had to get permission from the BN Dispatcher to enter the BN signaled siding at Brownsville and from there, enter the BN main line for a short run to the Tilbury Branch line that would take us eventually, to the rail barge slip.

Once we had left the BN main line, we were back on CN track which carried us slowly and carefully across the Burns Bog, a huge, environmentally delicate peat bog where the peat beneath the track is many dozens of meters deep.  On the Branch, the ride smoothed out noticeably, as if the railroad had been built on a huge mattress.

On arrival at the end of track, we found the small, three track yard empty, an empty ferry slip and a barge slip attendants' shack that was completely dark.  The conductor and rear-end trainman walked up from the caboose and climbed into the cab.  In the time it took to walk the length of our short train, their boots were soaked, their mitts were dripping and their black rubber rain suits looked as if they had just stepped out of the showers, which they had.  After a short discussion, it was decided that we should call the control tower at Port Mann and ask them if they had an update on the ETA of the Seaspan Greg which had not yet arrived at Tilbury.  After three or four attempts, we gave up trying to dig a hole in the crammed radio chatter on channel four, the only channel that the tower would be monitoring.  The conductor thought he knew where the attendant's shack key might be hidden, so he and the tail end man left to see if they might find it and let themselves in, light a fire in the stove and wait for the barge to show up.

Within and hour or so, some red, white and green navigation lights emerged from the storm just in time to welcome the barge slip attendant and his helper who arrived about the same time.

The photo above, represents a modern barge system which has been adapted to carry the large amount of truck traffic that has replaced most of the rail traffic between Vancouver Island and the greater Vancouver area.  Rail traffic on Vancouver Island has dwindled in recent years due to economic conditions as well as deteriorating track and infrastructure conditions.
After nearly an hour of manouvering; driving the barge toward the open slip, then being blown off the mark and pulling back to try again, the vessel finally got it timed just right and rammed the hull into its slot.  It then took a little while for the slip attendants to lower the ramps down far enough to lock them in place with the open deck of the barge which was pitching and rolling in the furious storm.

It was decision time.  While the barge was securely fastened to the ramps, and the ramps were secured to the lead track, the whole thing was in a state of constant, confused motion.  It was too dangerous to try to reach out onto the barge with the light skeletonized flat cars that were stored in the yard for that purpose.

It was considered safer to wait for a lull in the storm and take a look at the situation then.

We cut the engine off the train and ran back through a clear track to come against the half dozen or so 'reachers' that were in track three.  If we did get a short break in the storm, we would be ready to shove ahead and perhaps pull the cars from the barge before the next round of screaming wind and rain.

The photo above was taken by Doug Wingfield, and presents CPR's rail barge system, typically found operating on British Columbia's large interior lakes.  These barges, powered by freshwater tugs, carried rail cars, locomotives and cabooses..., the whole train, from one point to another.  This was necessitated by topography that had proved too difficult to support track and roadbed.  It became more economic to transport rail traffic around the geographic obstacles.  Note:  the cars next to the locomotive are flat cars that are used as "reachers" that enable the locomotive to pull or shove cars on and off the barge without tipping it too far one way or the other.

Back at Tilbury, the head-end guy and I got the engine in position and settled in to wait.

Channel four had now become so jammed up with radio traffic that we decided to turn down the volume so that we couldn't hear the racket.  I called the conductor to tell him that if he wanted me, all he had to do would be to flash his electric lantern at me and I'd come back on the radio for instructions.

In the cab, we were warm and dry.  The cab lights were on and the heaters were pumping out enough heat to evaporate all of the water that had followed the crew in from the outside.  I pulled off my water proof jacket and got up to stretch my legs and hang the jacket on an electrical cabinet door latch.

Photo credit...the author's wife, Susan Harvey

We began to talk, to share stories, to bitch and complain and to generally draw up a plan with which we would change the way the railroad was being run, including who we would keep and who we would fire.

Soon, the conversation elevated to things like our favourite watering holes and animal husbandry.

Of course, I had a real life experience that I recalled from my high school days when a friend called me one winter night and asked me if I could give him a hand feeding the pigs at his fathers farm, a few miles outside of Sudbury, Ontario.

It was minus 30 degrees F. when we arrived and he and I let ourselves into the barn.  I had never been inside a pig barn and was interested in everything that I could see.  My friend was willing to tell me all about it.
Then...., he told me that there was a young sow in the barn that had just gone into her first heat and should be bred by one of the boars before much more time had passed.  Then he went outside into the night and came back five minutes later, pulling a huge boar behind him.

The boar knew exactly what was expected of him and the sow seemed to be rather inclined to hide under a bale of straw.  But this was not to be.  My friend pointed out to me that the boar was so large that if he was allowed to do what was about to come naturally to him, his great weight would crush the little sow.  So..., we were going to have to each take one of the boar's front legs and carry as much of his weight as we could while he ....well...., you know what I mean.

In the telling of this story, I did what I do best... I used my natural talent as a raconteur relating the entire tale without missing a single, curly detail.

I had only just reached the end of the story, when I noticed a pair of automobile headlights pitching and yawing along the muddy, pothole riddled road as it rapidly approached the locomotive.

A moment later, the General Yardmaster burst into the cab and, reaching for the radio handset that was cradled in its holder on the side of the radio, just within my reach....he released the "TRANSMIT" button that had been stuck in the  'open' position ever since we had put the locomotive on top of the reachers.

For over an hour, every railway radio receiver within twenty miles had picked up my  dissertation on the re-organization of the railroad and the story animal husbandry....LOUD AND CLEAR.