Friday, December 21, 2012

Year End Greetings

Caboose Coffee would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for continuing to support me in portraying that small slice of Canadian Railway History we were all so fortunate to have witnessed, in one form or another. 
As an early 'Baby Boomer," and the son of a railroader, I was most favoured to have experienced the last few years of steam powered trains, and the introduction of diesel power to the rails.  Equally blessed with the opportunity to be hired by the Canadian National Railways, whose officers and fellow employees gave me instruction, mentoring and protection, sometimes from myself, I survived to retire on a railway pension, to live out my days writing my stories so that you might share in my successes and failures along the way.
Caboose Coffee is taking a little time off for family (new grandson of 8 months, Ethan),
 but we'll all get together again in the New Year.  Yes, I'm confident that the Mayan's simply ran out of room on their calendar when they got to 12-12-21...!
So, from our house to yours......,
Bruce and Susan Harvey
Duncan, BC

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, ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Every Train Crew's Nightmare

In a previous blog, I made reference to large rocks that hang above the tracks in treacherous areas of railroad country. The following pictures will give you an idea of just how bad it can get.

The text below is from the initial (unofficial) report I received:

Initially (on Saturday), this slide was reported as being 40 x 80 feet.  Now that they have been able to get a better look at it, here is an update...

Wiped out the slide shed, 500 feet of track, 1/2 a bridge and almost made the Fraser River a lake.  
30,000 cubic meters of debris, not counting 3 blasts needed to knock off overhanging nubs.

 If you look closely, you will see a large, rubber-tired loader working on the scree at the edge of the slide.  Also, there is a large excavator on the right of way at the right hand edge of the photo.

You can also see the slide detector fence posts and arms (in photo number two) that give warning to approaching trains when a falling rock breaks one or more of the wires that are strung along the face of the cliff beside the track.

Cut from an email, we have Butch Whiteman's comments, below....

I've seen a few slides between Jasper and Vancouver in my time, but this is as big as I've ever seen.  It came down last Saturday and they finally got track passable this morning (Thursday).  I recall my Granddad telling me a story about slides that came down in this area during the winter of 1933 when he was called for a work train west out of Kamloops to clean it up.  Of course, they didn't have the equipment they have today to deal with slides like these, but it must have been a big one too as they were gone from home for 33 days!  While they were ditching, a slide came down on top of them - burying the engine but they were able to dig themselves out of it before suffocating.  The only casualty in that slide was the watchman they had posted on an outcropping who's job it was to warn the others if a slide came down.  He gave a warning and workers were able to dive under cars on the train to escape the rocks, but the slide took him into the river and he was never found.

Jackass Mtn. is the name of Mountain where this occured.  Because of the terrain in this particular area, the road goes up quite high to get over the "prone to slide" area and a Jackass that was used as mule to haul supplies up the canyon finally got tired of hauling heavy loads and just gave up...... he simply committed suicide and stepped off the trail into no-man's land.

And they tell us that 'crab fishing' is a dangerous job!!!

Photos submitted by Butch Whiteman, who spent many years of his railroad career working this subdivision, as did his father and his grandfather before him.
Photographer not yet known
Photo provided by Syl Peplynski
This photo was taken looking west, just east of the tunnel and rock slide.  The single aspect CTC signal at the left side of the photo would normally indicate stop, then proceed at restricted speed; however, the presence of the yellow sign with the capital letter R on it allows trains to pass the red signal without stopping, but must proceed at restricted speed. 
The 'white' signal below the red one is known as a "T" light, which is activated when one or more of the wires in the slide detector fence (west of the tunnel) is broken by a falling rock.
March 19, 1966 just a few miles west of the big slide we've been following.
Thanks to the unknown photographer for his/her photos used in this blog.
CN's website says the following about it...
 - On Saturday, November 24th, a rockslide occurred along the Ashcroft subdivision of the CN main line near the station of Falls Creek, BC. The incident, which was reported on November 24th at 1210hrs PDT, caused delays to our mainline trains running between Kamloops, BC and Vancouver
- The site was cleared as of 1020hrs PST on Thursday, November 29th. Customers should expect some delays as service through the area gradually returns to normal.

I would like to extend my most earnest gratitude to all those who have allowed Caboose Coffee to publish their photographs in this blog.  Special thanks go to Butch Whiteman for sharing his connection and for having a sincere interest in this blog as a tool to give others an insight into life on the railroad in a time when the technology was evolving from steam to diesel, from train orders to CTC, MBS and OCS.  Train dispatchers came to work to find that they were now RTC's and train masters were no longer respected from above or below.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Okanagan Valley Wine Train - Part Two

When we last saw the Wine Train, it was rolling happily through the Okanagan Valley, albeit with one of its two engines disabled.  The GMD1, CN 1437 ran, coupled to the 1652, an SD38-2 for almost a week before it was picked up the northbound switcher and taken to Vernon.  From there, it was hauled, dead to Kamloops.  We didn't see the ugly duckling again.

Instead, we got a different locomotive almost every week.  All of them were GP 9's that had been heavily modified, mostly for yard and transfer service.  All of them had the short hoods "chopped", or lowered, so that they resembled CN's fleet of SD40-2's.  For the most part, CN had done a good job extending the lives of these old engines which dated from the early nineteen fifties.

July 1999, northbound at Armstrong, BC
Bruce Harvey photo.
While some elements of the job went unchanged, day to day; others did not.  I enjoyed working an assignment that offered something different, an new challenge, something out of the ordinary and the Wine Train never failed to fulfill that need in me.
On one trip, a visitor climbed up into the cab while we were stopped in Armstrong.  He was an old friend who had been an operator until he accepted a position as a Rule Instructor.  Phil Moreau had worked in Boston Bar in the 80's and I had gotten to know him there.
Phil was taking a short vacation in Kelowna and had boarded the train there for the trip to Armstrong and return and I was glad to see him; I was even happier that he asked to ride with me in the cab between Armstrong and Vernon. 
 Since I had been away from the mainline for quite a while, working yard assignments in Vancouver until I moved to the Okanagan Division in August of 1995, I was eager to learn what changes were taking place Mr. Tellier, the new President and CEO. 
While Phil regaled me with stories about life on the mainline, my interest was piqued by one point in particular; according to Phil, head-end crews were now barred from inspecting their locomotives when they took control of a consist.  The assumption being that there were shop staff on duty to ensure that safety appliances, lube oil, water and fuel were all in order, there was no need for enginemen to check these items before departing on what could be twelve hours or more of running in some of the most inaccessible geography on the CNR..., the Fraser and Thompson canyons.  As an engineer of considerable experience, I immediately thought of a number of trips that I had made with heavy trains and single unit consists.  On a few of those occasions, engines had failed due to insufficient cooling water, low lube oil, running out of fuel or some other cause.
Phil went on to say that CN management had caused all fuel guages to be removed from locomotives and had followed up with an order that enginemen were not to inspect their locomotives, on penalty of discipline.
I wasn't overly concerned about this, because the Wine Train power was changed out at Kamloops once a week and fresh power was brought to Kelowna every Friday morning. 
However, the seed was planted, and I decided to inspect my locomotives more closely starting the very next trip.
On arrival in Kelowna for the next run, which was a Sunday, I stepped into my striped over-alls, put on my striped engineer's hat and laced up my boots.  On approaching the locomotive, a freshly painted GP9, the CN 7064, I observed that the customary red fuel gauge was missing from beneath the skirt and just above the fuel tank. 
Not a problem, says I, and bending over, I picked up a smooth, round, half pound rock from the mixed ballast beneath my feet.  Selecting a spot about a foot from the top of the tank, I gave the black, shiny steel tank a smart blow with my rock.  Expecting the muffled 'thud' that would indicate a full tank, I was slightly taken aback by the hollow 'clang' of an empty vessel.  I struck the tank again, this time at a spot about midway down and got the same response. 
Now, I paused to give this some thought.
The locomotive is supplied to Mr. Nagel under a "wet lease" agreement, meaning that CN ensured that the locomotive would be completely serviced and filled with all necessary fluids, including fuel.  In short, Mr. Nagel would not be allowed to undertake to service the locomotives in any manner.
In addition, if I were to strike the tank one more time, near the bottom of the tank, with the same results..., well......, it was Sunday.  Where would one find a fuel truck to fill this tank up on short notice..., and on Sunday!!!???
The conductor had driven over to Cecil's Perogy Palace to pick up some nibbles for our northbound run and to stop in at the Wine Train's offices nearby to get our paperwork off the fax machine, authorizing us to leave Kelowna and occupy the main track between Kelowna and Vernon.  I decided to wait for his return before banging on the fuel tank that one last time.
I set my smooth, round stone on top of the fuel tank and picked up my belongings from the ground at the ends of the ties.
The  engine had been left, isolated and shut down by the switcher crew when it had been brought from Vernon.  An engine, when it's running will give you a sense of a living creature when you reach up and take the stair rails in your hands.  When it's not running, it seems to welcome you, filled with the expectation that you will soon bring it to life and take it out on the road for a good run.  This day, the 7064 was silent, waiting in anticipation of a leisurely trip through the beautiful Okanagan Valley.
Today, all the freight trains were still; their engines put to rest on their shop tracks.  Today was our day to own the road.  Today was our day to shine.
I unlocked the cab and dropped my 'grip' on the floor behind the control stand.  My camera bag went on top of the heater in front of my seat.  The familiar smells of almost-fresh paint, oily brake exhaust, stale cigarettes and chemical toilet filled my senses.  I was at  home.

The Happy Hogger

Phil Moreau photo

Flipping on the breakers and setting the necessary switches, I went out onto the walkway and opened the carbody door to the 'start station'. 
In less than a moment, the engine came to life, and when I was sure that fuel was flowing through the fuel sight glass on the equipment rack, I backed out of the engine compartment, and closed and latched the door. 
The conductor was just getting out of the rented car, so I climbed down from the locomotive and met him in the parking lot.  Handing me a cup of coffee and a brown paper bag with a small order of perogies, he assured me that he had our paperwork in his grip and that he had spoken with the Okanagan Valley dispatcher, or OVR Rail Traffic Coordinator. (RTC) re: our expected arrival time in Vernon, where we would require additional clearance to proceed on OVR track from Vernon to Armstrong.
After he had run out of fresh information, I suggested he come with me to where I had left the stone resting on the fuel tank.  When I told him of my concern, he mentioned that his brother, who worked for CN at Kamloops had told him about the new edict regarding engineers checking fuel levels.  He asked me if I really wanted to tempt fate, risk discipline by checking the fuel in the tank. 
I told him that any CN officer who cared to take me out of service at this time would be risking his own job.  After all, the Wine Train would have to be cancelled as there was no other engineer available to replace me on less than six hours notice.  I felt confident that I could smack that fuel tank one more time.
Lifting the rock, I bent down and gave the tank one good tap..., a few inches from the bottom of the tank.  Clearly, there was little or no fuel in there.
Without speaking, the conductor handed me the company's cell phone and I dialed up Mr. Hanratty, the Operations Manager.  I found him at a sports event with his family. 
He was immediately upset with me for disturbing him with something that was clearly not possible.  The engine had only just arrived from Kamloops and he was positive that it had been fully serviced there.  He 'ordered' me to take the engine and put it on the train and do my job!!!!
"But don't turn off your phone, just in case I'm right and you're wrong", says I.
We gathered up the passenger cars and backed it over to the little station and waited for the passengers who were milling about in fairly large groups, to get on. 
I checked my watch.
Rail buffs came to stand below the cab window.  They took photographs and held up little children for a better look.  We completed our air brake test.  I called Mr. Nagel's on-board train fellow to ask how things were proceding and he told me that Mr. Nagel was coming up to the engine to speak with me. 
This was an event that always elicited a rush of excitement.  Sometimes, Mr. Nagel had met someone who professed to be an expert in the field of track-train dynamics and who could make some changes to the way the train was run that could save Mr. Nagel large sums of money, or cut hours off the running time each week.  Or, he might tell me that he had made arrangements with a local business or family, to pick up a large party at some milepost, or crossing along the route.  He would invariably want me to place the train in some location where the road bed was level, not overgrown with weeds, and always close to parking.    I always did my best to accomodate him.
Leaning out the window and looking back toward the station, I saw him, wading through the throng, waving at me, beckoning me to meet him on the platform.
Bob Nagel stood taller than six feet and I stood somewhat less than that.  He had a habit of standing quite close and leaning forward to talk. He leaned in and I backed up.  He moved forward.  I backed up again.  Finally, he hooked his fingers into the bib of my coveralls and held on while he began to explain what was on his mind. 
His big concern today was a special group of travellers he had on board.  For months he had been trying to get a group of travel agents to come out for a tour of the valley on his train.  This meant a lot for his business, for if all went well, his tour train would get a favourable rating, plenty of advertising and increased ridership.  I assured him that I would do everything I could to make sure that all went smoothly.
I climbed back up into the cab and sat down with my head in my hands.  Just as I was able to assure Bob that I would do everything in my power to ensure this trip would be memorable, I knew that it would be a memory that he would rather be able to forget, but would not matter what.
Without further ado..., the signal was given to proceed and I released the brakes, put the bell on and gave two smart 'toots' on the whistle.  We began to move northward into the late afternoon haze of a hot July day in the Okanagan.
The engine and train happily climbed out of the valley for twelve miles to Winfield, where we tipped over the hill to run two miles downhill to Woodsdale.  From there, it was level running along Wood lake and Kalamalka Lake.
At the north end of Wood lake, there is a narrow ithsmus that the railroad uses to cross from the east side of the valley to the west side.  This ithsmus separates Wood lake and Kalamalka lake and, besides carrying the railroad, it also has a secondary highway between Oyama and North Kelowna. 
As the train emerged from the trees at the north end of Wood lake and began to swing onto the narrow strip of land between the two lakes, the conductor yelled  "Soak 'er!!!"    As the engine was running long nose forward, and we were entering a left hand curve, I couldn't see what he could see, but I instantly slammed the brake valve into the right hand corner, putting the train into an emergency brake application.
Before the train stopped, I saw a small, dirt road crossing pass under the leading end of the engine.  There was a cloud of dust, and metal parts rolling away from the scene and into the ditch.  Getting up from my seat, I crossed the cab and looked out toward the lake and saw an old station wagon pulling a boat and trailer.  The boat launch had been rather busy and the the driver had pulled onto the railroad crossing, but not quite all the way across it. 
We had just taken part of  his outboard motor off the transom and left it in the ditch. 
While I recovered the air in the brake pipe, the conductor got down onto the ground and got the fellow's name and address for the report that would have to be filed.  Then he called me and asked me to pull by slowly so that he could conduct a roll-by inspection of the train.  I called the on-board train attendant and instructed him to go to the rear of the train and open up the vestibules to allow the conductor to get back onboard after the inspection.  He could then walk up to the head end while we continued on our way.
Soon, he called on the radio to say that the train looked good and he was aboard.  I began to notch up the throttle.  I activated the engines bell as there were quite a few people at the beach and near the track. 
I opened the throttle even more.  It felt good to be under way.  The breeze carried the scent of wild Sage and Ponderosa Pine.  It was a good day to be the hogger on the Wine Train.

Southbound at Kalamalka Lake
Bruce Harvey photo
The engine stopped running and, except for the ringing of alarm bells and the faint sound of the locomotives wheels pinging on rail joints, there was just an unfamiliar quiet.
I called the conductor on the radio and asked him if the tail end of the train had cleared the crossing to the boat launch where we had clipped the boat on the trailer. 
He said, "Yes, why". 
"Because, I think we've just run out of gas," I said.
"I'll walk through the train to the head end", he said.
"And, I'll wait here for you", I said, with a wry smile.  We were out of fuel.  Where else would I wait for him?
In a few minutes, the conductor arrived..., with an irate Bob Nagel in tow.
Bob had seen the conductor walking up from the tail end and wanted to know how long we were going to stopped here.  That's when Bob found out that the engine was "out of gas."
Bob was more than irate..., he was frantic!
There would be untold numbers of heads on pikes very soon!  And, I was to be fired immediately! 
Bob dug his cel phone out of his pants pocket and began calling CN officials in Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver...., wherever he thought they might be hiding. 
I called Operations Manager Dave Hanratty who immediately 'launched' at me for interupting his Sunday ... again!
I calmly waited for him to settle down, then I told him that the train was stopped at Oyama and the engine was "out of fuel".  He insisted that I was confused and that I should put the conductor on the phone.  The conductor then told him that he engine was, indeed..., out of fuel and no amount of threatening posture on his part was going to make it go one foot further...., without fuel.
After a half hour or so, the phone rang.  I overheard the conductor telling the person on the other end of the conversation that we were stopped at Oyama, and that there was very easy access to the locomotive from the road.  In fact, one could drive right up to the edge of the track beside the engine.
A fuel truck was on the way with a half load of diesel fuel.  Hanratty now owed a truck driver a favour.  That wouldn't sit well with him.
Another 45 minutes passed and we were still sitting on spot.  Dark clouds were now covering the sky and there was a definite chill in the air.  Bob Nagel was pacing up and down the line, cell phone to his ear. 
The on-board train manager, a Nagel employee came up to the front of the train where we were standing on the ground, planning out how the remainder of the trip might go.  The train manager said that the passengers were getting unruly and wanted to know why we were not moving. 
Nagel told him to tell everyone that CN had the track tied up and they'd be moving shortly.  In the meantime, he said...., "Break out the peanuts and pop..., and give everybody one of half price."  I stepped in and suggested that he open the bars and let everyone have a couple of drinks on the house.  After listening to my arguments, he agreed.
The fuel truck finally arrived and the driver emptied his tank into ours.  Happily, the engine turned over and...., it caught!  We would be moving again as soon as we had re-charged the trains brake system. 
Not bad!!!  We were only one hour and fifty five minutes late and already we had covered nine miles.
The repercussions were only just beginning.  The caterers in Armstrong were expecting the train to arrive on time.  No one had advised them of the delay.  Dinner would be cold if there was even anyone hanging around the dining hall to serve the meal.  All of the on-board staff, who were being paid on an hourly basis would be on 'overtime' long before the train arrived back in Kelowna.  Nagel hated having to pay anyone at overtime rates. 
As the train was pulling through the CN yard in Vernon, the on-board manager called on their portable radio to tell us that we had an un-scheduled stop at the CPR station in Vernon.  All of the Tour Company operators who had boarded the train in Kelowna had decided they had seen enough and had called for a chartered bus to take them from Vernon to Kelowna. 
Well, that relieved the pressure somewhat, eh?
The trip was pretty quiet after departing Vernon.  On arrival in Armstrong, it was already dark, and there were no passengers on the platform, eager to go for the 90 minute round trip to O'Keefe and back.  I don't know what happened at Armstrong when we were away reversing the train for the return to Kelowna.  I felt it best to keep a low profile.
For the next couple of weeks after running out of fuel, management supplied two locomotives for the Wine Train to make sure that Mr. Nagel felt he was being looked after.

Two locomotives; a GP9 and an SD38-2 shown leaving Kelowna.
Bruce Harvey photo
In the next installment........  someone's rule violation puts my wife and I in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Okanagan Valley Wine Train - Part One

Rumours began to circulate around CN's Okanagan property in the spring of 1999;  a private operator from Edmonton was about to announce a new tourist train that would run between Kelowna and Armstrong in British Columbia's arid Southern Interior. 

The passenger equipment that would be in service on this train was to consist of a dozen cars that had been a part of CN's original 1954 order for its new Super Continental coast to coast passenger service. 

The Wine Train at Kalamalka Lake on CN's Okanagan Sub
Bruce Harvey Photo August 1999
For over thiry years, these trains criss-crossed the country, doing yeoman service for the Canadian National Railway's traveling public. In the mi-80's, CN began to move away from passenger service, and after some political wrangling, VIA Rail was created.  By January 1990, CN and CP ceased to own and operate their passenger trains...,  the Federal Government had taken over.

As routes and schedules were deleted from the nations' railway timetables, much of the older equipment became redundant, leaving a great many of the once-proud passenger fleet of the Super Continental relegated to storage tracks, awaiting their fate. 

Some of those cars were purchased by Mr. Bob Nagel's Edmonton based Nagel Tours, which was primarily a tour-bus line, operating between Alberta and south-western American vacation spots.

Late in June of 1999, Mr. Nagel's train showed up in Kelowna yard and preparations were made to launch a first class tourist train, catering to a clientele that was craving a daylight trip through the beautiful Okanagan Valley, dinner and floor show at the turn-around in Armstrong and an evening arrival back in Kelowna.

As the day approached for the first run of the train, last minute plans were being made for an efficient operating plan.  A small station was built to handle ticket sales, flags and posters were seen everywhere in downtown Kelowna, Vernon and Armstrong.  A "dry run" was made to determine running times between Kelowna and Armstrong, and between Armstrong and O'keefe.  The round-trip had to be completed within eight hours for a number of reasons.

The passenger train schedule MUST NOT interfere with the north-south operation of CN's freight schedule between Vernon and Kamloops, or the OVR (OKAN - ex CPR), which ran betweenVernon and Sicamous, the junction with CP's mainline between Calgary and Vancouver.  Both of these trains left town just ahead of CN's northbothe Wine Train's scheduled arrival in Vernon at approximately 1800.

This forced the Wine Train to operate out of Kelowna on a late-afternoon departure, necessitating a return to Kelowna in eight hours or less.   Besides, neither the onboard attendants or the paying public wished to be on the train beyond the minimum length of time it would take to get to Armstrong, have dinner and be entertained while they dined, and return home.

If there were no delays, additional 'Slow Orders' added to the already slow track speed, or blockages caused by either CN or Okanagan Valley Railway (CP), the trip could be made within those parameters.  Murphy, however..., had a round-trip pass that was good on all trains operating in 'the valley'!  In subsequent posts in this series, we'll come to know traveller 'Murphy' quite well.

The cars, still wearing a VIA Rail paint scheme of blue with twinned yellow horizontal bands that ran just below the windows, had been upgraded to include the latest in lighting, seating, sanitation, as well as Transport Canada requirements.  A former CN/VIA Steam Generator car, numbered 15475 had been gutted and re-fitted with a 275KW/ 440 volt Caterpillar diesel genset to provide on-board power for the train.  This generator wasn't tasked with providing sufficient power to supply heat to the cars, as no provision had been made for that amenity.  After all..., the train was going to operated in the Okanagan Valley on a summer only schedule!

The following information is courtesy of
Among the cars in the Wine Train roster were:
Coaches: 5473, 5487, 5532, 5603, 5654, 5585, 5440.
Cafe Lounge: 752, 755.
E-Sleepers: 1128 Elmsdale, 1137 Enfield, 1157 Evelyn, 1159 Eldorado.
Steam Generator Car: 15475.
March 5, 1999, the following passenger cars arrived:
Coaches: 5446, 5522, 5590.
Club Galley Cars: 653 Mount Royal Club, 654 St. James's Club, 658 Boulevard Club, 659 York Club.
March 18, 1999, baggage car 9653 arrived.
With a 275KW, 480V, 3-phase Caterpillar Diesel generator now installed in the Steam Generator car, the following cars are converted for Head-end power:
All Club Galley Cars, Coaches 5522, 5585, 5603, 5654, Cafe Lounge 752, Elmsdale Sleeper 1128.
Baggage Car 9653 is used for maintenance.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Redman
The photo of 9158 is one I took and sent to you for your collection of F units. The location is Brandon North, the train is Via #4 and the date is Aug. 22, 1986

And for motive power...., well, I had expected CN to provide a nice pair of F7Au's similar to the 9158 shown above, to pull this train.  It would be the right thing to do.  But this was not to be.  When I arrived in Kelowna on the switcher, a couple of days prior to the Inaugural Run..., there sat a scurvy old GMD-1, the CN 1437.

CN GMD1 1437.
Photo taken by Mrs. Brock, (Mom) a passenger on the Inaugural Run of the
Okanagan Valley Wine Train.  I'm standing out on the front porch getting last minute instructions from my step-dad, Jim Brock.
My heart sank.  I called Mr. Hanratty, the Operations Manager for CN's operations in the Okanagan.  I asked him if the engine for the Wine Train was indeed going to be the 1437 that was in the yard in Kelowna.  He told me that CN had advised him that the engine I was looking at had been provided to Mr. Nagel as the best possible locomotive for his new business venture!! 

I called Mr. Nagel's Equipment Supervisor, George Bergson who was tasked with ensuring that the train was in compliance with all Federal regulatory requirements, and queried him on estimated tonnage of the entire train.  Once he had provided an estimate that looked reasonable, I dug out my CN and CP timetables and calculated the maximum tonnage for that unit on the grades that would have to be tackled on the round-trip run.  While the equated tonnage of the train indicated that it could be handled by the engine, I was still skeptical as the locomotive was old and the track was in poor condition.  My biggest concern was for the train and its passengers.  There were no spare locomotives available in the Okanagan once CN's Kamloops bound train left Vernon, so if we needed help to move the train, it just wasn't going to happen until the next day when the CN train returned from Kamloops.

The train had to run a total of 116 miles on CN and CP track, thirteen miles of which (CP's portion) was in very poor condition and carried numerous slow orders of ten or fifteen miles per hour.

Again, I contacted Mr. Hanratty to discuss my concerns with him.  Eventually, he agreed to supply one of the ex-NAR SD38-2's that were working on the Okanagan Division at the time.  This meant that the Kamloops bound train would have to reduce tonnage in Vernon so that we could have an extra unit for the passenger train for the Friday and Sunday runs.  It was plain that he was reluctant to do this, but I painted a pretty bleak picture for him.

He asked me to try the Armstrong hill with the 1652 isolated, using the 1437 by itself, to see if the GMD1 could handle the job on its own.  I agreed, but I really didn't think that the single unit could pull the train to Vernon, let alone to Armstrong and back. 

Finally, all was ready and I arrived at Kelowna, prepared to begin my summertime adventure on the Wine Train.  I was gratified to see the 1652 coupled up behind the 1437;  I was certain that it would come in handy.

CN GMD1 1437 and CN (ex NAR) SD38-2 1652
Photo Bruce Harvey collection

Roger and I got the power off the 'shop track' and moved it to the train, which we pulled out of the yard, backing it up to the station.  There was already an excited crowd gathering, ready to board the train as soon as it was parked in front of the station.

Mr. Nagel was surrounded by media, all trying to get a moment to talk with him about his bold new venture. All the while, Roger and I conducted the test of the air brakes. 

George Bergson, left - going over last minute checks with one of his team, Andre Bossers.
Bruce Harvey Photo

For nearly an hour, people climbed on and off the train, tour buses came and went, taxis dropped travellers off and then crept away.  TV news crews set up their video and sound equipment, interviewed Mr. Nagel, and talked with whoever looked like they might have anything to do with the new train service. 

 Bruce Harvey photo
There is a lot of excitement on the platform on the day of the Inaugural Run!
My Mom and her husband, Jim have come down to take a ride on the train.

Roger and I looked at our watches and then looked nervously at each other.  Time was of the essence and we would have to leave very soon to avoid getting caught on the road with our 12 hours expired. 

In an effort to speed things along, I gave a short blast on the whistle.  That seemed to work, because people were hustled onto the train, stepping boxes were lifted into the vestibules and the doors were closed. 

Photo courtesy Nagel Fun Tours Ltd. - Edmonton

The on-board train attendant gave the signal to leave the station and I leaned forward, turning on the bell and giving two short blasts on the horn.  The Okanagan Valley Wine Train took its first breath on CN's Okanagan subdivision, leaving Kelowna "On Time". 

I kept a low throttle until the train was away from the station and was moving northward on the main line of CN's Okanagan Sub.  

Roger Befurt, one of the CN conductors who worked the train that summer.
Bruce Harvey photo.  1999

Frank Mercuri stepped into the conductor's chair whenever Roger took time off .  Frank made many trips with me on the Fun Train

Note: as the summer wore on, several locomotives were supplied to pull the train.  Eventually, things seemed to settle out with chopped GP9's being supplied on a regular basis.

Roger was already double-checking our Operating Authority and, finding it in order he got on the cell phone, calling the CPR switcher crew that had left Kelowna just before we had brought the engine off the shop track.  We would keep in touch with them until they cleared the main track at Vernon, leaving the main line for us to use exclusively.  We had already received a call from CN train 455, to say that they were leaving Vernon and would soon be on OVR (CP) track.  We would keep in touch with them until they had moved clear of O'Keefe, just ten miles north of Armstrong. 

Leaving the little passenger station behind, Roger and I laid a friendly wager as to how long the 1437 would continue to pull its share of the load.  Together we agreed it might make it to Vernon. 

We rolled away from the yard and onto the main line. With one more road to cross prior to beginning the long, steep climb out of town, I reached for the handle to blow the whistle.  At that moment, the alarm bells began to ring and the engine revolutions dropped to idle.  Then the engine went silent altogether.  The old girl died on the highway crossing.

Photo courtesy of
The 1437 had just died, and Conductor Befurt has gone back to the second unit to bring it on line.  Roger and I were both surprised by the short life-span of CN's 'ideal' locomotive.

 Roger smiled at me and handed me the company's 'flip phone' that had been on his desk.  I called Mr. Hanratty, the Operations Manager and told him that the 1437 had just died, but we could continue with the 1652.  Then, for some reason, he told me to keep the 1437 in the consist and run it dead for at least the next week.  "OK", I said...  That meant that we would have a quiet ride on the out-bound leg of the trip each day. 

At this point, I'll bring you up to date on the condition of the track on both CN and CP mainlines that make up their respective Okanagan subdivisions.  CN's track was rated at 35 miles per hour with some stretches of 25 mile per hour, while CP's line was rated at 25 miles per hour with long stretches of 10 mile per hour track. 

I would add, that in some places north of Armstrong, CP's track could have been restricted to five miles per hour with all movements preceded by a walking flagman!  But I'll cover that in another story, on another day.

CP track near Realm, about three miles south of Armstrong. Track speed...., 10 mph.
Photo Bruce Harvey

On arrival at Armstrong, we parked the train between crossings while all the passengers detrained and boarded unique 'country transporters' to be taken to the local Curling Rink, where a lavish dinner would be served by contracted locals.  During the dinner hour, the young men and women who worked as onboard staff, changed into "Show Girl" style costumes and performed a Las Vegas routine for the enjoyment of all the guests.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of the 'floor show'.

The Fun Train's People Mover!
Passengers were transported from the train to the Armstrong Curling Rink, where a sumptous meal was served while the beautiful young on-board staff members switched roles and became talented Las Vegas style show girls who entertained those in attendance.
This 'country shuttle' operated by Nagel Tours for over two and a half months before the local RCMP noticed that it was being pulled by a tractor with no license plate, by a young driver who had no drivers licence, pulling those carts that had no seat belts.  The RCMP, instead of providing a Police Escort for the business, instead ordered them off the road.  The passengers then had to walk the five blocks to and from the Curling Rink, making it tough to get into Kelowna on time. Pity.

Also during the dinner hour, we had to take the train up to O'Keefe siding, nearly 10 miles north of Armstrong on CN's mainline to Kamloops. 

Photo contributed by Phil Mason.
This was taken with the train standing on the mainline at O'Keefe while the engine is brought through the "siding" to be connected to the south end of the train for the return trip to Armstrong, Vernon and Kelowna.

Mile 64 on the CN Okanagan sub, between Armstrong and O'Keefe. About 6 fence posts to the left of the mileboard.., yes..., that's how we measure distance on the railroad..., you may be able to see a human form in pink. A local woman who lived beside the track (isn't that everybody's dream?) would get dressed up in a 'head to toe' pig outfit and come to the fence to wave at the passengers.   
Bruce Harvey photo

The Dancing Pig.... Someone's ticket for a free dinner at the Armstrong Hotel


This became a very popular event for travellers and passengers would crowd the window seats on that side of the train to catch a glimpse of this apparition.  Before the summer was over, the owner of the Armstrong hotel, the oldest hotel in BC offered a reward of a free dinner for two and a nights lodging to whoever could correctly identify the mysterious "pig".

Sorry about the quality of the picture.  I scooped it from Facebook, where you can find
The Armstrong Hotel and Rosie's Pub.  An honest-to-goodness old time experience.

The almost 20 mile round trip wasn't made with empty seats.  The Fun Train sold tickets in Armstrong through its reservation system for the short trip up to O'Keefe and return.  This trip took about an hour altogether and was a highlight of the day for passengers and crew alike. 

 Excited travellers waiting to board the train for the 20 mile round trip to O'Keefe.  One or two of those fortunate children will get to climb into the cab of the engine where they will blow the whistle, ring the bell and work the throttle. 
Passengers paid $5.00 for a round-trip ticket and almost always filled three 72-seat coaches, even happily accepting 'standing-room' only accomodation.
Bruce Harvey photo

One or two onboard staff members would make the trip to keep an eye on things and when the engine was being brought around, one of them would open the door on the (northbound) rear of the train and passengers would fill the vestibule to watch the engine being re-attached to the train on the south end.
Photo courtesy Nagel Tours Fun Train/Wine Train

 While Roger was cutting in the air and releasing hand brakes prior to conducting another air brake test, I would step down onto the platform on the nose of the engine and talk with the children gathered in the vestibule.  I carried small business cards with a stylized locomotive logo on them, and would give out a couple to children who seemed most interested in learning more about the train and engine.  On the cards, I printed instructions that would let them off the train first so that they could come up to the engine and climb aboard before a crowd gathered on the platform. Once they were safely aboard, I would let them sit in my seat, ring the bell and blow the whistle. 

In order to minimize delay to the train, Mr. Nagel arranged to have one of his service staff bring two trays of food from the dining hall to the engine for the conductor and myself.  The dinner usually consisted of roast beef, vegetables, potatoes or rice, salad and a quarter chicken, followed by a desert and a cold juice. 

D. B. Ruskin, President of the Okanagan Valley Railroad (OKAN) formerly CP's Okanagan sub joked that he was going to have to bring in a tamper and track maintenance crews to lift the track above the ever-deepening layer of chicken bones that was accumulating on the road bed.

Phil Mason photo.

Mr. Ruskin (right) seen here with his dog Puk, consulting with me on the operation of the train.  He also never failed to have a hot cup of coffee for the conductor and engineer whenever he was nearby inspecting his territory.  In this case, he had driven to Armstrong on his day off to talk with me about a problem we had been having with a small herd of cows getting through a fence and onto the track north of Vernon.  But that's a story for another day!!!

Once underway at Armstrong, we tackled the hill up to Realm and on to Larkin where the grade eased into a long, winding downhill drift into Vernon and another stop would be made to detrain passengers at the CPR station there. 

By then, darkness had overtaken our train and the engine's headlights picked out mileboards and whistle boards while the brightly lit coaches shed their light on the trees and shrubs along the right of way. 

With all the passengers off the train and clear of the platform, we pulled the train back over to the yard and put it away, under lock and key...., waiting for tomorrow, and another exciting run in the warm Okanagan sunshine.

Photo courtesy Nagel Tours

Bob and Patricia Nagel and family, Haven and Sterling - Kelowna