Friday, February 24, 2012

Milk Cow Blues on the Rupert Rocket

The baggage and freight handlers were working feverishly to finish transferring several tons of freight, express, mail and baggage from the platform to the baggage cars on the head end of Number Nine, standing on passenger track two in front of the station at Jasper, Alberta.

Photo Credit C. Van Steenis

For the better part of an hour, the small but dedicated team of station employees had been moving boxes, suitcases, mail sacks and more from the express room to the platform using a half dozen or more green baggage carts that clattered over the rails on steel rimmed, wood-spoke'd wheels of unknown vintage.

It was early autumn in the Rockies and the year was 1968.  The western Canadian economy had been on fire for at least the last five years with a great deal of activity in the forest industry in British Columbia.  Lumber towns like Prince George were stretched to the limit as a pulp and paper town, as well as processing millions of cubic feet of finished lumber for eastern and southern markets.

In moving these forest products from Prince George to eastern and US markets, the CNR provided for three freight train schedules per day between Prince George and Red Pass Junction, 43 miles west of Jasper on the Albreda sub.

This land of opportunity brought people..., lots and lots of people.  Trains Nine and Ten were running with three day coaches on the head end and every seat was sold, every night.  Closer to the weekends, CN might have to scramble to ready a fourth day coach for the evening train.  Whenever four working day coaches were needed, a second conductor was called to help make sure all the passengers were properly cared for and to make sure that no one was carried past their intended stop.

On this particular Friday evening, I noticed that Number Nine had four day coaches behind the two baggage cars.  The station platform was busy, with passengers mingling with station staff, car men making last minute checks, porters checking passenger's accommodation tickets, ice lockers being topped up with ice brought from the ice house beside the diesel shop and, of course, the clattering baggage carts moving back and forth.

I was glad, I thought, that I had decided to come down to the station 40 minutes early.  There would be hundreds of pieces of luggage to write up as well as a car full of express to view and sign for.  Fortunately, I wouldn't be required to inspect and account for the dozens of dirty grey bags of Royal Mail that lay piled on the floor of the 'working' car..., my car.

I climbed into the vestibule and opened the solid, black steel door that led into the baggage car.  Closing the door, I slid the heavy steel bar into place, locking the door to access from the train.  To my right and left, luggage was piled, floor to ceiling and wall to narrow walkway in the center of the car, leaving a space less than three feet wide to move through the car.

In order to keep track of the all the luggage, and to arrange it so that it would be available on a first-out basis, I had to look at each piece of luggage and mark down the information that was written on the baggage tags affixed to each piece of baggage.  To do this, I had to tear down the mountains of bags and boxes piled against the walls of the car, make a record of the baggage tags and re-pile the myriad pieces of people's lives in an order that placed the 'short-hauls' at the front of the pile and the 'long-hauls' or through baggage at the rear.  This job would take up the first hour of my night if I worked fast.  Occasionally, an off-duty brakeman would wander by and offer to help for the price of a cup of coffee.  This was one of those nights.  A brakeman from Smithers, BC was travelling with his wife and had been visiting her family in Edmonton.  They both pitched in and we had the job done in no time.  While he and I talked, his wife walked over to Phil's Chinese across the street and brought back coffee and treats.

While she was away, a baggage cart had been pulled up to the open door and a young fellow wearing a Jasper Park Lodge logo on his shirt asked for help to slide an animal crate into the baggage car.  My guest and I each took hold of one side of the crate and lifted it onto the floor of the car.  Inside the crate, which seemed much too small, was a German Shepherd dog.  We slid it across the width of the car and backed it against the wall in a spot near my desk, but out of the way of the night's work.  Turning, I went back to the open door and caught the young man as he was towing the cart back to the station.

"Where's this dog's water bowl", I asked?

"His owner's travelling with him," he said.  "And she will come up and give him water when he gets thirsty".

"She has sleeping car accommodation and is going to Prince Rupert to catch a ship" he said as he made his way into the crowd of people on the platform.

There was documentation stapled to the top of the crate that indicated that the owner had paid to have the dog shipped along her intended route of travel. There was also a hand-written note to 'All Concerned' insisting that the dog be kept in the crate at all times and must not be allowed out by anyone other than the owner, a Madame G. La Chance.  The note went on, "Owner will feed, water and exercise this animal"

At the bottom of the note, almost as an afterthought were the words, "His name is 'Toujours'" (French for 'Always').

"At least, she hadn't tried to send him on a 'baggage tag'", I thought.

With all the baggage, express, mail and dog accounted for, I swung the big steel bar out of the way, unlocking the door.  Opening it, I stepped out and went down to the platform where I searched the sea of faces for the conductor, Marvin Swartz (whom you've all met in an earlier story).  I found him talking with the assistant conductor and the trainmaster on duty.  Catching his eye, I indicated that I was ready to go and he could leave when he was ready.

I went back into the baggage car for coffee with my guests from Smithers.

Sitting down, the brakeman's wife told me that she noticed that the dog's toe pads on his front feet were showing signs of having been bleeding.

I had a look at the dog's feet through the wire enclosure and couldn't tell, so I said I'd keep an eye on it.

Soon enough, we heard the locomotive's bell begin to ring, followed by gentle tugging on the car.  The draft gear and couplers began to creak and Train Number Nine was on it's way to the Interior of British Columbia.

Once the train picked up speed, the evening chill permeated the inside of the car and, not wanting to turn up the steam heat provided by the steam generator just behind the locomotive, I got up and lit a small fire in the coal stove near the working desk and the table where we were sitting with the last of our coffee.

With the kindling burning strongly now, I raised the lid of the coal bin and took out a scoop of hard, black coal.  I carefully spread it over the burning wood inside the stove.

Satisfied that  the chill would soon be off the well lit activity center in the middle of the car, I pulled from a pigeon hole above the desk, the only OCS mail that I had for the Albreda sub, and that was a couple of brown envelopes addressed to "Lucerne" about half way between Jasper and Red Pass Jct.  I removed a yellow fusee from the rack on the wall and wrapped the envelopes around the fusee, securing them with a couple of thick brown elastic bands.  If the train wasn't flagged to allow passengers to entrain, I would let fly the fusee and envelopes confident that the airborne package would land safely within one or two yards of the front door of the little white renovated boxcar that had been converted for use as a station.

The dog whimpered, and pulled at the screen on the front of the crate with his front paws.

When the train stopped at Red Pass Jct. to line switches and pick up mail and other packages for delivery to McBride and Prince George, I got off the train and went inside the station to stretch my legs and to look over any train orders and messages that might be issued for our train.

I commented to Tiger that I was a bit surprised that he hadn't come to the baggage car for a chat since we left Jasper.  He turned to me and, pushing his hat back on his head, he said that he was grateful to have an assistant conductor.  "Four day coaches and every seat is sold", he said.  "And they've oversold the train"..."I've got a dozen people back there who don't have seats!!!"  "I've put them into the Dining Car until we leave McBride".

Walking back to the train, Marvin handed me a message that read:

C and E, Train #9, date.
Arrange stop at Dunster to load shipment of milk destined Prince George dairy.

Usually, this wasn't bad news because it would mean that we would be able to lift the lid from a can of pure, raw cream for our coffee and toast in the wee hours before arriving at Prince George.  However, tonight there just wasn't room for 'several cans' of milk from Dunster to Prince George.  I would have to move all of the Royal Mail from the baggage car to the express car just behind the steam generator.  And that might not do it.

My baggage car and the express car were full to near capacity and I would have to enlist help to make room for the Dunster milk.  I had left some room for the twenty or so cans of milk that would be added to the train at McBride, but hadn't counted on this shipment from Dunster!

Marvin (Tiger) Swartz was one step ahead of me and, before we passed Alpland, the end door swung wide open..., Tiger never entered a room timidly, and introduced me to a small army of conscripts that he had collared in the day coaches.

Soon, they had moved all of the Royal Mail sacks into the express car and created an amazing amount of free space in the west end of the car.  I was grateful and promised them that the coffee pot would be ready for them once we left McBride.  They were happy with that and went back to their seats.

After I had closed the steel door behind my volunteers, I turned to see Tiger crouching low and, with his fingertips, gently rubbing the dog's ear.

"Where's his water bowl", Tiger asked?

"He doesn't have one", I answered.

"I'm going to let him out to stretch his legs and have a drink", I said.

"My advice...,"said Tiger..., "Leave the dog where it is!", and he left to go back to his desk in the coach.

I searched in all the cubby holes in my desk and finally found a dusty white porcelain bowl and a length of stout binding twine, which I doubled up into a length of about eight feet.  I rinsed and wiped the dirt from the bowl and filled it from the galvanized metal water tank held to the wall by sturdy steel straps.

'Toujours' emerged from his crate and took a long, leisurely stretch, then nearly drained the water from the white porcelain bowl I found in the supply cabinet.  I attached the makeshift leash to his collar and tied the bitter end to a painted wooden slat that made up part of the wall beside my desk and behind his crate.  He soon was laying on the floor, fully outstretched and falling asleep.

He didn't even lift his head when we slowed to deliver OCS mail to the darkened train order office at Tete Jaune.

Twenty minutes later, Tiger entered the baggage car with the rear end trainman and a couple of "volunteers" from the coach.  This was to be my team of milk handlers for Dunster.

Tiger gave me "a look", and softly told me to put the dog back into the crate.

That proved to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated, for the dog had other plans and wouldn't go back into the crate.

"Later", I thought, when Tiger and the other brakeman would be up to help me load the milk.  We'd put 'Toujours' back into the crate then.

The train slowed to a crawl and Tiger pulled the big rolling doors open and peered outside and ahead.

"Wow", he said!

Gripping the steel bar above the open doorway, I leaned out for a look, and immediately agreed with him.  There were at least fifty cans of milk and a few cans of cream to be loaded.   The cans were sitting on the platform, under the extended eaves of the old, un-occupied Grand Trunk Pacific Railway station.

Reaching up to a cord that stretched across the width of the open doors, Tiger took the cord with his finger tips and gave it two short tugs.  The train's brakes squealed against the wheels and we came to a stop withing three feet of the intended mark, just opposite the front of the station.

Perhaps I could have waited until after we left McBride to stoke up the fire in the coal stove; but I hadn't.  I'd stoked the fire after the train had left Tete Jaune and the kettle was now boiling with a purpose.

After removing the innards from the coffee percolator, I set the basket, lid and percolator stem into the supply cabinet.  From the two pound can of ground coffee that one of the construction camp shippers had 'donated' to the crew on 9 & 10, I took a heaping handful of coffee and let it pour into the empty coffee pot.  Next, I put in a half teaspoon of salt and filled the pot to within an inch or two of the top of the spout.

Leaving the lid off, I placed the pot on the center of the hot stove and, within a minute, the water, coffee and salt inside was in a rolling, foaming boil.  I put the lid on tight and pushed the pot to the back of the stove to keep warm.

Instantly, the inside of the baggage car filled with the tempting aroma of hot, fresh coffee.

                                      Photo Credit Google Images Photographer Unknown

Forgetting all about the dog, tied with a length of binder twine just opposite to the double-wide door we would use to load the milk onto the train, the crew and volunteers took up positions on the ground and inside the baggage car.

Looking around and finding everyone ready, I gave the word to begin loading, and the cans began to arrive out of the darkness and into the light inside the car.

                                          Photographer Unknown, Source Google Images

The milk cans began to move in a continuous line, from the station, across the platform to the open door, where the rear brakeman and another fellow were each gripping the heavily loaded milk can in front of them, and with a grunt, they lifted the cans and shoved them into the open doorway.

Can after can, the milk was filling up every available space that we had created, and there were still several large cans and a few small cans yet to be loaded.

With each can they lifted, the men on the ground grew more tired, until they asked to take a moment to re-position themselves.

Tiger, who had earned his name in the boxing ring, and who was still in 'fighting trim', goaded the boys on..., suggesting they trade off with two other fellows, they laughed out loud and bent to grab another can.

Working like an old-fashioned fire brigade, the fellows on the ground moved the cans of milk from the front of the station, and across the platform; and moving in tandem, they tilted each can onto it's edge.  With one hand gripping a handle, and the other on the rolled edge at the bottom, they lifted in one movement, just barely getting the can onto the edge of the door sill.  Tiger and I were just inside the door, and as each can reached our grasp, we took them, and in one rolling motion, dragged them to the next fellows who placed them, row on row inside the car.

                                           Source: Google Images.  Photographer Unknown.

We were all working as hard as we could and sweat was running down our backs.  We were all loosening our shirts, trying to cool down.

Heaving together, they lifted the can as high as they could, and..., the bottom edge of the can didn't make it all the way into the open doorway.  It caught the sloping steel door sill, and began to slide backward toward the ground.

Both men had gripped the top of the can with both hands, and now had no free hands to prevent the can from falling to the ground.  The can tipped forward into the baggage car, and with all hands inside the car working to roll the heavy milk cans into position near the west end of the car, there was no one available to catch the milk can that was falling onto its side...., in slow motion....!!!

Tiger and I grabbed for the top of the can, but it had already passed its center of balance and was falling inward, to land on it's side.  

Time stood still.  The can landed heavily and gave a small bounce.

The lid remained in place..., but only for an instant.  With a muffled gurgling sound, the milk inside surged into the neck of the can, and the lid literally flew across the baggage car floor...., clattering noisily, it careened  between the legs of the German Shepherd named "Toujours"!

Rearing up, Toujours deftly escaped the flying saucer that had only a second ago been firmly jammed onto the top of the 5-gallon milk can.  But what followed, presented a threat that, I'm sure no one inside the baggage car, including Toujours had ever confronted; a wave of ice cold, white milk shot across the floor, following the path that the lid had taken.

It all happened in a flash... the milk rushed from the now-open can, the dog frantically backed away from it, and the hot stove was standing there..., its presence preventing the retreating dog from reaching the wall of the car.

It's a good thing that dogs, when they're frightened..., tuck their tails between their legs.  Or, at least one would hope that they do that when they're in "fight or flight" mode.  Perhaps Toujours didn't have time to get his tail down, but it was obvious that he got too close to the coal stove, because it was definitely the stove that put him in motion.

At the same time however, he didn't want to engage the advancing white fear that was the flood of milk that had gotten his complete attention.  He leaped forward, clearing the angry, white monster that had just launched itself at him.    About half way across the width of the car, and while still airborne, he reached the end of the binder-twine leash I had made for him.  It snapped with a resounding 'ping' and he landed with all four paws firmly on the edge of the door sill.  Without missing a beat, Toujours sprang from the open doorway, clearing the heads of the two men on the platform who instinctively threw their arms up to protect themselves from the dog that had landed within inches of their faces.

Toujours disappeared into the darkness beyond the light of the train.

For a moment, all that was heard was the gentle throbbing of the two F7 locomotives which seemed to be beating much slower than the blood that was pounding in my head.

I immediately looked toward the end of the baggage car where, I was certain, Mme. La Chance was sure to emerge from behind the steel door, demanding to see her dog.  It remained closed.

We spent several minutes looking around the station, under the train and up and down the road near the tracks, but there was no sign of 'Toujours'.

With nothing left to be said or done, Tiger bent at the waist, picked up the stepping box and yelled into the night..., "Boooaaaard!"

The dog was gone and it was my fault.  Of course, by extension, it was also Tiger's fault.  Something had to be done, or there would be hell to pay once Madame La Chance discovered that I had let her dog out of the crate he was travelling in.

I turned to Tiger to tell him what I had decided to do, but he headed me off.  He told me that I had already made one decision too many regarding the dog and he took a small knife from his pocket and opened it up, exposing a flat bladed screw driver.  With it, he turned the screws holding the hinges on the crate's door panel until the threads had chewed up the wood so much that the screws would no longer hold the door on securely.

Without saying a word, he poured us each a cup of coffee from the pot on the stove and sat down on an old caboose chair near the table.

Setting his cup down on the table, he raised his hand and cocked his fist at me.  Then he broke into a big grin and pushed his salt and pepper hair back on his head.

"There's no sense crying over spilled milk".

The dog'll be OK," he said, taking a sip of baggage car coffee and Prince George Dairies cream.

"Perhaps he will", I said.


At that moment, I really appreciated my friend, Tiger.

                                                    Photo Credit:  BBB Heritage Seeds

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Difference Between A Locomotive Engineer And A Hog Head.

There had been a rush of traffic as CN's Mountain Region pushed to clean up all the traffic that was stretched across hundreds of miles of track.  It had been a very busy season for everyone involved.

For weeks, brakemen, switchmen, engineers and conductors were free to work all the overtime they wanted.  Train and engine crews were doubling the road so much that they had made their monthly mileage allotment in two weeks or less.  Yard crews, including yard foremen and switchmen were working three, and sometimes four shifts in a 24 hour period by overlapping their times by as much as five hours.  Under the union agreement, switch crews would work the first shift at straight time,  and would be paid eight hours pay, whether they were actually on duty for a full eight hours or less.  In many cases, the crew would be allowed to  'tie up' and go home after as little as two or three hours if they had completed the work they were given.  This was OK'd by the company as long as the crew members made themselves available for another shift at some point within the 24 hour period.  Most did, and many would work up to 4, and in the odd case, even 5 shifts in 24 hours.  As I said, the first shift was at straight time..., all the rest that day would be paid at time and a half.

The company and the unions decided to set aside the mileage limitation agreement, temporarily in an effort to get the rail traffic cleared away. There were some pretty fat Christmas cheques being prepared for these men.

The clock was ticking, as Christmas was now only days away.  We were still hard at it..., working day and night,  but the job was nearly done.  Men were looking forward to the Christmas break when most assignments would be cancelled for a few days including Christmas, and again at New Years.

All trains handling grain, coal, potash, sulphur and forest products were being dropped in yards across the territory.  Yards and storage tracks were being used to hold all bulk commodity traffic until after the holidays.
The grain elevators, coal unloading facilities and other bulk operations prepared their plants for the shutdown and the longshoremen drove their cars and trucks through the automatic wash rack as they left their parking lots.

As operations along the waterfront slowed to a stop, ocean going freighters dropped their anchors in the
outer harbor which became a parking lot for ships.  At night, the ships displayed all their lights, extending the city limits from shore to shore across the harbor.

The last train on the line-up was 217.  The westbound speed train was made up of shipping containers, truck-trailers piggybacked on flat cars and box cars with mechanical refrigeration units keeping temperature sensitive cargo from getting too cold, or too warm.  It had been expected to arrive in Vancouver 24 hours earlier

The train crew gathered in the booking-in room at Port Mann.  No one on the four man crew figured on getting a call on Christmas Eve day, but the crew caller told them they were dead-heading to Boston Bar to bring 217 back.  At least it promised to be a quick trip.  Three hours to dead-head to the Bar on the Greyhound bus, and four hours to bring 217back meant they'd all be home for Christmas Eve..., if all went well.

On arrival at Boston Bar, the bus driver let the crew off in front of the bunk house.  They dropped their gear off in the crew lounge and walked over to the station where the operator on duty told them that 217 would arrive in 20 minutes.  Their orders were already made up and waiting for them on top of the open train register book.

The train booking read 5086-5127, 34 loads and 1 empty (the caboose).

The engineer hiked up his sagging, shiny trousers to the bottom of his pouching belly, then pushed back his yellowing hair.  With a big grin, he turned to the tail end brakeman and told him that he should get up into the cupola and fasten the seat belt, hinting, not so subtely that it was going to be a very fast ride back to Port Mann.  As this hog head was well known for his blatant disregard for the posted speed limits, the brakeman had no doubt that the hogger meant what he said.   The "brakie" also knew that if he wanted to avoid an angry tirade, he would keep his mouth shut, buckle up, brace himself and hang on.

It was well known by all, including CN's front line managers that this engineer was a 'highballer'.  For the most part, he seemed to be able to avoid getting into trouble; and when he did find himself in the middle of it, he always came out smelling like roses.  Strange, how that works.

As the operator had predicted, 217 eased to a stop at the crossing in front of the bunkhouse.

The hogger got on the engine and was pulling slowly down the mainline as the head end brakeman came out of the station and stepped aboard the leading steps of the 5086.

An east-bound speed train, likely 218, meets a west-bound drag of sulphur sitting on track one in Boston Bar, BC.  Photo Credit - S.L. Dixon via

A few minutes later, the Kamloops crew stepped off the caboose and the Port Mann crew climbed on.  The tail end brakemen saw that the brakes on the caboose had applied and he called the engineer on the radio and told him to release the brakes.  When the brakes released and the air pressure gauge in the caboose showed the return of normal air pressure, he said "The brakes have applied and released on the tail end." "We're both on and OK to go."

Without answering, the hoghead pushed the independent brake handle against the full release position and, as the engine's air brake pressure escaped into the cab, he pulled out the throttle.  Sitting in the cupola, the brakeman heard the slack being pulled out of the train.  The caboose, with it's draft gear groaning leaped ahead, trying to keep up with the train.

With no other trains on the road, there was an expectation that every signal along the way would be green.

The sky was overcast, as it had been for two weeks.  There had been lots of rain, especially in the past couple of days, and there had been a number of small rocks falling off the mountains and onto the tracks.  The slide detector fences had all been hit by falling rocks, activating the brilliant white warning lights that were placed in advance of the fences to warn crews that a rock, tree or avalanche had hit the fence.

The railways' Signals Department had already given up trying to keep the fences repaired, and the warning lights, we knew, would flash steadily until early summer, at which time the maintenance crews would go into the canyon and repair all of the broken wires.  The train crews complained to the Trainmaster, wanting the fences repaired; but I didn't fault the maintenance crews.  I wouldn't want to risk my life hanging wire in the canyon during the winter months when rocks of all sizes fell almost continuously onto the tracks below.

Photo Credit - Peter Cox
West-bound tonnage on Anderson Creek Bridge with two SD-40's

Leaving the empty rail yard behind, the red and black steel caboose clung to the rails as it scooted across the big Anderson Creek bridge and past the east switch at Hicks.  Within minutes, the engine dove into the curve at mile 5 where the track rested on a narrow shelf, high above the raging river.  A hundred feet above the roiling water, and but a couple hundred feet from the CPR mainline halfway between North Bend and China Bar.  At this point on the Yale sub, the large rock had long since been cleared away, and the track had been repaired.  But when the water level in the river dropped to its lowest point in the dry, hot summers..., you could look almost straight down to the edge of the river and see the underside of a wrecked GP9 number 4286, which had hit a large rock on the track and gone over the side, taking engineer Macbeth and fireman Buckingham to their deaths.

GP9 class locomotive running as an extra west.  Note white flags and class lights.
Photo Credit - Peter Cox

The following information regarding  GP9, CN4286 is credited to CNRHA (formerly CNLines SIG)
  • 4286, GP9, class GR-17u, built 1959
  • wrecked 27 February 1968 at mile 5 of the Yale Subdivision near Boston Bar, BC. The locomotive hit a rock slide and went into the Fraser River.
  • retired June 1968
For most head-end crewmen running on the Yale sub, this place served as a silent, somber reminder that their names were written on a rock somewhere high above, and one day they might meet their rock, lying between the rails, waiting for them.  Most..., but not all.  There were a few who laughed in the face of Fate and ran as if they had a personal guarantee from God that they would never meet their end out here..., riding a locomotive toward the cold, rushing water of the Fraser River.

On many cold, wet and foggy winter nights I rode in the cabs of F7's and GP9's, staring at the brilliant white glare of headlights and ditch lights reflecting back off the dense fog, and seeing nothing but thirty feet of glistening rail and roadbed in front of the engine.  On those nights, I silently wished that I had another twenty five years of seniority so that I could be the one in the caboose, drinking coffee and having my lunch while sitting at a table, not balancing a half eaten sandwich on my knee.  I thought about how nice it would be to be talking with my fellow caboose rider in a normal voice, not having to shout above the noise of hammering 567's and barking exhaust.  My turn would come, I thought..., in time..., if I lived that long.

When the caboose entered the curve at mile 5, it lurched against the outside rail, rattling the dishes in the cupboard above the sink.  The kettle clattered on top of the oil stove, spilling hot water on the hot surface which made a hissing sound.  The brakeman, who was sitting in the cupola, the highest point above the center of gravity felt a sharp pain in his rib cage as he was thrown against the steel armrest of his chair.  He lifted his feet off the foot rest under the chair and jammed them into the corners of the tempered glass window in front of him.  He pushed his hips into the backrest and rubbed his bruised ribs.

There would be no fresh coffee made today, and no lunch taken at the table in the cabooses kitchen.  It was too dangerous even to get out of one's chair and walk from one end of the caboose to the other without risk of being tossed against the wall, or to the floor.

The 'maximum' posted speed limit through the canyon was twenty five miles per hour and the tail end crew knew that the trains was travelling well beyond that.  The conductor had already shaved nearly thirty minutes off of the 'Terminal Time' that they would normally have claimed as compensatory delay.  He needed to put the thirty minutes into 'running time' so that it would appear to the company officers that the train had been traveling at a speed somewhat closer to the allowable for the subdivision.

Other than the dead head on the bus, which was paid at the lowest rate possible, and 113 running miles, there wasn't going to be much money made on this trip!

Running downgrade, 217 scooted through Komo, at mile 10 and Stout at mile 18.  In another couple of miles, the railway right of way would get wider, with broader curves, no more slide detector fences and only a couple more tunnels to pass through.  By the time they got to Trafalgar, just 4 miles north of Hope, they would have encountered nine slide detector fences for a total of 6055 feet and fifteen tunnels totaling 9883 feet.  At Trafalgar, they would leave the canyon.  At Hope, the posted speed limit would almost double from that in the canyon.  After Hope, there would be different risks to face.

But for now, there was only one more curve that presented a challenge for 217 today..., the 'S' curves at mile 24.3.  There, a stream ran under the track through a timber trestle and into a back-eddy in the river where the natives from Rosedale came to fish for salmon.  After crossing the stream, the track took a sharp turn to the right, then eased into a long right-hand curve that passed under large broad-leafed Maples.  From there, one could see through the 2104 foot Yale tunnel.  Yale sub crews knew that the curve at 24.6 was made more dangerous because of the fact that it was hard to resist opening the throttle while all of part of the train had yet to navigate the curve; and..., the curve had not been super-elevated to allow for a higher rate of train speed. It  was as flat as the surface of the back-eddy that held the natives' nets during the Salmon spawning season.

The weather had held so far.  The rain had stopped a couple of hours earlier, but a fine drizzle had begun to accumulate on the window in front of the tail end brakeman.  Soon, he thought..., the train would shoot out of the canyon and into the head of the more forgiving Fraser Delta.  He would allow himself to leave the cupola and go below to relieve himself, wash up and make a pot of tea.

The drizzle turned to rain.  He leaned forward to clear away the rainwater with the windshield wiper.  Gripping the air-operated wiper valve, he gave it a turn and the wiper blade came to life, swinging across the width of the window and...., the "air went!"  The unmistakable sound of the train going into an emergency brake application made him look wonderingly at the windshield wiper valve he had just opened.

The train surged.  The caboose, traveling at about 40 miles per hour ran up against the flat car loaded with a highway trailer.  Then, the tail end of the train ran out toward the rear and back again, into a screeching, jumbled pile of wreckage that was tilting and twisting in every direction.  Boxcars ahead of the caboose were seemingly trying to avoid the catastrophe that was being created in front of them.  They turned off to both  sides of the track and, like blindfolded creatures, they leaped into the deep ditches and over the bank toward the river.  One or two made it past the ditch on the mountain side of the track and stopped, upright, nearly one hundred  and fifty feet from the track.  The others, however, became twisted and mangled wreckage that came to a stop in a great heap all over the roadbed.

When everything had come to a stop, and the only sound was the rain, now falling heavily on the steel roof of the caboose, the conductor took the radio handset from its cradle on the wall beside his desk.  Keying the mike, he said..."Are you guys OK up there?"  He didn't really expect an answer.  The wreckage was terrible.

At least there was nothing burning..., yet.

Then, came a crackle over the radio speaker in the caboose..., "yeah, we're OK....did you pull the air?"

"No, we didn't pull the air", said the conductor.  "But the train's all piled up in a heap on the curve".

"Well, you'd better get your bedroom slippers off and lace up your boots."  You're going to have to walk the train to see if we've got any cars on the ground".

Shaking his head, the conductor muttered something just barely audible about the hogger's mental capabilities.

After calling the dispatcher in Kamloops to report the derailment, the conductor and the tail end brakeman started walking toward the head end.  They didn't have to go very far to see that, with the exception of the caboose and a few cars on the tail end, the whole train was in the bush!  Across the big natural depression alongside the tracks that was partially filled with derailed cars, they could see the head end brakeman who yelled out..., "It was a big washout."  "The track was hanging in the air, and both units went across alright."  "Both units are upright and standing on the rails!!!"

The tail end crew went back to the caboose where the dispatcher was on the radio wanting a situation report.  He was told that most of the train was derailed, the track was impassible and the engine was safe on the west side of the derailment.

The Chief dispatcher gave them instructions to protect the rear of the train, lock up the caboose and make their way to the engine, where they could run light engine to Port Mann/Thornton Yard.

Among the first to arrive after the crew had left was a contingent of CN Police officers who were posted to protect the contents of the derailed cars, one of which was a shipment of freshly minted coins, destined for Vancouver and area distribution.

The line wasn't re-opened until close to New Years, so everyone, except the CN Police Officers, got an extended holiday.

Once the line was open, rail traffic resumed on a priority basis as the wrecking train, the Thornton Auxiliary, picked up the wreckage.

Photo Credit

Train 217, being a high-value commodity train had lots of interesting cargo on board.  Besides the car of money, there were cars loaded with very expensive food stuffs, such as European chocolate and cheeses, wines, clothing and such.  One car contained a shipment of goods going to pharmacies on the BC coast.  It contained, among other things...., birth control pills which several brakemen gleefully salvaged from the mud to give to their girl friends as belated Christmas gifts!

With permission from the on-duty police officer, I took 25 gallons of industrial paint remover and opened a small furniture re-finishing shop in my garage.