Monday, March 5, 2012

Since You Asked....

Within the first few hours of posting the story of Toujours, the German Shepherd dog, I received numerous requests ... well, three of you wanted to know what eventually happened to the dog!

Photo Credit

I thought that I could get away with the subtle suggestion that 'Toujours' survived and was living the life of an adventurer; a cross between Rin Tin Tin and the Lone Ranger.  I inserted the photograph of a beautiful German Shepherd smartly poised on a hillside that might well have existed a short distance from Dunster, overlooking the serene Robson Valley.  I felt sure that you'd be happy with that, but no..., you wanted more.

OK.  Here it is.

With the Fall Change of Card in 1970, I found myself facing a bleak and arduous winter as the junior yard foreman working in Jasper.  Working as Yard Foreman on the midnight shift can be bad enough, but to be that same Yard Foreman working a full seven hours and forty minutes, five nights each week, at forty below zero (that's Fahrenheit, too) would be gruesome.  But there was more.  I would be working under the heel of the dictatorial General Yardmaster, Nick Wolfe.

The crew office was hushed as Joan Wallater, a crew office employee was finishing up her task of arranging all the green, yellow and red metal tags that carried the names of every employee.  These tags would soon be hung on the big, green board mounted on the wall behind her desk.  On that board, neatly stenciled and painted in white paint, were the job assignments that were currently part of the Jasper Terminal.

In a column on one end of the board, one could see the passenger train assignments; 1 & 2 on the Albreda and Edson subs.  9 & 10 on the Tete Jaune and Fraser subs; then came the  east way freight, the west way freight, the freight pools on the Edson sub, the Albreda sub, and the Trunk, or Tete Jaune sub.

Far over at the other end was the heading, "Work Train Assignments", including a ballast hauling job that was scheduled to haul crushed rock from Hinton to the Shaver Pulp and Paper Mill near Grande Prairie on the Grande Cache sub.   The mill wasn't yet ready for the ballast, but it had been bulletined and the successful applicants had been notified, but not yet assigned.

There was so much seniority on the hauling job that the head end brakeman, a Jasper fellow named Jack Flewin had to relinquish his conductors' seniority temporarily in order to bid the job as a brakeman.

It's confusing, but perhaps I'll get a chance to explain it more fully in another story.

The last column read "Yard Assignments";  Day shift, Afternoon shift, midnight shift and swing shift, all were there.

While the majority of the young brakemen in the room had no idea what job they would end up with for the winter, I knew full well what my fate would be.  I was the junior qualified conductor in town and the worst job one could imagine was the 2400 midnight yard, which was to be my home for six months.  Cripes!

As the seconds ticked by, a couple of the men who were just senior to me tried to get Joan to tell them what jobs they got.  She steadfastly adhered to the unbreakable rule that "no one learns their fate until exactly 1200 noon, when the name tags are finally hung on the nails above each assignment on the big, green board."

Without looking up, Joan picked up three name tags; one green, a yellow and a red tag that read
"HARVEY, R.B." and, turning toward the board she began to raise her arm and moved toward the yard assignments on the board. As was the custom, the junior conductor was placed on his assignment first and, in seniority order, the rest followed.   I was the first to be assigned.  I thought that we might as well get this over with.

I turned to leave, but the room was filled nearly to capacity with young men wanting to know which jobs they would hold for the duration of the Change of Card.

Behind me, someone swore out loud.  Then another..., and an uproar broke out.  Two or three of them began pushing toward the table that held the bulletin books.  Reaching the table, they madly flipped the cover of the bulletin book open and tore through the pages.

I looked back at the board and saw Joan smile slightly, as she stepped off the small stool and turned, returning to the array of 'tags' that were laid out in order of seniority on her desk.

The gods had spared me at the very last minute.  In fact ... just before the board change was to take place, CN decided to activate a work train that they had posted in the bulletin books some weeks earlier.

At the time the job was posted, it was to be for a Conductor-Pilot and one brakeman to accompany a Wellman Crane on the Tete Jaune sub;  duration was to be two weeks, more or less.  The crane would be assigned to pick up scrap metal, including old rails, tie plates and spikes from an upgrading program that had taken place a year earlier.  There would also be some clean-up along the Tete Jaune sub mainline a few miles west of Red Pass Jct. after winter avalanches had brought down a lot of trees and rocks, depositing them near the tracks.

The job would tie up on line and the conductor and the flagman would have to 'batch', rather than eat in restaurants.  That meant there would be little opportunity to make the kind of money that could be made by a brakeman or conductor on the road.  There would be little opportunity to get into town for an evening at the 'water hole' and no amenities like showers, refrigeration, electric lights or a bathroom.

Apparently, there had been no bidders for this job. It's no wonder there were no applicants.  When the job was posted, there were freight trains to ride and money to be made.  No one would willingly tie himself to a 8 hour per day work train that made only 500 miles per week and required the crew to "batch" online.  No sir!!!  Not while crews were 'doubling the road' and making their miles in two weeks or less.

All the qualified conductors in town had given that golden goose a pass when it was pasted into the bulletin book in August of that year.  It remained in the book, seeing no light of day until ..., well until Joan Wallater got up from her desk and hung my name tags on the Tete Jaune sub work train, duration two weeks more or less!

I walked out of the booking in room and around the station to the platform where I found the door to the Assistant Superintendent's office.  Mr. R.B.Hopewell had been in that office for several months and seemed to be a pretty decent man to work with.

I asked him for particulars of the job and after giving me a briefing on what would be required and how long he expected it to take, I was told to show up in McBride in time to go on duty at 0700 on Monday morning.

Late on Sunday evening, I boarded train number 9 and took my seat opposite the conductor's desk.  I was very excited about taking my place on the working list as a conductor on the work train, as opposed to being the foreman on the midnight yard.  However, I was still stinging from the anger shown by my 'brothers' in the crew office who remained quite suspicious about how I managed to side-step the midnight yard.

I tried to keep silent about it, but word had spread through the railroad community.  I was a marked man...but, I wasn't going to let it bother me too much.

On arrival at McBride, I was told by the operator that my caboose was in the cab track and the Wellman crane, CN 50368, an idler car, a supply car and bunk car for the crane operator and his helper would be arriving on 487 later that day.

Photo Credit   Don Jaworski

As this was my first 'assignment' as a conductor, I was eager to get my caboose tidied up and stocked with whatever supplies we might need for two weeks out on the subdivision, so I made my way across the yard to the caboose track and let myself into the old wooden caboose.  This cab had been made out of an old wood sided ex-Canadian Northern Railway boxcar in 1920, but it had been carefully tended over the decades by men who loved and respected their homes away from home.  It was clean and tight; all the usual tools and supplies were stocked and stored in their proper places.  The water tank was full and the oil tank, which supplied the big oil stove was full to the top.

 I took one last look around my caboose and, cupping my hand over the top of the glass chimney of the oil lamp, I blew out the lamp before slipping into my eiderdown sleeping bag for a few hours sleep.

The fall of 1970 saw the Tete Jaune and Fraser subs to be the last of CN's western Canada mainline territory to have cabooses still assigned to conductors.  Once the new bunkhouse was in place in McBride, the cabooses would become 'run-through', and would no longer be taken off the trains at McBride, to be returned with the conductor to Jasper, or Prince George.  Construction of the new bunkhouse was well under way, but it was not yet finished.

Note:  The first run-through caboose on the tete Jaune sub was as follows;

Dec. 19/70... I made history today on the Trunk. Had the honour of being the first conductor to use a run-through caboose out of Jasper to Prince George. The guy behind us was a run-through too, but the 3rd had to use his 'old' cab as there were no more left. Cold weather (30 below) has forced the mainline to run 50 car trains and as there aren't any assigned cabs left there, they have to have preference on steel cabooses. The cold weather has only been here for 1 day, and when they start running 50 car trains in as well as out, things will work themselves out so  run-thru cabs will be available for use on the Trunk as well. But as it stands - run thru cabs officially started on the Tete Jaune & Fraser Subs on Dec. 19, 1970 & I was the Conductor on the first train out of Jasper. B-487 - 36 loads & 14 empties = 3337 tons. SD-40's 5000-5005 Engineer Savoie, Trainman Sikkes & Tilby (maybe it's Tilley) ordered 1110, out 1335. Arrived McBride 1630, off 1720.

by Butch Whiteman, now of Edmonton, Alberta

In the morning, I met with the Road Master and we went over the work that he expected us to accomplish in the next two weeks.  Since the work covered the entire subdivision from Red Pass to Raush Valley, and the best speed that the crane could be expected to make, pulling our small train, was about 10 miles per hour, I decided that I'd ask the Chief Dispatcher to intercede and have CN assign a locomotive and full crew to this job.  That was quickly shot down by the Road Master, as his budget wouldn't allow for such an extravagance. Besides, he was only going to allow me to work a maximum of eight hours each day!  There's no money in that scenario for me, my brakeman or the crew of the Wellman Crane.  Oh well, it was daylight work with the weekends off and we'd be tied up in Jasper in two or three weeks.

By late morning  train 487, the westbound freight from Jasper had arrived, bringing Don Barr the only brakeman on the crew, and the rest of our 'outfit'.   I expected the crane and its outfit to arrive with the westbound, but the in-coming crew told me that it had been set off at Dunster.  Scotty Sheriff, the arriving conductor, said he would pick up our caboose from the cab track and take it out to join the rest of the outfit that afternoon.

By late afternoon, Don and I were waving goodbye to Scotty and his rear brakeman, Doug Gateman after giving their train a roll-by inspection.

Photo Credit   Peter Cox

As the sound of the F7 and GP9 locomotives faded away, the silence of the forest and the Robson Valley filled the brisk autumn air.

Besides the crane, there was an idler, a supply car and an operator's bunk car. There was also another bunk car belonging to the train order operator who had also been assigned to the job.  That was a big relief for me, because it meant that a lot of pressure would be taken off me when the train orders were being copied and delivered by the operator.

The crane operator, his helper, the train order operator, Don and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the caboose after dinner, making plans for the week.

We spent the better part of the first week trundling up and down the track between the siding west switch Eddy and the siding east switch Croydon, picking up scrap iron; sometimes, being pulled and sometimes being pushed by the big, black crane.  Wherever there were smaller pieces of iron to pick up, such as old tie plates and spikes, the crane crew would hook up the big electro-magnet which would swing under the boom.  For rail loading, we had a low sided gondola.  The magnet then was disconnected and a set of tongs was attached to the boom and rails would be lifted from the ground and lowered into a low-sided gondola.

We were given a list of locations where we were to be met by track forces, who had traveled to the working point by motor car, or speeder.  We'd load them onto the caboose and they'd travel with us all day, being dropped off where they had left their speeders near the end of the day.

The train orders provided for us by the train dispatcher in Prince George, and copied by our assigned train order operator gave us authority to operate as a 'work extra' which was designated "Work Extra 50368".  Our working limits were outlined in our orders and usually encompassed the main track between siding west switch Eddy and siding east switch Tete Jaune, a distance of nearly thirty miles.  This was usually more than we required on any given day because the crane, pulling the caboose, idler and gondola would only make about 15 miles per hour on dry rail and being pushed by a tail wind.  The crane's main air reservoir feed valve had been having trouble maintaining standard air pressure for the brake system on the train.  This resulted in the pressure dropping without notice, stopping the train and not allowing it to move again until the problem was overcome.  This ate up quite a bit of time and the Road Master was beginning to show some irritation because of the delays.

One day in particular, the pressure dropped, stopping the train on the mainline at Shere, mile 30.1.  Don bled the brakes off the train, but the brakes would not release on the crane.  After several hours, the crane operator and his helper managed to get the brakes released on the crane, but couldn't get the regulating valve to function.  He had only enough braking capacity to handle the crane and one car, so I had him move our train carefully into the siding where Don and I took a look at our situation.

We didn't have enough time left on our work orders to get back to our outfit at Dunster without getting an extension of our working limits, so we hung up the phone and tried calling the dispatcher for more time.

Our portable dispatchers phone in the caboose and, due to the fact that the crane was having difficulties with air brakes, we had left the train order operator behind in his bunk car at Dunster.

That's when I spotted a motor car, or speeder on the open deck of the crane's idler.

I used the crane to lift the speeder from the flat car and set it on the main line, facing east.  Don and I prepared to make a quick run over to Tete Jaune, about 5 miles to the east.  So there we were, sitting on the hard center seat of this cold, dead speeder..., looking at the barest of control panels.  Slowly, we turned to face each other and admitted that neither of us had a clue how to start the thing!

A couple of the track men who were accompanying our little work train walked over to our side and gave us a quick course on firing it up and getting it moving.

Good enough!

You flip this switch, hold the choke open and, giving the crank a sharp turn..., she fires up!

We're off to Tete Jaune where an operator named "Frenchy" lives and works.  We may be able to get there before it gets dark and before Frenchy goes off duty for the day.  The speeder's headlight had been broken some years earlier, so we each brought our electric switchman's lanterns along to light our way on the return trip.

The trip was loud, noisy and windy as the machine had no windscreen, doors, roof or windows, but we had fun driving it and soon arrived in front of the station at Tete Jaune.

Frenchy came out the front door to welcome us, offering coffee..., something to eat, a glass of wine???

We graciously declined, saying that we had a half dozen track laborers waiting in our caboose at Shere and would be late enough getting back to Dunster with them.  All we needed was an extension to our work order so that we could get our crane and outfit back together for the night.

Soon, Frenchy had us all fixed up with a clearance and orders, and we went back outside into the gloom of 'last light' in the Robson Valley.

We climbed back up onto the speeder and got ready to fire it up.  While Don flipped switches, I got the crank out from under the seat box and shoved it into the hole in the side of the machine.  With the first turn of the crank, the motor came to life with a substantial puff of blue-white smoke.  I climbed up onto my seat and we both turned our bodies to the west, released the brake and cracked the throttle open.

The speeder leaped to life..., and moved eastward!

Grabbing the brake lever, I got it stopped and we both began moving levers back and forth on the control deck.  Nothing we did could get that speeder to move westward.  There could be only one solution.

Don lined the switch to the west leg of the wye, beside the station at Tete Jaune and I opened the throttle a bit.  The speeder crept forward until it was clear of the mainline.  Don lined the switch back and got on.

Pushing aside weeds, saplings and tall grass, we put-putted toward the tail of the wye, where we thought we'd line ourselves over to the east leg and push the speeder back out to the main by hand.  Good plan.

However, hidden in the grass was an old plank crossing, which we hit at about seven or eight miles per hour, derailing the speeder and sending it off the track into the weeds.

After several minutes, we managed to struggle it back onto the tracks and roll it past the switch at the tail of the wye.  Things are looking better now.  We will shove it up the grade to the main and it'll be headed west for the run to Shere.

After working up a great sweat, pushing and heaving the heavy speeder, it was finally on the mainline.  I lined the switch back for the main and Don flipped the switches and, taking the crank from under the seat and inserting it in the hole in the side of the engine housing, he gave it a mighty turn.  The engine started and, grinning as if we had done something incredibly sensible, we got aboard and released the brake.

When Don opened the throttle, the speeder began to move..., backward..., eastward..., damn!

I immediately shut the machine off and got down onto the ground beside the speeder.  With my lantern shining its light beneath the motor, I saw wet oil covering the bottom of the motor.

"OH, NO!!", I thought.  Did the oil pan get punctured when we derailed on the west leg of the wye?  Did we wreck the transmission?  Why is the speeder now going backward?

Don put the crank back into the hole and gave it a spin.  The motor started up and, when the brake was taken off and the belt engaged, the speeder moved..., backward..., again.  I turned it off and we got back onto our bellies and looked underneath for a clue to this mystery.

Not finding one, we got back up and went through the start-up procedure again.

This time, I turned the crank handle.  Don released the brake and inched the drive lever into position.

The speeder began to move again...., but this time, it moved westward!  This is what we wanted all along, so we planted our butts firmly on the hard, plywood benches on either side of the motor and opened the throttle.

Holding our 6 volt lanterns out in front of us, we made our way through the darkness toward Shere, where the crane, idler car and caboose were waiting for us.

We rode along the track on the bone-crunching speeder, alone with our thoughts because it was too loud to speak, even if we yelled at each other, sitting side by side.

And it came to me in a flash!

Don is left handed!  I'm right handed!  He turns the crank counter clockwise and I turn it clockwise.  The motor runs in whatever direction it is cranked to start it!  Crank it clockwise... it runs forward.  Crank it other wise ... it runs backward.  I decided that it would be best if we didn't share this story any time soon.

When we arrived at Shere, the problem with the crane's air regulator had been patched up, so we loaded the speeder back onto the idler and pulled the train out onto the mainline, heading for Dunster.

On arrival at Dunster, the train order operator told me that we were to move our outfit to Tete Jaune the next day so we could be closer to the ditching work that needed to be done between Red Pass and Rearguard.  There would be at least one week's work to be done there if we had no further trouble with the air supply from the crane.

The next morning, we marshaled our train for the trip to Tete Jaune and, while the last of the odds and ends associated with the crane's auxiliary equipment was being stowed on the idler, and our orders were being put together in the operator's bunk car, I walked along the dirt road that ran parallel to the tracks on the north side of the station to meet with the Road Master who had driven out from McBride.

There, I met a young woman, walking with her two daughters. They must live nearby, as we'd seen them walking along this road at times during our stay at Dunster.

But this time, they were accompanied by a beautiful German Shepherd dog.

I stopped to talk with them.

His name is "Toujours", they said.  They had found him on their porch one morning.  He was wearing a collar with a name tag bearing his name.  He had been limping, so they took him in and looked after him.  They asked their neighbors if anyone knew about him, but nobody confessed to having heard of a missing dog in the area.

The children thought he must have come from somewhere in the Robson Valley, as his name fit in well with the area.  They laughed and called him "Toujours from Tete Jaune."

He didn't seem to want to live anywhere else, so I suppose he remained with the family for as long as he wanted to.


LOU said...



Vic, London Canada said...

Brings back memories! I wasn't far behind you to the Trunk. The C&O ran out of work for me by Nov 1970 (in Ontario) and I started December on the Fraser Sub. A few days around Pr George as an Opr so the disprs knew that I knew how to railroad, then to Goat River, supposedly a life sentence! We may have even met around McBride...

Though apparently you had more excitement in your two weeks on the Tete Jaune than I in four weeks at Goat River. Being only 18 (with just a few yrs RR exp.) Goat River had too little for me.

To get out of there I bid in 2d trick Pr Rupert, where there was more work available than ANYONE could handle. Many times I worked continuously for several days and nights straight, usually all at overtime (off assignment), slowing down only once -- after flipping a loaded LPG tank onto its side, and under an overpass (making it more interesting for the big hook to get at it)! This delayed No 720 a few hrs (that load had to make that days 720, no ifs or buts), which caused inquiries from far and wide, in turn setting up a date for a so-called investigation! Even though there wasn't anything to investigate. I took all the blame. Nobody was held out of service. And I wasn't awarded so much as a single brownie! Just back out onto the next work train and, a couple of mos later, returned to the CPR.

Bruce said...

Hmmm.., we must have gone to the same 'railroad school.' I tipped a loaded tank car onto its side on Jasper's west switch one day early in 1966. I was setting the car off the tail end of a 5300 foot train in pouring rain. The engine was just outside Yard Limits and our orders had been delayed, so we had no authorization to be out there. We had two eastbound passenger trains blocked and the big hook was out on the Edson sub, picking up a potash derailment. I got ten brownies. OK....there's another story I must write!!!

Rob said...

I was hired in the fall of 73'. When we, a 35 man class split with Edmonton, finished the two week rules class taught by Bob and Don I found out I was going to Jasper. All my L.A. friends were there so I was very glad. Compared to L.A. we thought we'd died and gone to heaven (and beer was $0.20 a glass and the age was 18!!) The class had guys from every where. Us 4 Jeff Spicoli types. The class before had Mike F. a handful of Yanks plus a Kiwi, couple Aussies, a German guy and some guys from Quebec. I blame Mike for a life spent RR-ing at 12 crew bases (5 states and 2 provances) and I know the Trainmaster was nervous because we were only the 2nd class that had a bunch of scroungy hippies in it...i did hear Supt. Charlie mutter under his breath as he came into the upstairs room "Ja-eesis-ka-rist"!! I figured we had really impressed him and he was thanking Jesus for the excellent help God had sent his way!(?) My class mates seems to know how to make set-outs and Pick-ups, how to figure out dark territory, how not to through a switch under the power...little things like that. So we were scared to death of the yard jobs but after botching a Red Pass Jct set out, getting lost trying to find a switch to the roundhouse and working with Barker and Broze at a mill where I was positioned at a switch, told to guard the switch and watched the power go back and forth for a couple hours I bid in the night yard job with Brian Y. and I can't remember who else. I was being toutered by a crakerjack switchman who was a real gentleman and taught me everything there was to know about switching cars and after 3 months my confidence soared and I don't think I botched another set out or pick up thanks to Brian. Well there's my story and I'm sticking to it!