Friday, June 21, 2013

The Bunkhouse As An Ever-changing Community

The operator at Boston Bar has given us track one at 'The Bar'.  A mile west of the yard, the engine, a brace of SD40-2's rolls onto the Anderson Creek bridge, a long, high, curved trestle spanning the Anderson River.  
Westbound over Anderson Creek - Peter Cox - 1970

One who is not familiar with the high's and low's of seasonal weather-related water levels might not appreciate that during the late summer and fall, the Anderson River becomes Anderson Creek.

With the onslaught of the West Coast rainy season, which usually arrives just in time for Hallowe'en, it becomes a river once again.

The high-mast signal at the east end of Hicks had displayed an "Approach Signal", or yellow over red, so I reduced the throttle to allow the gentle grade to bring the train's speed down to just under 15 mph.  The next signal, at the west end of Boston Bar was displaying a "Restricting Signal", or red over yellow.

Beyond the CTC controlled main line switch, the hand-operated switches leading to each of the storage tracks in the yard, now came into view.  The brakeman rose from his seat, and as he reached for the handle on the front door, he said "Track one's against us......, don't stop, I'll run for it."  I notched the throttle even further, and the speedometer responded by dropping to 10 mph.
SD40-2 and SD40-2W, perhaps westbound near Floods, west of Hope, BC
Photo credit Gordon Hulford

When the leading truck of the locomotive began to leave the mainline, heading into the turnout that would take us into the yard, I kept a close eye on the brakeman as he dropped from the step at the bottom of the ladder.  He covered the 75 feet to the switch with ease, and with one motion, he flipped the open switch lock out of the keeper, letting it swing on the end of its steel chain.  Lifting the handle, he pulled it over and pushed it into the opposite slot.

He replaced the lock into the keeper then took a good look at the switch points to ensure that the points had made proper contact with the stock rail.  Once he was satisfied that all was as it should be, he turned to face the approaching engine and gave me a proceed signal.

I opened the throttle and the speedometer began to climb again.

I checked my watch and thought of the conductor who would be doing the same.  Our pay structure changed the moment the engine moved over the switch.  We were now on hours instead of miles, although the time spent while yarding the train and putting the engine to the shop track would be converted to miles on the basis of 12 1/2 miles per hour.  With 100 miles constituting a basic days' pay, the yard, or terminal time could add 25 miles (pay) or more to each trip.

As the engine neared the east end of the yard, the tail end brakeman began to call out the distance to the clearance point in the west end of track one, where our train was to be parked until CN was ready to run it further east.  Sometimes a train would be stored like this for a matter of a few hours, waiting for a connecting crew to become available.  At other times, a train might rest in the yard for days, waiting for some unforeseen obstruction, or 'hold order' to be lifted.

As the train was slowing to a stop, I set a light brake on the train.  The front brakeman had dropped off the engine and stood nearby, waiting for me to give him a 'nod', indicating that he could now step in between the trailing unit and the leading car to cut off the air and lift the pin to separate the engine from the train.
SD40-2W's waiting in track 2 at The Bar.
photo credits photo by Ralph Mintze (sp)

When the train had come to a complete stop, with brakes firmly set on the train, I release the engine brake and let the engine settle gently back against the standing train.  Then, I gave him a nod and, reaching out the side window and using both hands in a chopping motion, I indicated that it was now safe to 'go inside' to make the cut.

Leaning on my elbow, I sat with my body twisted waiting for him to emerge from behind the engine.  With the familiar 'clank' that is caused by the operating lever lifting the pin to free the engine from its compliant followers.  Holding the operating lever up, he gave me a 'proceed' hand signal; I pulled out the brass knob that started the bell ringing, and moved the engine forward.

Soon, with the engine running backward, we rolled westward on the mainline to pick up the tail-end crew, who had locked up the caboose and were waiting in the sunshine for their 'ride' to arrive.

The head-end brakeman drops off as the engine slowly rolls past the east shop-track switch, and when the engine has passed the points, he lines it for the shop.  The engines will sit on the shop track, patiently waiting for their next assignment.

Behind the old steam locomotive tender, which had been converted to a 'Fire Fighting Tanker', lies the shop track.  There had been a turntable, which by 2012 at the time of this photo had been removed.
Photo credit, Gordon Hulford.

Stopping in front of the yard office I wait for the tail end guys to get off with their 'grips', and then turn to see the head end man giving me a back-up signal, swinging his arm in a wide circle, at right angles to the track.   With the bell ringing, I back the engine up until it's well clear of the main, and then I secure it, or 'tie it down'.

After registering our arrival on the train register at the station, we wander over to the bunkhouse.  Stepping inside, we look at the green chalk-board on the wall.  Each of the small bedrooms in the bunkhouse are numbered, and we see that there are a few men in town from the Ashcroft sub, as well as a one or two crews from the Yale sub.

Seeing that room #9 is vacant, I pick up a piece of chalk, and print "HARVEY - 1 HOUR CALL PLS".

With a dozen or more men waiting for a call that will put them on a train to take them back home, I walked into the recreation area where CN and the Unions had installed a pool table, card tables and a ping pong table.  That facility had become a healthy alternative to the only other place in the village of Boston Bar, the beer parlour at Old Cog's Hotel.  Of course, railroaders still visited Cog's water hole because, as many are aware, a fast game of ping pong can create quite a thirst!

The railroad bunkhouse is more than just a place for crews to lay over; it's a meeting place, a place where crew members catch up on the happenings at the other terminal, to share their thoughts on matters that range from sports to fishing, from weather to rail traffic and, most often ..., Labour/Management issues.  It's the latter that generated the most heated of debate, almost always resulting in universal condemnation of every officer in the company's management roster.

Away-from-home dining offered several options in 'The Bar'.  One could choose from the menu at Cog Harrington's dining room or coffee shop.  The pub in the same building offered a variety of nutritious choices from their pub menu, or one could stay with appetizers, such as pickled eggs and pepperoni sticks which you could purchase from the bar tender and carry back to your table.

Or, one might walk a block to the grocery store where the makings of a meal could be purchased and brought back to the large kitchen in the bunkhouse.

When the CNR Beanery, which was housed in the west end of the station was open, the food and prices were quite acceptable.

Most crewmen didn't wander too far from the bunkhouse when they were on the usually short-term layovers.  Others would cross the tracks (literally) and walk down the narrow road that led to the aerial car ferry that carried cars and pedestrians from Boston Bar, on the east side of the Fraser River, to the west side, where the CP terminal formed the anchor for the village of North Bend.

The CPR Beanery in North Bend offered good food too, and was a good place to sit near their mainline, hoping to see a set of MLW/ALCO C630's pulling past with a long coal train from BC's south-eastern interior.  CN didn't operate similar locomotives in Western Canada, preferring to stick with GM/EMD products.

Sooner or later, the car checker would arrive at the bunkhouse and, with a piece of white chalk taken from the tray under the green board with the room numbers on it, wrote down a call time next to a crew-member's name.  He would then check all the usual places; the lounge, the recreation room, the kitchen, the room that the member had marked up for himself and..., if all else fails, he would walk up the hill to Cog's beer parlour in case the fellow had dropped in for a bit of pepperoni and 'a brown', or glass of beer.

Yes, we all knew that we were in violation of Rule G, which banned the use of alcohol and/or drugs while on duty, or while subject to duty.  However, the company's field managers chose to overlook these minor infractions, knowing that most of the crews who did take a sip now and then, did it responsibly.  The others, who might abuse the oversight, would one day 'switch themselves out', ending up in re-hab, or being fired.

Once a crew was called, they became active as paperwork had to be arranged for at the station.  Train orders had to be collected, checked and discussed.  Most often, the wig-wags and bells were activated on the road crossing near the front of the bunkhouse.

Within minutes, the Kamloops engine crew are climbing down the ladder where the incoming engineers and brakemen will exchange information about how the train was behaving, any mechanical difficulties that might have rafter leaving the initiating terminal and any other piece of information that might be considered pertinent.

After climbing the ladder, step into the cab, taking a look around to ensure that all the necessary tools and supplies are on-board.  The brakeman will check the flagging kit.

With everything in order, I sit down, and lifting the radio handset from its cradle, I call the incoming trains tail end.  They're on the caboose and ready to be pulled down to the station where the entire scene we had played will be re-enacted by the Kamloops crew, page and chapter.

With the brakes now released, I ease the throttle up and the train begins to move forward.

CN train 'pulling down' at Boston Bar.  
photo credit, Gordon Hulford

In fifteen minutes, the tail end crews have exchanged places, with the Yale crew settling into the caboose and the Ashcroft crew talking with the operator who is calmly advising them that they'll be getting called to go home in a couple of hours, or perhaps will be dead-heading back to Kamloops on the bus.

We conduct a quick brake test and ask the operator, by radio to call the dispatcher for the signal to leave Boston Bar and enter the Yale sub.

The crew is on, the brakes are released and the Yale sub lies ahead
Photo credit Gordon Hulford

The train is  moving slowly on the slight down-grade westward.  The signal comes into view and it's a "clear signal", green over red.

Meanwhile, a bunkhouse attendant would be discreetly making up our rooms for the next person. The bathrooms would be checked and the kitchen tidied up.

When that was all done, he or she would put the kettle on for a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits, to be consumed, alone in a corner of the kitchen eating area.  They were the stalwarts of the bunkhouse and, I'm sure...., they didn't receive the recognition they deserved for the silent service they performed.

If the second half of the trip goes as smoothly as the first half, I'll be home in time to read the kids a bed-time story and tuck them into bed.

Thank you, Delores and the others who kept my home-away-from-home so comfortable, clean and homey.

You are not forgotten.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fondly reminds me of changing crews at Field BC in the mid 70's . Boxes or containers, tail end "on the fly". The the heading to the bunkhouse for a meal and rest.
Always apreciate your tales.