Ab Sabourin’s Last Trip
Left to right: Conductor Jean_Jacques Sirois, Engineer Ab Sabourin and Station Agent Henri Larche
stand beside VIA RDC-1 6128 (nee CP 9051 at lachute, Quebec, on November 14, 1961. All three retired that day. Photo by Ian Walker.
"What the heck are you doing here?"
"Well, Ab, having bailed coal for you on 1057 and working the royal train together I couldn't let you have your last trip without corning along."
Some twenty Bytown Railway Society members were on the last run of train 171 from Montreal to Ottawa (the North Shore Budd) on Saturday, 14. November. Engineer Sabourin had chosen to take retirement at the same time.
Budd car 6102 had been substituted for 6128 which had hit a truck on its run to Montreal on 170 that morning, Ab said:
"He came right out of the fog at me. I set the brake and dove out into the passenger compartment, I nearly bought it on my last trip."
Train time (1755) and the headlight fails: A yellow hat quickly ascertains that the breaker keeps tripping and is not amused when somebody suggests that he hold it all the way to Ottaw. , Prompted by a Bytown suggestion, Ab decides to turn the unit around the loop at .Glen Yard. Much jubilation from the twenty faithful and much puzzlement from those trying to use the train as a means of getting from point A to point B (particularly the poor soul who was only going to Westmount and went past twice before we actually managed the station).
Much speculation as to whether this is the first passenger train to use the loop.
The faithful twenty jubilantly help turn the seats. On a regular train they don't like you to do this. More confusion among the regular passengers.
An almost insurmountable problem then becomes apparent. The working headlight is now at the front end of the train but the engineer and his seat is at. the other end. This problem is solved by a quick thinking white hat who organizes a ceremonial procession through the car. At the head is the original yellow hat who performs no function other than to lead the way for the white hat who proudly carries the august chair (throne). He is followed by two grimy yellow hats (handmaidens) bearing grimy carpets and the conductor with the engineer's bag, timetable (bible) and (holy) drinking water. Finally, Ab himself appears, to much cheering, bearing throttle, direction and brake handles (orb and sceptre). My mind went back to when temporally he became "Sir Albert" when, along with Rudy Lamothe, he ran the Royal Train with steam locomotive 1201.
Somebody points out that we have just gone over the same piece of track three times.
"Pepin is tied to the rails. Its just to be sure we get him!"
Leaving Westmont 30 minutes late the Conductor collects tickets.
"Do we pay extra for the run by?"
It turns out that he will be working the Marelan turn out of Montreal.
"I'll be able to get home to bed every night."
A reporter from Le Droit is on the train.
"When was the first train over the line?"
She is most impressed with the name of the railway that constructed the line (Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental) and that it was part of the original transcontinental main line but is disappointed that we are not going to stage a demonstration. (Demonstrations make good copy). She is upset when several of us give her hell for driving to Montreal to cover this story. She retreats armed with a lot of dumb information. It may be newsworthy but I'm sure she hasn't told the story of the North Shore Budd. Perhaps it may never be written except in the hearts and minds of those in the lives of whom it was an intimate part.
Our friend Ian Walker is on hand to record our arrival at Lachute where the agent has also chosen to take retirement. He asked if he could buy the station clock he has wound for so many years. The railway said he could have it for $1,400. Does nobody have a heart?
The end: VIA train 171 with RDC-2 6102 (nee CN D102) stopped at Lachute, Quebec, on November 14, 1981. Photo by Ian Walker
Most of the serious passengers have left the train by Lachute and the journey takes on a more sombre note. The impossible is happening. This really is the, last one. I keep telling myself I won't be able to do this tomorrow, or ever again.
There is a heated argument about the demise of this train. The whole . range of human emotions is present: anger, frustration, love, tenderness - all of it spiced with rail fan humour. The only conclusion we come to about pepinomics is that the passenger train is rapidly becoming deader than a dodo.
In his dark cab, Ab silently runs the last miles of his 37 years. The headlight pierces a thin beam through the swirling mist to illuminate the crossings, any one of which could mean peril or oblivion.
A lady takes her four year old granddaughter between Calumet and Pointe-au-Chene for her first (and last?) ride on a train. The youngster is allowed to blow the whistle.
We appropriately hit a skunk.
Freight train No. 86 is in the hole at Papineauville where a highball signals our ride into eternity. Ellwood Sloane is on 86 but there's no radio banter tonight. At least with Ab retiring this leaves one less to bid for the remaining jobs.
The conductor says goodbye to the lady caretaker at Thurso with an embrace.
One of the last regular passengers, an ageing nun, gets off at Templeton. She has come this way every Saturday for years. She kisses the Conductor goodbye on the cheek.
"That's the first time I've been kissed by a nun,"
The Gatineau operator comes out to shake hands.
The ageing caretaker in the relatively new Hull station is waiting with his wife to shake hands with our Conductor. The emotional scene is interrupted by a flashing photographer who is joined by the reporter. The two are quite disappointed that we didn't run amok or vandalize the train.
"At least they will be able to tear the station down now."
"Yes, and there will be no need to repair the front window which was broken several years ago."
Where are all those who protested the train offs? Was it just an excuse to use against the government? Would Mazanomics have been any better than Pepinomics?
Maybe we are all to blame? When was the last time you used the North Shore Budd? If we had been there yesterday, maybe it would be there tomorrow.
Now there's no tomorrow.
"With just the Bytown faithful left the journey assumes the air of a wake.
Over the Prince of Wales Bridge. Tomorrow will be the first day in a hundred years without scheduled passenger service.
Through the Dows Lake tunnel, across the Rideau River bridge and up the grade to Ellwood. Will this be the last passenger train over the connecting track to the station?
The last two grade crossings near Riverside hospital are safely negotiated, Ab breathes a sigh of relief and laughs.
“My last crossing. I've made it through 37 years and can finally relax." But it is a forced jocularity.
Yellow over red light - limited approach signal. Yellow light - Restricting signal.
"That allows me to go as far as the next signal but I don't have any more signals to worry about now"
At the station I half expect a welcoming committee. Instead only Ab's family are present.
"Open that door and let me get the hell out of here."
Ab Sabourin turns his back on 37 years and is in the car park before we are.
Would it have been too much for somebody from CP Rail to have seen him at the end of his last trip to thank him for 37 of the best years of his life? I suppose the Pepinomist or Mazanomist would reply:
So we paid you for it didn't we? In any case if you didn't like it you could have quit any time."
The politicians don't really care, they're only interested in scoring points.
The media doesn't care. They only want to sensationalize the news.
Via doesn't know enough to care.
An employer who offers to sell the agent "his" clock for $1400 doesn't care.
So who does care? Do we have no compassion?
So long, Ab! Best of luck.
What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, November 1981 and November 2006.
Click here to see Trackside Treasure - Locking the Door at Lachute including a footnote from Mark Walton