Operator Memories

In the late-1960s I was a CPR operator working at the new Ottawa (Ontario) Station which opened on July 31st, 1966, where Canadian Pacific Railway had the operators, and Canadian National Railways had the train dispatchers. So we cleared both CN and CP trains.

CNR No. 213, the overnight passenger (in name only - it was all express with an old 5200-series coach on the tail end for Toronto, which had replaced CP No. 33 when the pool trains were discontinued in January 1966) from Ottawa to Toronto, Ontario, would get the unit off CNR No. 39 from Montreal, Quebec. The CNR operator at Central Station in Montreal, called "KN" for his old telegraph call, would call us at Ottawa Station and give us the power and cars on all the trains which he was given by Pointe St. Charles, the passenger yard south of Central Station. We in turn would give him the consists of all trains from Ottawa, including #2 ("Super Continental") which we had received from Capreol, and #6 ("Panorama") which was still running at that time.
KN gives me No. 39, engine 6780, and the three cars and we would call the CNR dispatcher in Belleville on the morse line (there was never a train dispatcher's phone on that line from Ottawa to Napanee, Ontario, until the day it was removed from service). The night operator at Napanee did not start until 2000, so about 2005, I call BX BX BX/CD (the train dispatcher's call being BX, and ours at Ottawa being CD) on the morse. He answers. I give him No. 213, engine 6780, and his consist which the yardmaster had given me - the yardmaster would have received all the express car numbers from the CNR express terminal just across Terminal Avenue from the passenger station.

The train dispatcher calls NE NE NE/BX (Napanee's call letters) three times, with his call so Napanee knows who is calling. Napanee answers, and the dispatcher in Belleville says to Napanee 'NE, 19R east copy 3' to which Napanee responds 'NS' (No Signal, i.e. no display of the train order signal, as No. 214 originated on the Smiths Falls Subdivision at Napanee), and to me 'CD, 19Y west copy 3' to which I respond 'NS', as I have no train order signal at Ottawa. It is a 19R (Red) at Napanee as No. 214 is being restricted; it is a 19Y (Yellow) to me, as No. 213 is being given more authority than he usually has.

6780 at Ottawa, Wass on 14 March 1987.
So he puts out the order "No. 213 engine 6780 has right over No. 214 engine unknown. Federal to Napanee" (Federal is the junction of the Beachburg and the Smiths Falls Subdivisions in southwest Ottawa, and Ottawa to Federal is CTC). The engine unknown is the best one that we have, as it never changes. No. 214 cannot leave Napanee until No. 213 arrives, so the train dispatcher doesn't care what No. 214 has.

Napanee responds with his repeat first, as it is No. 214 that is being restricted, the dispatcher gives a complete time, and then I repeat, and get a complete time which goes on the bottom of the train order. Then I clear No. 213, but it is only about 2010 by this time, and No. 213 is not due out of Ottawa until 2330.

Now, the operator at KN is sitting in the bowels of Central Station in Montreal. He never sees a train in his whole eight hours. And of course, engines and cars change, due to failures and other events. So we always call the operator at Coteau where the Alexandria Sub. starts, where it leaves the Kingston Sub., about 40 miles west of Montreal, to verify the power on incoming trains. No. 39 was due by Coteau about 2105, and into Ottawa at 2240. We are off duty as operators at 2230. From then until 0600 the next morning, the CNR train dispatchers take our transfer of all orders and bulletins outstanding, in case they have to run an emergency train during the night.

So this night, at about 21 10, I called the Belleville train dispatcher on the Alexandreia Subdivision, where we had a telephone. The dispatcher is GEB, Gerry Bretherick. He is a really good operator, in my humble opinion. I ask him if No. 39 is by Coteau yet, and if so, what the engine was. (It is CTC, but train dispatchers have to get times from operators before telling us anything, the old featherbedding that we know so well!!) He rings Coteau, and a new young voice reports "No. 39 by at 2105!'. GEB:.."What was the engine number?" Coteau: "6540" (GEB could care less what the engine was, as this is CTC). So I butt in "6540! Are you sure?" Coteau :YES, I'M SURE!!!!" very abruptly.

6540 on a train to Ottawa at Riverside, having just crossed the Rideau River Bridge.

So now I have to get on the morse line again...BX BX BX/CD. (These two train dispatchers I believe sat side-by-side in the old CNR dispatching office in Belleville, so I'm sure that he knew what was happening) I recall, the train dispatcher was CRC, Rene Coyer, a real jokester.

Anyway, I say that No. 21 3 will now have 6540 instead of 6780, so he calls NE NE NE/BX, and he answers. I say 'clearance to No. 213 ok'd at 2010 destroyed at 2110'. Thank goodness, CRC puts out a 19Y to both of us "No. 213 has engine 6540 instead of engine 6780". We both repeat it, get it completed, and I then reclear No. 213 with his extra order, he ok's it about 2115, and aside from OS'ing two trains in (CNR No. 6 from Vancouver and CNR No. 44 from Toronto), plus CP No. 133 from Montreal via Lachute, I am done for the night.

So as I'm walking across the concourse at 2220 (the operators at Ottawa were on the east side of the concourse, and the train dispatchers are on the west side of the concourse), and in rolls No. 39, with..............6780.

Back to the office, call BX BX BX/CD, he answers, I tell him that No. 39 arrived with the original engine 6780, so I again cancel the clearance to No. 213 ok'd at 2115 destroyed at 2220, he calls NE NE NE/BX, he is right there. CRC annuls the order giving the engine change, and I clear the train a third time with the original orders.

By this time, I'm getting a little annoyed, so I go back on the Alexandria dispatcher's phone, and ask GEB if the operator at Coteau is around, as No. 39 came in with a different engine than what he saw. This kid at Coteau roars into the fone "I'M NOT PAID TO CHECK ENGINE NUMBERS!!!"

Next night, I decide to wait until No. 39 gets by Coteau before calling BX on the morse. About 2110, I ask GEB "No. 39 by Coteau yet?" GEB: "Old Eagle-Eye hasn't reported him yet!" to which I reply: "Eagle-Eye, Gripes Kate, you mean 'Glass Eye'", to which GEB almost fell onto the floor laughing so hard.

This guy at Coteau turned out to be Jacques Leroux, and Jacques and I became good friends. In fact, I was the best man at his wedding several years later, in London, Ontario. He became a CNR train dispatcher, then power controller, and moved to Edmonton for a couple of years. He is retired now and living in Fort Erie, Ontario. Those were the days!

Bytown Railway Society,  Branchline, July-August 2007, page 20.

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