Thoughts from an Old Timer

October Marks Silver Anniversary for Rail Enthusiasts in Ottawa

With the passage of October, rail enthusiasts in Ottawa can look back over 25 years of an organized formal association.
This began with the Ottawa Branch of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association in 1965 and was formalized under the auspices of the Bytown Railway Society Inc. in April of 1969.
What follows here is brief retrospective on what it means to be a real enthusiast in Ottawa from one of our veteran members.

Thoughts from an Old Timer


For days I have been trying to think of what to write about 20 years of membership in BRS. Some of the anecdotes I may remember may still ruffle feathers years later. Some of my activities with the Society may just sound like bragging. But, in answer to the editor's request, I plunge in.

I went to high school in Stratford, Ontario, in the late-fifties as the great CN steam shops there started their closing. Both grandfathers, my father, my uncle, and an older cousin had worked in the shops. Railroading was "in my blood" as they say. As I have written of earlier in Branchline, many of the happy times in my young life (birthdays, visits to Santa Claus, big league ball games) were all associated with train trips. It was inevitable that I grow up to be a rail fan; however, in high school and university, I felt it was not "cool" to like trains.

After university, I married one of my teachers. Her mother was very active in bird-watching. Then and there, I decided that if a respected person could devote their lives to tramping through swamps looking for birds, I could travel the world looking at and riding trains.

Shortly thereafter I joined the Upper Canada Railway Society in Toronto and enjoyed their steam excursions. In 1967, my company sent me to England to work. In Birmingham, I joined the Warwickshire Railway Society and attended a night course entitled "Railways for the Enthusiast." From England, it was on to Trondheim, Norway, where steam still shunted the yard and the Trondheim Model Railway Club worked on a hugh layout in the basement of a school. (This group went on to produce the beautiful layout which is now the centrepiece of the Norwegian National Railway Museum in Hamar, Norway.)

Further fields beckoned, and after an exciting trip through Southern Africa - much of it on trains behind steam - we arrived in Australia. Steam was still active there in the late-sixties. The downtown yards for the docks in Sydney were switched by 100-year-old steam locomotives. There I became a member of the Australian Railway Historical Society and went on many trips with them. For a while, I taught high school in Sydney, and as a result found myself on a trip behind steam organized by the High School Boys' Association.

Family circumstances encouraged a return to Canada in 1970 and the best job opportunity was in Ottawa. We arrived in September 1970 to read in the Ottawa Journal about an exciting trip that a local club had run to Brockville. A new house, a new baby, and a financially-reeling company kept me from looking into this club.

At Christmas that year, my wife's uncle mentioned that he knew a gentleman by the name of Hugh Stowell who was very active in railroading. Would I like to be introduced? My answer was a definite yes. Hugh (who was one of the founders of the dub) invited me along to the next meeting, and the rest is history. An aside to the Hugh Stowell story is that his wife's family was the Reid family who started railways in Newfoundland.

Shortly after becoming a member, I joined Kevin Day's me committee (Kevin, then a student at Carleton University, is now fairly senior in CN's engineering department). From there, I got involved in the ink and wax with Bruce Ballantyne in putting Branchline out on a Gestetner machine.

Trips have always been a main reason for being a member, and I soon found myself being conscripted for the safety committee on trips. By 1974, I was on the executive and in 1975 I was elected President.

Being President of this club is not easy. It is a big business with diverse objectives. Mine was trips. I wanted to go to Hawkesbury before the line closed. Sales of tickets were not great, and it looked like we would incur a loss. I said "Let's go anyway!" On a close vote, the full executive over-ruled me. It took me years to recover from that defeat, and it was a joy when I helped run our first 1201 excursion to Hawkesbury in 1988.

Another difficult decision was the Parkdale Station request. Toronto railfans started a fund to move and preserve CN's Parkdale station. As a child we had entrained there for the Canadian National Exhibition. I wanted it preserved. The executive in a rancorous close vote decided on a donation. A few weeks later the station was burned by vandals and our donation was returned. Nevertheless, the BRS constitution was rewritten such that emphasis in the future would be limited to Ottawa-area railroad preservation.

I could go on with many more stories from my years as "Doughnut Convenor", "Programs Chairman", "Treasurer", and "Book Store Operator". Each position had its triumphs and its heartbreaks. All involved a lot of hard work.

The friendships I have made through our railway society have helped me through many of the bad times in my life. After I suffered a "nervous breakdown", it was through the help of a group of members that my life was literally put back "on-track."

Each year, I try to put back something into the Society to repay it (them) for what I get out. For years, I have experienced the joy of watching the improvement in photography at the annual slide contest. Each year, I am reminded how important one idea (or dream) of one person in the club can be. May the dreams continue to be fulfilled in the years to come.

Bytown Railway Society,  Branchline, November 1990, page 13.

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