Idaho, Spokane, Kootenay - A Geography Lesson, Published 6 September 1932
Crowsnest, British Columbia, is the highest place on The Kettle Valley Line between Lethbridge and Vancouver, so the 2534 and her four-car train practiced mainly the law of gravity for the rest of the forenoon, dropping 1,800 feet in no time at all, tobogganing down and down till you could look back and see at right angles, high above you, the track over which the express had been a few minutes before.
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Past the charred stumps which recalled the terrible Fernie fire of more than two decades ago, and through trim Cranbrook City the train ran, till we hit the Spokane International railroad at Yakh. The S. I. R. R. was the late Sir William Van Horne's usual practical answer to the threatened traffic concussions of Jim Hill and all those dear half-forgotten railway hijackers. That's what the S. I. was. What it is now - well, why embarrass anybody? I merely go on record as saying I never saw so many deserted station houses in my life. They say the conductor got a cash fair at one of the little sentinel-box stations one day, and the shock was so great that he punched twice in the ten dollar column and once in the fivedollar square before his quivering hand could guide the dingus into perforating 32 cents.
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You get aboard a funny little three - coach train at Yakh, and are soon rushing towards the border. The train halts not more than three seconds at Kingsgate, B.C., and then continues its swift course to Eastport, Idaho, fully 65 feet ahead. You will be interested to know that little customs posts entirely shut in by high mountains, are the scenes of great bridge tournaments at night, and that they are trying to make Eastport a ski center. That's like plugging Mechanicsville as a summer resort.
When the customs amenities are over, the train whoops it up down through high but uninteresting mountains, till suddenly a broad valley, mosaicked by a river and its truant side courses, opens up a bewilderingly beautiful panorama. For a long time the railroad runs along the ledge of this lovely fertile flat with it's swaying field crops and serried orchards. So unexpected and so lovely is this heavenly spot that it is no wonder they call it Paradise Valley. The white-haired engineer - and you have to have white hair to get a passenger run these days, folks - said he had been up and down that valley since he was firing freight trains (since the Boer War to you) and he never tired of the scene.
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Gradually, you get down to the level of that river, and cross it at Bonner's Ferry. Then you take a new tank full of water and head south. The mountains gradually give place to level plains as the train gets away from Idaho and down into Washington. I got into Spokane, the capital of the Inland Empire, about dusk, and after more switching than you would believe necessary to sort a hundred car freight train, I found myself following a red cap to a taxi in Spokane.
I was driven around spoken by Eric W. Johnston, president of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce. He looks like a college sophomore, but is a bank director. You take him for a youth, yet he was in the U.S. diplomatic service as an attache at Peking some years ago.
Except for Wesley Frost, Consul - General of United States in Canada at Montreal, I found Mr. Johnston better informed on Canadian affairs than any other American I ever met. He spoke of economic conditions on both sides of the line, and opined, in answer to my query, that a little bit of American banking elasticity would be a good thing for Canadian banks to adopt. Tariffs, he admitted, seems like a necessity at present, but he always visualized two small boys, each trying to outdo the other from their own backyards, in the attempt to build walls higher than the other youngster.
Spokane itself is located in the middle of a large plain, surrounded by dim and distant mountains. But the "best people" live on hills which make a commercial crater of the city, and a view from the heights of Washington's third city by night is something akin to a nocturnal view of Montreal from Westmount.
If you don't think handling berries is important I can tell you that I saw a crack transcontinental limited, The Olympian, in Spokane station, held up for one solid hour while it waited on a connecting train. The Olympian was to move strawberries into Montana and the Dakotas. The 100 - foot long mountain climber, and it's 1,000 - foot red and yellow train, with 100 irate sweating passengers all had to wait idly for a few tardy crates of berries. I realized then that this express business certainly "is the berries".
Only one incident of note happened on my way back to Canada over the S. I. railroad. A young girl of fifteen, who knew the train crew, was going home. Suddenly, in between stations, the local came to a stop, and off jumped the little lass. Her pappy's farm house was just a few yards away on the road, and the S. I. wasn't going to see a cash fare carried past her home as long as old Jim, the engineer, had air brakes.
There was a pathetic meeting at Erickson B. C. An elderly woman was traveling through from England on a special tour to the coast, and at Erickson, her old girl-hood friend of many years standing, whom she had not seen for a long time, got on board the train with her two children. Clean, inexpensive summer garb clothed the mother, her son, and daughter. The women met and kissed and cried and kissed again. Through tears and smiles they conversed earnestly. The wife of the poor strawberry grower introduced her children to the rich, older spinster. The unmarried woman hungrily gathered in the tots as if they were her own. Moist - eyed, the women tried to span the years by quick, brief questions and answers.
"Creston next," announced the parlor car conductor.
The brief meeting was over. They had been together for 3.4 miles, they had had eight minutes between that parting so long ago in England, and eternity, when they would meet again. Frantically, almost hysterically, they clutched each other as they parted, and the poignant scene was ended with the brakesman's: "Creston - This Way Out."