Over The Yellowhead Pass, Published 31 December 1941Here we are at Vancouver station, ready to go over the Yellowhead Pass on the Canadian Nationals Continental Limited. Up ahead, panted freight engine 2409. a hang-over from Mackenzie and Mann days, which was to take us as far as Port Mann and the big power. At the back, was the reconditioned solarium car, and in it were a lot of little British school boys, with those slightly annoying English accents of theirs. They were jumping all over the furniture, while yelling and shouting out of the door at people who should have stopped them. I suppose these would be regarded as little gentlemen by people of the so-called better sort, but to me, those well-groomed, bad-mannered little brats had the Dead End Kids backed into the ocean for rowdiness. All in a refined way, of course.
The train moved, and so did the kids. Having got rid of the little pests, who miraculously crawled up into the sleeper ahead, I could now see where I was going, by looking out the glass end of the train. As we crawled slowly into the rain, more than 200 people could be seen waving good-bye. They do that in Vancouver. You would think we were taking off for Tibet, the fuss people made. Next thing I knew, we had been given 5117 at Port Mann and were heading up the Fraser Valley. Then I decided to go asleep. I remember waking once, when we were on the north side of the Thompson river, and seeing the Canadian Pacific train, like a giant glow worm, crawling along through a black medium, marked only by green and red switch lights. Then it was daylight, and that meant a shave and breakfast.
* * *
They had put on the open observation car at Kamloops Junction, although we did not get rid of the Kelowna sleeper till we got to Blue River. Once clear of Blue River, a place to give you the blues if ever I saw one, we started our real crawl over the Rockies. Engine 6057 had been assigned to us up ahead, and that engine stayed right with us over the Great Divide. The Canadian National is lucky in its Yellowhead Pass. For while the Canadian Pacific has to snort and pant, not only over the Rockies, but the Selklrks as well, the National's right-of-way goes slowly and serenely up over the Tete Jaune, and needs only one engine to do It. This pass, only 3,717 feet high. is the lowest of all transcontinental divides, and might well be called The Weak Heart Route. For it is the best way across this continent to the coast for those whose hearts are not strong. Incidentally, the highest route is the Denver and Rio Grande Western, where the summit is Tennessee Pass, at an altitude of 10,242 feet. Incidentally, the streamliners of the Union Pacific (City of San Francisco, City of Los Angeles, etc.) cross the Rockies at the extremely high altitude of 8,013 feet at Sherman Hill.
The train seems to be going up a long, endless grade. But unlike the sudden changes, the spectacular ups and downs of the Canadian Pacific, the Canadian National just kept right on going up, and up. and up. It is a 200-mile grade you find here, reaching its climax only at Yellowhead itself.
Vice-President Bond had his private car up ahead, but he came back with his daughter Theodosia to enjoy the mountain splendor from the open car. The train sweeps along past the North Thompson, and so readily does it swing along, you hardly realize you are on mountain grades at all. In fact, you almost feel cheated that the train is not having more trouble.
The big thrill of the trip is of course at Mount Robson, where you can get a look at the reputed highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. At least you can get a look if the clouds are not wrapped around the mountain like a white turban. I have been past this point three times in daylight and each trip there is less of the peak showing, and more clouds. I firmly believe that if I keep going by often enough, the mountain will finally disappear in a fog.
What I like to see most at this point is the Prince Rupert line of the old Grand Trunk Pacific come snaking in from the west. It is away down in the hollow, and you have to lean out over the train first to see it beneath. So while you ride high up on the former Canadian Northern tracks, the old Grand Trunk Pacific stays down the valley. Only some miles further east do they meet at Red Pass Junction.
* * *
The summit at Yellowhead, 3.717 feet high. is a bit of a flop. You are past it before you know it. I was the only one in the car able to identify it. You come into the railway yards, such as they are, going uphill, and you leave them going downhill. Each grade is sufficiently slight to be ignored. A single sign indicates that you have crossed the Great Divide. I personally think the National makes a mistake in de-emphasizing this point. But then, who is R. C. Vaughan to listen to me?
Once over the hump, you start downhill, and only stop when you get to Jasper. Here they take off the open observation car, and you have to sit in the smoke-filled solarium car instead. Well inured to the cold crisp air outside, you hate having to come inside. I would have preferred it if they had left the open observation car on as far as Edson.
So we rolled east through some of the most spectacular Rockies the Canadian National has to offer. Here the valleys are wider, and the peaks show off to great advantage. You admire Mount Edith Cavell, for instance, as it enjoys a snowstorm in solitary grandeur away up there above the warm sunshine we are now getting. Then we run into rain again, and out of it, and finally, you get a burst of sunshine around the curve.
With a new engine, 6043 up ahead, we roll easily down through the Alberta landscape till the mountains fade. Then there's a stop at Edson, and east we go. You come to the first elevator, after you pass the first grain fields, and from then on. the fields and the forests flght it out all the way to Edmonton. It was the first time I had ever seen the land from Edson to Jasper. I think I was impressed mainly with the land's poor quality, and the number of pretty lakes. The latter looked the more so when painted pink by a cloud-filtered setting sun.
Then came Edmonton and rain drops, and sleep, and an arrival In Saskatoon under a fourth-quarter crescent moon at 4.55 a.m.