Through Corn Belt In Wartime, Published 2 February 1944I am just back from a 2,100 mile trip to the banks of the Missouri, and I can tell you truthfully that travel isn't what it used to be. Don't get me wrong. A train trip is still a train trip. I am this kind of person. I could be picked up by the Gestapo in Germany, I can imagine them tossing me into a box car, and saying: "When you get to the end of the line, you'll be shot."
"So what" I can hear myself saying, "I'll get a train ride out of it anyway."
That's just the way I feel about train travel. Anyway, I had a couple of stories to get, I wanted to note how the mid-west was reacting to the war, and all this adds up to the fact that I am down at the Union Station, you are with me, and we're waiting for the first section of No. 7.
The amiable Sam Betrand squinted at my ticket and waved me through, just as the big 2858 slid in on the dot. My car turned out to be Sault St. Marie, and since I was going via The Soo, this seemed a happy omen at the beginning of the trip. (Incidentally, when riding on the C.P.R., always get a sleeper beginning with "S" if you can.)
We rolled out toward the bridge, and I noted the Press Gallery lights burning, the only windows on the whole north side of the Parliament Buildings ablaze. Those gallery lights have a glow all their own. Often I have sat up there under them, looking up from my work to watch No. 7 roll across the bridge. Well, tonight, here I was on the train, for a change, and in my mind's eye I could see the ever-working Tom Green up there, toiling late on some new angle for the morrow's headline. I was glad Tom was at his desk and I in my berth, however, and I immediately settled down to contemplate the beauties of nature on a moonless, cloudy night. The half forgotten station at Ottawa West was its usual dingy self, with the exciting roundhouse in its lee. Next there were the darkened houses of Westboro, a depressing pier at Britannia under January snows, and then much later, the steep swing round Carleton Place as we changed from west to north.
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For some reason, I awoke up around Deux Rivieres, and thus saw the Ottawa river in its upper reaches on a cloudy dark night. Here inky black water flowed between high grey slopes, the depressing yet magnificent scene reminding one of those horrible sketches illustrating Dante's Inferno. Yet I sat spellbound as we rushed upstream along the Ottawa, to see how majestic the countryside is out here in the wilderness. Then the cheerful lights of Mattawa scotched my depressing impressions, an eastbound drag tooted for the clear, and I fell asleep, to be wakened at Sudbury.
Though it distinctly says that you may remain in your berth till 8 a.m., the joyfully returning Sudbury folk, anxious to get home, start banging around long before the train gets in at 6.50, and so I went native and crawled out of the sheets too. After an argument involving a switchman, a taxi driver and an eavesdropper as to how far it was to Murray's, I solved the problem by walking there under ten minutes, and got my first glimpse of the Sudbury branch of the Crawley and McCracken- calorie center.
My next quest was No. 27, which crept in through the dark, accompanied by a loudspeaker announcing same. Incidentally, Sudbury's station is distinctly bright and cheerful these days, and I seem to recall a less attractive foyer in the old days of my harvest excursions. The 2223 soon picked us up, and doleful Copper Cliff went past our window, as I had a second breakfast to kill time.
The trip down to the Soo in summer is quite interesting, the main appeal of course being Lake Huron on the south. But the towns are run down, suggesting the ghosts of their former selves, when this was all great timber country. There is no terrain so dismal in all America as a countryside which has been timbered over, and allowed to stay that way. Our reforestation program just stinks when it comes to such areas. Therefore, you find me no cheerful chronicler of eye-smiting scenes, but I can tell you that the morning passed placidly, till an excellent fish luncheon launched the afternoon.
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As you look across the water from somewhere west of Desbarats. you see Michigan for the first time, and sometimes Americans get a kick in seeing the Stars and Stripes so unexpectedly there. Then comes the Canadian Soo, a great little city with a great spirit.
I had never been across this international bridge before, my two previous excursions to the Michigan Soo having been by ferry. Therefore I enjoyed my trip up past the pulp mills, and skirting the mammoth works of the Algoma Steel Corporation was interesting too. Then came the carefully protected locks, and the green, green water of St. Mary's river. A minute later, the blimp-guarded American' canals slid under our cars, and we backed up into the American Sault station.
In our next, we head west from the Michigan Sault over the Soo line to Sioux City, and all three S-words are pronounced the same.