The Great Canadian Railway Trek

Part 1: The Skeena - Prince Rupert to Prince George

It was a good job I went down to the station very early to get my ticket, otherwise I might never have started my journey at all. I informed the girl at the Via ticket office in Prince Rupert that I had come to collect my prepaid ticket to Prince George. To avoid any problems I had the access code number of my computer file. The ticket agent went to her shiny new computer console and tapped in a few codes.

On the third try the computer acknowledged my existence and gave full instructions as to how to issue the ticket. I beamed with relief.

"This modern technology sure makes things easy for you, doesn't it? I've only been here for a minute and you have everything straightened away."

Unfortunately it didn't turn out to be that easy, as the computer acknowledged my existence but steadfastly refused to divulge some vital piece of information that, for reasons beyond my comprehension, was essential for the issuance of a ticket.

Ten minutes later the agent picked up the phone and spoke to someone about the computer and some very important items such as where to place the hyphen in the access code.  I found out later that she had been talking to Winnipeg - about 1500 miles away. The distant supervisor talked her through the computer routine eight times, and finally gave up in exasperation. It was generally agreed that I did exist and was morally entitled to sleeping accomodations on the train. In the end I was able to negotiate a deal under which Via issued me a ticket and would sort out the paperwork.

I emerged twenty minutes later triumphantly clutching a piece of paper that allowed me to travel, yea even sleep, on train 10, "The Skeena" as far as Prince George, B. C. The cost of issuing that ticket was probably greater than the cost of transporting me and I often wonder if the computer dosen't hiccough at the traumatic experience I had put it through.

Train time came and went. True, there was a train at the platform, but men in coveralls were probing into various parts of its anatomy and shouting incomprehensible railway jargon into radios. It turned out that nobody could board until the umbilical cord connecting the Skeena to its external water supply had been removed. This operation was performed with a large wrench, and there followed a mad stampede to claim reservations. Isn't it strange how people will fight to get onto a plane or a train even though they have reserved places.

Sleeping car trains are the sort of trains where everybody quickly gets to know everybody else. After all, we are all in this adventure together and there is occasionally an advantage in ganging up against the train crew, our captors, who like to divide and rule. So it was that I expected the man in the jean suit in the roomette opposite me to speak to me. His opening gambit with its gruff agressive approach took me completely off my guard.

"Why are you travelling alone?"

My first reaction was to tell hi.m it was none of his goddamn business. Upon reflection it would have been better had I done so, I was the first victim of the drunk who was intent on talking to everybody on the train. In quick succession my accent (British), my nationality (Canadian) and my place of residence(Ottawa) were ridiculed.

I was spared further torture by the departure of the train. The Skeena is well named for it follows its namesake river for many miles inland. The first part is related to the fishing industry, with numerous canneries dotted along the shore. Further inland the scenery is spectacular with fast flowing rivers and wooded rocky mountainsides. It is surprising how quickly one becomes isolated from the the reality of everyday life with its hustle and bustle. Instead we had become a self-sufficient community with only the fleeting vision through the windows to maintain contact with a world strangely close yet so remote.

Quick vignettes, each one telling a story without a beginning or an end:

- children fishing in the river.
- a man chopping wood while grandfather and son look on.

Its fun to make up ones own beginnings and endings. "First call for supper."

The Maitre D' or Kamp Kommandant sets me at a table occupied by a mother and two young daughters. He comes from Lancashire and is assisted by two young inexperienced french Canadian girls who speak little English. At least I've avoided Bill who is haranguing unmercifully two American tourists. A young couple attempting to sit at an empty table are quickly told not to smoke, not to wear hats in the dining car, and to fill up a half full table before attempting to sit at an empty one. The table thus vacated is used by the train crew!

I am given a form and have to fill in, in duplicate, my eating requirements. This takes much of the fun out of eating at a restaurant.

"How's the roast beef tonight?"

"It's very good, sir, but I can thoroughly recommend the salmon, the chef has just received a fresh shipment."

With none of this advice to guide me I write down "The Skeena Special". My writing is very spindly on this rushing train. I an given a copy of my order. In case of dispute the Kamp Kommandant has proof positive in my own spidery hand of my order.

The roast beef turns out to be excellent.

I think that there must be a regulation somewhere that states that every long distance train must have its quota of old ladies. The Skeena is no exception. Two old dears are sitting at the table opposite chattering about events that occurred forty years ago. One of them ordered table d'hote but her penny-pinching friend ordered a la carte. The main course turned out to be more filling than anticipated and table d'hote decided not to have dessert. A la carte decided to have it instead.  This simple transaction was put in complex terms to the harried french Canadian waitress who eventually brought a dish of ice cream to a la carte to keep her quiet. A la carte returned to her berth lurching from table to table with the movement of the train happy that Via had not cheated her out of something that her friend had paid for and secure in the knowledge that between the two of them they were getting value for their money.

Dodging past Bill, I return to my berth and enjoy the luxury of lying in bed with the lights out watching the scenery glide by.

I guiltily plug in my radio scanner in the socket plainly marked "For razors only" and listen to a couple of small dramas unfolding.

- the dining car is running out of propane. Unless we can get a fill up at Smithers it will be cold breakfast tomorrow. I think smugly that I will have left tho train before breakfast time.

- the dispatcher wants us to back into the siding at Kitwanga to meet a westbound freight train. The engineer holds out for a straight meet or wait back at Cedarvale. It turns out that there is no room for us at Kitwanga and by judiciously slowing the train we make a running meet at Cedarvale.

I awake at 0500 in plenty of time for rny 0540 arrival at Prince George. Before jumping into action, a second sense tells me to watch for a mile board. Mile 77 flashes by and I estimate that we are almost two hours late. I can proceed with my toilet in leisurely fashion.

The sheer effrontery of sitting on the lavatory watching the scenery:  Ducks take off through the mist that wreathes over the river. The sun plays hide and seek through the trees.

I clatter and bang around my cell hoping that Bill has a hangover. Why is it that Via never provides face flannels? The hand towels are very small. Maybe they provide face flannels and not towels!

The engineer estimates his arrival over the radio at 0715. Maybe he is doing it on purpose, its much more civilized than 0540.  The mountains have given way to well wooded rolling terrain.  Every few miles there is a sawmill in a clearing. Each has its characteristic cone shaped wood burner.

A female voice cuts in. on the scanner. The lady "trainperson" informs me that the westbound Skeena is running over five hours late.

Upon arrival at Prince George the Skeena is pounced upon by railway surgeons with their umbilical cords and wrenches which substitute for scalpels. A yellow hat has been designated to clean the locomotive cab and for a short time there is a small storm of paper cups, empty cans and paper bags., It must have been hell in there!

Eating a good plate of ham, eggs anu hash browns at the hotel just across the street, I wonder if a la carte has  been forced to have a cold breakfasts With that thought I realized that the first leg (467.1 miles) of my great railway trek had successfully been concluded.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, October 1981.

Part 2: British Columbia Railway Train No. 2 - Prince George to NorthVancouver.

"Number Two" seems an impersonal way to introduce a train, just about as impersonal as an airline flight, I think at one time the BCR train was called "The Caribou", very appropriate considering the country traversed.

Mindful of the last time I had tried to acquire a train ticket I went down to the station the day before only to find it shut up tightly with a notice saying tickets would be available half an hour before train time.

I was first in line when the door unlocked at 0700. By Via's standards it would have taken at least six hours to process everybody through the computer. The girl had a small chart into which had been pencilled my name. No communing with a computer here, a simple tick against my name being sufficient to confirm my presence. This is strictly a cash operation, no credit cards here.

Departure from Prince George is from the freight shed accomplished by the simple expedient of placing aluminum ramps between the freight dock and the two Budd diesel cars. No security checks no preboarding announcement, no boarding by seat and row number, no extinguishing of all smoking materials. I just wandered on, put my bag on my seat and sauntered off again to have a look around. The conductor is a bear of a man with a slight stoop. His ancient uniform has seen better days and was made for someone smaller about the girth than he is. The waistcoat has accomodated itself to the middle age spread of its owner by bursting at the back seams and by riding up around the arms so as to expose at least six inches of shirt covered stomach around the waist. The incredibly ancient baggageman contrasts sharply with an unidentified crew member wearing a stetson, fancy boots, a large belt buckle and a leather jacket. The engineer is ready for action, complete with clean one piece overalls and a bright green cap advertising a firm that makes agricultural impliments.

Sitting in my comfortable seat I feel guilty that I have no seat belt to buckle up. There's plenty of room under the seat ahead of me but nobody seems to mind when I place my case on the rack over my head. No angry stewardess bears down on me to point out the Ministry of Transport regulation that avoids the possibility of my case falling on my head - its my head anyway.  They don't even care how big my case is. There is no predeparture announcement so I presume this train doesn't carry oxygen. Seeing how precariously close we came to the water during the trip it might have been useful to carry lifejackets.

We inch slowly out of the freight shed and agonize our way past a row of green locomotives and orange cabooses. After two minutes of such progress the engineer gives up, gets down and starts to fiddle with the innards of the second unit. After twenty minutes three men in a green truck arrive and also tinker with the second unit. Blue hat seems to know what he's doing, yellow hat is there just to hold things while white hat supervises as he fondly caresses his status symbol - a radio.

"We'd better get their tickets before they all decide to get off."

The conductor has put on his jacket specially to punch a hole in our tickets.

"If you can't get it to go will you fly us to Vancouver?"

This was answered by a comment to the steward.

"You'd better get this lot breakfast."

After 45 minutes we moved experimentally forward a car length. More tinkering and we finally leave 65 minutes late. As we accelerate out of Prince George coffee is brought around and I am told that the eggs are nearly ready.

Breakfast consists of orange juice, freshly cooked scrambled eggs and link sausages, a segment of orange and a piping hot bran muffin. True it is on stryofoam plates with plastic cutlery but it is served at my seat. There's none of the panache one comes to expect from VIA but it is entirely in keeping with this friendly train and is ridiculously cheap. This was the first of. three meals all prepared over a propane stove, including freshly boiled new potatoes for dinner.

The timetable is well produced in multicoloured printing on glossy.paper. Not only does it contain times and a map but a detailed description of the various points of interest along the route. I need to go to the washroom but this must be carefully planned so as not to miss anything. The toilet in the meal car is labelled MEN while that in steerage is labelled GENTLEMEN. I quickly discover the reason why. The cubicle marked MEN is scarcely larger than a broom closet although it definitely smells like a urinal. The washbasin is an enamel affair that folds into the wall. The whole thing has a homemade air about it.

A deer runs for cover in the bush as we climb on a ledge high above the Fraser River. Many of the communities such as Hixon are clearings in the bush with a lumber mill, a cone shaped burner and a mountain of wood chips ready for shipment. Cotwood is different - all there is is a calm lake upon which swims one duck oblivious to our passage.

Wonder of wonders. Nobody seems to mind if you look out of the dutch doors. We have a splendid view of the Cottonwood River bridge which the timetable tells me is 1023 feel long, 234 feet high and cost more than a million dollars.

The train goes into emergency braking around mile 372. We shoot past an idiot driving a tractor and hay wagon, missing him by about twenty feet. I shudder at the mess it would have caused had we hit him while travelling at 60 mph.

It never fails to amaze me the lengths to which people go to abandon an old truck or automobile. It would seem to be impossible to drive these carcasses into some of the spots so far from the road. Having done the dirty deed how does the felon return to civilization? He must presumably have an accomplice to join him in the conspiracy.  Some people become so attached to their cars they may quietly expire together. I know a man once who buried his Austin Seven in his backyard. He clamed he couldn't get rid of it any other way but I believe it was really a grave. Future archaeologists will excavate these remains and conclude them to be yet another near human sacrifice committed by those twentieth century savages who worshipped the automobile, that petroleum age deity.

Quesnel, Williams Lake. If you get off to stretch your legs you run the risk of being left behind. The right of way is carpeted with daisies with the odd patch of fireweed and other bright red flowers. Horse Lake is the highest point on the line. It still has its water tank complete with spout, a relic from the steam engine days. I wonder if it was painted an anaemic shade of green in those days?

.The sun is beating in, through my window and I begin to doze following my second cooked meal of the day. The train jolts and I am startled out of my sleep, I am looking out into thin air with seemingly nothing below me. We are running on a ledge cut into the mountainside 2000 feet above the Fraser River. The ingenuity of the railway engineers has to be admired. Maybe they should be pitied because this seems to be the most outlandish place to put a railway. This spectacular experience is lost on many who continue to read, sleep or have the blind down to shield them from the sun.

Our train crew was changed at Lillooet and three additional cars were added to the rear. This changed the character of the train somewhat. The last four cars quickly became crowded with people returning to Vancouver. We managed to retain the exclusive nature of the meal car. The railway continued its tortuous, winding, climbing course through the wonderful scenery with much rain forest.

Finally Squamish and the B.C. coast was reached around 2000 hr. Here the railway gives up its mountain climbing and settles for a ledge in the cliff just above the sea. My final memory of the BCR is of people walking along the sea shore while fires dotted the foreshore just under the Lions Gate Bridge as people watched the sun go down over the Pacific.

What a train journey! 462.5 miles in fourteen hours over a line of railway that includes very little straight trackage and has some fearsome grades. From 1870 feet above sea level at Prince George we climbed to 2537 ft. at Greening, down to 1549 at Quesnel, up to 3864 at Horse Lake, down to 793 at Lillooet, up to 1575 at Birken, down to 686 at Mount Cume, up to 2199 at Alta Lake then finally down to sea level. In dropping 1870 feet we climb a total of 5371 feet.

The Cariboo is a cheeky train and long may it remain so. Just one piece of advice to anybody contemplating taking it. I checked a bag at Prince George. First on means last off and by the time I reclaimed my bag there were no taxis left. The only way I managed to get a cab was to lie about my name.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, December 1981.

Part 3: CP Extra 5855 East, Coquitlam to Revelstoke

Prince Rupert to Vancouver was but a prelude to the most unusual part of my cross-Canada journey. At least I didn't need to worry about a ticket and reservations. Art Watson, CP's Pacific Region Superintendend of Transportation, met us at the Hotel at 0600 and drove us to Coquitlam Yard. With the help of the radio, we found Extra 5855 East, a four unit lash-up of SD-40's together with a Robot car.

"Not much of a train," said Jim Geddis, Chief of Transportation, "but traffic is down after the long weekend. We have more motive power than the train needs, but we must work the units back to Calgary."
The magnificent private car "Assiniboine" is tied on behind the van and we are met on the platform by Bill Somerville, the General Manager for grain services and Bob, the genial steward, who whisks my bag away to the room that will be my home for the next four days. There is only one rule in this car with its ornate inlay work - the end chair of honour is reserved for the "captain", Jim Geddis.

The ceremonial of reading the orders was quickly carried out and did not reveal anything unusual although the destruction by fire of the sectionnmn's shack at mile 10.2 caused some chuckles. Many foremen will ask for a new shack only to be told, "The only way you're going to get a new one is if the old one burns down."

Knowing nods are exchanged as Extra 5855 East with 41 cars and 2059 tons departs precisely at 0700 without any coupler action. Better than a passenger train. Pacific Region is obviously trying to impress the top brass with their ability to run a railroad.

The next order of business is to second guess the dispatcher and work out where we'll meet the opposing trains - 603, 403, 803 and 481.  The first is easy to call as we pass it on the double track before Ruby Creek. We dutifully troop out to the rear platform to examine 603 and exchange highballs with the tail end. 403 eventually turns up at Spuzzum, its crew on the ground to examine both sides of our train.

803 and 481 -were more difficult! to call. Over breakfast, Jim Geddis examined the lineup and the timetable and announced:

"Two bits 803 will be at China Bar and 481 at North Bend."

Meal times were quite an event. The wardroom table is laid with full CPR silver cutlery. The main course is served to plate by the host after which Bob adds vegetables and places the plate with a flourish in front of the guest.  Having ascertained that I take my coffee black with no sugar, this is how it it is unfailingly served to me for the rest of the trip. Bob is as much a professional in his own right as are the other CP Rail officers.

Outside, the sun has broken through as we thread the Fraser Canyon playing hide and seek with the competition (CNR) which uses the opposite side of the valley. We are regaled with horror stories of rock slides and it is quite evident that this railway y is wonderful engineering work.

Predictably, we take the siding at China Bar while 803, a unit coal train, complete with SD-40 midtrain robot controlled locomotives, slides past.

People take time out from theit white-water rafting to wave at us. Breathtaking views of the canyon and its bare rock and scree slopes absorb us so that arrival at North Bend comes very quickly. Jim is batting 1000 as 481, a fast freight from Montreal, is waiting for us safely tucked away in the siding.

A snappy crew change gives a 1028 departure for the Thompson subdivision and we pass our first grain train complete with midtrain robot power at Toketic. Pork chops help our sunny passage around Kamloops Lake for a 1428 arrival at Kamloops Lake. Another quick crew change gives me just enough time to photograph the Assiniboine next to a unit coal train with a Sperry rail detector car standing on a siding. It was the closest thing to a bus on rails without actually being one.

The Shuswap subdivision is quite remarkable in its complete lack of slow orders for track conditions. The whole railway is exceptionally well maintained with heavy rail, good ties and ballast and with excellent line and level. In the whole four days I only felt two low joints. This subdivision also contains the two completed grade revisions at Notch Hill and Clanwilliam.

The sun, which will follow us as far as Manitoba, puts the icing on the cake and shows the mountains to their full effect. We stop in the siding at Three Valley to pass another coal traim. The sunny silence is beautiful. A beaver is quietly swimming in a pond just beyond the right of way. He doesn't seem to worry about us at all.

Our arrival at Revelstoke betters the passenger train schedule by half an hour and produces another surprise in the form of a GP-9, the first non SD-40 power we have seen since Vancouver. The veteran burbles up to us, gently nudges couplers and places us on a siding close to the station. Sleeping will be easy tonight!

Bob treats us to beautifully breaded veal cutlet and we stagger out to visit the dispatching office and customer service centre. Jim seems to know everybody. A talk with one of the two dispatchers reveals that he makes at least 60 meets in a shift. There's not much local traffic around and Revelstoke will have to assemble a mixed load of general merchandise and empties tomorrow.

Climbing into bed, it has been a very satisfying day. I push up the blind and can make out the familiar outlines of the GP-9 yard switcher. Its gentle burbling lulls us quickly to sleep with the happy thought that this venerable machine will soon have a new leaseon life abeit with a chopped off nose and a new number.  

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, February 1982

Part 4: Extra 5833 East, Revelstoke to Calgary.

Awakening at 0515, I was in the observation end of the car before the scheduled 0600 departure time.   A  sleepy  glance  at our  orders told rne  that  we were on the tail end of Extra 5833  East  with 59 cars (2300 tons).  Most impressive, however, was  the  power  lashup  of  seven  SD-40's  and  a Robot  unit. CP was moving power  back  to Calgary. Still half asleep, I felt  a welcome glass of juice thrust into my  hand.   Juice never tasted finer! Bob knew  exactly what was needed by whom and when.

Departure was on  time  and. we met  our first westbound of the day  at Greely   (No. 833   a BC  coal   train  complete  with  robot car.)

Much has been said about the CP grade revision projects but everywhere along the Mountain  subdivision there are signs of minor revisions which have cut out awkword curves or otherwise improved operations. We saw a curve elimination project at  Illecillewae .

We go through the five mile Connaught tunnel and into the siding at Stoney Creek to await a train of sulphur.

Stoney Creek was Art Watson's first permanent place of work on the railway. In those days there was no road access, the only contact with the outside world being through the daily way freight. All supplies came in by rail and water was obtained from a waterfall along the line. It was brought back to the station in a tin bathtub mounted on a handcar.

While waiting for our meet we met a crew with a track car who would  follow us down to do some shotcreting (stabilization) near the famous bridge. I asked if they had seen any bears. There are brown and black bears in the area but not many grizzlies now.

Art Watson told the story about the American tourist who wandered into the station at Stoney Creek one day.

"What should I do if I see a grizzly?"

"Stand perfectly still and don't move. They have very poor eyesight."
"What if he comes toward me?"

"He can run faster than you. Stay perfectly still."

"What if he gets within ten feet of me?"

"Keep still and don't breathe."

"What if he's close enough to paw me?"

"Throw a handful of crap in his face and run like hell!"

"Where do I find the handful of crap?"

"If you get that close to him you won't have any trouble finding that."

The sulphur train arrived with mid train robot power and a pusher cut in about twenty cars ahead of the van. As we moved out onto the main line the sulphur train stopped to set out the pusher which was only required for the section from Rogers (10 miles).

Down we went, along the site  for  the $500 m, tunnel. Everyone was on the back platform to admire the graceful Stoney Creek bridge, which was at one time the tallest railway bridge in the world.

There is a work train in the siding at Rogers. An indication of less clement weather is the snowblower left on the section hut roof! A quick conversation over the radio brings a friendly wave from Bob Shepp, Prarie Region General Manager, whose business car is tied on the tail end of the next westbound, a fast merchandise train that hurries past at Beavermouth.

At Golden, the trainmaster is waiting  for us to ferry Mike, myself. Jack White, the Revelstoke Superintendent, and Bill Somerville up to the head end for a cab ride up the Kicking Horse pass 35 miles to Field. There is quite a lot of room in the cab of an SD-40 but I was quickly squeezed in behind engineer Larry McEwen.

Lets put ourselves into Larry's seat to get a feel for running an  SD-40-2. First put your foot on the deadmans pedal, then give her an extra notch to get the feel. The diesels increase their pitch and speed begins to rise. Its a sobering thought that that little handle can put 21000 horsepower into the rails - 3000 horsepower on each notch!

We're rounding a right hand curve so Larry looks back to check the train. He can hardly see back beyond the seventh    locomotive. This seven unit lashup is longer than 1201 and its entire train.  

The radio chatters into life to tell us that we are going to meet two trains before Field. We get an approach signal for Glenogle. This is the game plan. The line and siding are on a rising grade so by gradually closing the throttle we can cut our speed to 15 mph and keep the train stretched out. We enter the siding in run 4 and a service brake application (seven pound reduction) sees speed begin to drop. Releasing the independent brake we can now work the throttle against the train brake to keep us moving.

"Tail end of 5833 East in the clear."

We can stop any time but want to move up to the two red lights as much as possible. Run 2 and Run 3 keep us moving at a fast walk and finally Run 1 lets us stop gently. Apply the independent brake, close the throttle and release the train brake and we are standing with the train stretched out nicely and held by the locomotive brake. 

Very soon the westbound comes rolling by and the red light changes to green. Now we have to get started. Kick off the independent brake and watch the gauge until there is about ten pounds in the brake cylinders. Jockey the throttle between notches 1, 2 and 3 to get a smooth pull, looking out of the window to check our movement on the ground.

"Got 'em all Extra 5833 East."  

tells us we can open up a little without putting stress on the train.

"On the main Extra 5833 East."

Now we can open up to see what seven SD-40-2's can do. Watching the ammeter, the throttle is gradually increased to run 8 (foot to the floor) and the screaming diesels make a terrible din as their sound reverberates between the canyon walls. Pretty soon we shut back so as not to exceed the speed limit.

All this time there is a radio, bell and whistle to operate. The engineer doesn't have :auch time to spare.

"Approach signal for Palliser."

We decide upon the same game plan. This time there is a train of grain on the main waiting for us. Over the radio we find out that it is too long for the siding and is out foul of the switch at the other end. We creep through the siding and everybody praises an alert dispatcher who quickly gets the road for the grain drag so that we receive an unobstructed run out of the siding.

All too soon we approach Field.

"Bet you can't line up the engine ladder with the station door."

Let's see the colour of your money?"

Of course Larry manages to stop within six inches of the mark.

What a thrill! An experience most railway enthusiasts can only dream about, 35 miles worth of Paradise! They told me afterwards that the scenery was terrific.

Larry was very pleased when we waved goodbye. He had just been called to go on as fireman on the Canadian so he should be back in Revelstoke in good time.

The new head end crew brought the train forward and spotted the tail end by the station so we could rejoin our party. Mike Struick, the Calgary Superintendent also joined us. On being introduced as civil servants from Ottawa, he quickly told us what he thought about the feds. There was nothing personal about this and I've found the best thing to do is to agree with them.

Bob was by then arranging to serve lunch so we were treated to the trip through the Spiral Tunnels while eating. Even with all that power up front we climbed pretty slowly up the fierce grade, still it wasn't as bad as the Big Hill must have been. We wait in the hole for the Canadian at Partridge, Isn't it a pity that Via can't keep the stainless steel equipment together. It looks such a hodgepodge now.

Once through the tunnels it is a short distance to the continental divide On the south side of the track you can see a stream that divides, one side finishing up in the Pacific, the other in Hudson Bay. I don't believe this is natural, it was modified by a CPR superintendent in the early part of this century.

Through Lake Louise and on to Banff where we took the siding to allow a unit unit sulphur train to pass. We should have come a day later as the Lake Louise diversion was due to open the next day. Jin Geddis tried to twist Mike Struick's arm to let us be the first train over but it wasn't to be. I can't say I was sorry as there was a fair bit of ballasting required.

There were a large number of grain cars set out along the Laggan subdivision waiting room in Vancouver. We came across the first of these at Banff (even filling the wye).  It dosen't do anything to the image of a National Bark to have grain cars stored right through  the middle of the townsite. Those blue Alberta cars clash dreadfully!

From Banff it is downhill (and straight) all the way to Hudson's Bay. and we were able to get up a little speed. For the first time we would, feel slack action on the back end.

CPR linemen have fought a losing battle v/ith four ospreys in the Park. In the spirit of compromise an extra crossbar has been placed at the top of each of four poles so that the birds can nest in peace without obstructing the wires! The birds nest in the same places every year.

Racing in towards Calgary I was looking for the Paris and Hembecker elevator which is the most westerly on this route. It burnt down since I was through last and you don't see an elevator before Calgary.

Calgary was reached around 1800 and we took our leave of both Mikes. Jim was a little perturbed that we wouldn't get out of Calgary until 0300 next day. Some intense negotiations with Mike accelerated our departure to 2330 and we happily had dinner in Calgary station with the Chief Train Dispatcher before being moved down to Alyth where our train was being assembled.

Alyth was busy. A couple of moves saw us sandwiched between two vans, the outside one would be cut off next morning. At least we would be protected during the dark hours. We met an Assistant Superintendant who would ride as far as Moose Jaw with us.

I went to bed late, turned out the lights and looked out on Alyth. The scanner told me the engine crew would be delayed while they had their supper.

Tomorrow we'll be rolling across the wide open prairie!

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, April 1982

Home   Articles