First Class on the Locomotive

There are many tales told about how steam engine crews would cook on the shovel to get a hot meal while on the job. I personally preferred to hang a couple of kippers from the back head, provided my engineer didn't mind the aroma. However, it was never elegant dining - at least not until VIA 1 came on the scene!

In the days when I was a Railway Safety Inspector I would occasionally have to travel from Ottawa to Toronto and would invariably ride the locomotive to keep in touch with what was happening in the real world. One day, I arrived in the Ottawa station for the afternoon train to discover that I had inadvertently been given a VIA 1 ticket rather than an economy ticket. I went into the Club car and spoke to the steward. I explained that I would be on the engine and asked him to lift my ticket. He said, "What about your meal?" to which I replied, "Don't worry about it" and got on the engine.

The trip down was pretty uneventful. Kingston is always the place with the most action in the cab because it is there that the engineers change places. As soon as the train stops, the engineer on the left hand side, who has not been running up to this point, gets down from the engine and rushes back to the steward to get their prearranged coffee and occasionally a packet of peanuts. While he is doing this, the man who has been running to this point gets out of his seat, moves out his bag and operating manuals etc. and puts the new man's materials on the right hand side. By this time the man on the ground is climbing back into the cab making sure not to spill the coffee, jumps into the engineer's seat and gets ready to resume the journey.

Such frantic movement in the cramped cab of a VIA F40PH-2 can be even more difficult when there is a third person up there and I found the best thing to do was to take cover in the well in the nose of the unit until all this activity had finished and we had returned to some sort of normalcy.

On the day in question, we were on time and had reduced speed to about 70 mph on the curves on the approach to Kingston station. One brake application coming under the signal gantry and the train stopped precisely where they wanted it at the platform - pretty skilled train handling. The second man got down in a hurry and I cowered in the nose, only this time I heard "Can you help me with this?". Looking out, I could see he was carrying a cloth covered tray and the steward was also there, grinning from ear to ear!

They lifted up a complete VIA 1 meal into the cab! (without the alcohol, of course) and as we set off I was left standing in the cab holding my meal. It was quickly decided that I should take the left hand seat and use the desk to support my tray. While they had their coffee I was enjoying a full meal with full crockery and cutlery. Now that's service for you.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, May 2003.

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