Benched Steam Engines

The following article was written by Austin F. Cross and appeared in the Ottawa Citizen of  10 November 1959.  The photographs which accompanied the article are impossible to reproduce well but fortunately Aubrey Mattingly also visited the site the, notably the day after the article was published, and his pictures of the dead line are shown here.

Six dead dinosaurs are rusting away silently on the Canadian National tracks at the roundhouse off Hurdman's Road. They are a mixed group of passenger, freight and yard switching engines. Their total ages would aggregate almost 300 years, with individual engines being from 40 over 50 years old.

Locomotive Foreman Frank G. Walton describes them as being "under tallow", and most of them could be put back in service under an estimated 24 hours.

The history of these old locomotives is pretty much the history of railroading in the 20th century in Canada.

Yet these steel saurians had their glimpses of grandeur as recently as two years ago. Study the line and you will find, second from the south end, is CNR 5559. Though it was built by the long defunct Grand Trunk Railway as far back as 1910, this high-wheeling, high-stepper was hustling the first section of the Super Continental down to Montreal, only two years back. That was when the diesel-driven Super was dragging its tail, back somewhere beyond Brent.

CN 4-6-2 5559 at Ottawa East Roundhouse on 11 November 1959.  Matt-8143.

Back To Steam

Whenever Ray MacDougall, then the big shot in the CNR hereabouts before retirement, thought that the Super was going to be too late, he would order up a "first Number 2".

Thus you would have a steam-driven first section of the Super, made up right here at Ottawa.

"That   5559," said Foreman Walton, with love in his eyes and a break in his voice, "would take the Super down to Montreal in two hours flat."

While photographer Doug Gall looked on non-comprehendingly, Rail Fan Cross lent the foreman a kerchief to mop up a shy tear.

In same sentimental vein, the foreman would also use 5562 or 5583, for the elegant Super.

These  5500's go back to the ancient 200 class of the Grand Trunk, now remembered perhaps only by such rail fans as Canon John Smith, rector of Our Lady of Fatima Church.

An Identification

Also in the string of six is 5251, with a proper door in her cab. This writer identified her as an old Canadian Government Railways type. Sure  enough, she turned out to be old CGR 479.

CN 4-6-2 5251 has lost her headlight while stored at Turcot Yard in Montreal.  She was scrapped in September 1961, likely at Turcot.  Matt-4955.

Less sentimental is a railway buff inclined to be over yard switcher 8360, which was built for the Canadian National in 1929. To an engine fan, this was just yesterday.

But a reverend bow for 2609, now 52 years of age, and "out-shopped" in 1907. When the Grand Trunk first brought this big one into Ottawa about 1913 she looked to be the biggest thing on wheels.

Engine 2609 ran latterly on freight but, after a half century, she has to go.

CN 2-8-0 2609 awaits a call under a mantle of snow at Ottawa East Roundhouse on 11 November 1959.  Matt-8134.

Now the whole six are "under tallow". Some day soon, the engines will roll as part of their own slow-motion cortege, at an absurd 25 miles an hour, to Montreal and the graveyard.

Only hoping, Locomotive Foreman Walton is secretly scheming to keep the 5559 in standby shape out at the rickety roundhouse. Maybe, some day, No. 2 will be late, the Super will not be so "super" that day, and out will come the 72-inch drivers of this lean locomotive greyhound, rushing the first section of the Super to Montreal at a mile a minute all the way - and on time.


Less than a year after this article was published, on 3 September 1960, the Ottawa Citizen published an article entitled “105 years of steam engines ending for Ottawa” announcing the coming to town the following Sunday of steam locomotive 6153. 

CN 4-8-4 made a Montreal to Ottawa and return "Farewell to Steam" trip on September 4, 1960.  She is seen on the south side of Ottawa East roundhouse taking water.  Her coal bunker was replenished by a clamshell shovel.  At the time of her visit the "Bench" fleet had been moved out of Ottawa.  Pacifics 5251,5559, 5562 and 0-8-0 8360 were scrapped in September 1961, followed by 2-8-0 2609 and 4-6-2 5583 in November 1961.  No. 6153 was to steam again in 1962 and today resides at Exporail in Saint-Constant, Quebec.  Photo by Earl Roberts.

The deadline at Ottawa East Roundhouse in the fall of 1959 before the snow came.  Matt-8142.
Of course, there have been a number of steam locomotive visits to Ottawa, but after this time Canadian National certainly had no need of a “bench”.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, June 2006.

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