Railway Stories from the Ottawa Citizen.

Fake Figure and Red Paint Gave Watchman a Bad Scare

Ottawa Citizen 10 December 1932 (OTS - Old Time Stuff - a regular Saturday feature at that time)
Fake figure and red paint gave watchman a bad scare.
Here is a story of interest to railroad men - and others.
It concerns a practical joke played on a railway watchman near Fort Coulonge in the early days of the Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway.  Believe us, the watchman did not think it a joke till long afterwards.  The story is told by a man who had to do with the construction of the road.

The joke was played at the expense of Albert Lee, a watchman. One of the chief conspirators, as named by the O.T.S. informant, was the late William McFall, of respected memory who at the time was a foreman on the construction on the road.  The names of the others on the plot are not remembered.
At the time of the story there wasn't a water tank at Fort Coulonge and the engines had to be taken to a creek several miles past Fort Coulonge where water was siphoned into the engines.  The taking of the engines to the creek was the duty of the watchman, who was an ex-railroader.  The watering was done after hours. Fort Coulonge was then the terminus of the line.
To Give Him a Scare
In a humorous mood, a number of the construction men and firemen decided to give the watchman a bit of a scare.  They certainly succeeded and the joke was pulled off just as planned.
At a point not too far from Fort Coulonge the conspirators (it was quite dark) rigged up the figure of a man.  Old clothes were stuffed with rags. The figure was propped up with a stick in the center of a seldom traveled wagon road.  Then the jokers spread red paint liberally around the spot where the figure stood.  To the figure was tied a long rope, so that when the train got near it (the figure, of course) could be dragged away and pulled over the right-of-way fence.

In due time the watchman came along with his engine.  He approached the crossing slowly but his headlight did not fall on the figure until it was too late to stop.  He shut off and reversed.  Just as the figure was about to be hit, it was jerked away by the men in hiding.  As soon as the watchman could stop his engine he came back and, to his horror, saw the pool of apparent blood.  He searched under the engine and tender but no man was found.  He hunted along the right, but no man was in sight.  Failing to see any sign of the supposed victim, the watchman ran his engine into the village and reported the supposed tragedy.  The watchman was so worked up that he wanted to call up headquarters in Aylmer.  But those to whom he had reported advised first going back and looking for the body of the victim.  A flat car was attached to the tender and a number of railroaders and others who were not in the secret went back. They all hunted far and wide for the body or traces of the body.  They crossed the fence into the bush and farm land but all they found were bits of clothing which had been carefully torn up by the jokers.

Then one of the searchers examined the pool of blood a bit carefully and the odor of paint was detected. It wasn't long before the secret was out and of course the watchman came in for a lot of good natured joshing, which he took in good part.  The "fatality" was not officially reported to Aylmer but news of it got there just the same. The names of the conspirators did not get out until long afterwards.

I can sympathize with the watchman.  When I was Assistant Station manager, Reading, I received a report from a train crew that a bicycle and possibly a body had been seen a few miles to the west.  I closed the four track main line.  I then took the station pilot, a Hymek diesel hydraulic locomotive, a stretcher, blankets and a powerful flashlight and set out.  It was dark and British locomotives did not have headslights so the flashlight  was all I had.  My heart was in my mouith.  We sis find a bicycle but it appeared to have been abandoned as it was lying close by a road overbridge.  I was very relieved when I got back to Reading - without a body.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, July-August 2010.

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