Brockville to Westport Railway Winds Up, Had Everything But Cash
Published 1 September 1952
The last train on this line ran on 30 August 1952
Leeds County said goodbye to the historic Brockville and Westport Railway Saturday afternoon. When old engine No. 86 wheezed to a stop in Brockville, one hour late, it marked the end of the run - forever. For the line, which started off so bravely back in 1888 to beat the Canadian Pacific, with the imaginative name of Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie, ended up a bad debt at Brockville station.
All along the line people came down to observe the obsequies of the old B.& W. When the engine blew that highball before she left the station at Westport, it sounded more like a funeral wail.
It Had To Go
But the old line had to go. As a railway it was a rail fan's delight, but as a business, it was a bookkeeper's headache. Rich in history, wealthy in scenery, loaded down with sentiment, she seemed to have everything - except money. Furrowed-browed men at 360 McGill Street, Montreal, decided they would wipe out this picturesque bookkeeping item. Next week, the wreckers move in.
The Brockville and Westport reputedly has cost the CNR about $400,000 just to keep alive. It was sad its passenger figures ran to little more than $100 take in a whole year.
Once the line boasted of six trains a day, of 10,000 passengers in a single sunup to sundown. But it has lived on in its memories, a legend while still alive. Bus and truck have dug the grave of the railway, and the Canadian National accountants have buried it.
The Brockville and Westport ran for the most part through picture post card scenery redolent with deep forests and golden meadows, and bespangled with shimmering lakes. Its tracks cross steams of game fish, and Saturday afternoon many a tourist or fisherman paused and looked up to see the old mixed local go by.
It was fitting enough that a bed of flowers waved a wan goodbye from the trackside at Delta - they were forget-me-nots.
Interesting too was the race the rabbit gave old 86. For quite a distance its pacing paralleled the train. But in the fable, the tortoise beat the hare. On Saturday afternoon, the rabbit beat the tortoise-speed of the dying old train.
When Mixed Train No. 340, to give the formal, legal title, steamed into Westport Station, there was exactly one person on the platform. He stood leaning on his cane, in the respectful attitude a man would at the bier of an old friend. He was W.J. Begley. The cane he leaned on connoted the fact that old Bill Begley had brought the first train into Westport away back on March 4, 1888. "B.&W. 1887-1926" was the inscription. He had begun railroading the year before he had brought the first train into Westport.
A Diamond Stacker
"I brought the train in that day for the first time," recalled Old Bill, sadly. "She was a diamond-stacked wood burner, Old No. 3. Then I got coal burners and I held the run 'til I retired in 1926. I never thought I would see the last train on the line."
Stepping off the train was C.E. Hull, Newboro, who had drawn the cord wood for Old No. 3 back in 1888 at Athens.
"I just had to make this last trip," said Mr. Hull.
Down to see the last train, and arriving at the depot later on were Wesley Brown of Ottawa, well known in football and service club circles. Others included Mrs. Brown and Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Friel.
To get the train "Y-ed" around was the work of a minute. Conductor Clem Moore, 63, of Brockville, wore his uniform for the first time.
"A lot of people hardly knew me dressed up," he smiled.
The crew were taking their last run glumly. For though the quick stepping "con", Mr. Moore was grinning, you felt that back of the grin was a grimace.
Clue to the way some felt was that of Cleon Price, the regular brakeman. He didn't make the historic last trip. In his place the less emotional R.W. Morris was hustled down from Belleville to fill in the spot.
Up ahead were Dan Moran, Brockville, the veteran engineer and Harry Hutt, Belleville, fireman. In the baggage car was Irvine Gregson.
The Westport Station was a-bustle with activity. Stationmaster AM. St. John was getting out his papers. Symbolic of the last day was the empty ticket rack. The station had run out of tickets and when Leo Burkholder, Ottawa, sought to buy a ticket, from Westport to Crosby, there were no tickets. One had to be bought on the train.
A Busman's Holiday
Taking a busman's holiday was S.J. Sully, ex-station master, who on retirement was giving a convincing display of perpetual motion as he helped load express. There.were parcels for Shamokin and Jersey Shores in Pennsylvania; for Akron, for other far places. The old Westport station was winding up in a flourish.
Finally the clock hand slid around toward the vital minute. Conductor Moore, as was his wont, checked his watch against the station clock, then he went out and waved All Aboard.
When No. 86 blew the highball whistle, it was like a dirge to the town.
"I hate to hear that whistle blow," said Mrs. J.C. Stinson, daughter of former station master Sully. "I worked here with dad for seven years, and that old train has been part of my life."
Slowly, inexorably, the train started to pull out. This was no gala affair. Sad faced watched the four freight cars and the old oil-lit combination No. 7154 crawl out. Between grassy covering on the right-of-way, only the little thin old Sheffield rails were visible. Gradually the train picked up speed. It rounded the bend and the town was out of sight. Railroading in Westport was history.
MP On Board
On the train was George Fulford, MP for Leeds, who with his son made the last run. Leo Burkholder of Ottawa travelled the first eight miles to Crosby. Then he motored to Brockville and watched the train come in there.
On and off got passengers, taking that last sentimental ride. Perhaps the most interesting passengers were Bruce and Bob Tedford of Soperton. For the boys, it was their first railway ride. They had chosen the last trip of the old Brockville and Westport to make their first train trip. Accompanying them was George Harrington.
First stop was Newboro, where rails and ties for the old railway had been shipped in by boat to this point on the Rideau Canal in 1888. Down near Crosby, W.C. Baker, now of Westport, and taking the last ride pointed to posts where he had dug the original post holes with his father back in '88.
At Delta, fishermen paused to take a last look at the old train. Here the combined resources of engineer and fireman were needed to push the broken water spout back up where it belonged.
Here too, the railway picked up a car of maple syrup billed to Fort William. There was business to the dying gasp, along the old line.
It was at Delta that the forget-me-not beside the engine waved their blue-petalled farewell to the old mogul engine.
At Lyndhurst the train had acquired an oil tank car. Other business up and down the line included setting out a car of feed from Fort William for Athens; dropping a car of flour from Fort William also to Athens. All the way the train had a car billed to Schumacher, Northern Ontario, from Westport.
William Freeman, agent at Lyndhurst for 33 years, came down to the train. CFJR Brockville had a trackside broadcast. Finally induced to break silence was Conductor Moore who exclaimed, as he was hailed to the mike:
"Many's the wonderful I have had along here; many's the great time I have had with the Leeds County people; if I told it all I could fill a book."
Earlier Westport outbound passengers had been dropped. Mary and Donnie, children of Dr. F.R. Goodfellow, Newboro and the three Hagen children, Jean, Isabel, and Carmel had gone; also Mrs. J. Orville Forrester, who got off at Newboro. Gone too were Mrs. S.J. Sully, wife of the ex-stationmaster at Westport and Mrs. W.C. Baker whose husband had dug the railway post holes back in 1888.
Athens gave the last big turnout as hundreds saw the train switch cars and incidentally lose some of her scheduled time. But the crew were in no hurry. They seemed to want to make the final trip last.
Here at Athens it was recalled that one time, 10,000 passengers had passed through the town on the Brockville Westport (sic). It was a far cry to the last years when the old half-coach had run empty, more days than not. Athens prompted further reminiscence from Conductor Moore who remembered he fired old No. 3 before this century, getting slivers in his hand from the cordwood. His day's take-home was $1.25 each and every day. A day merely meant 24 hours.
Just as the conductor had his books straight and his envelopes all sealed, there was a flag at Forthton for more passengers.
Mrs. Talmage Grey, of Brockville said to a friend: "I guess we are all sentimentalists at heart." Also on at Forthton were Cecil Marshall and Gerald May. Other youngsters now on board were Eleanor and Donald Greenham in charge of their mother, Mrs. Ray Greenham of Athens.
Final passengers picked up were H. Fennel and son. The train raced now for Lyn and the junction with the main line. A slow, methodical piece of railroading saw three switches thrown, and finally old 86 got on the main line. Here on the rock ballast, heavy steel, double track, the ancient engine suddenly acted as an old mare does when she begins to feel good. She got whooping it up and she roared down the high iron like the limited.
Then she dropped her freight cars in Brockville's improbably named Manitoba Yard. She came back and coupled on. The one combination coach was all that was left of the last run.
Even now she could not finish here day. A couple of slick smooth diesels whined across the tracks and No. 86 had to wait. Then with a final triumphant blast she rattled her way down to Brockville station.
The conductor shook hands with George Fulford, his MP; the young brakeman had a date in Belleville that night and hoped he'd make it on No. 15, due soon. Sadly Engineer Moran took his 1910 vintage engine down to the roundhouse. That was the end.