Details of Railway Incidents in the Ottawa Area

1896, June - A Ride in the Locomotive Cab from Alexandria to Ottawa, Canada Atlantic Railway

Ottawa Journal  8 June 1896

How Supt. Donaldson Treated a Lacrosse Player and a Journal Reporter to a Novelty -Was It a put up Job? - How it feels in the Cab -  A Fast Run on Faith

Coming up from Montreal Saturday night on the Canada Atlantic lacrosse excursion special, Supt. Morley Donaldson took a seat beside The Journal reporter, and the conversation turned to the Engineers' convention just closed.
"As you have had a good deal to do with engineers the past few weeks," said Mr. Donaldson, "perhaps you would like to see how it feels to ride on an engine especially on a dark night," and there was a twinkle in his eye. The train was a fast special, engine with one coach; night was very dark, and the train was howling along at a lively clip. The Journal man, who had not had the experience of engine riding. remarked that he would have preferred to have had his initiation in the day time, one of those bright warm days that engineers find exhilaration in, especially when they have a straight level road and a clear track, but the experience would be too good to be missed, so he would accept with thanks.
Mr. Donaldson also extended an invitation to Harry Carleton, of the Capitals, who had been talking to The Journal man when Mr. Donaldson came along.
"I never refuse a good thing," said the lacrosse player. in his characteristic way, and so the die was cast.
At the time, the train waa nearing Alexandria. "There will be a stop at Alexandria for refreshments." said Mr. Donaldson, and we'll put you on then; that will give you 60 miles of a ride."
When the half-way house, as the Alexandria station is called, was reached, the candidates for initiation followed. Mr. Donaldson from the car to the engine.
If the genial superintendent had any intention, as the newspaper man and the lacrosse player believe he had, of giving them something to test their nerves, he could not have selected a more suitable occasion. The night was pitch dark, and the rain, carried along by a strong head wind, was beginning make itself felt very uncomfortably. The light from the station windows that fell on the single car only made the gloom around the big, puffing and panting engine the more intense. The dim light from the lantern hung at the top of the cab gave very little aid to the ascent,
A Wink or a Nod.
Before the novitiates got in and were ensconsed on the fireman's seat, Mr. Donaldson had been in the cab and spoken to the engineer. Whether he merely told him a couple of his friends wished to take a ride or whether he added "Let her out a bit" the initiated do not know, but they have reason to suspect he made the addition, as what follows will show.
The wait only lasted about 5 minutes, but it seemed a good deal longer. When finally the engineer took his seat after oiling up, and the fireman threw open the furnace door to shovel in coal, the glare revealed the fact that the engineer was William Swanston, who pulls the Ottawa-Boston express, one of the most careful, reliable, yet nervy men on the road, and. the fireman Ed. Kane, who follows railroading for more than the living that it gives him, and who bids fair to be handling the throttle some day soon himself. All the Kane family are railroaders.
This revelation tended to make the two chaps on the fireman's seat feel a little more at ease as they both were acquainted with the guilders of old "15," an engine not as large as they make them but as easy a rider and as free a steamer as you could well ask for.
"If you want to get off." said Mr. Donaldson, as he left the cab, "just let the engineer know and he will let you down at the next station." If the duo had felt any desire in that direction that insinuating remark of the superintendent's seettled [sic] it. They might feel nervous, but sooner than get off, after such an aspersion of their bravery, they would be bold and back up the engineer as the last ounce of water in the boiler, even if "the old girl," as the engineers playfully call their engines, took it into her head to stop short in the ditch
By the way, it should be told that besides the lacrosse player and the newspaper man. the cab held Mr. J. Smith, private secretary to Gen. Manager Chamberlain, who was perched up behind the engineer, and made himself useful ringing the belt. Mr. Smith had come forward to get some fresh air.
They're Off.
A clanging of the bell, a rush of steam and the big driving wheels began to revolve, slowly at first, but quicker and quicker, as yard by yard the station was left behind, and then the experience had begun in earnest. The rain began to fall more heavily, and as the side cab windows were open and the novitiates didn't know how to shut them and wouldn't for the world ask, they got the full benefit of the wet while it lasted.
Quicker and quicker revolved the drivers, as the steam rushed through the cylinders, and the big engine vibrated and shook with a pulsating motion. The Journal man poked his head out of the window in the rain and peered up the track. There was mighty little to see. Except where the headlight cast its rays on the track ahead for 20 or 30 yards, it was dismal darkness everywhere. If there had been a yawning chasm 100 feet ahead it couldn't have been seen. Telegraph poles whizzed by in rapid succession, looking in the dim gleam of the headlight like spectre streaks. If the writer suspected by the bumping of the engine and the continual piling in of coal that was going on. that pretty fast time, especially for night, was being made, he knew it by the way those poles danced past.
Many a time in the day hours had he watched those same poles, trying to figure by a-so-many poles-to-the-mlle-process what speed was being made.
If hadn't been for the darkness and uncertainty ahead the speed and rattle of "the old girl" would have been positively delightful. But the fact was, it was uncomfortably dark ahead for high speed.
"Say," shouted The Journal. man to the lacrosse man by way of something to do, "this is rather like travelling on faith isn't it?"
"You bet," shouted the Capitals' home fielder, without turning his head. His eyes were glued on the track. He seemed to be keeping a watch for spread rails and open switches.
"Say" again shouted the pencil man "this is rather faster than 100 yards in 10 seconds"
"Well, rather" came back the answer in the dark, for it was one of the intervals between the opening of the furnace door and the cab was as darh as the night outside, except for tle fitful gleam of the stationary lantern that played on the steam guage [sic] over the boiler.
Over culverts and small bridges, over switches and past green lights of safety at the first station reached went the engine with a rattle and roar.
We're Humping.
"We're humping it now." shouted Fireman Kane. That settled it. If Fireman Kane who is known to like swift travelling called it fast, it must be unusually fast and the novices consoled thcmselves they were at least getting a good experience while they were at it.
"What are we making." asked Harry Carleton for the first time turning his eyes from his post of duty on the rails.
"About 65 now," I guess came the answer and then in went more coal.
All this time Engineer Swanston had been sitting like a statue in the dark with his hand on the throttle, and his eyes fixed on the track.
Then The Journal man looked out of the window and probably it was the suggestion of the speed that did it, but as he looked thought he saw something on the track ahead. During the convention Engineer Boynton of Oswego had told him how he had one pitch dark night on the Rome and Watertown. road run into a freight car that had been blown out from the siding in a storm and 18 people had been killed. Could a stray freight car be ahead now? The engine swept on, at times fairly seeming to lift from the rails; the site of the supposed derelict freight was passed and still all was well.
Then suddenly the pace lessened perceptibly till it got down to a nice 40 mile clip. Just about the same time the rain stopped, a few stars came out and the surorundings [sic] got a little more visible, helped by the illumination from thousands of fireflies that glowed in the fields and on the shrubs along the fences.
Then It Got Nice.
Then whatever uneasiness the two on the fireman's box may bave felt in the first 10 miles disappeared and the ride became really enjoyable. Harry Carleton lit a cigarette and changed his position. The ride was so pleasant then that when the engine slowed up to cross Hurdman's bridge over the Rideau, and Ottawa was reached the trip seemed all too short.
As the initiated were getting down from the cab, Mr. Donaldson came up and asked how they liked it.
"The first ten minutes were rather lively," replied The Journal man, "otherwise it was delightful."
"Yes," the first ten miles were pretty fast," remarked the superintendent with a meaning laugh or at least a laugh that seemed, meaning and then he was off home.

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Updated 18 July 2023