On Monday January 21, 1974 we begin next tour of duty with conductor Hurlburt we went north once again spotting elevators on the Empress Subdivision, he booked off after that day and was relieved by conductor Jerry Metcalf whose nickname was “Psycho” how he got that name I was soon to find out, we did our usual work running to Fox Valley and Empress spotting grain empties, and gathering up the loads of grain and taking them back to Swift Current I remember one morning about 04:00 we were spotting empties at Richmond, Saskatchewan as we had nothing out of Fox Valley we were turning at Richmond placing our caboose on the South end of the elevator track tying on the grain loads on that end, we ran around with the light engines coupling on to some empties we had left on the north end of the backtrack, I walked down to the point and began coupling up the loads at each elevator to gather them together with caboose when everything was all together we would pull northward and set the loads and caboose over to the main line, and returned to the elevator track with the empties to spot them up for loading that day, in the process of coupling up the loads that were scattered in groups of three and four between the elevators, you would make a coupling and stretch it out to see if they were altogether, and couple on to the next group, this works all well and fine but sometimes there are problems, as the elevator agents who load the grain cars load each one individually and roll them down the track by gravity they are uncoupled and sometimes they do not couple of together when a coupler does not align properly and the knuckles box together, as I coupled onto the last group of cars two of the loads started rolling towards the group that were tied on to the caboose and made a bit of a high-speed coupling I remedied the situation tying on to the last car where the knuckles were boxed, with the cars altogether I finished coupling the air hoses and cut in the air. I then climbed up out of the darkness onto the caboose. I opened the door and will never forget the look of hate on Jerry’s face, there he was standing by the caboose stove wearing his red plaid shirt, and suspenders, puffing on his pipe, laying face down in the sheet metal tray beneath the caboose stove, that was full of cigarette butts, and ashes was Jerry’s plate of freshly made steak, potatoes and eggs, anyways he really took a strip of me.

Jerry booked off on January 23, and was relieved by conductor Jim Kislanko, a new engineer Norm MacDonald and brakeman Sid Shock, he was junior to me in seniority, but I preferred working on the head end so he rode the caboose with Jim, we had lead engine 8801 and on our second day of the trip we were preparing to leave Leader returning to Swift Current to drop off loaded grain and spot the elevator’s with empties, the operator at Leader gave us our orders, one of them read “due to snow conditions, all elevator tracks on the Empress Subdivision are to be plowed out with light engines before any empties are to be spotted, due to ice accumulation in private crossings on these elevator tracks”, Sid rode on the head end with me which was the usual custom when spotting and pulling loads from elevator tracks, as it saves a lot of walking from the caboose, Jim rode on the tail end, and warned us about the order. We proceeded along the way stopping at each town cutting off the engines and running up and down the elevator track before we went in with the empties, it was time-consuming but everything was going as planned doing the work at Prelate, Sceptre, Lemsford, Portreed, Lancer when we reach Abbey we looked at the elevator track, and agreed on the engine that there was not much snowfall, and decided to take a shortcut and just go in with the empties, we had six of them for two elevators, I was riding on the running board on roof of the lead car giving radio instructions to the engineer, Sid was riding back about three cars preparing to tie down the handbrake when the first elevator was spotted. As we approached the first elevator I could see a little bit of snow accumulated over the crossing planks of the first farm truck crossing we were moving about seven or 8 miles an hour when the wheels hit the crossing we were suddenly lifted up and I was riding on top of the car towards the field behind the elevator, I quickly radioed the engineer to come to a stop but the damage was already done, two empty box cars had derailed, but fortunately for me none had fallen over. We were evaluating the situation when Jim came up, and dressed us down for not going in with the engines, fortunately for us by pulling ahead very slowly the cars rerailed themselves and we were able to set them back to the main line and go in with the engines and plow out the ice and snow that had accumulated. We finished the towns of Shackleton, Cabri, Battrum, Pennant, and Success stopping and plowing each track with the engines, tying up in Swift Current for a nights rest. Sid had booked off.

On Saturday, January 26 we were called for 7:00 with Barry Plant as the relief brakeman, once again I was the senior man but let Barry ride the caboose with Jim, not wanting to hear any more lectures on our goof up yesterday. The list we received for working the trip was overwhelming, not only did we have to do our usual grain elevator spotting, we had additional work to do the potash plant at Grant Spur, and work that the Burstall Wayfreight couldn’t finish at Ingebright Lake, and McNeil, the weather was bad again with lots of snow and drifting. We set out of Swift Current, doing some elevator work at Success, Pennant, and Battrum stopping our train at Mileage 31.1 where the Grant Spur left the mainline, the snow was blowing and drifting, and Conductor Kislanko made the decision to ride on the engines to go down to the plant to do the switching he got the engineer to pull the caboose up to the junction switch, and left Barry on the caboose to protect the tail end movement, and we cut off our two engines to back down to the plant that was 5.2 miles away. There was not too much to do just pull out a couple of loads of potash and spot to empties that were at the plant, Jim and I rode the trailing unit, and radioed to the engineer at track conditions behind him as we progressed we started hitting larger snowdrifts, about halfway to our destination I saw one of the biggest snowdrifts I had seen it must have been 300 feet long, Jim radioed Norm to open up the throttle full as we were going to hit this enormous snowdrift, and boy did the snow ever fly, we made it about half way when one of the engines quit and the alarm belts started to ring, we lost our momentum and stalled about three quarters of the way through the drift, there we were dead in the water, we were able to get the one engine started again so at least we had heat in both locomotives, you could walk off the running boards of the locomotives and step right onto the snow on each side and it was hard packed. Our radios were not powerful enough in strength to reach the operator at Swift Current, we could reach Barry on the caboose but that was of no help to us as he was miles away from any town. Jim was a tough old bird, and made the decision to walk the 2 1/2 miles to the plant to phone for assistance this was at about 12:00, Norm and I sat on our lead locomotive and waited, after about two hours Jim was back riding on a front-end loader from the plant that came to our assistance there was a level crossing just in front of the remaining drift. He proceeded to start scooping up the snowdrift and backing up and dumping it in a ditch and slowly but surely he was able to reach our trailing locomotive, in the meantime a gang of section men had arrived with shovels to assist us, one engine was stuck really bad, the section men shovelled out the snow between the two locomotives, and we were able to get one free so they could get in and shovelled more snow out finally after about four hours we were free and able to get back to our train on the mainline, because of the bad weather the powers to be told Jim not to bother with any other work just set our cars and proceed back to Swift Current where we arrived about 21:00

On arriving at Swift Current I booked my miles after being out there for ten days not three days that the crew caller told me. On Sunday, January 27, 1974 I deadheaded back to Medicine Hat on the passenger train, and rested for a couple of days, seeing that I had made so many miles I would be off until midnight Sunday, February 10, so I made a trip home to Calgary to visit friends and family.

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On the Empress Subdivision the snow had blown and drifted so much, the Roadmaster Albert Evanski had ordered out a snowplow, and we were the crew called for it, we had a new conductor Don Hurlbert, so John and I got our power off the shop track we had the 3015 leading and an 8800 trailing, we switched out are assigned caboose from the caboose track, and dugout a snowplow from the auxiliary track it was pointed in the correct direction, so we ran around it and put it on the point in front of the 3015, the tailend crew brought over our train orders, we did the brake test, and the snowplow foreman got us to hook up the brake pipe, and communicating hoses, the air filled up the massive air reservoirs that operated the blades, and the wings of the snowplow, which he tested. On the deck of the plow was a large air cylinder about 10 inches in diameter with a steel mechanism that lifted and lowered the blades on the front, this was covered with a steel cage to prevent injury if anyone were to fall from the operator’s seat. CPR snowplows were manufactured from the early 1900s up to the 1930s they were numbered in the 400000 to 420000 series and weighed 55,000 pounds or 27.5 tons, they look like half boxcar, with a sloped pointed double wedge profile on the front, on the front are air activated blades that run between the rails nearly touching the ground, they can be raised when approaching grade crossings, and many other obstacles that sit between the rails including railway crossings at grade, sectionmen’s speeder setoffs, and switch points, on the sides and there are air activated wings that are hinged to the side body of the plow these are pushed out to cut a wider swath through snowdrifts, and are pulled in when approaching switch stands, and other obstacles trackside that could be hit if the wings were fully extended. To warn the Roadmaster who usually operated the snowplow, along with the assistance of the snowplow foreman of approaching obstructions, signs are erected 1/4 mile, or 1320 feet on each side, the sign is rectangular 18 inches wide, 9 inches high, with a white background, and two circular black dots 6 inches in diameter painted on each side. This gives him ample time to retract the blades, and the wings to avoid damage to the track structure. Here are some views of snowplows, and signage.

We left Swift Current around 09:00 Friday morning and started to plow from Java to words Leader on the Empress Subdivision, everything went along slowly in this cold weather, we did hit some bigger drifts in the cuts, and hollows were the snow had really drifted in. The Snowplow Forman would communicate by radio when we were approaching a big drift, and John would open up the locomotives throttle accordingly for the amount of horsepower that was necessary to get through the drift. When you hit these drifts visibility in the cab of the locomotive was down to nothing, as the snow started flying over the top will plow and along our short train. In the cab of the locomotive you could really feel the force you were pushing up against, speed would slow down considerably, and more throttle would be applied to breakthrough. enroute we branched off and did some plowing on the Pennant subdivision, and the Grant spur along the way We arrived at Leader about 21:00 and tied up for the evening at Leader, as our only accommodations for this assignment were in the station at Empress, and the bunkhouse in Swift Current, the company had arranged rooms for us in the Leader Hotel, where we tied up around 21:00. The great benefit of working on snowplows under our collective agreement with the Company and Union was that, seeing we could not reach our objective terminals, we went on pay 24 hours a day, until our tour of duty was finished. It was nice to sleep in a quiet hotel, with all the amenities we didn’t have on the road. We went back to work at 08:00 after a leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, today we plowed northward towards Empress, where we even cleaned up some of the yard tracks located there, and then we returned to Leader around 13:00 where we stopped for a nice lunch at the hotels Chinese restaurant that had an excellent buffet. After lunch we then went to plow the Burstall Subdivision down to Fox Valley and including the spurs at Schuler, and Ingebright Lake, as we were plowing to words Burstall, the engineer was having trouble hearing me Snowplow Forman on his radio, so he asked me to take my portable and ride inside the plow to communicate with him, it was quite an adventure rioting in one of these old pieces of rolling stock that were over 70 years old, the suspension was something to be desired, it rode really rough, and the noise level was quite high from the noise the air cylinders made when raising and lowering the front blades, and when opening and closing the side wings, the only source of heat was a small cast-iron stove that burned coal. I rode on a bench seat alongside the Snowplow Forman in the front of the plow; there were two small glass windows with bars across them, to prevent breakage from flying debris. When we were approaching
the big drifts I would radio to John our engineer to widen on the throttle, and when you hit the drift was quite a sight as the snow shot up from the front of the plow and cascaded over the side’s landing on the right-of-way it was a complete whiteout in the plow. After another full day we tied up at Leader around 20:00, being a Saturday night we went to the local bar in the hotel for a couple of well deserved refreshments, before retiring for a good night’s rest, returning to Swift Current the next day.

Some Exterior and Interior views of snowplows taken at Alyh yard in Calgary, this plow is still in service at this time, the exterior shows site views of the blades and wings, side and front windows with roof mounted headlight, and the front coupler, the rear end with handbrake and electrical hookup for the headlight from the locomotive. The Interior views show the controls for operating the blades and wings, conductors emergency valve, air gauges, blade actuating cylinder, main reservoirs, steps, older side window, other features include more modern seats, windows, and an oil heater compared to the coal stove we had on the one I worked on back in 1973, the seats weren’t as luxurious, just wooden bench seats, also included a couple of other views of

snowplow’s in themountains.

snowplow foreman's seat with wing control

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On January 16th I was called to deadhead on No. 2 to work the next day on the Zone 1 Grain Train assignment, the crew caller told me that the trainman working the job was off for three days to attend his uncle’s funeral. Never believe what a crew caller tells you, it’s usually all lies, which I was to find out soon enough. I arrived at Swift Current went to bed for the evening and was called for 08:00 the conductor was Mars Wolfe, and the locomotive engineer was John Jangula and our lead unit was the 3015, as I said in my last post the weather in Alberta had been fairly mild with the Chinook winds blowing warm air from the Pacific Ocean over the mountains into our province. That was not the case in Saskatchewan where the vengeance of winter went unrelenting, we switched out are assigned caboose, and assembled our train which consisted of about 112 empty grain boxcars and hoppers that we were to take and spot at country elevators along the Empress and Burstall Subdivisions. The CPR at the time were not making very much money for hauling grain to the lakehead East in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and West to the ports in Vancouver, British Columbia, due to the outdated Crowsnest Rate agreement they had made in the 1890s, so their fleet of boxcars for loading grain had deteriorated, the Canadian Government in 1973 started a program where they built and provided the Canadian Railways with brand-new covered hopper cars for the sole purpose of loading grain. The problem with these hopper cars were the day were loaded through hatches in the roof of the car, while boxcars had their doorways sealed off with wooden grain doors and were loaded from the sides, as most country elevators were set up with spouts to load boxcars, they all had to be converted with higher spouts to load the new Canadian Government covered hoppers. So with our train of makes boxcars and covered hoppers we started our journey up the Empress Subdivision, we started spotting the first elevators at Success mile 13.2 there was Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator on the east end, two United Grain Growers elevators, then one more Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator on the west end they required 12 boxcars, 3 at each elevator, elevator tracks are graded so the boxcars and hoppers will roll downhill. At the east end elevator the cars rolled westward, at the first UGG elevator the cars rolled eastward, the rest of the elevators rolled westward.
National Elevator arrow
National Elevator
Alberta Wheat Pool Arrow
Alberto Week Pool Elevator
I have attached some views of country elevators that have arrows on the railway car loading side, to show the train crews were to spot the empty cars, the loading doors of the first car or hopper are always spotted above the arrow, and this enables the elevator agent to use gravity to roll the cars down as he loads them. At Success the elevator track (also called backtrack) held 33 cars, and the elevators were spaced out so the first elevator on the east end could hold 8 cars on spot, there was room for 12 cars between it and the first UGG elevator, so 8 cars could be loaded and ran down, leaving room for 3 cars to be spotted on the high side of the first UGG elevator that track rolled in the opposite direction, there was room for 3 cars between the 2 UGG elevators, and the last elevator had room for 3 cars. We left 8 empties 2 at each elevator.
Saskatchewan elevators
Here is another view of a typical country community in Saskatchewan showing a CPR siding, and elevator track on the right-hand side of the picture you can see a CPR mainline switch stand with its red target showing when it is lined for the diverging route towards the siding and backtrack, you can see the smaller switch with the green target that is line for the siding that runs adjacent to the main track this one is equipped with a derail that you can see alongside the yellow sign that indicates where it is, by lining the siding switch for the diverging route will take you to the backtrack that is also equipped with a derail, you can see three elevators with their loading spouts raised ready to receive empty cars for loading, the first elevator is a Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, the second a Pioneer painted in its characteristic orange, and the last elevator is a United Grain Growers.

Our next stop was at Pennant mile 22.3 it had two sidings and the 31 car capacity backtrack, there were 3 elevators 2 Pioneer and 1 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, this situation was a little different than Success where we had a clear backtrack. Here there were 12 cars loaded, and 9 empty cars to spot, so in this case we had to couple all our empties to the loads, making sure that all the spouts from the elevators were in the clear, and that no agent was still loading, with this done we coupled all the loaded cars together and shoved them towards the east end of the backtrack, and would spot the cars on our return trip as we picked up all the loads. Next up Battrum mile 27 with a backtrack and one privately owned elevator marked J. Leverson, some farmers bought abandoned elevators to store their grain in as it was in this case, there was one Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator that we had room to spot 4 empties, and shove the 4 loads down clear of the derail for a quick pick up on our return. Cabri mile 34.9 took 9 empties Next was Shackleton mile 42.9 with a backtrack and three UGG elevators that we shoved our 8 empties just clear of the west derail, as the elevator agent had his spout one of the cars he was still loading. Abbey mile 50.7 had 4 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevators, where we shoved loads down, and left our empties. Then it was Lancer mile 58.1 with 6 elevators, 3 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and 3 Pioneer we left 6 empties there. Portreeve mile 63.9 had 2 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevators that we spotted 8 empties, and shoved the loads down for pickup. Lemsford was a repeat of Lancer. Sceptre mile 75.5 had six elevators one Patterson Grain, 3 Pioneers, and 2 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool we left 8 empties there, this required a little bit of switching as the Pioneer elevators were equipped with high loading spouts to accommodate the covered hoppers, so we had to set over 4 boxcars, and go back to our train and set off 4 covered hoppers. Prelate mile 81.7 had 2 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, 2 Pioneers, and 1 Patterson Grain we set off 12 empty cars. Leader mile 88.2 was a large community and had 2 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, 3 Patterson Grain Company, and 2 Pioneers, along with Gulf, Imperial, and Shell bulk oil agencies for unloading fuel we switched out 9 empties, we had 4 empties left on our train, we grabbed 40 empties from the siding that we then started down the Burstall Subdivision setting off at the following communities Mendham mile 10.8 8 empties, Burstall mile 24.8 6 empties Hilda mile 38.7 8 empties Horsham mile 50.4 4 empties Richmound 56.8 10 empties, and Fox Valley mile 69.5 12 empties, we turned around and spotted Fox Valley and lifted 10 loads, at Richmound we had to switch out some hoppers for the Pioneer and lifted 12 loads, we spotted and lifted 5 loads from Hilda, 8 loads from Burstall, and 10 loads from Mendham arriving at Leader we put our 45 loads into the siding, and preceded to Empress where we tied up for five hours rest at 04:00 after being on duty 20 hours. We did not stay in our caboose, the station at Empress was empty, and the company had set up for us four beds in what was the old operator’s office. You have to make sure that you put your boots, and belt up high on a chair to keep the mice from chewing on your boot laces and belt. This problem was resolved later when the sectionmen who also used the station found a stray cat that took care of that problem. There was kitchen facilities to cook with, and after our short sleep and a quick breakfast we were on our way back to Leader to start lifting all the grain, and respoting the elevator tracks on the Empress Subdivision, we used the wye at the East End of Empress yard to turn our units in the right direction, the Saskatchewan Alberta border intersected the middle of the Wye so we were in Alberta on the west leg and in Saskatchewan on the east leg, by the time we reached Swift Current we had a pretty heavy train of loaded grain, luckily there were not many grades to cause us to have to double our train, doubling is a railway term that occurs when a train has too much tonnage and stalls, a portion of the train has to be taken to the next siding and set off, the locomotives return for the remaining portion and the train is reassembled at the double over siding, this can be very time-consuming. It was quite late when we arrived, and we were held out of the yard for an hour and a half until some congestion on the mainline had cleared up, by the time we yarded our train was 01:00 a 16 hour day.

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Posted on 20-11-2010
Filed Under (Alberta Saskatchewan 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

Business picked up in January, I got out on January 2 on a trip west on 2nd No. 901 with conductor SH Humphries we returned the same day on No. 902, making 371 miles, that is why the sparemen in Medicine Hat preferred trips on the main line, if the spare board was busy, and if you booked short rest, 10 trips like that being quick flips working less than 20 hours is well worth it, you could make your mileage quota for the month in two weeks, and have two weeks off.

On January 7th I was called for 1st No. 965 at 14:30 with conductor Eddie (Mumbles) Gargett, and tail end trainman Keith McKee we had a good trip to Alyth, and it looked like we could be called for an Empress Turn which we were on January 8, the locomotive engineer off of the engineers spareboard was Vince Griffiths, a good-natured engineer who I had worked with many times when I was in the yard. On an Empress Turn you work 76 miles east to Bassano where there is a large yard that holds 635 cars, from there the Bassano Subdivision runs 118 miles to Empress on the Alberta Saskatchewan border. There are many country elevators along this line, and at Princess, Alberta mile 76.7 there are two storage tracks where crude oil is loaded into tank cars for refining at the Gulf Refinery in Calgary. We were ordered for 02:00, our train was in little N-yard, and consisted of 40 empty tank cars for loading at Princess, we had our brake test and left Alyth at 03:25 we arrive at Bassano at 05:05, there we switched the yard digging out about 70 grain empties for spotting at the elevators along the way. We departed Bassano at 07:00, at least it was daylight, and we spotted our empties at Rosemary, Duchess, setting off tank cars at Princess, and spotting the elevators at Iddesleigh, Jenner, Bindloss, and Empress, the track at that time was in very poor condition, there were many miles of slow orders with speed’s of 10 miles an hour, and by the way the track rode you wouldn’t dare go any faster so the running time was about 10 hours so along with all the switching we did not arrive until after 19:00. We had about six hours rest, and started back to Alyth at 01:00 January 9th along the way we had to pick up all the loaded grain from the elevator tracks, and switch the loads of crude oil out of Princess and spot the empty tanks for loading, we arrived back at Bassano at 13:00 we switched the loaded grain into the yard at Bassano as per instructions from the operator, we then got our train orders and proceeded westward taking the loaded tank cars of crude oil into Alyth arriving at 17:00.
CPR map Calgary to Empress
Map showing CPR lines from Calgary (Alyth) to Empress on the Saskatchewan border.

We were called out of Alyth on January 10th at 04:00 for 1st 954 departing at 05:30, we had a pretty uneventful trip until we were approaching Brooks, Alberta at mile 66.8 the operator there called us on the radio and told us that the dispatcher wanted us to stop our train clear of any railway crossings, and cut off our power and go over to Brooks to assist the Brooks Wayfreight who were derailed there, Keith came up to the head end, and the conductor Ed went back flagging to protect the rear end of our train, it was 08:00 when we got to Brooks
Photobucket A view of Brooks showing the station and elevator track, with eastbound passenger train No. 2 “The Canadian” stopping to pick up passengers, and meeting a westbound freight train. We found the Wayfreight who were starting their day and coming out of the elevator track, forgot to take the derail off, and the front wheels of their engine was sitting on the railway ties. They had a full crew with locomotive engineer Russ McGloan, locomotive fireman Orval Klein, conductor John Mandzie, head end trainman Mike Showers, and tail end trainman Al McGunigal, but nobody noticed the derail when they radioed the engine to come ahead out of the elevator track to do some switching. All locomotives are equipped with cast iron re-railing devices, they are quite heavy and are hinged under the running boards on the sides of the locomotive, there were a bunch of sectionmen there to assist us, and the re-railers were spiked to the ties with track spikes. We were then able to couple on to the Wayfreight’s, power and by slowly backing up the wheels climbed up onto the re-railers and onto the track. This chore took us about 4 hours by the time we got going again so we were able to claim another 50 miles for work train service enroute we arrived at Medicine Hat at 14:00 we were gone three days but had made 937 miles.

I got out the next day January 11 dead heading by freight on No. 965 to Alyth with Conductor Stan McClellan working home the next day on train No. 944, out again on January 13 with Conductor Beans Deharnais going east on No. 902 and returning the same day on No. 965. I went east again on January 14 with conductor Ray Burns on No. 940 we were called out of Swift Current at 00:01 for 2nd No. 949 that was a drag (slow freight with lots of work along the line) I remember that night very well, it had been bitterly cold, but Chinook had blown in from the west, and the temperature had risen from about -20°F to 35°F with the warm winds, we got across the road quickly but all the work was at Dunmore 6 miles east of Medicine Hat, there was a large yard here as it was a junction with the Taber Subdivision a busy line that ran west to Lethbridge, Alberta, here we had about five hours switching to do, it was a cheap way for the Medicine Hat yard master to have a train switched out, and traffic they needed from Dunmore brought into Medicine Hat without having to send a road switcher up to do it. The yard had 10 tracks, Ray told me to line up for the Crow Main so we could switch on our train without using the mainline and siding, this way we were lined for the Taber Subdivision and our train could work in yard limits, and this would give us access to the yard in Dunmore that had a back lead for access to the ladder track lead for the storage tracks that were numbered 1 to 10 from the Crow main, these tracks had lengths averaging 3100 feet, so the yard have the capacity of holding 620 cars. The yard had hand throw switches all equipped with oil burning lanterns, this was the only place I had ever seen so equipped. It was quite a sight that night switching cars, with the Chinook winds blowing and the snow melting, being able to see the way switches were lined green for the lead, and yellow for a diverging route into one of the yard tracks, when we finished switching we called the yard master in Medicine Hat for a track to yard our train into and were off duty at 08:30. Picture of Dunmore yard in the daylight looking eastward toward Swift current with CPR station on the left next to the mainline, then the siding, and the engine lined towards the Crow main, with the yard tracks to the right.
Dunmore yard

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On Monday, November 19, 1973 we started another week on the Burstall, the week went the same as week one, the only difference being that the weather was much colder, down around -30°F with a high wind chill factor, we were getting a lot of brand-new LPG cars for McNeill, and I remember the rubber hose’s between the cars for the air brakes were frozen so solid we had to use fusses (track flares) from the caboose to thaw out the rubber enough without burning it so we could connect the cars together. One other interesting thing I saw was at Gascoigne the next station north of Burstall, the grain elevator was closed down, and they were moving it to another location on the country roads, of course they waited until the ground was good and frozen before making an attempt to do this monumental feat. Country elevators stand about 100 feet high, so to move one they have to use hydraulic jacks to lift the structure off its foundation, it is then skidded over onto a platform with numerous heavy duty rubber tires on axles to distribute the massive weight, they have to have linemen from the municipality to accompany them and take down power lines temporarily as the move progresses. I’ve seen a lot of big equipment traveling by road before, but to see a country elevator traveling that way is a site to behold. On our return Friday I got my suitcase from the Assiniboia Hotel and made my move into my new digs on Ross Street, it was sure nice to have some privacy. On Monday, November 26, 1973 I worked my last week on the Burstall Wayfreight making a total of 3441 miles which averages out to 1147 miles per week that was pretty good pay at Wayfreight rates that was slightly higher than what you make on through freight. We were allowed to make 3800 miles per month; my cut-off date for the month was on the 12th, for November I made 3726 miles, 74 short of my monthly quota.

December was kind of slow on the spare board but I did manage to make 2926 miles for the month. On December 2 I was called for 07:00 and I worked my first trip west on the Brooks Subdivision I was called for a “Hospital Train” a name used by the railway to describe a train carrying in its consist all bad order cars going for repairs in Calgary, so it got that name because all the disabled cars were called cripples. Many of the cars had air brakes that were inoperative, so large rubber hoses one 500 feet long was wired along the outside of 10 cars were used so that the brakes on the cars that did work could be used. I remember the conductor Elmer McCredie, and engineer Adam Lees, they were not too happy getting called for this train as it had a speed restriction of 30 miles an hour, as track speed on the Brooks Subdivision was 55 miles an hour for freight. So this increased the 3 hours and 20 minutes running time to 5 hours and 45 minutes. We made it over the road, running as the Extra 8519 West according to my time book, we returned to Medicine Hat the same day getting called for No. 902 out of Alyth, the Brooks Subdivision was a little different from the Maple Creek Subdivision whereas the latter was all ABS territory from Swift Current to Dunmore, but the Brooks Subdivision ran 121 miles of ABS from Medicine Hat to Gleichen, and the remaining 50 miles to Ogden mile 171.1 was all CTC (Centralized Traffic Control). So running east from Alyth we ran as an Extra East, but at Gleichen where there was an operator, we picked up our train orders and were to run as 2nd No. 952 from there to Medicine Hat, our train order read “Engs 5695, 4700, and 5523 run as First Second and Third No. 952 from Gleichen to Medicine Hat” we had CPR 4700 leading, so when trains were run as sections, the first and second section were required to put up on the front of the locomotive green flags, in addition to green electric classification lights that were mounted on the front of every CPR locomotive, the idea of running trains and sections was when there was lots of traffic a train would be run this way, trains of the first two sections would carry the green markers and by whistle signal and radio communication notify the crews of opposing trains they met along the subdivision that they were sections, so a train meeting No. 952 would have to wait until the last section who would carry no green markers had passed them before they could proceed. The 4700 locomotives were built at Montréal Locomotive Works in Québec and were rated at 3600 hp, and were the highest powered units on the system. I got out on a 23:00 yard on December 5, and was not called until December 9 for a deadhead by taxi to Swift Current for a quick trip going home on hotshot No. 901. Got out again on December 13 going west with hotshot No. 901 with conductor Elmer Neimen returning the next day late in the afternoon on No. 98, I went to the Alyth Diesel Shops to take the power to the train there I met the locomotive engineer George Galambos, who remarked when he saw me with my long hair, and beard that my mother must have mated with a buffalo, I kept my mouth shut and thought to myself this could be a long trip, we left the yard at 19:00, the trip was uneventful until we left Cassils, that is when alarm bells went off in our lead locomotive signifying there were problems with our trailing units, George told me to come over to the engineers side of the cab and to sit in his seat, and he would go back and check to see what the problem was, he told me not to touch any of the controls, but to blow the whistle, and to ring the bell if we approached any railway crossings, so there I sat going down the track at 55 miles an hour, it was in an experience I would not soon forget, after a few minutes the bells stopped ringing, and George came back to the cab and took over. I laid around Medicine Hat for another week till I got out on December 21 when I was called for an Extra West (a potash drag) with conductor Elmer Neiman, when I saw Elmer at the booking out room at the station, he asked me what I did to George last trip, I asked him what he meant, he said that George ended up in the hospital having a gall bladder attack, I guess that’s why he was so miserable to me. The following day we deadheaded to Medicine Hat. On December 23, I deadheaded home on the caboose of No. 902 with conductor Clary Barton, and trainman Bob Rudolph for the Christmas holidays on December 23, I remember the weather was quite mild with a Chinook that had blown in, I had my backpack and bailed off of the caboose near Ogden at the CNR trestle west of the gates at Ogden Shops, it was about 20:00 and such a nice night I decided to walk home to my parents house in South Calgary, I climbed up the embankment of the CNR trestle, this bridge was built by the Canadian Northern Railway when they entered Calgary around 1912 on their line from Edmonton the terminus was at 18th Ave. and 1st Street SW. I walked along the right-of-way over another large trestle that spanned the Bow River and followed the track down along side of the Canadian Government Elevators through Bonniebrook where it headed westward by the Dominion Bridge Company and came out along the south side of the Calgary Stampede Grounds, from here I continued on the streets through Elbow Park, and Mount Royal to South Calgary where I enjoyed the holidays at home with my family. I wasn’t called out again until December 31, New Year’s Eve as the tail end trainman with conductor E.J. (Beans) Desharnais on hotshot No. 902 returning on No. 965, this was my first experience working the tail end on the main line, and was interesting to say the least. I got lots of instruction from Beans on working with train orders on the main line, we would sit up and the cupola of the caboose and he would fire questions at me, about our train and wherever should we go next for the next opposing train, I would have to run down to the desk get out my timetable, and refer to the train orders to give him an answer, after a few mistakes I was beginning to get the hang of it.

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Posted on 13-11-2010
Filed Under (Alberta Saskatchewan 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

The alarm rang at 4 AM this Friday morning; we wanted to get a good early start, as it was to be a short day so we could get home for the weekend. After breakfast we went down to McNeill and gave them a final switch for the week, assembled the loads of brought them up to Burstall we marshalled our train and proceeded northward to Leader, when we arrived the operator have orders ready and departed for Swift Current at 10:00 cleared as an Extra South we arrived about 13:20 at Swift Current. We called the operator and ask him for yarding instructions, he gave us permission to cross over into the yard from Java, and gave us a track to yard in, we yarded our train, I secured the head end with sufficient hand brakes, cut off or power and ran around our train through a clear track in the yard, tied on to the caboose, and we put it away to the caboose track for the weekend. With this done we were off duty at 14:10. Harold had his truck and drove home to Lethbridge, the rest of us would deadhead home to Medicine Hat, and in Charlie’s case to Calgary on a freight. With a little luck we could catch No. 949 that was scheduled to leave South Current 13:05, if he was running a little late and would be back in Medicine Hat about 17:00, otherwise we would have to wait for No. 901 that was scheduled for 19:05 which would get us home around 2215. Unfortunately No. 949 had already been hard, so we had to cool our heels at the bunkhouse and wait for No. 901, who was running on schedule
.Map of Burstall & Empress Subdivisions

A map from 1924 showing Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevators from Fox Valley to Leader on the Burstall Subdivision, and from Empress towards Swift Current on the Empress Subdivision, visible on the bottom are elevators on the Maple Creek Subdivision west of Swift Current some of the other big elevator companies were Pioneer, United Grain Growers, and Parrish & Heimbecker

During the week working the head end with Pat Hay, I got to know him pretty well; he was big in stature, and soft-spoken, with a good sense of humour. He carried a portable transistor radio with him and loved to listen to Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things” he used to get a real chuckle out of that program. Pat had hired on with the CPR on December 15, 1947 in Medicine Hat in the shops as a wiper, he was promoted to the firemen’s seniority list on October 18, 1948 he had worked out of Empress in the 1950s when it was a busy terminal, otherwise most of his career he worked out of Medicine Hat. In conversation I mentioned my problem finding living accommodations in Medicine Hat; he asked me if I was a partier, which I replied no. In that case he said that he had a basement suite in his house that was seven blocks north of the CPR station, and if I wanted to look at it he invited me over Sunday afternoon for supper, and a chance to see what I thought of it. We arrived back in Medicine Hat and I checked back into my room in the Assiniboia Hotel and took it easy on Saturday, relaxing after all the long hours we worked through the week at Burstall, on Sunday afternoon I walked over to Pats place at 1104 Ross St. it was a nice framed house on the corner of the street in a quiet older residential district. He invited me in and I met his wife Bertha, a nice lady who was from Ogden her maiden name being Featherstone, a family that owned the general store there that I lived near back in 1967. We enjoyed a supper of roast duck, Pat was quite an avid bird hunter, along with some of his homemade wine, and this was a lot better than eating out of the restaurant in the hotel I lived in. After supper he showed me the suite downstairs in the basement, it was nice with the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom with a shower, and also had a washing machine and dryer, as far as a telephone there was one that you could receive your calls from the CPR, but you could not phone out, this was okay with me as I had nobody to phone anyways. He asked me what I thought, I said I would be interested and asked him the price he said $30, and I thought to myself $30 a week what a bargain and I readily accepted, offering him $120 for the first month, to which he replied no, no the rent is $30 a month, what a bargain. I couldn’t have found anything better, I could walk to work in 10 minutes, and was close to downtown for shopping, and there were a couple of corner grocery stores within a couple of blocks. So Sunday evening I checked out of the Assiniboina Hotel for the last time, I got them to hold my suitcase until I return from Burstall next Friday when I would make my move.

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The alarm went off at 05:00 and it was the start of another busy day, after breakfast we gathered up some of our LPG empties and went back down to McNeill to give them another full switch repeating much that we did Tuesday morning, then we went back to Burstall switch out the empty potash hoppers, along with one empty boxcar that we needed for the Ingebright Lake spur at Fox Valley, we had a quick coffee break and departed southbound to Fox Valley arriving at 12:45 we stopped for a lunch break, Charlie had made us sandwiches, some soup, and a salad. Then Harold and I uncoupled our empty potash hoppers from the caboose, and left Charlie to cook our supper, we arrived at Ingebright Lake at 13:30 once again the winter winds had drifted in all track switches, so we had a lot of shovelling and sweeping to do to clean out the siding switch, and crossovers. The layout at Ingebright Lake’s potash plant was configured like this for main line ran up to a Bag Loading warehouse that had room for seven box cars, beside the warehouse was the Bulk Loading track where the hoppers would go above the Bulk Loading track was a 24 car capacity Hi Line that the empty potash hoppers could be spotted, and the loaders could move them to the loadout using gravity, when loaded they could run them down a 24 car siding located adjacent to the main line. When we arrived we would pull our empties out the mainline, and use a crossover located below the loadout and tie on to the loaded hoppers that had been run down below the loadout, first checking for blue flags, we would then shove all loads down through the siding and out on to the main line, we would then tie it on to our empties and shove the empty hoppers up past the loadout on to the Hi Line, the boxcar was than spotted at the Bag Loading warehouse, we would then go down the main and pull our loads back up into the siding, and run around them, then head back to Fox Valley, were we turned our units on the Wye put train together and retired to the caboose for another one on Charlie’s home-cooked meals, we then returned to Burstall put our train away, gave McNeill another switch, and called it a night around 22:30.

CPR Burstall Subdivision from Time Table No. 81, April 29, 1973
Burstall Subdivision 1973

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After another short night in bed we were up at 06:00 on Wednesday, Harold cooked us breakfast, and it was back down to the McNeill spur to give the plant another switch, pulling the loads, and spotting the empties. With this work done it this time to assemble our train for a trip to Leader, to run to Leader we once again referred to our Burstall Subdivision Footnotes that states “Engine arriving Burstall on No. 71 must retain all train orders and may assume schedule of No. 73 of the following day and leave Burstall without the clearance”. At Burstall there is an elevator track with the capacity of 2886 feet, we’re not concerned with any work there, as this is looked after by the grain train that runs through the night to service the elevators at all the small communities along the subdivision. We do have a siding that holds 2038 feet that works out to about 40 50 foot cars; we store our extra empty potash hoppers, along with the 10 loads that we brought over last night. We take five loads of potash and attach them to our caboose and shove down past the wye switch at McNeill and go to the Plant to start assembling all the loads of propane and butane we have switched out since Monday, it totals up to 80 cars, 78 loads, and a couple of bad order empties that have to go to Calgary for repairs. With the 85 cars assembled we pull up to Burstall and lift the remaining 5 loads of potash from the siding on the head end. This is a marshalling precaution, as the CS 44 rulebook says, loaded cars of LPG must not be handled in a train within five cars of the locomotive consist, or a occupied caboose. We complete our brake test, and train inspection and take a coffee break before departing for Leader. Our train with 80 LPG tank cars that are 65 feet long and 10 50 foot hoppers of potash is 5700 feet in length. In the meantime the grain train or a crew from the Maple Creek freight pool would be called out of Swift Current for a Leader turn Wednesday morning, and would run under the schedule of forth class No. 75 Westward. They would bring us a trainload of much-needed LPG empties, and other potash hoppers for Ingebright Lake; they would take our train of loaded LPG, and potash back to Swift Current. We would arrive at Leader before the turn would show up, and working in yard limits we would have time to put our train away into the two siding tracks in the yard there they held 3000, and 2600 feet and would hold most of our train, any that didn’t fit we would put towards the elevator track on the East end. We would turn our power leaving the caboose on the North leg of the Wye and have our lunch while we waited for the turn from Swift Current to arrive. When No. 75 arrived at Leader we would get them to stop short of the South leg of the Wye cut streets off their power and run westward up the main, I would line South Wye and bring our power ahead and couple onto No. 75′s train, and cut in the air, when we had sufficient air on the tail end the crew would let us know and we would pull the train southward on Burstall Subdivision, as we got the tail end closer to the South Wye switch, the tail end crew on the Leader turn would cut off their own caboose on the fly, and our tail end crew would tell us when to stop and we would couple up to our caboose, do a Number 2 brake test (seeing that the air brakes on the caboose apply and release okay, and we proceed back to burst all using our train orders and assuming the schedule of No. 70 with new train orders we had received from the operator at Leader. With us out of their way the Leader turn would take their caboose and tie it on to West end of the No. 1 siding, they would then run their power down to the East end and double over from the elevator track to the No. 2 siding, and double to the rest of their train, do their brake test, get their orders and precede back to Swift Current running as an Extra East.

We arrived back at Burstall about 17:00 we spent about an hour switching out our train setting out the empty potash hoppers into the siding, and getting the LPG cars lined up for the next spot at McNeill, we had our supper break, then went down to give McNeill another full spot of empties and tied up for the evening around 22:00. 16 hours on duty another long day.

Some photos, one showing a loaded Canpotex potash hopper these are like the ones we spotted at the Ingebright Lake spur south of Fox Valley, the others show some LPG tank cars for loading butane and propane, the one view shows a LPG spotted at a small loading spur.
Loaded potash hopper
LPG tank car
LPG tank cars being loaded

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Posted on 07-11-2010
Filed Under (Alberta Saskatchewan 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

After a short night in bed the alarm rang at 05:00, time to get up for breakfast and get back to work at 06:00, seeing that there was no bunkhouse attendant to call us we went on pay an hour earlier for doing this, by a mutual local agreement with the company. After washing up I went to the caboose where Conductor Harold Heglund was busy cooking us breakfast of ham and eggs, toast and coffee, for which he charged us two dollars. Harold hired on in Lethbridge, Alberta during the war in 1941, he usually worked out of there in the summer on a sugar beet switcher, but in the winter he preferred to work at Burstall, the advantage of having every night in bed, and weekends at home. After a good hearty breakfast, and the second cup of coffee it was time to get back to our duties, our first move was to get the locomotives off of the shop track where they had sat idling all night, the CPR at the time never shutdown their diesel locomotives, fuel was cheap, and the locomotives were water-cooled and would freeze up pretty quickly if the engine shut down. With the crew on board we ran back down the McNeill Spur, where the loading crew at the Empress plant had been busy during the evening loading 24 LPG cars, going down the main track at McNeill we checked out the list that was in the bill box fastened to the gate at the entrance to the plant, it said that all cars were loaded and ready to be pulled, and the 24 cars in McNeill Track 1 were okay to spot.

A word about CPR Bill boxes, at every elevator track, loading spur, and plant across the system there is a bright yellow bill box mounted on a wooden post, or attached to a station, or entrance to a plant. They are made of galvanized sheet-metal, and I remember making them at the CPR’s Ogden Shops, and were probably manufactured at other major repair facilities such as Weston Shops in Winnipeg, and Angus Shops in Montréal. Their dimensions were 18 inches wide, 10 inches high, and 10 inches in depth, they had a sloped top, and the lid was hinged at the back, and on the front was a staple and hasp for securing it with a standard CPR switch lock. On the right-hand side there was a shielded slot like a mailbox so paperwork could be placed into the box, and be protected from the elements of rain and snow. Every car loaded by a shipper would have a waybill, and for special dangerous commodities like propane, there were emergency response forms. These were collected by the train conductor and would accompany the train to any stopping point along the system, and the documents would be kept in the Yard office, until forwarded along with the car to its next destination.

With the gates opened, we lined ourselves up behind the locomotives for McNeill Track 2, once again we took off the derails, and checked that the blue flags to protect the loaders were down.
Blue flag
Blue Flags and Blue Flag protection, any workman on railway equipment, whether it be railway employees from the diesel shops, Carmen who repair rolling stock on tracks, and loaders, warehouseman, and shippers can protect themselves from any railway employee from unintentionally coupling onto, or moving railway equipment with Blue Flag protection, only the workers doing such work can put up a blue flag, and only the class of worker can remove them, so there is no confusion, if more than one type of worker is repairing or loading equipment, each will put up their own protection. On tracks the blue flag is usually clamped to the rail on both ends of the track to be protected, on a loading spur just in front of the cars being loaded, in addition to the flag a blue light is used at night. on locomotives the blue flag is attached to the window on the operator side, or sometimes mounted on the control stand by using these devices accidents are prevented.

We coupled onto the cars in the North loading rack need couplings were required, cut in the air brakes, removed the handbrakes, and doubled over to the South loading rack coupled it together and pulled 24 loads of LPG into McNeill Track 2 where we secured them with sufficient hand brakes, uncoupled and tied onto the 24 empties in McNeill Track 1 that we had left there last night, Charlie lined us up and we shoved the empty LPG’s to the South loading rack for spotting, these loading tracks have metal stairs that go up to a scaffolded structure that supports a cat walk for the workers to access the tops of the LPG tank cars where there are valves for loading. The scaffolding also supports the pipes that transfer the liquefied Propane and Butane from the plant. The LPG cars are mostly a standard length, they have a tare weight (empty) of 35 tons, and gross weight (loaded) of 135 tons, so they hold 100 tons of product. Along the catwalk there are handrails, with chains across, and a hinged platform that is supported by cables, and can be moved up and down onto the top of the tank car at the loading stations, so it is necessary to make sure the top loading valve lines up with these platforms, most of them do line up, but some the tank car must be uncoupled from the other ones for a proper spot. After we have finished spotting we lock the gates, and return to Burstall for a coffee break, and to get our potash empties for our trip down the Burstall Subdivision to Fox Valley and the Ingebright Lake Spur. In our CPR operating timetable under Burstall Footnotes it states “Engine arriving at Burstall on No. 70 (which we did on Monday) must retain all train orders and may assume schedule of No.72 of the following day and leave Burstall without a clearance. No. 72 was a Fourth Class scheduled to leave Burstall on Tuesdays, and Thursdays departing at 06:01 and arriving at Fox Valley 08:00. After going through the grain farming community of Hilda, Pivot, where there was a 6.8 mile spur to the town of Schuler in Alberta, and the towns of Horsham, Richmound, and Linacre we arrived at Fox Valley mile 69.5 About 13:00 and went over to the local Chinese restaurant for some lunch, it was a interesting old family restaurant, and in the front showcase was a Red Fox stuffed and mounted, along with a ring-necked pheasant. During lunch our plans for the afternoon, we agreed to all chip in $20 and give it to Charlie for him to buy groceries to feed us lunch and supper for the remainder of the week. We then left Charlie and the caboose in Fox Valley where he went to do the grocery shopping, and cook up supper, while Harold and I went down to switch the potash plant at Ingebright Lake, we cut off our 10 potash empties and proceeded the 11.37 miles down the plant at the track speed of 15 miles an hour, with slow orders, and snowdrifts to plow through it us about one hour to get there. We checked our list at the bill box, and we did the required switching bringing out about 8 loads, and one bad order empty that was unfit for loading. The switching took us over two hours, there had been a lot of drifting snow here over the weekend and all the track switches were drifted in and had to be cleaned out.
CPR switch broom & shovel
CPR switch broom plastic bristles
CPR switch broom ice pick
CPR switch broom brand 1980
CPR shovel handle brand
In the wintertime on the CPR section forces set up on a stand a shovel and special track broom at every switch across the system in Canada, they were all marked CPR this was done so they could be identified in case of theft, the shovel handle is marked “Garant” the manufacturer and “CPR” in red paint, the switch broom handle is branded in the wood “CPR 80″ for 1980 the year it was placed in service. They were attached to a metal stand with a hook on one end to hang the shovel on, and a short piece of pipe welded horizontally on the other end that holds the switch broom handle. The shovel is used for shoveling out large accumulations of snow, and the broom made of course plastic straws with a metal point on the other end. The broom is used to sweep the snow out between the switch points, and the bars of the switch mechanism located between the ties, the other end is used as an ice pick to breakout ice that accumulates in the switches mechanism when the snow melts and freezes during weather fluctuations of the Canadian winter. On the main line where there are many electrically remote controlled power switches, they are equipped with propane powered heaters, that are controlled by the Train Dispatcher. These are very helpful especially in mountain territories where there can be very large accumulations of snow.

So we arrived back in Fox Valley about 18:00, turned our units on the Wye so we had the correct unit leaving for our train orders, this required more sweeping of switches, assembled our train and coupled onto the caboose carefully, and went back to caboose for a nice hot home-cooked meal that Charlie had prepared for us during the afternoon. Charlie hired on the CPR in 1949 originally as a passenger trainman, in the mid-1960s when many CPR passenger trains were discontinued in Canada, there was a surplus of passenger trainmen that were furloughed. The company and the union representing the trainmen worked out an agreement where the furloughed passenger trainmen would be dovetailed into the freight conductors and trainmen’s seniority lists with a seniority date of November 3, 1970. Charlie had done wonders, cooking on the cast-iron stove, with its small oven attached to the side. He had cooked a roast, with mashed potatoes, vegetables, a garden salad, and had baked us on apple pie. After finishing this delicious meal, Harold, Pat, and I did the dishes.

CPR 213 VAN cast-iron stove
CPR 213 VAN cast-iron stove top
CPR 213 VAN cast-iron stove front view
CPR 213 VAN oven door
CPR 213 VANI oven door inside
CPR 213 VAN oven compartment

Example of the McClary’s “CPR No. 213 VAN” cast-iron caboose stove that Charlie cooked our supper on. The McClary Manufacturing Company (Ltd.) built these stoves in its manufacturing plant at London, Ontario. These cast-iron stoves burned coal or coal briquettes as shown here that the CPR had made for them by one of the coal mines in Alberta, most of the coal we used was East Coulee bituminous soft lump coal, from the Atlas Mine in the Drumheller Valley. This side view shows you the unique oven compartment attached to the right-hand side of the stove, and also the shovel used for feeding the fire; also notice the iron guard rail on the top of the stove to prevent the kettle or coffee pot from falling off when the caboose was in motion. The top view shows the two plates to cook off of, and the front view of another stove of mine shows from top to bottom the fire box door with its inspection window to check the fire, and adjust the draft, the next cover is opened and a poker can be inserted to break up clinkers that sit on top of the fire grate, the square shaped protrusion sticking through the oval slot is attached to the fire grate and a handle is attached to shake the fire grate so the ashes from the fire will fall into the ash pan that is located inside the drawer at the bottom, there is a sliding baffle on this door that can be opened to create draft for the fire. Here are two views of the cast-iron oven door, it is hinged on the right side, and has a latch and handle on the left, the relief casting shows a caboose on tracks, with a center cupola, smoke coming out the chimney, and “McCLARY VAN” on the side under the windows, (Van was another railway word for caboose). Another view with the oven door open shows the interior with a hot plate on the bottom, and the rear door relief casting of the McCLARY VAN stove. The front door has a Serial No. “VAN ° H468 R”

In order to get back to Burstall we once again referred to the footnotes on our timetable that stated “Engine arriving at Fox Valley on No. 72 must retain all train orders and may assume schedule of No. 71 of the same day and leave Fox Valley without a clearance.” The schedule of No. 71 was a Fourth Class Freight that departed Tuesdays and Thursdays from Fox Valley at 12:01 arriving Burstall at 14:00. With this authority we headed back to Burstall arriving around 21:20. Our work was not finished yet, we had to go back down to McNeill we had one spot of 24 cars that we had left on the west leg of the Wye we coupled onto them and shoved them down into McNeill 3, cut them off and ran through McNeill 1 to tie onto the loads, which we doubled over and pulled back into McNeill 1, tied onto our empties in McNeill 3 and spotted them up returning to Burstall and tieing up at 23:30 after being on duty 17 hours and 30 minutes.

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Posted on 19-10-2010
Filed Under (Alberta Saskatchewan 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

CPI Depot Swift Current
Swift Current Station in the 1950s
I arrived at Swift Current, Saskatchewan on the advertised (the scheduled arrival time of a passenger train) at 21:10. I walked over to the bunkhouse, marked up on the board and went to bed for the evening. At 05:00 in the morning there was a knock on my door, the bunkhouse attendant turned on the light and left my call slip on the dresser. I lay in bed for a while, and finally got up and read the call slip. I was called as the head end brakeman for the Burstall Wayfreight at 07:00 the crew was Harold Hegland, Conductor, Charlie Mock, tail end brakeman, and Pat Hay, Locomotive Engineer our power was two General Motors 1500 horsepower Jeeps (railway slang for GP units, or General Purpose) these were classed by CPR as DRS-15e (Diesel Road Switcher-1500 hp-class “e”) I met the crew and the bunkhouse kitchen, where we had breakfast and then went over to the station to book out, get our paperwork, radios, and train orders. We looked over our switch list, and made plans put our train together in the yard, we have had at least two hours switching before we would be ready to depart on the Empress Subdivision. Pat and I went over to the shop track, and checked the locomotives over to see they properly supplied, we tested our radio equipment with the other crew members, and left the shop track to go switch out our caboose from the caboose storage track.
CPR yard Swift Current
Postcard view of CPR Swift Current Yard.

There were about half a dozen cabooses stored at Swift Current, our caboose for the branch line was an old one built about 1911, it had a coal stove for heat and cooking, and an ice box, no toilet facilities, and coal oil lamps for markers and illumination, along with one Coleman kerosene lantern for illuminating the conductor’s table. These cabooses were pretty primitive; originally they had “V” joint exterior finishing that did not provide much insulation. There was bedding for the conductor, and two brakemen, the mattresses were piled up on the conductor’s bed during the day, and at night-time there were two wooden bench seats, with storage space underneath, that ran along the wall, one was used for supplies such as extra knuckles, wrecking cables, and track tools, the one closest to the caboose stove was used for storing coal for the fire. At night time these bench seats were folded down flat, and the mattresses, and bedding for the brakemen could be made up, the tail end slept in the far corner, and the head end brakeman slept next to the stove, which was pretty warm on the feet, but seniority rules. In this case I was spared this experience, as the engineer slept in a sectionmens shanty at Burstall it was oil heated and had a bedroom with two beds that I stayed in. During World War II the CPR refurbished the cabooses, and covered the outside with plywood that help keep them a little warmer. They were a far cry from the modern pool through cabooses built in the 1960s that were used on the mainline, they were equipped with chemical toilets, fuel oil heated stoves on each end, diesel powered generators that provided electricity for the markers, electric stove, and refrigerator, along with couplers that had shock absorbers that made them much smoother to ride in. The slack action on a 100 car train with the foot of movement between each car can be pretty brutal on the tail end when it runs in and out unexpectedly, and you’re not prepared for it.

We set our caboose over to the lead, then went about digging out cars for our train from the different yard tracks where they were located, as we did this we marshalled our cars groups, potash hoppers for the potash plant at Ingebright Lake next to the caboose, butane and propane tank cars for the Pacific 66 Petroleum plant at McNeill, and any short hauls that included some maintenance of way material cars for the roadmaster at Leader, Saskatchewan. This took us about two hours, as there were no Carmen working the yard at Swift Current, we were responsible for coupling up all the air hoses on our train, and doing our own No.1 Brake test, to make sure that all the air brakes on our train were operative, we had a hold of about 90 cars, and when we had finished coupling up all the air hoses, I cut the air in from the locomotives to the brake pipe, seeing that it was winter conditions it took a while for the air pressure to rise to 75 PSI in the caboose, which was enough to make a brake test. This took about 30 minutes, a chance to have a coffee break, the engineer and I poured some coffee from our thermoses on the locomotives, while the tail end crew did the same on the caboose. When the air pressure on the tail end had risen sufficiently the conductor radioed us that he had 75 PSI back there, and it was okay to set up the air for the brake test, the engineer applied the train brake with the handle on his control stand, and when the conductor called and said that the brakes had applied on the caboose, I proceeded to walk down the train from the head end, and the tail end did the same from the caboose. I checked each car to see if the piston from the air brake cylinder had pushed out to apply the brakes, also checking for any hand brakes that were still applied, and any other defects, when I met the tail end brakeman Charlie halfway down the train we radioed the locomotive engineer that it was okay to release the air brakes, you could hear the air pumping through the train line and the pistons started to retract into the air brake cylinders, I once again checked each car to see the brakes had fully released while Charlie did the same. Arriving at the head end, I called caboose and told them that everything was okay on my end, Charlie replied the same. The conductor than radioed the operator at Swift Current to let them know that we were ready to leave town for the Empress Subdivision, the Operator came back and said that it was okay with the train dispatcher for us to leave Swift Current.

We proceeded westward to Java where we had a signal indication that took us up to an electric lock switch that took us from the Maple Creek Subdivision to the Empress Subdivision, I had to get out of the locomotive and check the metal box on the ground on top of the switch mechanism and look for a white light this allowed me to line the switch for the Empress Subdivision, I did this and gave Pat the engineer a hand signal to proceed, we pulled up and the tail end radioed to slow down so they could restore the electric lock switch and we left Swift Current at 10:11. We ran Westward on the schedule of Forth Class 75 a daily freight scheduled westward from Java at 05:00 arriving at Leader, Saskatchewan at 08:30 a distance of 88.2 miles, the Empress Subdivision ended at Empress at mile 111.8.
Cabri Sask. grain elevators
There were 14 stations between Cantuar, and Leader many with elevator tracks as this was good farming country, in order they were Success, Pennant, Wickett (that was a junction with the Pennant Subdivision another elevator branch line) Battrum, Cabri, Shackleton, Abbey, Lancer, Portreeve, Lemsford, Scepter, and Prelate. Between Battrum and Cabri at mileage 30.1 was the Grant Spur a 6 Mile length of track that serviced another potash plant. With no work to do until we arrived at Leader we made fairly good time going track speed at 30 miles an hour most of the way with the exception of a few slow orders and arrived at 13:40. All the work switching the elevators was looked after by another assignment called the Grain Train that worked mostly at night. We stopped for lunch going over to the hotel in Leader that served a good Chinese buffet luncheon, after lunch we went to the station at Leader and talked to the operator Arthur Lannon, to see if there was any other switching required at Leader besides the maintenance of way roadmaster cars we had on our head end, he said no that was all we had to do there. The Leader station was like going back in time, in the cold winter weather Arthur had the cast-iron stations stove in the waiting room fired up nicely which was a nice refuge from the cold outside, he looked like an old-time operator from the past, smoking his pipe, and wearing an old high collared shirt with vest gold chain pocket watch, and black arm sleeves, and slicked back black hair, with the exception of the modern telephone lines, it looked like nothing had changed around the Leader station since it was built around 1918. Arthur was typing out our train orders, on his ancient CPR Underwood typewriter, so we could depart Leader and continue our trip on the Burstall Subdivision to our terminating station at Burstall.

With our new orders we ran Southward on the schedule of Fourth Class freight No.70 that was scheduled to run from Leader to Burstall on Mondays and Wednesdays departing 12:01 and arriving at Burstall at 13:10. We covered the 25 miles, going through the community of Mendham, and Gascoigne where there was an abandoned elevator arriving at Burstall at 16:33, we had been on duty now for nine and a half-hours, but our days work was far from done. We still had a hold of 85 cars which had to be switched out at Burstall there was an elevator track, and two siding tracks that were used for storage, we switched out our potash cars to one track, and some of the extra petroleum tank cars we didn’t need to the other siding, we stopped for a supper break and then we went a mile south to the McNeill Spur with the LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) cars we needed for the Pacific Petroleum plant at Empress, the plant was built in the early 1970s on the Alberta Saskatchewan border a delivery point to the TransCanada transmission line for political and infrastructure reasons, politically Alberta wanted value to be added inside provincial borders, so it made sense to extract the LPG before sending the dry gas methane into the export market.
CPR Yard Limit Sign
We were working in Yard Limits, (Definition “That portion of the main track or main tracks within limits defined by yard limit signs”) UCOR Rule further states “Within yard limits the main track may be used clearing the time of first and second class trains at the next station where time is shown. Protection against third class, fourth class, extra trains and engines is not required” so we needed no authority, to do our work, at McNeill there was a wye and we did some more switching to get the cars in proper order for loading in the Empress plant, we then shoved our tank cars the 5.41 miles down the spur to the plant we had a hold of 48 cars enough for two complete spots for loading in the plant, outside the gates into the plant there were three run around tracks designated as the main track andMcNeill 1,2, they were all empty and we filled up track 1 with 24 cars, and the main track with the remainder, and ran down the clear track McNeill 2 to the gates outside of the plant where we were still in Saskatchewan, when we opened the gates and went into the plant we were now in Alberta. The loading racks in the plant were designated South and North Track and each held 12 LPG cars on spot, our list said that they were all loaded and ready to pull, we checked to make sure the blue flags were down, and we removed the derails, coupled on and cut the air through, we doubled the loads together, we then pulled them up into track 2, secured them with hand brakes, cut off, and tied down to the LPG cars for spotting on the main track, we then pushed them into the plant and spotted them on the South and North loading tracks, we put the derails back on, locked the gates and returned to Burstall to tie up for the night at 23:15 being on duty 16 hours and 15 minutes. I have no trouble sleeping that night.

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