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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