Posted on 25-12-2011
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR) by Broken Rail

At the beginning of spring on March 21 it was the CPR’s turn to switch the Atlas mine at East Coulee that time we had brought in our empty coal boxcars for loading and left them in a designated track in the yard, the CNR switched out the mine and left our loads in another track, so all we had to do is lift them, and do our other switching chores around the terminal. So now our crew on arrival there arranged to do all the switching required at the mine,  and Alberta Wheat Pool elevator that was across the Red Deer River. Our switch lists from Medicine Hat car control indicated what cars from our train, and in the yard were required for the mine, and the number of empty grain cars for the elevator. We would switch them out, Fred had arranged for Willy Hermann the section foreman from Nacmine to be there and operate the signals for us to cross the wooden truss bridge over the Red Deer River.

Behind the station at East Coulee was a lead that ran over the turntable, that we used to turn our locomotive when we only had one unit, this lead took us to the ladder tracks on the south side of the yard and there was a lead that connected to the wooden truss bridge, this wooden structure built in the 1940s was unique in that both railway and motor vehicles could travel over it. There was a wooden shanty on the north end of the bridge with controls to direct railway and vehicular traffic on the bridge. Normally Highway traffic had the right-of-way they were electrically controlled highway crossing gates to stop traffic, and electric railway semaphore signals to govern train movements over the bridge. My position was to ride on top of the empty cars across the bridge and up and under the tipple of the Atlas mine where the empty coal boxcars could be loaded. We would take the loads that were listed to pull, and with this done we would spot up any grain empties and lift loads at the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, when we were finished the locomotive engineer would give Whistle signal Rule 14 (j) four short blasts on the air horn to get Willy the bridge tender’s attention to stop traffic and give us a semaphore signal to return across the bridge back into the yard and switch out the loads placing any for the CNR in the designated track for them to pick up.

Photo illustrations:

1.) A winter view taken in 1974 of Atlas mine loading tipple in the center, and Alberta Wheat Pool elevator on the left taken from the East Coulee yard on the south side of the Red Deer River.
2.) A summer view of the wooden railway and vehicle bridge across the Red Deer River taken from the East Coulee yard the turntable deck is visible in the front right hand side, the highway approach to the bridge, and the bridge tenders shanty in front of the bridge on the south side.
3.) A photo taken by me riding on top of the boxcars on the point of our movement crossing the bridge after passing the bridge tenders shanty, you can see the wooden planking for the vehicles to travel on and the rail tracks running down the middle. Above the bridge on top of the bluff is a structure that was part of the mine’s operation to transfer coal from the mine site on top to the loading tipple.
4.) A view taken looking backward from my perch sitting on top of the wooden running boards on the south end car going across the bridge, these were vintage railway boxcars with their wooden platforms and running boards to cross from car to car with the vertical brake wheel visible on the north end of the car I’m riding, some of these old cars still had horizontal stem wind brakes that could be really dangerous to operate. At this time the CPR were eliminating most of this equipment and taking off the running boards.
5.) View of coal loading tipple at East Coulee’s Atlas mine taken in the 1950s, there were tracks located underneath the structure where I would line switches and ride the cars underneath, watch carefully for restricted clearances which was easy in daylight, but at nighttime one would have to be very wary especially one not familiar with the characteristics.
6.) One final view looking back northward from the Atlas mine towards the wooden bridge and East Coulee.

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Posted on 17-12-2011
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR) by Broken Rail

During the first couple of weeks in March we had a lot of snowfall in Alberta, on Wednesday March 20, 1974 the Zone 3 Wayfreight called for 08:45 we had the CPR 8611 leading, with the crew Locomotive Engineer Stan McPhedran, Conductor Mars Wolfe, Head end Brakeman Alan Greenstein, reading over our paperwork at Alyth we were instructed to run to Shepard caboose hop (locomotives and caboose) where there was a snow plow set off in the second siding we were to marshal it on to our train in front of the locomotive and proceed over the Strathmore sub to Irricana where we were to meet the Roadmaster Louis Visochhi and under his instructions go into snowplow service. Mars (nicknamed Mars Bar) was quite a character, when we had the snowplow all set up Mars said that he would ride on the plow over to Irricana, and he figured he’d help of the roadmaster by operating the snowplow over the Strathmore subdivision, as he said it was easy to run one of these pieces of equipment. I rode on the locomotive with Stan and Alan for a good view of the snowdrifts we were about to hit, it didn’t take Stan long to get our speed up to 30 miles an hour and we started hitting some pretty good drifts, we were plowing a lot more than snow as we were seeing wooden boards, and railway crossing planks flying by the windows along with the snow. It was evident that Mars was not as good at running a snowplow as he made out he was, there are signs along the railway right-of-way warning snowplow operators of approaching railway crossings, and switch stands to give them ample time to raise the front points, and close the side wings to avoid running into them, Mars wasn’t fast enough and on a few locations had torn out some railway crossings, and wooden setoff stands the sectionmen used for setting off their speeders. I’m sure the sectionmen would have had a dim view of our conductor’s efforts to help them with the snowdrifts.

We met Louis at Irricana he said we would be running down the Irricana subdivision to Tudor, and tie up in Irricana for the night, it was a calm clear winter day and the plowing went good with not too many major snowdrifts with two locomotives in our consist we had lots of horsepower to get us through, at Nightingale we derailed the front of the snowplow going over a private crossing that had filled in with ice, this was similar to my experience on the Empress Subdivision that I posted earlier when I was riding a on top of a boxcar that derailed from the same conditions. We had lots of sectionmen on board the snowplow and with some hardwood wedges and a bit of coaxing we were successful in getting the plow back on track, and with their picks and shovels they cleaned out the remaining ice between the rails and the crossing planks. At Nightingale we had to set off one of our locomotives, as there was a weight restriction between there and Tudor Past the manual interlocking tower at the Dunshalt we started hitting some pretty big snowdrifts, one was fairly long and deep we got above halfway through when we stalled, with two locomotives this would not have been a problem, but being down to one unit really slowed us down quickly, once again the sectionmen dugout some of the snow, and we were able to back up far enough to take a better run at the drifts after three attempts we were successful in breaking through and continued on to Tudor uneventfully. On March 21 we continued plowing down Langdon subdivision to Entice, and up the Acme subdivision to Wimborne, we made an effort to do some plowing on the Meers spur but the track was too rough so we aborted that attempt and were finished at 12:15, being in snowplow service we were on continuous pay and made 344 miles, for that part of the trip. We went back on duty in wayfreight service at Wimborne 12:15 we had a momentarily delay when our caboose went off the track going over a private crossing filled with ice, but the section forces soon had us back on track and we arrived back at Alyth and were off duty at 19:15.


1.) Picture I took at Nightingale when the snowplow derailed on the ice filled crossing, we are backing up to re-rail the plow, on the left wearing the florescent orange hat is Mars Wolfe our conductor, two of the sectionmen and Roadmaster Louis Visochhi on the right-hand side.
2.) snowplow stuck in drift Section Forman Roman, he and his crew lived in Beiseker in the old CPR roadmaster’s house. He had immigrated to Canada from Romania, and had run and the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
3.) Snowplow with head end brakeman Alan Greenstein to the left, and Roadmaster Louis Visochcci on the right-hand side.
4.) Snowplow CPR 400442 with your author and tail end brakeman.

5.) Section foreman John Lehman from Torrington assists rerailing our caboose at Wimborne

CPR Snowplow on ground at Nightingale

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Posted on 16-12-2011
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

On Monday, February 25 we made our usual trip with Lead unit 8628 the locomotive engineer was Paul Panko, working off the spare board, I had worked with Paul before in the yard, a jovial good-natured character who  loved to smoke cigars, Paul lived in Ogden and I knew he collected Studebaker cars he had over 100 of them in the storage yard of by Shepard. He hated anything made by General Motors because they built all the diesel locomotives that caused him to be laid off when they replaced steam locomotives. Fred Foulston was the conductor we were called for  08:00 out of Alyth and arrived at Wimborne  18:45we were  off duty at  20:00. On Tuesday February 26 we were on duty 07:00 departed 10:00 we arrived and were off duty at East Coulee 20:40. On Wednesday February 27we were on duty at 05:45 arrived and where off duty at Alyth 16:25.

What made this trip memorable was years later I met a retired CPR employee John Sutherland who happened to be out that day on February 26 when we arrived at East Coulee, it was around twilight time and he shot these following photos. One of the abandoned station, and a shot of us approaching East Coulee where the track ran below a cliff that was a bad area for slides, I am sitting in the cupola of the caboose. The other shot was taken further to the west.

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Posted on 15-12-2011
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

On February 21, 1974 we were called for 08:00, Fred had taken a trip off, and my conductor was Ray Burns who I had worked before with on the Maple Creek Subdivision, Ray who didn’t hold a regular conductors assignment, had his name on the list for spare running, and was called out to work Fred’s vacancy for the week, we had 8698 as our lead locomotive, and the engineer was Bert Collins nicknamed “Flatwheel” a moniker given to any railroader who walked with a limp. Bert, who had not worked on the road for many years, was called out of the yard on his days off as there was a shortage of spare engineers available. His skills at the throttle on the road were a little rusty which became evident a little later on during our trip. At the booking out office we read our work assignment list, today was going to be a little different, as we had to make a side trip out on the Irricana Subdivision 27 miles down to the Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator at Tudor, we had about 100 empty boxcars for grain loading on the branch lines, we left Alyth at 10:05, and stopped at Shepard, to spot up the grain elevators and lift some empty sulfur tank cars for Wimborne. We then ran 10 miles over to Langdon to spot up the elevator track there, this is where I learned a valuable lesson about the slack action between the locomotive and the caboose on a 100 cars train, coming in to Langdon to slow down for the stop Bert used the locomotive independent air brake to slow the train down, rather than use the automatic train air brake which would have applied air brakes to each car on the train, between the couplers on each car is about 1 1/2 feet of slack, if you compound that by a 100 you get 150 feet of distance. I was sitting in the cupola on the leather covered horsehair seat cushion seat and back when I heard the sound of the slack gathering, so from going 30 miles an hour our speed was reduced to 5 miles an hour in an instant, the slack running in so violently that I had to hang on to the steel ladder to avoid being propelled out the front window of the cupola, when I was to experience next was the opposite, Bert had slowed down too much, so he released the brake and opened the throttle, and like cracking a whip, the 150 feet of slack ran out and I was driven back against the seat back cushion so hard that it physically knocked the wind out of me. This old wooden branch line caboose that was built around the turn of the century, had rigid couplers and drawbars. The modern steel mainline ones have spring-loaded shock absorbing draft gear that I was more used to; I was on my toes after that experience.

We did our usual chores stopping at Keoma, and Irricana spotting the elevator tracks, and switching out our train placing our caboose behind 10 empty boxcars for spotting on the Irricana Sub starting out at mileage 72.5., we then had our lunch at the local restaurant, and left for our trip to Tudor I rode on the lead locomotive as I had to help out further down the line, at one time this subdivision ran all the way down to Bassano on the Brooks Subdivision on the mainline, I referred to it earlier on my post of working the Zone 2 Wayfreight from Bassano to Standard. Just south of Tudor at mileage 44.9 there was an engineering problem with a sinkhole, every year dozens of cars of rock gravel ballast would be unloaded to keep track stable, when the mixed passenger service was discontinued in 1967 track was closed and the Wayfreight’s did all the work from both ends of the subdivision.

The track between Irricana and Tudor was so seldomley used that ranchers and farmers had leased parts of this right away for grazing cattle, and barbed wire fences were put up across the track to keep the cattle in, whenever the wayfreight was scheduled to make a trip the landowners were notified by car control in Medicine Hat ahead of time so that they could take down their fences down for the train to pass. We proceeded southward there with some snowdrifts as no trains had been through for a few weeks, they were not too deep, or long enough to cause us any concern about plowing through them. There wasn’t much left for communities on this stretch of railway at one time there were towns at Craigdhu mileage 67.8, Gayford mileage 62.5 and Hamlet mileage 50.8, all that remained was a siding at Nightingale mileage 54.9 and Tudor with its two Alberta Wheat Pool Elevators at mileage 45 5, leaving Nightingale we then approached a manual interlocking with the CNR at Dunshalt, this was the first time I had seen anything like this on my railway career I had read the following Timetable Special Instructions that stated “Railway crossing at grade with Canadian National Railways mileage 52.4 — Interlocking Signals will be operated by CPR trainmen and the left normally clear for CNR trains, Rule 605A does not apply.” I knew the by reading my rulebook that Rule 605A referred to flag protection not being required in interlocking limits, but the rest was all new to me. We brought our train to a stop at a manual interlocking single with the bottom aspect indicating stop, from here I have to walk about 500 yards up to a wooden tower to operate the signals as I walked along the track I could see steel bars mounted on concrete supports that were connected to the semaphore signals and ran to the tower. I reached the tower and climb up the rickety stairs to the door, there was a curved steel bar through the padlock staple that had two railway switch locks attached, one CPR, and the other CNR, I unlock the CPR one with my switch key and open the door. With the door open I entered the derelict tower there was snow all over the floor where it had drifted in, the windows are long gone and are all boarded up so the only illumination is from the daylight through the doorway, I am confronted with four large steel levers mounted to the floor, and under glass in a wooden frame on the wall were instructions for operating the interlocking, they were posted in 1930. The four levers were painted bright red, had unlocking handles at the back, and number plates from left to right painted in white 1, 2, 3, and 4. The way the signals were set always gave the CNR the right-of-way. The instructions stated for train movements by the CPR first unlock and pull to lever No.1 toward you this was to display stop signals on the CNR, what happened next scared the hell out of me, the open door violently closed shut and I was left in the darkness momentarily, there was enough light through the cracks in the boards over the window to allow me to see again, the next instruction was to unlock and pull lever No.3 by doing this a mechanical clock mechanism behind the lever started clicking and timed out for 3 min. with this done I was able to unlock and pull lever No.2 towards me, this gave our train a clear signal to proceed southward. Our engineer whistled twice and pulled lower train through the interlocking stopping the caboose just in the clear on the south side. My next step was to restore all the signals to the way they were when I entered the tower, by doing this a steel lever coming up through the floor opened allowing me to open the door and exit. This simple but ingenious method of making sure the signals were all restored to normal was probably thought out by the signal maintainers who probably got tired of being called out to restore signals by negligent CPR brakeman who have not followed the instructions. Of course the veteran crew had a good laugh at my expense, knowing beforehand about the towers locking mechanism, it was kind of a rite of passage for railway men.

One of the older engineers I knew told me at one time this tower and the automatic interlocking on the Langdon subdivision were both operated by local farmers and in the steam engine days they would blow whistle signals for the farmer/tower operator to come out and give them signals to pass. I was to find out later in my life one of my neighbours Dorothy Robinson where I grew up in South Calgary was raised on a farm at Dunshalt and her father William Gorman operated the tower from the time it was built circa 1914 until the Great Depression and the economic downturn forced the Railways to eliminate these jobs, and have the brakeman do the work. She gave me a postcard picture showing her father standing on top of the stairs in the doorway to the tower, it looks brand-new all freshly painted with all the windows in place levers visible through the glass, there are glass windows on the ground floor, and an access door for the maintainers, visible in front are the steel rods that operated the semaphore signals, and a chimney that at one time must have been connected to a stove that provided heat. It must’ve been a quite cozy and comfortable workplace, not like what I encountered 60 years later.

We returned to Irricana, picked up our train and continued on to Wimborne arriving at 20:30 and at 21:45 were off duty. Leaving the switching of the sulfur plant for the morning we started at 07:00 departed at 10:25 and arrived at East Coulee 17:50 and off duty 18:50 we went on duty at 07:00 and were off duty at 16:50 Alyth.

1.) Approaching semaphore signal indicating stop at Dunshalt manual interlocking.
2.) Walking towards manual interlocking tower control rods alongside rail on right side.
3.) View of our train waiting for signal taken from interlocking time, CNR right-of-way to the left.
4.) Manual interlocking control levers inside tower, instructions posted on wall, snow on floor.
5.) Manual interlocking control levers set to stop for the CNR on lever No 1, and lever No. 3 timing out.
6.) View of interlocking tower and diamond where the tracks intersect taken from our caboose.
7.) Close-up view of tower that day in February 1974.
8.) Postcard photo of manual interlocking tower newly constructed 60 years before in 1914.

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