Posted on 10-08-2012
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR) by Broken Rail

In January 1975 I was working the Zone over the New Year’s holiday until Wednesday, January 8, when I was bumped off the assignment by a senior brakeman. Rather than go back to Medicine Hat, the calling bureau, told me that it would be a couple of vacancies coming up the following week, so I stayed in Calgary as I already had an apartment there, as I was working vacancies off of the Medicine Hat spare board I was entitled to a 100 mile deadhead in each direction. After my tour of duty, so on Thursday January 16 I was called for a trip on the Zone 2 Wayfreight as the head end brakeman we had the CP 8483 for power, the tail end brakeman was Don Borne, and the conductor was Ron Gauvreau who had just transferred to Medicine Hat from Edmonton. We made the usual trip from Alyth to Brooks and on Friday from Brooks to Standard, spotting the elevators at Makepeace, Hussar, Chancellor, and standard then back to Brooks, going home on Saturday from Brooks to Alyth. Then on Monday, January 20 I got a week’s vacancy on the Zone 3 wayfreight working as the head end brakeman on the CP 8835, Jim McKinnon was the conductor, and Bev Rogers was the tail end brakeman, with that tour of duty completed on January 25, I then got another trip on the Zone 2 wayfreight on Monday, January 27 with the same crew I had earlier getting off January 29, I then was called for Monday February 3 as the head end brakeman we had an Alco (MLW) CP 4223 for power on the Zone 3 wayfreight with Fred Foulston as the conductor, and Jim McKinnon as the tail end brakeman, I made one trip going to Wimborne and returning to Alyth the next day, I then took a trip off going back to work on Monday, February 10 as the head end brakeman with the CP 8831, & PNC 112 as power, this week we had Ron Gauvreau as Conductor, the following three weeks on February 17 I worked the head end again with the CP 3014 as our lead unit, with Conductor Fred Foulston on February 24 I worked the head end with the CP 4229, and an March 3 we had the CP 8823 I worked the one trip and was bumped again, and I didn’t work again until March 20, which didn’t bother me as I took the time to go out and buy a brand-new motorcycle with all the money I had saved working these wayfreight assignments over the winter of 1973-74. I bought an English motorcycle a Norton 850 Commando painted in metallic blue, it was a lot bigger than my Honda 90, the last motorbike, I owned back in 1965. Black on the Zone 3 I was called as the head end brakeman with the CP 8539 with Conductor Fred Foulston, I got another trip on March 31 on the head end with CP 8653 for power, and on April 7 I worked the head end with CP 8645 as our power.

On Thursday April 10th 1975 I was called for our regular time of 08:15 on the Zone 3 Way freight, this was my last trip to Tudor on this assignment with the regular crew Conductor Fred Foulston, Tail end Brakeman Jim McKinnon, and Locomotive Engineer Stan McPhedran.

Of all the locomotive engineers I had worked with on the assignment, Stan McPhedran was my favorite, he was always good-natured, and great to work on the head end with, he had grown up in the Ogden district where I lived, and we had a lot of common acquaintances, including his brother Jim was a machinist at the Ogden shops, he told me many stories of growing up in the district in the 1930s, he had served his country during World War II enlisting in the Seaforth Highlanders and had landed in Italy in that theater of the war. We had lots of adventures together one incident I already referred to was on the snowplow from Shepard to Irricana with the conductor running the plow. I remember another occasion when we had left Alyth for Shepard on a bitterly cold winters day, the later model General Motors GP locomotives from the 8600 to the 8800 series were equipped with cab heaters on each side of the locomotive cab, the brakeman’s was behind his seat, and the locomotive engineers was directly in front of him, and provided defrosting for the front window, they were motor driven with a three position switch, and had a radiator core that was connected to the engines cooling system by pipes, this was a far better system than the first-generation 8400-8500 series that had motors mounted on the bulkhead wall between the cab and the engine hatch, these heaters blew warm air in from the engine compartment, and didn’t work very well. I remember we were going about 55 miles an hour after we had left Ogden on the way over to take the siding at Shepard to do our work, when the cab heater in front of him sprung a leak filling the cab with hot water and mist from the condensation, it was so bad you couldn’t see out the windows, so Stan had to open his window to see our way over to Shepard, we got into the siding and got a hold of the diesel shops, their advice was to bring the power back to Alyth, we had a trailing locomotive pointed in the right direction westward, so we were able to shut off the supply of water to the cab heater, and we left our train at Shepard, backed out of the East end of the siding and went westward back to Alyth to get a new locomotive, this caused us about a three-hour delay, but at least we had heat. One other winter trip I remember we were called out of Alyth, they were real short of power on morning and they gave us a single unit that had just come out of Ogden after a total rebuild, they were reluctant to give us this power as it was needed in Winnipeg, so away we went on this nice freshly painted locomotive on its first trip, we went along doing all our normal work assignments, and were switching the elevator track at Torrington 7 miles short of our objective terminal at Wimborne, when the alarm bells started ringing on the locomotive, Stan checked the diesel engine, and found there was no water in the sight glass on the expansion tank in the engine compartment, further examination revealed that the locomotive had no cooling water left, there was a drain valve under the deck of the locomotive that had a wire seal on it to keep it closed, but for some reason it was not closed all the way to keep the water from draining Stan surmised was a plug of ice in the pipe that had stopped it from flowing, but as we worked the engine it had managed to thaw out and slowly drain out all the coolant, so there we were stuck at Torrington, we had to make room for Stan to spend the night in the caboose, and we waited there until diesel shops were able to send a truck up in the morning to fill up the locomotive with water so we can continue our work. On another occasion I remember was coming back from Tudor at nighttime, we had a single locomotive and were running with the long hood forward, I was walking down the running board on the engineer side to get the junction switch off of the South leg of the wye when looking at the horizon I saw a meteor that was blazing across the sky, a huge orange fireball that looked to me as big as the sun, in a moment, it was gone., I walked up and lined the track switch, gave Stan a backup signal and jumped on board as he passed by, when I got into the cab. The first thing I said was did you see when I saw, he confirmed that he did and it was the biggest meteorite he had ever seen.

One day we were making our regular trip later that night from Cosway Junction to Wimborne on the Acme subdivision, and had been a long day, and there was not much work to do, Stan asked me if I would like to run the locomotive, we had our usual consist of two Jeeps, so I said sure, why not, and I came over to the left-hand side of the cab, Stan stood up holding his foot on the dead man’s pedal, to allow me to position myself into the engineer seat, I then put my foot on the dead man’s pedal on the floor of the cab, he gave me some basic instructions on the controls, and the speed to maintain, and went over to my seat on the other side of the cab to put his feet up and relax a bit, coaching me on the characteristics of the road ahead, and where to set the brakes, or increase throttle, this was a great experience for me, and he let me run it quite a few other times, on the condition that if there were switching to do in elevator tracks we would change positions. with the exception of one time on the Brooks sub were the locomotive engineer asked me to set in the engineer seat for a few moments while he went back to fix some alarm on our trailing unit, this was the first time I got to run an engine, and I liked the experience.

I had been working this assignment since February 1974 the first six months as tail end Brakeman, and the rest of the time on the head end working with the Locomotive Engineer. My duties as head end Brakeman required me to report To the General Yard Office at Alyth pickup my portable radio and go to the Alyth Diesel shop to take our power (locomotive’s) to the head end of our train in Victor yard tie on to the train release the hand brakes and work my way back to the caboose CP 434169, where I poured a cup of coffee, and visited with the tail end brakeman Jim McKinnon. I would work my way back to the head end of our train and wait for the Conductor to bring us our train orders and work lists. Fred was there with our orders and lists which I read out, we were cleared as the Work Extra 8627 from Shepard to Wimborne, Wimborne to East Coulee, East Coulee to Shepard, and with orders for a side trip from Irricana to Tudor. I went into the front nose of the locomotive and found two white flags among our other supplies these I put up in the flag holders on the front of the locomotive. These along with the white classification lights showed that we were running as a work extra, the kerosene markers, displaying red to the rear, on the caboose would indicate we were a train. After completing our brake test we left Alyth and proceeded eastward on the CPR’s Brooks subdivision to Shepard, where we lifted some empty tank cars for Wimborne, and spotted some grain empties the Alberta Wheat Pool elevators, we left the main track at the junction switch for the Strathmore subdivision from here on we literally owned the railway as no other trains were authorized on the tracks we were about to travel on. A way freight is an assignment that does all the work along the road it travels it stops at all stations and does the necessary switching as required. In the old days not that long ago in 1967 there was a scheduled Mixed Train that traveled over these subdivisions that did this work, carried passengers, and also carried mail for these small communities. The subdivisions we were about to travel on to the Strathmore, Langdon, Irricana, and Acme were prairie branch lines and their main source of revenue was from grain , along with sulfur from Wimborne and coal from East Coulee. Our train consisted of empty grain boxcars, tank cars for sulfur loading, and hoppers for coal loading. My job on the head end was to get off at each station and cut off the number of empties that were required for each grain elevator in the back track and spot them on the spouts for loading. There were also spots for unloading fertilizer, oil, platforms for farm machinery etc. On top of all this every old siding and yard track were filled with storage cars that were waiting disposition of their fate whether to be repaired or scrapped at East Coulee there was at least 400 cars sitting there in the yard. The towns we stopped at along the way included Shepard, Bennett, Langdon, on the Strathmore Subdivision we then proceeded northward on the Langdon Subdivision going through Dalroy that had an abandoned elevator, over the Interlocking at grade with the CNR at Inverlake and stopping at Keoma and Irricana, where we stopped for lunch, going into town to the local restaurant. We then left most of our train at Irricana and took the grain empties required for Tudor, we passed through Nightingale that was now just a storage track.

On April 17 I was called as the head end brakeman on the Zone 2 wayfreight, with Conductor John Mandzies we had another Alco (MLW) 4209 on the head end, lease locomotives built by the Montréal Locomotive Works were really rough riding on the mainline when you are traveling at speeds of 60 miles an hour, they had lots of lateral movement and would really rock you, at times you think they were going to roll over, there was a joke about them that you could read the numbers on the ends of the boxcars on your train because they rock back and forth so much.

On April 21, I was called for my last trips on the Zone 3 wayfreight with Conductor Jim McKinnon we had the CP 8500 for our head end power. We went to Wimborne, and returned to Alyth the next day, on April 23 we were called for a Sharples turn with the CP 8506 for power, this was my last tour of duty on the Zone 3 wayfreight, on April 27 was the spring change of timetable, and seeing I couldn’t hold these wayfreight as a job anymore, and not feeling like moving back to Medicine Hat, I decided to stay in Calgary and bid in the yard for the summer.

1.) On this side trip to Tudor you can see in the picture way ran into quite a few snow drifts along the way. Stan took this picture when we arrived at Tudor we had to get out of back door of the locomotive cab so I could shovel away the snow from the front in order to have access. Many things have changed since this photograph was taken Fred has passed away, the rest of us are retired, the branch lines have all been torn up, and the locomotive has been rebuilt into a yard engine, which I hear now have been sent to the scrap pile, and replaced by more fuel-efficient locomotives.

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