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.

(2) Comments   


Zartok-35 on 13 February, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

What a fascinating history that old bridge has. I never knew it was a highway crossing. I remember walking accross its decrepit remains with my uncle Wayne many years ago, though; that was an experience.
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Richard S. on 23 May, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

Thank you for posting this. Very interesting ferroequinearchaeology photos.Once again, thank you for sharing.

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