Posted on 30-09-2011
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR) by Broken Rail

On my return to Alyth on the Saturday, I phoned the crew clerk in Medicine Hat about arranging a dead head back to the home terminal, he said you may as well stay where you are as you have been placed as the tail end brakeman on the Zone 3 Wayfreight starting Monday morning, this came as a surprise to me, but I can understand why none of the senior men working the spare board wanted this position as it was away from their home in Medicine Hat, and the assignment worked six days a week. That was all right with me being back in my home in Calgary, and would have every night in bed, so on Monday, February 18, 1974 I was called for 06:00 my conductor was Fred Foulston, an old-timer who hired on in 1944, he was a portly man, wore glasses, and was balding with a handlebar mustache. The engineer was Vince Griffiths, who I had worked before with on an Empress Turn in December, we had the 8833 for a lead unit, and the head end brakeman was a spare man deadheaded up from Medicine Hat his name I don’t recall. At the General Yard Office I checked the bulletin book, compared my watch with the standard clock, and got my portable radio and did a radio check outside the building, with this finished we called the crew bus. The CPR had crew buses on duty 24 hours a day, their sole purpose was to taxi train crews to and from their training for departures and arrivals, and to give any other jobs such as take paperwork from the main control tower to trains, and the other control towers in the terminal. Fred and I rode the crew bus down to the tail end of our train in V-4,   in order to find our caboose in this multitude of railway tracks, we had a system on our assigned caboose, sticking up from the cupola in the center one of the crew members had nailed up a wooden grain door, and on top of this year had fastened an empty 5 gallon pail, painted red. In order to find the caboose, all one had to do was climb up the ladder on one of the adjacent tracks near the roadway and look across until he could see the 5 gallon pail sitting above all the other cars in the yard, then we got the crew bus to drive closer and  we cut across through the yard tracks loaded our grip’s onto the caboose after unlocking it, Fred said that he would ride the crew bus up to the head end and give them their orders and paperwork and would probably ride over with them to Shepard the first station east of Calgary.

Fred told me to get things prepared for our trip, this included getting a fire going in the caboose stove, boil a kettle of water, along making a pot of coffee pot, one of the seat bunks nearest to the stove was filled with domestic heating coal, and some scraps of lumber and a hatchet, I cut some of the lumber with a hatchet to make kindling, and shook out the grates in the stove to dump the ashes from the last fire into the ash pan underneath this I took outside and dumped along the tracks, I built up a tee pee of kindling with some bunched up newspaper underneath on the stove’s grates, this I saturated with kerosene from one of the storage lockers, I lit a match to get the fire started, in the meantime I went to the storage locker and pulled out our two kerosene caboose markers, checked their fuel tanks and topped them up with the kerosene, and hung them on the brackets at the tail end of the caboose making sure they displayed red to the rear,  I then checked the fuel level in the kerosene powered CPR Coleman lantern above the conductor’s table, and topped it up, this was our prime source of light in the evening. I swept the floor, and checked to see that the water containers were properly filled, we had three containers, one above the sink, and two others of the floor, as we were gone for three days each trip, it was necessary to have lots of water for cooking, and washing,  I made sure we had enough supplies for the flagging kit, if anything was missing I would radio the Car Department Planner and let them know of any shortages, and a Carmen would soon come along  to rectify the situation. The caboose was supplied with its own radio that was hooked up to an antenna on the roof that gave it a range of about 7 to 8 miles, and I heard the head end coupling on, I did a radio check with them, then went and checked the fire it was burning nicely, so I added some coal which I had to break up from the large lumps that were in the coal locker, using a 3 pound hammer. I watched the air gauges near the conductor’s table and saw that the air pressure was starting to rise, one of the carmen climbed on the caboose to monitor the air pressure, this was different than Swift Current where the brakemen were required to make their own brake tests, as Alyth was classed as an “A” class yard, carmen were required to do all this work. When the air pressure had risen sufficiently the carman called the head end, said there was 75 pounds pressure on the caboose and that it was okay to set up the brakes, he then left the caboose to walk the train, his counterpart on the head end started from that direction, when they met half way he called the engineer and told him to release the brakes, he returned to the caboose and radioed the head end carman to confirm that all the air brakes had released, with this confirmation that we were okay on our brake test in V-4 with 68 cars the head end carman filled out the paperwork for the locomotive engineer showing that we had a No. 1 brake test at Alyth, with this done we are ready to depart East, the head end  contacted me to make sure I was ready to go, and called the Pulldown supervisor asking for a route out of the yard, and contacted 12 Street Tower saying that we were okay to go East, 12 Street Tower said he had a westbound coming in, the Pulldown supervisor told us to go out the New Ogden lead and crossover to P-2 and away we went.

I radioed my head end when we were clear of the crossover on P-2 at Ogden, and Vince opened the throttle to get up to track speed and get over to Shepard our first stop. We entered the CTC siding at Shepard and went down to the east end, where we had some work to do, there was a second siding that held 32 cars, and the elevator track about the same length, the head end brakeman had cut off five empty boxcars for spotting at the Alberta Wheat Pool elevators, by the time he was backing up, I had walked up to spot three cars at the west end elevator, he put on the hand brake while I did the spotting, we then pulled ahead to the east end elevator made the spot, then lifted some empty sulfur tank cars from the second siding, Fred was on the phone in the tool house on the north side talking to the dispatcher telling him we were ready to leave for the Strathmore Subdivision that started at Mile 45.2, we received a signal and pulled our train across the level crossing and about 10 cars east was the junction switch, Fred and I stood by the switch on each side watching our train as it pulled by I gave Vince car lengths and slowed him down enough for Fred to board the caboose I realigned the main track switch and ran to catch the caboose, and away we went at 30 miles an hour to our next stop at Langdon Mile 34.8 a distance of 10 miles, there was a storage track at Bennett halfway at Mile 38.9 that had 50 open top hopper cars stored there awaiting to be repaired at Ogden. The Strathmore Subdivision was part of the original CPR mainline from Medicine Hat to Calgary, General R.B. Langdon of Minneapolis and D.C. Shepard of St. Paul, Minnesota were contractors who built the original mainline between Winnipeg and Calgary in 1882, on July 28, 1883 the two contractors laid 6.38 miles of track in one day near Strathmore a record for the building of the railway, and the two communities were named after them, westbound passenger and second-class freight trains used to run on the subdivision until 1963 when it wants then downgraded to a branch line operation. We arrived at Langdon and had a bit of switching to do, we have five empties to spot in the elevator track, but the problem was the siding was filled with storage cars, so in order to get into the elevator track the head end brakeman had to stop short at the east end, go in to the siding and pick up about 30 storage cards in order to access the elevator track he then had to couple back onto our train and grab five empties for spotting, by that time I had walked up to make the spot, and coupled storage cars back onto the siding, we walked up to the locomotives, and coupled back onto our train, I was going to ride the head end to help do some of the spotting on our next destination the Langdon Subdivision.

The junction switch for the Langdon Subdivision is located just east of Langdon at Mile 33.60 and our timetable special instructions read “Position of the junction switch mileage 33.60 Strathmore Subdivision where Langdon Subdivision joins at Langdon is normal when lined for the Langdon Subdivision” this was implemented when the Strathmore Sub. was relegated as a branch line, and more traffic ran up the Langdon subdivision then the Strathmore line as that portion was seldom used, and the track was closed due to engineering problems of a sinkhole 6 miles west of Gleichen we proceeded northward across the Trans-Canada Highway that was pretty scary as there was lots of traffic and only bells and lights to alert drivers of this sparsely ran railway operation. We then approached an Automatic Interlocking at Grade Mile 9.1 this was where the CNR Drumheller Subdivision crossed our track traffic was governed by whatever train arrived first, there was an approach signal about 1 mile from the crossing would turn yellow if another train was approaching, and we would have to stop at a red signal adjacent to the crossing, that was also called a diamond due to the shape of where the two tracks crossed, at mile 12.4 Delroy an elevator track with an abandoned Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, next stop was Mile 18.5 Keoma where we spotted 7 cars at the single Alberta Wheat Pool elevator Mile 26.2, next up was Irricana Mile 31.5 here there was a long siding filled with storage cars, CPR at that time had many cars that were surplus, automobile carrying boxcars that we’re obsolete, replaced with newer bi-level and tri-levels, hundreds of grain box cars that the CPR had no intention of repairing as there was no money to be made due to the obsolete Crowsnest Agreement made in the early 1900′s, and other cars waiting disposition for repair or scrapping, as I was to find out, every siding and unused yard track on this subdivision was used for their storage there must’ve been 1200 cars, we spotted 6 cars at the two elevators, there was also another elevator west side of our track, it was serviced by the CNR on their Three Hills Subdivision they also serviced our next stop at Beiseker Mile 39.8 on the east side of the community, they crossed over top of our track halfway between Irricana and Beiseker, we had, a fertilizer business, two Alberta Wheat Pool, and a Parrish & Heimbeker elevator on the south end, along with a platform for unloading farm machinery. Last stop was Mile 39.5 Acme that had 6 elevators three Alberta Wheat Pool, two Pioneer, and a United Grain Growers, along with a 40 car siding that was always kept clear for switching, when we finished servicing the elevator track we stopped for an hour to have lunch, we went down Main Street to a restaurant called Lucy’s, where a jovial elderly lady who ran the place served really good home cooked meals. After lunch we marshalled our train and left northward for Mile 41.7 Cosway a junction with the Acme Subdivision, here there was a wye to turn cars and locomotives, and the register station for the conductor to enter the time we left the Langdon and entered the Acme Subdivision.

The Acme Sub. ran 27.3 miles to the town Wimborne, this was the last branch line built by the CPR in 1932, originally it was supposed to run to Red Deer, Alberta but with the Great Depression track laying stop at Wimborne, with the petrochemical business growing in the 1950s a 2.72 spur of track was built  this was called the Meers Spur after a local rancher Jim Meers whose land the track ran on  The petrochemical industry in Alberta produces natural gas, propane, and butane, these gases have many impurities including sulfur, this is extracted and stock piled in solid form at many plants around the province. Some of the product is shipped in bulk by railway in special open top hopper cars, and some of the sulfur is liquefied, its melting point is 115.21°C or 239.38°F at this temperature it can be loaded into special tank cars manufactured by CGTX which stands for Canadian General Transit Co.Ltd. it also owns GATX  the Rail Canada Corp. UTLX is the reporting mark for the Union Tank Car Company based in Chicago Illinois, where it has been in business hundred and 20 years these companies specialize in the manufacturing, repairing, and leasing of tank cars to the railway industry. The liquefied sulfur loading cars weigh 35 tons empty, and are loaded with 100 tons of liquid sulfur, the cars are heavily insulated, and contain coils of piping that steam can be circulated through to melt any of the product that solidifies in transit.  The Shell plant loaded tank cars of liquid sulfur, and we switched them twice a week. Leaving Cosway our first stop was at Mile 5.8 town of Linden, this was a Mennonite community where they had a thriving business building farm machinery, there was one Alberta Wheat Pool elevator where we spotted 3 cars, next stop was Mile 10.5 Sunnyslope, with 2 Alberta Wheat Pool elevators where we dropped off 4 cars, one on the south end, and 3 at the elevator on the north end. we then carried on to Mile 14.4 Allingham were we spotted 1 car at the lone Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, then it was onto Mile 20.8 Torrington with its elevator row of 6, three Alberta Wheat Pool, two Pioneer, and one United Grain Growers, we gave them 10 cars, we arrived at our terminus Wimborne at 16:35, we spotted cars into the elevator track, and picked up the tanks we needed, leaving our caboose at Wimborne, then proceeded to the spur to give the Shell  Petrochemical Plant a switch, this was a typical setup for switching petroleum plants, there was a runaround track below the plants gates, we cut-off our empties,  and proceeded to the gate and got our switch list out of the bill box attached to the gate, we open the gates and took off to derail, checked for blue flags, and coupled the to the loads of liquid sulfur that were sitting on the Tank loading track to our left was the North bulk loading spur, where there were some empties, and loads waiting disposition, our list told us what cars that were released to go, and the ones from the loading track that were to hold as they had No bills, we were also asked to spot first out any CGTX  on the Tank loading track. We spent half an hour switching these out, then lined ourselves for the runaround track going down to the south end lining the switch, and coupling onto our empties, we then coupled on to the cars remaining in the loading track, and shoved them up to a spot where the loaders could access the first two cars from their loading platforms, there was quite a grade southwards, so the loaders have no problem rolling them down towards the derail using gravity, and securing the loads with a handbrake, with this work finished we headed back to Wimborne, shoved the loads into the siding and retired to the caboose for an evening’s rest, Fred, the head end brakeman, and I stayed in the caboose, Fred used the bed beside his table, the mattresses and bedding for us was piled on top of the other fold down bench seat by the door. The bedding was first class linen sheets, and warm CPR wool blankets, that became surplus when CPR discontinued many passenger trains in 1967, and we received freshly laundered bedding every week. We folded down the seat back beside the stove along the outer wall, and placed the head end brakeman’s mattress and bedding on top, being the senior man on the crew I slept closer to the door, while the junior man was closer to the stove, which was pretty hot at night. I had prepared kindling for the fire in the morning, filled the coal scuttle, and had banked the fire to keep us warm through most of the night. Vince the engineer had a small bunkhouse the same as a sectionmen’s accommodations, with two-bedrooms, from the days when there was a fireman, a small kitchen and living area with an oil heater, it was located between the legs of the wye, and had an outhouse about 30 feet behind it, it also had a telephone that the conductor would use to call car control in Medicine Hat when we tied up, for any additional instructions.

Illustrations, 1.)CPR 1973 timetable system map shows the Brooks Subdivision as No.4, Strathmore Subdivision as No.20, Langdon Subdivision as No.13, and Acme Subdivision as No.1. And h. the Meers spur. 2.) Photo of interior of caboose showing coal stove, water tanks and sink, aluminum dipper hanging on wall for getting washing water out of the water tanks on the floor, a kerosene lantern for light at night, and storage cupboard for groceries, my parka hanging on the left-hand side.also visible is the red chord for the emergency brake valve that runs along the roof to the cupola.  3.) Photo of our caboose CP 437169, with markers hung out, notice 5 gallon pail sitting on top of grain door board, an aide to finding caboose in the sea of railway cars in the yard. 4.) Photo taken from caboose crossing Bow River leaving Alyth yard CNR Highline trestle visible past telephone pole. 5.) Elevator track at Shepard empty grain loading hopper cars in second siding, CTC eastbound signal on the left, two sectionmen’s tool houses on right, Conductor Foulston used the closest one to phone Brooks Sub dispatcher. 6.) Shepard elevators, level crossing, and junction switch to the Strathmore Subdivision on the right-hand side. 7.) CNR train approaching Automatic Interlocking at Mile 9.1 Langdon subdivision. 8.) One empty grain box car spotted at Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator at Allingham on the Acme Subdivision. 9.) Shell sulfur plant at sunset on Meers spur. 10.) Photo of typical liquid sulphur loading facility, pile of solid sulphur in background, with bulk loading gondola railcars behind tank cars, 11.) View of other end of caboose showing conductors table, with Coleman lamp, and bed, the fold-down bunk in front of the other brakemen’s bedding, this bunk held the coal for the  caboose stove’s fire, also visible above the conductor’s bed is his parka and towels, there is a red cord running along the roof to the outside platform of the caboose, this also runs down to the other platform, and it’s tied to to the conductor’s emergency valve in the cupola, this is an safety feature so the train could be placed into emergency braking from any position in the caboose by a crew member pulling on the cord. Above the brakemen’s bedding is a black metal first aid kit, and a red flagging kit, above the right window is an emergency stretcher folded up. 12.) View taken from rear window of caboose showing where the CNR Three Hills subdivision crossed over the Langdon subdivision south of Beiseker

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