Coming down the hill at Swift

On the run from Fort Rouge to Rainy River, we have to pass through the United States for a distance of about forty miles. We enter the U.S.A. immediately after we pass by Middleboro, Manitoba and come back onto Canadian soil again after we pass Baudette, Minnesota and cross the bridge over the Rainy River. Pulling seventy or so loads of grain up the hill at Swift, Minn., causes a noticeable slowing in the train’s speed. Conversely, coming down the hill on the homeward journey with a load of empties causes a marked increase in speed. And if you’re going fast before you hit the top of the hill, you’re going one hell of a lot faster by the time you reach the bottom. Such was the case one sunny afternoon when I was braking tail-end for Tom Landry.

Tom and I were sitting up in the cupola keeping a sharp eye on our train as we approached the top of the hill at Swift. We were hustling along at a pretty good clip and I made a comment to Tom about the tank car immediately ahead of our caboose. It was bouncing up and down quite noticeably and I had the uneasy feeling that if it bounced any higher the knuckles might separate and cause us to go into an emergency stop.

As soon as I mentioned this to Tom, he began telling me about an accident he was in on the main line that was caused by precisly the same thing, a tankcar immediately ahead of the caboose. The knuckles on Tom’s other train did separate and the train went into emergency stop. The front portion of the train separated from the caboose by quite a bit before it stopped and then, because the brakes on the caboose weren’t working properly, the caboose overtook the rest of the train, smashing into it and demolishing the caboose. Tom and the brakeman had to jump before the caboose hit to save themselves from being hurt seriously. Tom then proceeded to tell me that tank cars were not supposed to be located immediately ahead of a caboose, they were supposed to be separated by at least five cars.

I hadn’t been aware of this regulation and thought that it was rather a bad time to be finding out about it, now that we were picking up speed on the downward slope of the Swift hill. We were already travelling well above the speed limit for the track and with each mile per hour that we gained, the tank car bounced just that much higher. We were nearing the bottom of the hill and going hell bent for leather when we hit a rough spot in the track and the tankcar gave a mighty heave. The knuckles parted, just as we had been afraid, the air hoses parted and the train went into emergency stop. I dove from the cupola onto the floor and ran out the backdoor to tie on the hand brake as tight as I could, just in case the air brake on the caboose wasn’t pulling the brakeshoes up as tight as it should. Tom ran out the other door and proceeded to do the same thing and, in effect, more or less nullified any extra tension I might have put on the brakes.

The caboose had separated about ten or fifteen car lengths from the train when the train came to a rapid stop. I thought for sure that we were about to have a repeat of the accident that Tom had described on the main line but, Lady Luck stepped in and the caboose stopped no more than a car length from the rest of the train. We heaved a sigh of relief, backed up and made the joint, then carried on with no further problems from the tankcar. From then on, I always remembered that tankcars were not to be placed against the caboose. I learned the hard way.


Railroad watch of Allan B. Peden

Seniority No. 1560

July 18th, 1951 – 1960

Promoted Conductor July 1955



The above clipping was from the Winnipeg Free Press, Tuesday, August 31st, 1954. I was on my way home from Rainy River, but shortly after 1:00 a.m. when we arrived at the Marion St. – Dawson Rd. crossing, it was blocked by the above car for several hours. The unfortunate city woman was still sitting in the passenger’s seat dead, when I first walked up to see what was causing the delay. In the above phot, I can be seen standing on the left.


Above right: Major James Gregor. Jim worked the express car when I first met him and I was just starting out as a very junior brakeman. Jim had been a paratrooper during World War II and was a bag of laughs; a real great guy to work with. He was the strongest, most agile person I ever met. He would do push-ups in the express car and clap his hands between each push-up. He also gave me a demonstration of chinning the bar using only one arm. The above photo was in the Winnipeg Tribune on October 8th, about 1965. Jim went to work in the office of C.N.R. after I knew him and was involved in a very ambitious program called Traffic Reporting and Control System. In 1977, when I was cleaning out some papers, I came across the clipping again and decided to make a copy of it with my 35 m.m. camera. I then enlarged the photo to a full size 8x10 and it came out so nice that I thought I would send a copy to Jim. The next two pages show my letter to Jim and his reply to me.