Burnt Journals

Burnt journals occurred at any time of the year but, more frequently, in the very cold weather when the brass on top of the journal did not receive sufficient lubrication from the oily waste in the journal box. And, watching for the hotboxes that indicate improper lubrication to the journal was a primary concern of all members of the train crew, particularly in the cold weather when that lubrication was most likely to fail. When this happened, it didn’t take very many miles for the journal to overheat and burn off, causing a serious train derailment. While in the overheating stage, the journal box, with all the oily waste shoved in the bottom, caught fire and created a ‘hotbox’ with much smoke and fire which, in most cases, could be seen when looking back at the train on a curve.

Unfortunately, some hotboxes were never detected and the result was a pile up of a few cars or sometimes dozens of cars. Such a situation nearly happened on our train while returning from Brandon one trip.

An old railroader and his wife, examine a C.N. derailment at Pacific Junction during the ‘50’s. Pacific Jct. was in Charleswood, not more than a mile from where I live. In all probabilities this pile-up was the result of a burnt journal, although I never did hear the results of the official finding. The old railroader is Bill Peden Sr., my dad. He spent 42 years as a railway mail clerk, finishing his career in 1958 on the C.P.R. main line run from Winnipeg to Fort William, Ont. Photo: Bill Peden Jr.


We left the Brandon yard on a bitter cold morning in the middle of the winter. If a hotbox is going to develop, it will quite often, but not always, develop within the first fourty miles. After that, lubrication to the journals is apparently OK and should be that way for the rest of the trip. We made our first stop for water and train inspection within the required forty miles and at that point, everything was fine. No traces, whatsoever, of a hotbox.

Our next stop, was to be Portage la Prairie and I continued to look back carefully on all the curves. It was snowing fairly heavily by this time and we were coming down the hill from Lavenham to Rosendale. Because of the light fluffy snow along side of the track, it was almost impossible to see back more than eight or ten cars. But when I was looking back, I thought for just an instant, that I saw a flash of flame coming from a journal.

I pulled my head in the window and yelled over to the hogger that "I thought I saw a hotbox." He never wasted a second in grabbing the air valve and making an application to get us stopped before we passed Rosendale. When we came to a stop, I went back about ten car lengths and found the car that was giving the trouble. I opened the journal box and the waste was almost all burned out. There lying in the bottom of the box was the burnt off stub of the journal, still white-hot.

Before cutting the car off and shoving it in the backtrack, I went back up to the engine and told them that the journal was already burned off and that we would have to move the car carefully so as not to cause the journal to drop.

We got the boxcar put away without any further trouble, but that was as close to a real bad train derailment as you would ever want to come. We were probably doing at least fifty-five or sixty miles per hour coming down that hill and if we had gone over the slightest little bump, a lot of cars would have ended up in the bush. Page 181 shows the results of a burnt journal, twenty-six cars behind the engine, that I did not see in time. We were in ‘Yard Limits’ travelling relatively slow at the time, but three cars still overturned in the ditch.


Nature Calls

Working conditions on the railway were primitive to say the very least. The hours were long and irregular and there were no toilet facilities of any kind, either up in a steam engine or in a caboose. These improvements to working conditions didn’t come until some time much after I left the railroad in 1960, and came as a result of the Freedman Inquiry. So, when I worked on the road you had to try and regulate your body functions as best you could. The only time I ever succumbed to the urging of nature was on a return trip from Rainy River one very cold morning in late fall.

I don’t know what I had eaten the night before but, I could tell as we approached the eastern outskirts of Winnipeg, that it was going to be a close race to the toilet when I got the engine put away on the shop track. Unfortunately, my calculation was off considerably and as we approached the C.N. station, I could hold back not a second longer. I hurried back to what was left of the coal pile in the tender and, with the auger twisting away almost between my legs, I pulled down my pants and shorts then let nature take its course. What a blessed relief, until I looked up and saw the windows of all the C.N. offices not far above. Too late now!! How many young secretaries spilled their coffee while looking out the window that morning, I’ll never know.


Checking the water in the tender

The fireman and the brakeman often helped each other out in their respective jobs. Sometimes the fireman would get a switch for the brakeman or the brakeman would shovel coal for the fireman. It made for good friendly relations and a sense of comradeship.

On one particular cold winter night we were heading for Dauphin. As we were approaching McCreary, the fireman was having some trouble and was quite busy with his fire. The engineman was hoping to run the tank and go right to Dauphin but was afraid to do so without knowing for sure exactly how much water he had left in the tender. He looked over to me and asked if I would mind checking the level. I wasn’t at all enamoured with the thoughts of climbing out onto the swaying tender in the dark, the smoke and the steam to see how much water we had left. But, I figured that if the fireman had enough guts to climb out there under those conditions, then so did I. So, out I went with my electric lantern slung over my arm.

The ladder on the side of the tender was covered in smoke and steam and was only visible for a fraction of a second at a time. I waited in the door of the cab for what seemed an inordinate length of time for the smoke and steam to clear, but all I got were momentary glimpses of the ladder. I could sense the engineman getting impatient with my procrastination (yellow streak) so, the next time the ladder appeared I swung over and reached for the rung. The rung I was reaching for was visible one instant and gone the instant I made my move.

My foot was already on the bottom of the ladder and I clutched blindly in the steam for the rung I needed to hold myself onto the side of the tender. I felt myself going backwards and in a fleeting instant, I knew that if my grasp missed that rung, I was a gonner. In the instant the thought was forming in my mind, my gloved hand closed securely around the rung of the ladder. I climbed up and onto the tender and measured it with no problem. We had half a tank, enough to pass-up the McCreary water tank and go to Dauphin. Climbing back into the cab of the engine was a simple task and the engineman was very pleased with my report. But I have often thought how stupid I was to attempt to climb that ladder under those conditions. Far better to have stopped and taken water and been an extra half hour on the road than risk your life measuring the tender.

Conductor Fred Peden, Train # 1 & 2 , Winnipeg to Waterous, passes through his home town of Portage la Prairie, on his last trip before retiring. May 1966. Photo: Florence Jackson, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.



Engineman Steve Joyal reads the orders for Extra 4011West before leaving Sioux Lookout on Jan. 10, 1982 on his final trip home before retiring. Photos: Bill Peden.


Engineman Lyle Corbet gives a "High Ball" to Conductor Bill Peden as he passes through Morgan. Ont . Summer 1967 Photo: Bill Peden.


‘Yellow Board’ at Gladstone. Operator hoops up a 19Y (non restricting) order to the hoghead of an eastbound freight as he passes through. This shot was taken in the mid-1980’s, long after all steam power had succumbed to the cutter’s torch and about twenty-five years after I had left the employment of the C.N.R. I was just passing through Gladstone myself when this freight happened by. What a flood of memories this scene brought back.


The tail-end brakeman is out to catch their copy of the 19Y order as the operator ‘hoops it up.’



…….Typical Beach Train Schedule…….



The above pamphlet was distributed by C.N. to advertise their route through the Rockies to Prince Rupert.



This train went over a washout at Sunstrum, Ont., about 38 miles west of Sioux Lookout in the early 1980’s Bill Peden was westbound over this piece of track and his train was the last one over before this eastbound came along and was wrecked. Conductor Mark Bergeron was killed in the twisted wreckage of the caboose. Photo: Bill Peden



Engine 6069, at Sarnia, Ont., a magnificent locomotive. If it could only talk, the stories it could tell. Photo: Bill Peden.


A brakeman’s view of the catwalk on the 6069. I would like to have a dollar for every time I had to climb out on the catwalk, day or night, summer or winter, and make my way down onto the pilot and then run for a switch. Photo: Bill Peden


Rear view of the 6069 at Sarnia, Aug. 1995, showing the beautiful ‘Vanderbilt’ tender, named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, the U.S. railroad and steamship industrialist. With a Vanderbilt tender we were never short of water. Photo: Bill Peden



View of the drivers, six feet across, on the 6069. What a treat it was to be riding in one of these 6000 Class engines!


C.N. Engine 6167 on display at Guelph, Ont., 1984. Photo: Bill Peden



A C.P.R. 2800 class engine, pulls a passenger train past my uncle’s farm at Portage la Prairie back in the 1950’s Photo: Bill Peden



Conductor Bill Peden at the C.N. Depot, Winnipeg, makes his last run on Via before his retirement, June 18th, 1983.


Ross Peden shakes hands with his dad, Conductor Bill Peden, on his last trip on Via before retiring, June 18th, 1983.Conductor Vic Guarino, centre.


Station, Neepawa, Manitoba, late 1980’s. Now the town museum.



C.P.R. station at Souris, Manitoba, boarded up and abandoned. Early 1990’s.



Canadian National station at Dauphin, Manitoba. Many fond memories of this spot. As flagman on 1st #9 back on Christmas Eve, 1955, this is where I finally caught up with my conductor, Pete Todd. Photo 1990.


C.N. station on main line at Rivers, Manitoba, about 1990. It appears to be all boarded up and no longer in use. It was here in the restaurant on Christmas Eve, 1951, that I learned that a switchman I knew had been hurt.


The C.N. Station in Winnipeg as it looked back in the 1950’s when I was getting called regularly for passenger service.



An old postcard showing the present C.N. Station in Winnipeg as it was in days gone-bye. It was referred to as the Union Station and was owned by the Canadian Northern Railway, before the Canadian National came into existence.