Braking on the Canadian National Railway during the 50s
Railroading during the 90s with diesel power, centralized traffic control and two-way radio communication between the dispatcher and the train crew is vastly different and immeasurably simpler than it was in the old days of steam locomotives, train orders and hand signals for switching operations. Gone is the thrill of riding on a coal fired steam engine with a keen engineer coaxing every last mile per hour out of his engine to keep ahead of a passenger train. Gone too, is the challenge of railroading by train orders where the teamwork of the crew, in conjunction with a good dispatcher could often shorten a road trip by several hours.
I was a C.N.R. trainman or, more specifically, a head-end brakeman for nine years and I envy brakemen of today who can do switching with the aid of a two-way radio. How cumbersome and dangerous it often was for us trying to switch out some godforsaken back-track in 40 below weather in the middle of the night with only the aid of a lantern to relay signals to the engineman. How vastly simpler railroading is today with all the modern technology such as a hand held radio to talk to the engineer during switching operations.
For virtually all the train crews these days, the only steam engines theyve ever seen are those few which were mounted in public parks by people with enough sense to try and preserve part of our steam locomotive heritage for future generations. In my own small way, I would like to preserve what I can remember of the end of the steam era from 1951 to 1960, when I was a head-end brakeman on steam locomotives. I kept a record of every trip I made during those nine years on the road, showing the name of the conductor, destination, time ordered, and in most cases engine number as well. This in itself was a big help in recalling events and names of people that I had worked with thirty-nine years ago that had almost faded from memory. On numerous trips I had my camera with me and so was able to get quite a few pictures of engines and train crews as well.
Working for the railroad, in one way or another, seems to have been a Peden family tradition for the past seventy-five odd years. My grandfather, David Peden, on emigrating to Canada from Scotland in 1907, was a security guard with the railway in Portage la Prairie and his son, George, was later employed in the C.N. Stores Dept. there for many years. My dad, William Peden, worked for the Railway Mail Service for forty years and at the time of his retirement in 1958 was running on the C.P.R. mail line between Winnipeg and Fort William (now part of Thunder Bay) Ontario. My uncle Jock (John Peden) was a C.P.R. switchman in the Winnipeg yard for many years.. Uncle Fred, from Portage la Prairie, was a C.N. conductor on the Transcontinental passenger train running between Winnipeg and Waterous, Saskatchewan on the main line at the time of his retirement. My brother, Murray, worked on the C.P.R. as a sleeping car conductor running between Winnipeg and Vancouver during the summer months while attending law school. And finally, my brother Bill was a C.N. conductor and at the time of his retirement in 1984 was flagman on Via Rail running between Winnipeg and Armstrong, Ontario. Having had that many railroaders in the family, some of the coal dust was bound to rub off on me. And so, during the last decade of steam power, I too was a railroader. Let me relate some of the many experiences I had.
In the middle of July 1951 the Canadian National Railways began hiring brakemen again. My brother, Bill, was a good friend of Don McLennan, secretary for A.C. Nicols, superintendent of the Portage-Brandon subdivision. Bill spoke to Don about getting me on as a brakeman and a few days later I was hired and had commenced making three student trips. It was necessary to make these three student trips before I could make my first pay trip and establish myself with a seniority number. Don advised me to make these trips as quickly as possible because my seniority didnt begin until they were completed.
I cant recall where I went on my first two student trips, but an incident that took place on my third trip remains vivid in my memory. I was called early one morning for the mixed train that runs from Winnipeg up to Hodgson, Manitoba, a small town about 125 miles north of Winnipeg in the inter-lake area. It was called a "mixed" train because as well as performing the usual duties of a way-freight the picking up and setting out of boxcars at grain elevators and sidings along the way it also served to carry express and passengers by using a "combination car" on the tail end instead of a caboose. The outward journey, although uneventful, was not at all boring because we passed through little towns such as Argyle, Inwood, and Chatfield that I had never seen before. We spent the night at Hodgson and next morning the return journey started off bright and early in the same relaxed, uneventful manner and continued so until about noontime. I was riding in the express portion of the combination car and along with other members of the crew was about to eat my lunch.
Suddenly, the engineer began sounding the whistle in short rapid blasts and simultaneously the air brakes were applied in emergency. As the train came to a grinding stop, the conductor ran over and opened the sliding door on the combination car and stuck his head out for a look-see. He yelled back to us, "We hit a car." By the time the train had stopped, the combination car was almost at the crossing and we saw an automobile with both front doors open, down in the ditch on the firemans side. Two women, standing on the road close-bye were shouting hysterically about a baby in the car. The tail-end brakeman, who was a few steps ahead of us, ran over and retrieved a tiny baby, still sound asleep in its blanket, from the front seat of the car. The child, luckily, was unharmed as were both women since they jumped out, leaving the baby behind, before the car was hit.
One of the women, presumable the driver of the car and mother of the child, mentioned repeatedly in her sobbing voice that the train was due by this area an hour ago and that daylight saving time had her all confused. Well, confused she certainly was because we were running right on time. And on talking with the fireman and engineer, we learned how the accident occurred.
The driver unquestionably pulled onto the railroad crossing without first looking to see if it was clear in both directions. When she did see the train approaching, she panicked and stalled the car with only the rear bumper foul of the rail. If the driver had had the presence of mind, she could have left the car in gear and drove it off the track using only the starter. When our engine hit the car the train brakes had already been applied and the train was probably not travelling more than 20 m.p.h. With only the bumper of the car over the rail, the impact did little damage other than to shove the car into the ditch. Having the baby returned to them unharmed, the women regained their composure somewhat and were no doubt counting their blessings after such a close brush with death.
The car was driven from the ditch, the conductor got the necessary information for his 3903 accident report and, shortly, we were underway again. But little did I realize then that I would be witness to a number of other accidents in the years ahead although, unfortunately, not with the same happy ending.
L/R: C.N. Trainman A.B. Peden and Crew Supervisor Johnny Kramble at a Trainmans Ball about 1956. The wrinkle in my forehead is where I got hit with a winch- handle and received a fractured skull in 1955 during a period when I was laid-off the railroad. Every time Johnny called me for work he would begin by saying, "Hello, A.B." and then proceed to say,"engine 6079, 15:30 to Dauphin," or whatever engine and time it would be. In the early 50s the engine power was usually a 32 or 3300 class engine. It wasnt until mid 50s that we began to get a lot of the beautiful 6000 class engines. We invariably had 6000s on the L.C.L., a speed freight to Dauphin with about 35 or 40 cars.. The coloured drawing at the top of page 97 depicts C.N. engine 6060 which was saved from the cutters torch and is still running at either Jasper or Vancouver.
L/R: Don Cleghorn and Johnny Audette at the Trainmans Ball. Don and I have been neighbours in Charleswood since about 1958. Don was a brakeman and Johnny was a conductor working out of Fort Rouge when I was there. Johnny, although a very fine person, was prone to worry and broke out into a sweat at the beginning of each trip just thinking of what might possibly go wrong. And, unfortunately for Johnny, it usually did! More about John later.
Having completed the required three student trips, my name was placed on the "spare board" in the Fort Rouge yard office, right behind Neil Sorby who completed his third student trip a few hours ahead of me. My official "seniority date" was established as July 18th, 1951 and my seniority number as a Freight Trainman in the Manitoba District was 74, one turn behind Sorby. Anybody, who hired on as a brakeman in this region after that date was junior to me and when the spare board was cut, would be laid-off ahead of me. Similarly, if a job were posted and I bid on it, I would get the job if no one with more seniority than myself bid on it. As things turned out, I didnt have to worry about bidding on many jobs. With steam power soon to be replaced by much more powerful diesel units, it was a struggle just to keep from being laid-off.
But in July of 1951, the Fort Rouge terminal of the C.N.R. was booming as it usually did at that time of the year, hauling grain from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the Lakehead elevators where it was then loaded onto boats for shipment to points all over the world. The Transcona terminal on the C.N. main line was equally busy hauling all the commodities of a bustling economy; lumber, autos, chemicals, grain and manufactured goods of every description. Crews were working as hard as they could go; booking only a few hours rest at the home terminal and doubling right back from the other end. Steam power was at its Zenith in that hot summer and every engine that could make steam, from the tired old 1300 hand fired engines to the 3500 and 4000 class workhorses were pushed to the limit. Its still hard to believe that only a few years later they would all be cut up for scrap; even the beautiful sleek 6000 class passenger engines with 6 ft.drivers --- gone. What mindless railway official would give the OK to put to the cutters torch the heritage of a nation for the few paltry dollars they were worth in scrap value. Today, the country is left with practically no steam locomotives to put on display and virtually all the beautiful 6000 and 6200 class passenger engines were put to the torch. They should have been preserved for future generations across the country to observe and admire.
My first pay trip as an employee of the C.N.R. began on the morning of July 18th, 1951 as a freight handler on Train No. 21, the passenger train from Winnipeg to Gypsumville. Gypsumville was a small town about 150 miles north of Winnipeg whos only claim to fame was a gypsum mine, a product widely used in the manufacture of wall board. Train No. 21, however, served many other communities along the way in the inter-lake region and in those days, before paved roads were extended north, the arrival of the train each day was a much heralded community event.
As a freight handler, it was my job to help the regular freight handler unload various commodities from the L.C.L. car at stations along the way. The abbreviation, L.C.L. stood for "less than car load lot," which meant that suppliers who wished to ship commodities in quantities of less than a car load could do so at a much reduced cost by sharing space on the L.C.L. car with other suppliers. Considering there were dozens of grocery and hardware stores between Winnipeg and Gypsumville all having their merchandise shipped out on the L.C.L. car, it was more often than not packed to the ceiling at the beginning of the trip. Under the circumstances, unloading the car was more work than one man could handle so the crew-office would call a man off the spare board, such as myself, to help the regular man who was assigned to the job. An old timer on the L.C.L. car by the name of Mckenzie was the regular freight handler on this particular run. Because he was extremely hard of hearing and required a hearing aid, he was prohibited from working as a conductor or brakeman.
When Train 21 pulled out of the C.N. depot in Winnipeg around 9:00 a.m. this particular morning, the L.C.L. car (an old decrepit baggage car) was loaded half way to the ceiling from one end of the car to the other with supplies of groceries, refrigerators, and God knows what else for stores in the communities along the way. We reached Gypsumville, tired and weary from unloading heavy merchandise, around 17:00 oclock, and were glad to be at the end of the line. McKenzie and I dropped our grips off in the bunkhouse then wandered over to the local café for a bite of supper. It wasnt the greatest dining experience I had ever had but the food was tolerable and there was lots of it. After eating, McKenzie headed back to the bunkhouse to read and since I had never been to Gypsumville before, I wandered around town for an hour or so before finally deciding to call it a night.
Since all the work on the L.C.L. car is done on the outward journey, there was nothing to do but ride on the way home the following day. And, not wanting to seem unsociable, I tried at first to carry on a conversation with old McKenzie. He was a friendly old soul but every time I spoke, he had his hearing aid turned off and I would have to shout. So before long I quit trying to converse and whiled away the hours by staring out the window and watching the landscape roll by.
Eventually, Winnipeg showed up on the horizon and before much longer the engineer brought us to a smooth stop in the C.N. depot. Picking up my grip, I shouted farewell to old McKenzie and jumped down onto the platform, then hurried down the stairs, through the beautiful old rotunda and out onto Main Street. Crossing over to the far side of the street to catch a bus, I stood with my grip in my hand and gazed back at the C.N. station. Then the realization dawned on me, that having completed my first pay trip I was now a full fledged member of the Canadian National Railways running trades.
After lying around for a day, I was called again on the morning of July 21st, for my second trip. This time I was to be the head-end brakeman on Extra 1351 South and had it not been for the personality of our conductor, Jack ODonaghue, trip number 2 would have long since faded from memory. But as could be expected, there were many different types of personalities working on the railroad ranging from the affable and gregarious to the moody and mean. And, as I soon found out, railroaders were, by and large, a heavy drinking bunch, mainly because they had no bunkhouses or anywhere else to go except the beer parlor when waiting for a call for the return trip home.
Jack ODonaghue was a short, slim, tobacco-chewing individual who always wore an old passenger uniform on freight service. Jack was normally a cheery little fellow unless you happened to meet him when his nerves were bothering him. Gone was the cheery disposition and in its place was a testy, short-tempered little man.
The three student trips that I had just completed and the one trip as a freight handler left me ill equipped to handle the job of head-end brakeman with any degree of competency. In this regard, I was no dumber than any other new brakeman was because on the student trips, the crews wanted you to stay to hell out of their road. Consequently, you didnt learn much. That part would come later, after you had a year or so experience on the road. Just learning the routines, such as calling the Yard Office to find out where the train was made up, calling the block operator for the block, lining switches to get the engine off the shop track, and finding the way down through the maze of tracks and switches in the yard and onto our train was a completely new experience and one which my student trips had not prepared me for. But this particular morning, with the help of a very patient engineman and fireman, I managed to get the right switches lined. And, for the first time in my life, I had the unique and thrilling experience of climbing up onto the pilot of the engine, then hanging on tight with one hand and with the other giving the engineman a "go ahead signal." We started heading down the yard lead at about 15 m.p.h. and it was a tremendously exhilarating feeling, riding on the snout of an engine for the first time with the wind blowing in my face and realizing that this big black beast of an engine blowing smoke into the sky, was responding to a signal that I had gave. I didnt realize it then, but before I left the service of the C.N.R. in 1960, it was a position on the engine that I would be required to take countless times, often in the rain and snow and in the dead of night.
We backed onto our train in the "B" yard and I coupled up the air hoses and cut in the air as I had been taught on one of my student trips. On this particular day, we had in our train consist, cars to be set out and spotted at the grain elevators at St. Jean and Letellier as well as cars destined for the United States which were to be set out on the transfer track at Emerson. I rode the head-end until Morris and when we stopped there for water, both the conductor and tail-end brakeman walked up to the engine. ODonaghue told me to drop back and ride the caboose leaving Morris while he and the tail-end brakeman did the switching over at St Jean and Letellier. He never said at what point I was to return to the engine so I assumed that I should remain on the caboose until told to do otherwise.
This was definitely a wrong assumption on my part and when ODonaghue and the tail-end brakeman again boarded the caboose leaving Letellier, ODonaghue proceeded to tear strips off me for not being up on the head-end. Considering that I was a new man making, what was in effect my first trip as a brakeman, I thought the harsh words he said to me were quite uncalled for, particularly so, because he failed to make his instructions clear before we left Morris. Ive never forgotten Jack ODonaghue, nor have I forgiven him for the chastising he gave me that day.
But the balance of the Emerson trip went smoothly enough and I quickly began to realize there was a lot more to railroading in that era of steam locomotives and train orders than was apparent to the eye at first glance. The engine we had that day was the 1351, a tired, dirty little hand fired engine from some much earlier era of steam power. The 1300 class was described as a 2-4-0, meaning that it had two small wheels up front called pony trucks for guiding the engine around curves, then four more large wheels (two on each side) called drivers. These were the big wheels on the engine and were driven by pistons with the aid of large connecting rods. And finally, under the cab of the engine, there were no wheels at all. The larger engines had either two or four wheels in this location to support the weight of the cab and were called "idlers." Thus, our engine was classified as a 2-4-0 and, as I mentioned, all 1300 class engines were hand fired or as we called them, "hand bombers." They burned coal but were not equipped with stokers so the fireman, usually assisted by the head-end brakeman, had to shovel the coal into the firebox by hand and on a normal return trip this could amount to anywhere from 20 to 40 tons. Little wonder that the fireman was always glad to get a "hand bomber" back onto the shop track at the end of a trip.
Some memorabilia from my days on the C.N.R. On the left is is my pay stamp with my payroll number on it that the conductor had to use on his "trip ticket" when claiming for miles at the end of each trip. In the middle a receipt for my monthly union dues in 1958. On the right is a pay stub for the two week period between May 16th and May 31st, 1959. I earned $244.23, which was considered pretty good money forty years ago.
Shoveling the coal into a hand-fired engine, especially on rough track, as is the case on most branch lines, is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Its not enough to just open the fire doors and throw in the coal in any old fashion.
To get proper combustion and even burning, each shovel full had to be spread out uniformly over section of the firebox so as to prevent piling all in one spot. If the coal did pile up in the firebox, only the outer edges would burn and before long the steam pressure in the boiler would begin dropping. If you were just a beginner and were unlucky enough to get coal piled in several places (as was often the case), then it became necessary to take the poker and try to spread the piles of coal around to get them burning. This usually did the trick and kept steam pressure up until the next stop. It then was often necessary to shake the grates to get rid of excess coal that was hindering combustion.
Conductors Seniority List. My name appears on page on page46 and my seniority number, as conductor was 1560, just one turn behind Neil Sorby who was No. 1559. My brother Bills seniority number was listed on page 35 and was No. 1153. Bill wrote up as conductor on July 4, 1951, about two weeks before I hired out on the C.N.
The firebox doors were operated by stepping with your foot on a pedal about four inches square on the end of a long metal shaft extending out a couple of feet in front of the boiler. The shaft, in turn, operated an air cylinder that opened and closed the doors. It sounds simple enough, but in reality there was quite a knack to it when bouncing and swaying all over the place on rough track. The trick was to get your back up against the side of the cab for support and then pivot on the ball of the right foot as you swung around to get a scoop of coal from the tender. The next part required good timing because as you swung back to throw the scoop of coal on the fire, you had to step on the pedal with your left foot so that the fire doors opened soon enough to receive the coal. As soon as the coal had left your shovel, you took your foot off of the pedal so that the firebox doors would quickly close, thus stopping cold air from streaming into the firebox and cooling down the boiler. If your timing was bad and the doors didnt open soon enough, the coal scoop smashed against the partially open fire doors and the coal went scattering all over the deck. There was one more little trick to successful hand firing and that was to bounce the heel of the shovel, off the entrance to the firebox each time you threw in a scoop, so that the shovel full of coal spread out inside the firebox rather than landing in a pile. All in all, there was quite a knack to hand firing a steam locomotive.
On that first Emerson trip the fireman must have thought I had enough on my mind because he didnt ask me to help him fire the engine, but during the rest of my working years on the C.N.R. I got lots of practice, particularly when I got called for the rock train to Steep Rock, which in most cases was powered by a hand fired 2100 class engine.
I didnt have long to wait before I got first hand experience on the "rock train." The previous Emerson trip, which was a relatively short trip, was completed about 20:00K the same day and at 6:00K the next morning the phone rang with a call from the crew office for an 8:00 K train to Steep Rock. Naturally, I was called for the head-end where all the coal had to be shoveled. It was quite customary for the regular head-end brakeman of a crew, when called for Steep Rock, to book-off and give the spare board men a chance to earn some money. They didnt book-off, though, if they suspected they might miss a trip on the L.C.L. (speed) to Dauphin.
Once again our train was made up in the "B" yard and this time I was able to get our engine, the 2107, off the shop track and tied onto our train without any difficulty. Before leaving the Ft. Rouge yard, Conductor Perry came up to the engine to deliver the train orders to the head-end. I was very pleasantly surprised when he told me that the train would be stopping over at St. James station so that he could sign the register before leaving town, and at that time I dropped back to the tail end and ride the caboose. The usual practice was that the head-end brakeman on the "rock train" would ride back in the caboose where he could sit up in the cupola in comfort with a cushion behind his back on the way up to Steep Rock. In exchange for the easy ride up, it was understood that he would ride the head-end on the way home and would assist the fireman shoveling coal when the engine was pulling a heavy tonnage train and using a lot more steam and, consequently, one hell of a lot more coal.
After checking through the train orders with the engineer and fireman, conductor Perry climbed down off the engine and started for the caboose. I scurried up ahead to line the "B" lead switch and get the "block clearance" so that we could move out onto the main line and proceed west to St. James station. Getting the "block" simply meant walking up to the little block operators shack at Portage Junction and getting authority in writing to allow us to move out onto the main line and down to the next block operators station where, if we went beyond that point, we would require further permission in writing on the prescribed form.
Since there was no "Centralized Traffic Control" or C.T.C. in those days, all main line train movements within the Winnipeg terminal area were controlled by a series of block operators, and each operator was responsible for main line movements within his block. Upon leaving the terminal, train movements were controlled by the dispatcher using time cards for regular trains and train orders for extra trains. In many cases time card freight trains were running so late that they were annulled or controlled by train orders like extra trains. When passenger trains were running late, or for any one of a number of other reasons, they too, were controlled by train orders issued by the dispatcher.
Ralph Donner, who lived just a few blocks from us at the foot of Morley Avenue, was the block operator on duty at Portage Jct. this particular morning. Having requested the block, Ralph verified that there were no other trains on that piece of track between Portage Jct. and St. James station and wrote me out a "Clearance" form authorizing our movement on the westbound main line. He then went and lined up the mainline switch for our train and gave our engineer a "go ahead" signal. As the 2107 came chugging by me, I reached up for the grab irons on the side of the cab and pulled myself up into the engine. Black smoke was shooting up out of the smokestack as the fireman began bailing coal into the firebox to keep the boiler pressure up. We soon covered the two miles to St. James Jct. where we branched off the mainline and headed north, over the bridge crossing the Assiniboine River, and then up to the St. James Station. I dropped off the engine onto the station platform as the train pulled by and when the caboose approached the platform conductor Perry was out on the step of the caboose swinging the fireman down. I climbed on board while Perry signed the register and checked to make sure that all superior trains had arrived. In a moment, the caboose gave a lurch, Perry was on the step giving the fireman a "highball," and we were on our way to Steep Rock.
The trip was uneventful and each time the engine stopped for water we made a short cursory inspection. When hauling empties, chances of developing a "hot box" were practically nil, so a full inspection was never made. We did, however, look back frequently at the track behind us while the train was in motion to see if there were signs of anything dragging. No problems were encountered en route and after about five hours we arrived at Steep Rock. Jct. We came almost to a halt as the fireman ran up ahead of the engine and lined the switch that took us off the Gypsumville line and over to Steep Rock.
As the train pulled onto the Steep Rock line, I dropped off the caboose and lined the switch back for the mainline, then ran and jumped on the caboose again and gave the head-end a "highball." It was only a few more miles before we reached our destination and again the fireman was out of the engine and lined the switch for the siding. When we began pulling in, the tail-end brakeman went to the front of the caboose and turned the angle cock off on the air supply on the last car. Just before we reached the switch he pulled the pin of the caboose and, as the knuckles separated and air hose broke, the brakes were automatically applied, thus bringing the caboose to a rapid stop while still on the mainline just short of the switch. I jumped off and lined the switch back while the tail-end man released the handbrake and bled off the airbrakes. In a moment or two our engine came back down the mainline, tied onto our caboose and pulled us up to the station.
While the conductor went into the station to register and pick up the waybills for the loads we were to haul back to Winnipeg, the fireman and engineer came back into the caboose to eat their lunch. The tail-end brakeman had the tea already made and this was the most enjoyable part of the trip -- when head-end and tail-end crew got together to discuss what work had to be done and to swap a few stories. Perry was back in the caboose in a minute or two to tell us what switching had to be done. On this trip, there was little, if any switching, so all we had to do was tie our caboose onto the loads on track #1, turn the engine around on the "Y" so that it would be facing the right direction for the return journey.
When the head-end crew had finished their lunch and had had a bit of a rest it was now time to start making up our train and time for me to start earning my keep. In no time flat we had the caboose on and the engine turned around. Coming down the mainline again, the engineer stopped at the water tank to fill the tender. The fireman spotted the engine tender directly under the big spout and then called for me to come up with him. He showed me how to pull the spout down and start the water pouring into the tender. While I continued to fill the tender he went back inside the engine and shook the firebox so as to have a nice clean and efficient fire burning for the return trip. He then proceeded to clean the ash pans at the side of the engine while the engineer oiled the drivers with his big oilcan. Within a couple of minutes the tender was full of water and I unhooked the spout and raised it clear. The fireman was soon finished cleaning the ash pans and we then proceeded to the top end of our train. I tied the engine on, coupled the air hoses and waited for the engine to pump up the airline. Perry walked up from the tail end checking car numbers against his manifest. Shortly thereafter, when the air pressure in the caboose had reached 60 pounds, the tail-end brakeman gave the engineer a signal to set up the air brakes for an air brake test. When the brakes in the caboose grabbed hold, the release signal was given and the brakes were pumped off again. Perry checked the train orders with the engineer and then we were ready for the homeward trip. The engineer pulled the throttle out slowly and applied the sanders as we began to creep slowly ahead. As the engine lifted each loaded car you could feel the bump as the slack was taken up between each car. The engineer was concentrating on the throttle and each time the drivers began slipping, he cut the throttle quickly and then reapplied just as quick, so as not to lose momentum. We pulled out onto the mainline slowly and when the caboose appeared, the tail-end man lined the switch back, ran and jumped on the caboose, then gave us a "highball and disappeared inside. As conductor Perry sat at his desk writing up the train, the tail-end man was able to stretch out up in the cupola and relax for the homeward journey. But up on the head-end it was quite a different story.
The engineer, or "hoghead," as we called him, widened on the throttle and the old 2107 laboured mightily under the load of rock it had to pull. The fireman was bailing in coal at a furious rate and the black smoke was belching out the stack at each turn of the drivers. Gradually, we built up speed to about 30 or 35 M.P.H. and the cab of the engine rocked too and fro as the left and right side drivers alternately lifted the load.
The fireman wasted no time in showing me the rudiments of hand firing and promptly handed me the shovel so that he could catch a rest. Even under his professional guidance it took me a little while to get my balance and develop a smooth rhythm, but before long I had the hang of it and was able to spell the fireman off at regular intervals. It didnt require too much effort at first, but as the miles rolled by and the time wore on, I began to get a much better understanding of just how much effort went into shoveling twenty tons of coal into the firebox of an engine that was lurching down the track.
When not shoveling coal, I was in the brakemans seat, ahead of the fireman and jammed in on a little seat beside the boiler, where I frequently looked back for hot boxes. This was a hot place to sit and if you had a bare arm, it frequently got burned on the side of the boiler. And with the loads of rock, it wasnt at all uncommon for a journal to develop a hotbox, particularly in the winter. After several stops for water, we were finally on the homeward leg of our journey. Shortly after midnight, we set our train out on the siding at St. James, then proceeded as a caboose-hop over to the Ft. Rouge yard. We shoved the caboose into the caboose track, bid farewell to the tail-end crew and then hurried to the shop track with the engine. All in all, it was a very successful trip but I was glad it was over.