‘Red Board’ at Carman Junction

As mentioned much earlier in this narrative, I met with Fireman Lyle Corbet and Engineman Alister McGregor on a trip to Brandon back on August 11th, 1951. We had a very close brush with death the following morning on the way home at Lavenham. Now, five years later, fate brought Alister McGregor and I together again on a trip home from Brandon.

I was head-end brakeman on Conductor Alex Dickson’s car and Fred Dagg was the tail-end brakeman. We got called for a trip to Brandon at 22:15K on October 16th, 1956 with engine 3335 and didn’t arrive at our destination until shortly after noontime the following day after being on duty slightly over fifteen hours. With less than four hours sleep we were called again for 18:30 to return to Winnipeg with engine 2503. This was an old brute of an engine with a 2-8-0-wheel configuration and a California style cab. It was referred to as a ‘California’ style cab because there were no doors on the cab of the engine where the crew rode, only heavy canvas curtains. These curtains were pulled across the door openings on each side and tied shut with a piece of string or wire to keep them from blowing open in the cold night air. As far as the head-end brakeman was concerned, it was a real pig of an engine because, just like the old 1300 and 2100 class engines, the brakeman had to ride jammed into a little seat beside the boiler and ahead of the fireman. To get into this seat, you had to fold the back of it down and then climb over. The side window would not slide forward far enough to make it easy for the brakeman to get his head out for an unobstructed view ahead when on a left-hand curve. He had to stand on his toes and push back to get his shoulders far enough back so as to get his head out of the window. Alister McGregor was the engineer this evening and eighteen-year-old Robert Kellock was our fireman. Robert had only hired out on the railroad three weeks earlier.

We were designated to run as Extra 2503 East, from Brandon to Carman Jct., on the western outskirts of Winnipeg, a distance of almost140 miles and to pick up three cars of livestock at Portage la Prairie as we passed through there. We didn’t get out of Brandon until about 19:30 and had to take the siding for passenger train No. 5 and time card freight No. 410 as well, before we arrived at Portage. By the time we cut the engine off, went back into the yard and picked up the livestock, then pulled out, took coal and water for the engine, it was a little after 1:00 a.m. before we picked up our running orders at East Tower taking us to Carman Jct. Normally, we would make the run from Portage (East Tower) to Carman Jct. without stopping, but we had an unusually heavy train this night and engine 2503 was working particularly hard. Engineman McGregor decided that to play it safe, we would stop and take water at Calrin, fifteen or so miles west of Winnipeg. As the train slowed down, I dropped off the engine and made an inspection of the train as required by the rules.

In a few minutes I was back up on the engine and we were underway again travelling about thirty-five miles per hour. Before long, the ‘distance board’ at Carman Jct. appeared and it was in the ‘yellow’ or cautionary position. This meant that the ‘home board’ or board that is located directly in front of the junction itself, could either be in the yellow or cautionary position, or it could be in the red or ‘stop position,’ if another train coming from the branch line was entering onto the mainline in front of us. Alister called the ‘yellow distance board’ and both myself and the fireman answered. We were still over a mile from the ‘distance board’ when its yellow indication was first observed and the ‘home board’ was a little over a mile beyond that again. Alister made an application of the air brakes and slowed us down to about twenty-five miles-per-hour.

I began watching for the sign that would read, Carman Jct. one mile. When I saw this sign on the engineer’s side I called, "one mile." Alister acknowledged but didn’t make any further application of the air brakes because we still had plenty of distance to stop, considering the slow speed we were travelling and because there was a possibility the ‘home board’ might not be red. At this point I had the window shoved as far forward as possible and my head out to spot the ‘home board.’ In a moment or two Alister made what I would consider to be a light application of the air, enough to bring the brake shoes up against the wheels. I continued straining to see the indication of the board. The track curved to the left near the ‘home board’ and Alister was depending on me to spot it and call the indication to him. Because of cross arms on telephone poles and red warning lights on structures in the distant background, it was initially very difficult to spot the ‘home board.’

When I did spot it, it was in the red position and I looked over to Alister and called out in a loud voice, "red board!" Alister looked over to me and replied, "red board." But he didn’t immediately make any further application of the air brakes. I waited no more than a couple of seconds and again I yelled "red board," this time holding my right arm out in the horizontal position to make sure he understood the board was against us. He immediately replied "red board," and held his left arm out in the horizontal position indicating he knew the home board was red against us. Then, as he brought his left arm back, he grabbed the automatic brake valve and made a heavy reduction of the air. We weren’t going very fast, but that heavy train we were pulling didn’t seem to slow down very much. I had my head out the window as far as I could get it, looking to see if anything was on the main line in front of us. Alister made another application of air. Everything was black in front of us at this point and by now you could feel the brakes grabbing hold and the train slowing down noticeably.

I thought everything was under control and that we would stop clear of the ‘red board’ when, all of a sudden, I heard Alister pull the brake valve into the emergency stop position and simultaneously yell, "Get the hell out of here, we’re going by the board." The alarm in his voice left no doubt in my mind that the train was not under control as I had assumed only seconds earlier and that we were not going to get stopped at the ‘red board.’ Further, the alarm in his voice indicated clearly that he had seen something on his side that we couldn’t see from our side, that put us all in imminent danger.

As I was clambering to get out of the brakeman’s seat, Fireman Robert Kellock was at the curtain in the doorway undoing the wire that held it shut. In an instant the curtain was drawn back and young Kellock jumped straight out from the engine. Unfortunately, his body rotated so that, instead of facing forward in the direction of train movement, when he landed he was facing backwards. I jumped immediately behind him but landed in a heap facing forward right at the side of the tender as its wheels passed by close to my ears. For a split second I wasn’t sure if I was at the side of the rails or if I had rolled between the rails. But in an instant I was on my knees facing forward just in time to see our engine sideswipe another train that had been pulling onto the mainline from the Carman Subdivision.

There was a mighty crash and splintering of wood and engine 2503, followed by about eight boxcars, rolled over into the ditch on my side. The cattle cars, which were immediately behind the engine, disintegrated upon impact and the cattle were either killed or buried in grain from the following boxcars that shattered. The instant I saw our engine and boxcars begin toppling into the ditch on my side, I ran down through the ditch and up the other side until I hit the fence. I looked over my shoulder at this point and everything had now come to a stop. At the point where I jumped, I was only about two boxcar lengths from the last boxcar that rolled into the ditch; far to close to the wreckage for comfort. I could see no sign of the fireman as I walked back through the ditch and crossed through our train over to the engineer’s side.

What I saw was the caboose of another train that had been coming off the Carman Sub., only three or four car lengths from the point of impact. The tail-end crew had already come over and were talking to our engineer when I showed up. I asked them if our fireman had crossed through and when they said he hadn’t, alarm bells began ringing. I said we had better go look for him because he must be hurt.

 

Clipping from the Winnipeg Free Press, Oct 18th, 1956. Our engine can be seen laying on its side in the ditch on the right. The red board can be seen at left.

 

Unfortunately, my assumption was correct. Robert Kellock was found unconscious within a minute or two, lying in the ditch with a severe head injury. Robert had fallen backwards after jumping from the engine and hit the back of his head on a large rock that was laying in the ditch. An ambulance was called immediately and arrived on the scene within a matter of minutes. Fireman Kellock was transported to the Misericordia hospital where he died shortly afterwards.

Both Engineman McGregor and myself were pulled out of service immediately after the accident and were kept out of service until the company completed its accident investigation a few days later. I was exonerated of all blame and returned to service on Oct. 21st, three days after the accident. The full blame for the accident was attributed to Engineman McGregor’s failure to stop our train clear of the ‘red board’ and he was pulled out of service for one full year. If it wasn’t for the fact that Alister had had a clean slate with the company, he would have been let go permanently.

Both Alister McGregor and myself were called upon to appear at a coroner’s inquest on the evening of October 30th and give evidence as to the cause of the accident. Coroner I.O. Fryer, M.D., was in charge and it was the most somber meeting I had ever experienced, before or since. The parents and brother of Robert Kellock were at the inquest and both Alister and myself were called upon to give evidence as to the cause of the accident. It was a heartbreaking situation knowing that Alister had lost his own son, Roy, to a murderer and sex pervert by the name of Michaelo Angelo Vescio about six years previously. And now he was being questioned as to his own role in the accidental death of someone else’s son.

Forty-two years have elapsed since that fateful night when Extra 2503 East ran the red board at Carman Junction. Over the years I have thought of that fateful night on many occasions, and I often wonder if I did all I could to prevent that accident and the death of Robert Kellock. I have concluded that I did all I could, considering that I was jammed in a god damn seat beside the boiler and had difficulty getting my upper body out the window to see around the curve in the track. There was sufficient time to stop the train when the ‘red board’ was called. If the Canadian National had located the ‘home board’ about thirty cars to the west, the whole head-end crew would have been able to see its signal indication for several miles. Maybe this would have avoided the accident. I’m sure it would have. So maybe some of the blame at least, should have rested with the C.N.R and not all have been placed on the back of Alister McGregor.

 

Carman Junction

The branch line meets the main line
In Charleswood west of town.
A thousand times we passed it by
With never a thought of harm.
The signal board was always green,
No danger here we thought,
To the engineer we would always yell,
"Clear Board," as we thundered through the dark.
On a cold fall night that was black as sin,
We were almost home again.
In the dim cab light our young fireman worked
To regulate the steam.
Carman Junction lay not far ahead,
The city lights we now could see.
The brakeman peered intently ahead,
The signal board to see.
"Red Board", he yelled with a sudden cry,
As danger fast approached.
"Get the hell out," the engineer screamed,
Then into the darkness we jumped.
Our engine smashed into the other train,
Then rolled over into the ditch.
The young fireman died in that horrible crash,
It was Carman Junction, almost home again at last.

Allan Peden, head-end brakeman,
C.N.R. Extra 2503 East
Brandon to Winnipeg
Oct. 18th, 1956 - 2:55 a.m.

 

Fireman Kellock, with only 3 weeks experience on the railroad, died from the jump from the cab of Engine 2503. The engineer that evening was Allister McGregor and he was pulled out of service for one year. Brakeman Peden was reinstated a few days later after the accident and after the investigation.

 

 

 

 

Extra 2503 East on its side in the ditch at Carman Jct., Oct. 18th, 1956. We ran by the ‘red board’ and sideswiped Extra 5616 East at 2:55 a.m. Fireman Robert Kellock died when he jumped from the engine. Photo: Murray Peden

 

Engine 2503 sits on the ‘ dead-line’ at Transcona waiting for the cutter’s torch. After the wreck at Carman Jct., it was repaird and put back into service for almost four more years although I never saw it working out of Ft. Rouge again.