250 Yonge St., Painswick, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 3rd:
My engineer friend, Joe, calls at about 9:30 to ask me if
I’m running on time because we must be at the station before
10:00 in order for him to sign on, pick up orders, etc., for train
No. 41 north bound to North Bay. We will take 41 north, and I will
be the guest of Joe, the engineer, and Hank, the fireman on the
‘Head End’ on Canadian National engine No. 6536 on the
regular Toronto-North Bay daily run. Great! An ambition fulfilled a
ride on the business end of a train. Train travel is pleasing
anytime, but this should be a day to remember.
We drive to the station a wonderful day, not a cloud in the sky
and temperature about 14 degrees above. We are at the station in
plenty of time into the crew room to pick up orders and the control
key that each engineer must have to operate the locomotive
controls. Time 10:20 we hear an air-horn blasting to the south
ward, and here she comes picking her way through the switching
yards and rounding the curve to the platform. Crew change on the
engine. Hank goes back to investigate a great cloud of steam
between coaches 4 and 5 and finds a faulty steam heat connection, a
pipe coupling not properly secured. It is quickly fixed by a
10:26 – ‘ ‘Board’ We are up in the cab now high over
the rails, how narrow the gauge looks from this monster!
Conductor’s signal whistle in the cab blows once twice. Now
hissing of brakes off, a short blast on air horn and an easing on
the throttle-lever. The two V-16 diesels whine and we move forward
with bell clanging, through the yard and over the switch points and
start the big swing through town and around the Bay. Twenty miles
per hour to operate the street crossing signals. Through the last
crossing, now throttle lever fully open and diesels roaring picking
up speed in her own time on the grade going up from the shore. Full
power 35-40 miles per hour and the crossings come closer as the
speed picks up 50-65-70, it’s almost a full time job pulling on
the air-horn rope as we blast through the level crossings.
This is a fast track straight and level Barrie to Orillia, good
smooth road bed. We’re doing a nice 75 miles per hour now and
running on time. Into Orillia, a few minutes stop for mail bags,
At Washago we stop again, a junction point. We pick up water for
the steam generator about 1500 gallons for steam to heat the
We’re away again picking up speed quickly. Stop at
Gravenhurst and Bracebridge. Road bed not as smooth now as we get
into, the rocky hill country, and more curves. How this thing can
take these curves on those narrow rails at 65 I’ll never know.
Jerks and jolts. The never ending level crossings keep the air horn
Into Huntsville a 10 minute stop to pick up orders and stretch
our legs, then pull slowly out. Round the yardend curve, with
flanges squealing on the icy rails. Pick up speed again through
Scotia Junction, Emsdale, to Burks Falls. Stop for a few passengers
and some orders on a Y stick to Joe’s arm thrust out the cab
We leave Burks Falls and pick up speed quickly to 75. Hank takes
over the driving controls while Joe takes me back to look at the
power. The G. M. V-16 is screaming on the dynamo full power. The
steam generator is roaring producing our passenger coach heat. I
attempt to read Joe’s lips as he trys to tell me what goes on.
We head for the rear door to go back to the second unit. This unit
is a different style, a ‘road switcher’ with outside
cat-walk around the engine cowling. We pull our hats down and work
along the open cat walk holdtight that icy wind is blowing at 75
miles per hour! Into the cab of the rear unit and slam the door
lovely and warm in here. Now I can hear Joe again. He shows the
inter-locked controls of the second unit all working as one from
the ‘head end.’ Could have twenty units all controlled the
Now we work our way back along the cat walk to the leading unit.
Hank is blasting on the air horn as we brake for Trout Creek.
A smooth stop, pick up two passengers. As we pull out and pick
up speed, Joe and Hank tell me of the old couple who live by the
right-of-way. They are always on hand when the train goes by, day
or night. They are always waving. Week days on the return trip Joe
never fails to throw them a copy of the North Bay ‘Nugget.’
They live for the trains.
Thunder through Powassan on to Callander, and the last stop
before North Bay. About six passengers on and mail bags off. More
orders, brakes off, we roll.
Lake Nippissing comes into view frozen completely just like
glass. Children skating, cars on the ice and dozens of fishing
huts. The temperature now about 12 degrees below in brilliant
We clatter over the Eastern Junction points and then over the
Ontario Northern Railway Line ‘X’ and approach the station.
An alarm bell starts ringing back in the engine. Joe goes to
investigate and finds that the steam generator oilburner has cut
out. Good thing we were in North Bay before the passengers started
to freeze. We roll up into the station and turn the locomotive over
to the yard crew who will take it to the O. N. R. shops to repair
the generator, fuel up and take on water.
On our return trip we are train No. 44 North Bay-Toronto daily.
We have a two-hour delay waiting for an O. N. R. Timmins connection
running behind time because of a speed over-run. A speed over-run
is exceeding the allowed speed of the locomotive. This is 89 miles
per hour, and when this takes place the engine shuts itself down
completely and the train comes to a halt. This happened to the
Timmins train and the crew could not get it started again, without
calling for instructions from the shops all this caused delay, and
embarrassment to the crew.
At 8:25 we sit in the yard at North Bay while the O. N. R.
switching engine backs the newly made-up train into the station. We
have more coaches on this trip, as New Year’s visitors and
scholars head back south. The switcher clears the train, our rear
light cuts the darkness as we ease over onto the main line and back
slowly in to couple the train. Coupled. The conductor’s signal
whistle blows once, twice and we start to move slowly out through
the yards. Our headlight stabs through the pattern of green switch
lights and along the frosty rails. Temperature 20 degrees below,
stars shining, no wind and two hours late leaving North Bay on our
long jaunt south. What time we can make up will be difficult
because we have about 120 miles of track ahead that is not
‘fast’ When our speed will not often exceed 65 miles per
The rails look narrower than ever now in the darkness, and the
curves cut away beneath the headlight beam. We seem to be moving
faster in the starlit night, but the speed does not exceed 65.
The airhorn blasts for Callander, a flag is flashing and we make
a fast stop to pick up four passengers. No time to waste steps up,
full power, and we’re up to 65 again in a flash, with both
units working harder on our heavier train. Powassan, Trout Creek,
and on to Sunbridge with another flag flashing. About seven more
passengers and a small load of express.
We roll again and soon receive a message on the radio telephone
to take the siding at Scotia Junction to pass the north-bound
Continental Limited. Through Burks Falls, Emsdale, and as we
approach Scotia, we see the northbound Continental standing on the
main line ahead with headlight dimmed. I hope they have that switch
open yes, they have and we slowly pull around beside them. The
coach windows shine brightly as we ease by. We stop to open the far
switch, and the Continental pulls swiftly away into the night. The
switch is hard to pull, clogged with snow. We kick the snow away
from the points and as Hank eases the locomotive forward the switch
locks safely. Slowly the train clears the switch, and stops to let
the trainman on the last coach off to close and re-lock. A wave of
the signal lantern and he swings aboard and we pull rapidly away
under full power.
More stops at Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Washago,
then on to Orillia a pretty sight, lots of lights and green switch
lanterns glimmering on the shining rails as we pull into the
station. Ten or so passengers aboard here, and mail bags for
Toronto. We pull out, Hank at the controls. Air-horn sounds for
street level crossings as we roar out of town and into the long
grade, picking up speed quickly. We are now on ‘fast track’
and Hank has the speed at about 85 miles per hour, as we top the
grade and start the straight and smooth run toward Barrie.
Hanksholds the speed steady at about 85 we have made up some time
but still about 1 hours late.
We blast through Oro and Shanty Bay still at full speed then
start the gradual swing to the right for the approach to Barrie. We
roll in, braking, down to the waters edge, skirt the down-town
section with its crossing signal bells ringing, then round the bay
to Allandale station. A smooth stop, a hand shake and thank you to
Joe and Hank and I climb down from the Head End. A short walk back
the platform to see the express and mailbags being loaded then that
familiar ‘ ‘Board’ and air signal, and the train moves
almost noiselessly away from the station. The air-horn is sounding
as they head into the long curve, and the red tail lights on the
last coach disappear in a swirl of snow.