Locomotive Pulls Down Trestle

| May/June 1970

Suite 101, 10 Edmonton St., Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Fortunately, happenings of this sort are very few, but recently a friend gave me the two pictures reproduced herewith and these are most worthy of explanation.

In March 1923, on the Canadian National Railway which runs from Sioux Lookout to Port Arthur, this drag of grain had just taken water at Unaka Tank alongside Lake Eva. March in that country is still real winter, and there would be from three to four feet of blue ice on the lakes at that time. The water tank was close to the north end of the fifty-two bent trestle, which would be about twenty feet above water level, and there were varying depths of water; but over twenty feet of same with a blue clay footing close by the tank end of trestle.

This 2437, a heavy 2-8-0 engine with engr. Bob Stewart and fireman Gunn, had just taken on water and were leaving town. The head brakeman was having his lunch in the caboose or going there to do so. Bob was one of the men who was always heading for the terminal in both directions and no doubt but what he had all the slack gathered up when the engine crashed through the bridge and ice into the lake. Poor Gunn perished and his body was later recovered by a diver. Bob Stewart surfaced and managed to save himself, even if around sixty years of age at that time. This accident has sometimes since been referred to as the times the engine pulled down the trestle; however, I do not know what was recorded as being the cause.

The first effort to rescue the engine was by use of the wrecking crane from the deck of the rebuilt spans. This was a very hazardous task and made very much worse than usual, due to the lack of side blocking which would be available at any location, but not on a trestle and it finally resulted in the wrecking crane toppling over the trestle unto the locomotive under water and the wrecking crane engineer losing a leg. So it became apparent that some other approach to the problem must be made but by what means.

In those days the railways were doing a great deal of ballasting with run of the pit gravel, also filling in where trestles had been used etc. and this gravel would be hauled in hart cars without ends, just aprons, and heavy steel plows attached to long cables would be pulled the length of the train thereby unloading the gravel to either side, or maybe to the bottom centers. To pull these cables and plows required a large heavy duty double cylinder steam engine geared up to an enormous cable drum and the steam being supplied from one of the locomotives used to spot the loads.