Wednesday, 27 February 2013

First Impressions

Well you’ve clicked on the page and come this far anyway.

My first impression of steam engines was not love at first sight; at least not close up. There is one particular day that I can remember from the mid-1950’s when my grandfather took me with him for a walk over to the train station in Milan, Quebec, for an up close look at the black engine on the way-freight. I was terrified because I knew that huge hissing machine, snorting out wisps of steam, was going to whistle for the crossing upon departure. The torture was not knowing when.

As those of us at track side knew, the black metal beast exhaled loudly, almost like a huge muffled sneeze, and then shrieked out its warning for the crossing. I cried from fear and through a flood of tears begged to go home. That was the only time I could recall ever being up close to a working steam engine during the steam age.

What caught my attention and intrigued me though were those sneaky, silent, swift, shiny stainless steel Budd cars that had been assigned to trains 202 and 203 which normally whisked through town at lunch time and again in midafternoon. (Nobody ever referred to them as rail diesel cars.) If the trains had not been required to whistle for the crossing in town, then I am certain no one, except maybe for the station agent, would ever know when they were soundlessly playing through. The Budd trains were my favourite. They purred like kittens without any of that noisy hissing, huffing and puffing of those smoky old black engines.

They were fast! A pair of CPR Budd cars speeding through Magog, Quebec.

A day soon followed when there were no more black engines pulling any trains through Milan. I was not disappointed because I was too young to understand the significance of the events that had transpired. Milan’s train station was closed and the CPR water tower was torn down immediately following the end of steam.

In July 1959 at Magog, Quebec, (CPR Sherbrooke Subdivision) Donald Haskel recorded this scene of Canadian Pacific Railway ten-wheelers heading west to be scrapped. That wisp of black smoke is from a chimney in the background and not from the 814. The two dead locomotives and three pulpwood cars were set aside on the siding while the now diesel-powered local way-freight carried out switching duties.

As a youngster I heard the older folks grumble about those changes and lamenting the sudden loss of passenger trains. Sometimes I think those major events would not have seemed so traumatic for the public if the demise of steam and passenger services did not occur together. Anyway, that is a point for historians and experts to debate and argue over.

The Oddblock Station Agent

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