Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Haunted Station

What were train stations and what did the agents do there?

This is a question I really do not know the answers to because most of what I can recall about small town railway stations is that they were worn-out looking, empty wooden buildings where no one worked and where no one went. Having said this I do have a few thoughts on the subject anyway.

Milan, Quebec. December 1965
Stations were mysterious railway buildings that no one ever wanted to go near unless they were waiting for a train or going to pick up a freight shipment. Canadian Pacific Railway’s station in Milan, like many of the train stations in other small towns, no longer employed an agent after the end of steam. Nonetheless, that particular station made a few lasting impressions on my active imagination because I am actually able to remember a few scenes from the time when the Milan station was still manned.

This rare message to the Milan station agent was found in a CPR ticket folder in an old CPR timetable that my grandfather gave me decadea ago. In 1957, this fare quote travelled from Montreal to Milan by train. Instead of requiring several days as the given dates reveal, this type of fare inquiry today can be looked up on the internet and found in a few minutes...but of course the trains still have to go there.

The waiting room was always open to the public but that other area, behind the screened wicket where the agent worked, was actually closed off. Anyway, I can clearly remember hearing a mysterious and puzzling clicking sound that haunted the station. The sound was like marble being tossed around and bounced off the wooden walls and floors, but there was never a trace of anything around. That noise bothered me and I hated going inside.

The automobile was already king, and consequently my parents rarely travelled on trains except in winter. When we did travel by train though I would be forced to sit nervously on the bench in the Milan station's waiting room hoping that I would not have to endure a session of hearing that scary clicking noise. As always though, and much to my consternation, that noise always started up when I was there.

On one particular occasion the sound seemed to be emanating from behind that door which was usually kept closed but for some reason had been left open. My mother reassured me the sound was nothing to worry about and then the clicking noise stopped.

Obviously this was not inside the Milan, Quebec, CPR station but this image is almost identical, including that open door; too good an example to pass.

Determined to investigate, I bravely and courageously ventured over and peeked through the open doorway to see what was there. The room was completely empty except for the agent who was seated at the far end and busily working away at the desk that was built into the bay window which looked out to the platform and tracks. No marbles littered the floor and nothing else was there. Almost expecting to find something terrifying behind the door, I timidly peeked around. Nothing was there either.

Suddenly that awful clicking noise started again. I tore out of the room and ran back to the bench to quietly wait like a good little boy for the train. Convinced that I now knew what ghosts sounded like, nobody was going to convince me that what I heard was only the telegraph even though I had no idea what a telegraph was.

Another recollection of life inside the Milan station was one very cold winter afternoon. In the center of the waiting room was a black, oil-drum looking, coal or wood burning stove. That day the stove was well fired up because of the sub-zero weather. Ted and I were dressed up in our snowsuits and like most little people, we were restless and running around the station's waiting room playing and probably annoying everyone else who was waiting.

Anyway, Ted decided to take a break, leaned against that hot stove and set the rear end of his snowsuit on fire. Unaware of what had occurred, Ted ran around the station leaving a trail of gray smoke until someone noticed that his snowsuit was on fire. The smoldering was quickly extinguished and Ted was unharmed. That charred snowsuit was finished though.

Ted (left) and me in winter 1957-58. Sure enough that was the same snowsuit Ted set on fire in the Milan station not too long after this Montreal winter scene was recorded.

My parents had to do everything they could to restrain me me from doing the same thing. I was jealous of Ted and wanted to be able to run around fast enough to leave a smoke trail too. Ah yes, the innocent ignorance of childhood. My parents must have breathed a sigh of relief when the train arrived and we exited the station.

When the station was closed a short time later that stove was removed and I never saw it again. And I never again saw Ted run fast enough to leave a smoke trail.

The Oddblock Station Agent


A few weeks after that fare quote was made, my grandparents made their once-in-a-lifetime rail journey across Canada on CPR's Canadian.


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