Friday, 15 March 2013

Trains 206 & 201

In the latter 1960’s my first love could only be described as travelling on trains but not just any train though. Canadian Pacific Railway’s daily local passenger trains between Montreal and Megantic, Quebec, were the standard by which I judged all others. From 1966 to 1970 these trains were listed in CP Rail’s schedules as 206 eastbound and 201 westbound. The lead assignment was usually given to rail diesel car CP9111 but units 9106, 9109 and others also made occasional appearances.

Trains 206 and 201 will always have a special place in my memories. In May 1966 my very first trip anywhere alone was from Montreal to Milan, Quebec, on train 206. A round trip ticket had been my birthday gift from my parents so I could visit my grandparents.

During that same visit to Milan, the late Leslie McLeod, a retired Canadian Pacific Railway Farnham Division conductor, gave me another gift that made a lifetime impression. The gift was the then current CPR employee timetable for the Laurentian and Farnham Divisions. That timetable was read and reread so many times that I had memorized all the train numbers, passenger train times, station names, siding car capacities, distances and speed restrictions for the entire CPR route between Montreal and Megantic.

During my visits in Milan, my activities almost always came to halt when the crossing bells started ringing or when a train’s whistle could be heard hollering out its warning at distant crossing. (A CPR rail diesel car’s call was loud and unmistakable) As train 206 or 201 quickly passed through town I watched in silent salute. The trains rarely stopped in Milan, however a certain satisfaction was derived from being able to say that I was once in a while the reason for one of those rare times. While the CPR wanted the trains discontinued the railway ran the trains on time or within a few minutes of their schedules.

 A look at CP Rail's published schedule for service between Montreal and Megantic.

Several years ago Greg McDonnell wrote an article in TRAINS Magazine (December 1986 issue) in which he recounted his Christmas gift train journey from Kitchener, Ontario, to Montreal. He also wrote about the major snow storm that clobbered much of eastern Canada during the last week of 1969. McDonnell’s essay wonderfully chronicled the unique effects the foul winter weather had on trains operating in the Montreal region. That same Christmas I too had received the gift of a return trip train ticket. Mine however, came in a red CP Rail ticket envelope and was for a rail journey from Montreal to Milan.

Friday, December 26, 1969 started out as a typical grey winter day, however by noon snow was falling. Unusually heavy snow was falling and the wind was picking up. By 14:30 several inches had already accumulated on everything and my father decided it was time to drive me into downtown and drop me off at Windsor Station. He thought it would be better for me to do the rest of my waiting in the station rather than stuck in snow on a highway. With a train ride at stake I could not have been more agreeable.

Later, from the comfort of inside dayliner CP9111, I watched CP Rail equipment removing snow from the platforms. Train 206 departed on time at 16:50 and the journey from Montreal to Farnham, Quebec, was uneventful.  After leaving Farnham the train stopped west of Brookport. Train 206 was held for almost an hour near that junction of the Sherbrooke and Newport subdivisions before receiving a clear signal to resume its journey eastward. I never did learn the reason for that delay but Train 206 did not meet or overtake any trains at the siding.

The tardy train arrived in Sherbrooke at 21:20 having lost another hour because of the weather conditions. Heavy snow and wind were still blasting Quebec’s Eastern Townships and quite a drift had blown into the steps and vestibules of the rail diesel cars.

The final ten miles of my trip (Scotchtown to Milan) were covered slowly. With only darkness outside and travelling through mountain wilderness where two walls of encroaching forest were held back at the fences on each side of the track, I had been relying on the train’s whistling as a guide to its location. Soon it was impossible to figure out how far the train had travelled until I saw the flashing highway protection signals at McLeod’s Crossing. Later I learned that train 206 had been following a plow train. The engineer of Train 206 had been signaling warnings at frequent intervals and not just at the road crossings.

A Greg McDonnell photo recorded the storm's aftermath on Dec 28 1969: a stalled Budd train. CP9058 and two others were stuck in almost two feet of new snow in the Montreal West train station. That could easily have been Train 206 east of Sherbrooke two evenings earlier. 4066, the F unit on the left, had just arrived with Train 41, the westbound "Atlantic Limited"

Although a bit more than 2½ hours late, Train 206 safely reached Milan at 23:20. The pair of rail diesel cars did not stop at the station but carried on to make its pause on the town’s road crossing. Snow drifts outside were higher than the floor of the train. The conductor quickly closed the door on what was the station side of the track and suggested that I detrain on the other side which sloped down and away from the track. I stepped into snow higher than my waist and waited for the train to depart before beginning my struggle through the snow and wind. Shortly afterward I was inside my grandparents’ home and seated in my favourite place beside the wood burning stove.

Looking back and reflecting after all these years, I suppose it was a wonder that the train had not stalled in a snow drift on one of the steeper grades east of Sherbrooke.

Once upon a time a commonplace cigarette advertisement used the slogan, “I would walk a mile for a…”

Only a mile? 

Big deal! Toss the tobacco!

I would walk ten miles for a train ride…and I did just to prove it!

The day came when I was confident I could walk from Milan to Scotstown following the CP Rail route. It was a full mile shorter than the roads. Some persistent persuasion was required but I did convince my mother that Ted and I really could do the 10.2 mile trek to Scotstown. We set out at 15:10. That particular departure time was deliberately chosen because it had once been the Milan flag-stop time for train 203 before that train was relegated to the realms of once was. Our plan was to reach Scotstown before 20:23 and ride back to Milan on the 206.

We commenced our rail track trek at mile 14.8 of the Megantic Subdivision and walked without pausing as far as the Dell Road railway crossing just west of mile board 22. Almost in sight of the granite quarry, Ted and I stopped for a rest and to eat the sandwiches we had brought along. Neither of us had any idea what time it was but we were certain from the not-too-long shadows that our progress had been very good. Intentionally, I had left my watch behind. Watch or no watch, we had to arrive in Scotstown first. Later as we neared mile board 23 we heard church bells ringing in Scotstown. We both new that meant 18:00. In those days the Catholic churches in Quebec’s small towns rang their bells at 18:00.

Ted’s pace had slowed because his feet were hurting him. Our final mile was travelled at a much slower pace than the previous nine miles were, but we did make it. I shall never know exactly how long our rail walk took but it ended at least an hour before Train 206 was due. 

While we waited at Scotstown’s train station, a westbound freight train rolled by. Brake shoes squeezing steel wheels produced clouds of smoke and showers of sparks as the train was slowing for the lower 35 miles per hour speed limit. I’m not certain where the westbound freight met the 206 but I surmise that the freight must have waited at Gould, a siding five miles west of Scotstown.

Train 206 arrived in Scotstown on time. The conductor that evening was D.K. McLeod. When he asked why we were taking the train from Scotstown to Milan I told him that Ted and I had walked from Milan just to have a train ride. I do not think he believed me but D.K. did remark that he thought we should have been using our time for better things. Anyway, Ted and I rode back to Milan covering those same hard won ten miles in about 14 minutes instead of the several hours we had taken. As train 206 approached Milan’s mile board, the engineer gave the horn of the 9111 three unusually long blasts to notify the town of Milan that the 206 was going to make a stop that evening.

This is the cash fare receipt which D.K. McLeod, Conductor of Train 206 on June 29, 1968, issued to me to acknowledge receipt of my payment in the amount of fifity-five cents for railway transportation from Scotstown to Milan. Such was my reward for a ten-mile walk to ride the train. Not just any train though.

I was ready to do the same hike again for another train ride but Ted would not hear of it. Anyway, that trek turned out to be the only time I would ever walk the entire 10.2 miles of the CP route between Milan and Scotstown in one session.

The end eventually came and Trains 206 and 201 passed into railway history on August 01, 1970. To me their demise hurt like a death in the family. On that same date CP Rail amended the schedules of through trains 42 and 41 to add (east of Sherbrooke) flag stops at Cookshire and Scotstown. Even with those schedule amendments it was no longer possible to take the train to or from Milan. The nearest passenger stops were either Scotstown or Megantic. 

In spite of the loss of Trains 206 and 201 however, a new train love affair was just down the track, “The Atlantic Limited”’

(Written August 1993)
The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum October 28, 2014

Train 201 - an old friend found on the internet. The caption with this photo reads. "This RDC-2 leads RDC-1 on a train stopped at the station in Magog, Quebec, on June 14, 1967." Although not mentioned, this was a westbound passenger train. A bit of research confirms that the given date was a Wednesday. The only possible scheduled westbound RDC train on that day at Magog was Train 201. (Mike Condren photo)

One time as a passenger riding on Train 201, probably in 1968, while the train made it's obligatory stop at Foster, Quebec, and similar to the scene depicted above, Train 201 was held at Foster to load dozens of boxes of Slack's mushrooms from nearby Waterloo, Quebec. Today, the passenger trains, station, siding tracks and Slack's mushrooms are long gone. 

The former Canadian Pacific Railway mainline remains today, but struggling to survive as the Central Maine and Quebec Railway.

Addendum September 01, 2017

I have some doubt regarding this particular example...

Caption verbatim as originally published: When CP Rail moved RDCs from Montreal to New Brunswick they would sometimes attach them to the rear of "The Atlantic Limited". This photo, taken at Montreal West on August 2, 1970, shows such a move because CP's 9111 is being brought up from the Dominion Atlantic. (David Morris photo published in Canadian Rail No. 491 - November-December 2002)

I have no doubt that CP Rail dead-headed rail diesel cars for the DAR on The Atlantic Limited, however, given August 02, 1970, as the date for this specific scene captured, I do question whether or not this move of the 9111 was from Saint John, NB.

As mentioned above in the conclusion of my initial posting, Train 206 made its final trip the night before on August 01, 1970, arriving in Megantic on or about 9:00 p.m. Dayliner 9111 was often assigned to trains 206 and 201, and may well have been assigned for the train's final run.

In this light I venture to suggest that the 9111 shown here and still facing eastward, was added to Train 41 in Megantic around 4:00 a.m. as the quickest way to deadhead the unit back to Montreal.

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