Thursday, 25 December 2014

Mile Post 17

Mile Post 17. Nothing is significant about this place unless you happened to have been two boys in summer 1968.

Mile board 17 of CP Rail's Sherbrooke Subdivision as it appeared in July 1992. Gone today are the telephone poles, wires and green glass insulators.

I had always wanted one of those green glass insulators that adorned the wooden pins on the cross arms of the railway's telephone poles. As youngsters my brother and I literally walked miles along the railway track in each direction from town. Occasionally we searched around the poles hoping to find an insulator that had been dropped and forgotten. No such luck.

One weekend when visiting Milan, I noticed that several wires had been removed from the lowest cross arm and one pin nearest the pole had an unused insulator on every pole. Being the eldest and usually the instigator or schemes, my brother and I set off westward along the railway looking for the shortest pole we could find. None were as short as we thought when we started looking. 

Near mile board 17 (in 1968 the mile boards were fastened to the telephone poles) we located a reasonably short pole. Too add to our luck, if one can call it that, we spotted a railway tie further along the embankment. We wrestled that tie over rocks and bushes and eventually had it moved to the base of the pole. With all our strength together we just barely managed to prop up the tie against the pole. My brother clambered up the tie while I tried to make certain it did not slip. He could just reach that unused insulator on the bottom cross arm.

In a minute he had the insulator unscrewed from the pin and tossed the insulator down to me. Not just content with one, my brother also unscrewed one of the other unused insulators further out on the cross arm and tossed the glass treasure down also. With our work done we shoved the tie off the pole and quickly headed back with our trophies.

You can probably imagine my reaction, several weeks later during another visit to my grandparents, when I was sent to answer the knock at the front door and found a Canadian Pacific Railway police officer there. While my mother and the CPR police officer talked in French, my brother and I whispered together in the next room trying to figure out how the CPR could have found out about the two missing insulators.

The CPR police officer departed without speaking to Ted and me and Mom carried on as if nothing was amiss. When my brother and I finally had the nerve to ask what the visit from the CPR police was about, we learned that the CPR was investigating incidents of stone throwing at trains several nights earlier. Fortunately for us, we were home in Montreal on the dates the CPR was questioning.

Mile post 17. Again, nothing is significant about this place unless you happened to have been two boys in summer 1968.

Today, all the poles, insulators and wires are gone without a trace. Twenty-five years later this same green glass insulator still sits on my desk.

Dominion Glass - 42

(Written autumn 1992)
The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, 19 December 2014

A Bridge Tale

Early 1950's - the other railway bridge in Scotstown, Quebec.

I can scarcely believe this railway bridge was actually photographed and the image still exists!

The railway bridge shown crossed over the Salmon River in Scotstown, Quebec, but a bit upstream near the south edge of town going toward LaPatrie. 

My father's Aunt Annie lived in Scotstown. Her home fronted on one of the town's main roads (Highway 257) and the property, which was a former farm, backed all the way down to the river. That's probably why Dad was at the river to take this photo.

In summer 1960 Dad took Ted and me fishing there; our very first time going fishing and we actually caught some yellow perch. We saw the concrete piers in the water and asked about them. Dad told us there was once a railway bridge. 

Scotstown, Quebec, date unknown. The CPR mainline is across the river just beyond that tall chimney. The east end of the former station building is barely visible on the far left of this image. (photo borrowed from the internet)

Anyway, when I was surfing the internet the other day, I found this old photo of Scotstown. Sure enough, a third railway crossing once existed in town and is shown in this photo, and this old photo is what has instigated this essay.
The former Canadian Pacific Railway mainline is on the far side of the river from where this photo was taken. The railway spur shown here went into the veneer mill, (where a park and restaurant are located today) and continued along the river to and across that bridge which Dad photographed in the early 1950's. Dad never told me how far that railway spur went beyond the other side of the river or what it was used for; I never thought to ask.

The former veneer mill (on the right) disappeared in the early 1960's, however the former plywood mill building across the river survived until 1969 or 70; demolished soon after Silva Sol discontinued making chlorinated water in the former mill.

A Megantic Subdivision footnote in the October 27, 1968 CPR employee timetable reveals that Silva Sol was a railway customer.

One more undated but earlier image of Scotstown showing the CPR station building and the mill. Only that brick chimney remains today. (photo borrowed from the internet)

A quick check on Google Maps shows that today a road follows along the Salmon River and some type of structure crosses the water (arrow) at or near where the original railway bridge was once located.

This is it for today's very trivial railway trivia history lesson from the Department of Useless Information. 

The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum February 08, 2018


Discovered on the internet: Another undated view of that other Scotstown railway bridge.

An undated footnote (listed among 1913-1915 footnotes) found in a CPR-related publication posted on line provides more information about the bridge. (C. H. Riff 2012)

An undated image of Scotstown looking westward but likely from the same time period.
1. Guelph Patent Cask Company.
2. CPR's railway station.
3. Water tower

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The D. & H. Trains

D. & H. Train ready for departure from CP Rail's Windsor Station in Montreal. (photo borrowed from internet)

The first time I learned about the D. & H. trains was the day Leslie McLeod gave me my first Canadian Pacific Railway employee timetable. While reading through the schedule and finding the page with the Adirondack Subdivision, I noticed daily passenger trains numbered 220 and 222 southbound and 221 and 223 northbound operating between Montreal and Delson, Quebec, which CPR identified only as D. & H. trains. 

From the Canadian Pacific Railway employee timetable effective October 27, 1968

When I asked Leslie what trains these were, he told me they were the Delaware & Hudson Railroad’s Montreal to New York passenger trains. These trains operated into and out of Montreal via the CPR from the junction with the Napierville Junction Railway at Delson. The origin of the CPR station name is a contraction of Delaware & Hudson.

From the CP Rail public timetable effective October 26, 1969

While I did see the D. & H. trains once in a while, I never had an opportunity to travel on them.

These trains may have been discontinued with Amtrak’s birth in 1971; they disappeared from the CP Rail public timetables that year, however a few years later, Amtrak re-established a daily Montreal-New York passenger train over the D. & H. route which Amtrak named the Adirondack.

In 1981 Kie and I rode Amtrak’s Adirondack from New York to Montreal, however, the Amfleet equipment did not possess the appearance and character of the former D. & H. trains.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Few Comments About CPR Boxcars

Canadian Pacific Railway's brown 40FT boxcars with the stepped white block lettering were once a familiar sight in trains and at locations all across Canada on the CPR network. These box cars often made guest appearances in other railway's trains when shipments required the cars to be interchanged to move the freight to wherever it was going.

As CPR's corporate image evolved and changed, so too did the lettering on box cars. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, the block lettering gave way to script, as detailed in this next photograph.

Further changes ensued in 1968 when Canadian Pacific gave their railway a make-over and changed the name to CP Rail. The familiar brown of CPR boxcars changed to bright red (and other colours) with new black and white multi-mark logo added.

If you have been paying attention to details, you will notice that all the featured boxcars have ladders on the sides and ends. The top photo shows the roof-walk in place and this point leads me to the next part.

In the 1960's, Milan, Quebec, still had a siding and team track in place. On very rare occasions, a single 40FT brown CPR box car would be set out on the team track. That rail car was a magnet and of course upon my suggestion, Ted and I walked over to take an up-close look. After a few minutes our looking developed into hands-on. Ted and I climbed on the ladders and eventually on to the top of the box car. 

The photo on the right was found on the internet. That could have been me in the 1960's. This box car is in CP Rail colours too.

One warm summer afternoon in 1968, a westbound freight train that was passing through Milan was having difficulty. Perhaps a locomotive had failed but I don' really know. The result was a long string of box cars being set out in the siding. A very unusual railway activity for Milan so Ted and I wandered over to take a look. What we found were empty refrigerator cars like the one shown below.

We climbed on the top of one car, walked along the roof-walk, and then jumped over to the next car, and so on for a dozen or more cars. 

The roof-walks of some cars were made of wood and we quickly discovered they were well rotted. 

On some of the cars the roof hatches were locked open but the ice bunkers were empty. No liquids were leaking out of the drain spouts on any of the cars; meaning they were probably all empties; ideal selections for an unplanned set-out. 

Here is another photo from the internet selected for illustration...complete with a rotted roof-walk.

The following morning the Milan siding was empty and our brief bit of railway excitement was over. 

Railways and trains are fascinating to watch but are dangerous places to play around. I guess we were lucky that nothing happened and no one got hurt. 

This last photo on the right illustrates one more reason why railways are dangerous places to play. Strangers can be lurking and appear out of anywhere. They may be harmless... but you just don't know.

A word of advice: 

If you really want to see railways and trains up close, then visit and support your local railway museum. Some of them even run trains you can ride on.

(Originally published November 2011. Moved to this blog and updated November 2014)

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, 3 November 2014

Canada's Most Famous Photo

Agree or disagree, even today no other photo taken of Canada is as familiar or so clearly defines the history of this nation.

The irony of Canada's most famous railway scene, was the absence of a train or even a locomotive in the background.

About 28 miles west of Revelstoke, the middle of nowhere in British Columbia, on November 07, 1885, the ceremonial last spike was driven to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Massawippi Missiles

"The Massawippi Missile" in July 1984. CP Rail diesel locomotive C-424 numbered 4248 was leading twenty-one cars and a caboose southward from Sherbrooke, Quebec, to Newport, Vermont. This scene was captured a little more than a mile south of North Hatley, Quebec, near mile 14.5 of CP Rail's scenic Beebe Subdivision.

The railway's alignment literally followed the eastern side of Lake Massawippi between North Hatley and Ayers Cliff, Quebec. During summer, going for a swim in the lake meant having to cross the track because much of the beach frontage was the railway right of way. The value of lake frontage was an opportunity that CP Rail did not miss out on. CP Rail leased sections of lake front to cottage owners who wanted access to the water...boulders, rocks, stones and all.

The former Massawippi Valley Railway was officially sentenced to oblivion on November 30, 1989. The National Transportation Agency granted CP Rail permission to abandon the entire rail line between Lennoxville, Quebec, and Beebe Jct. The abandonment also included the 2.4 mile Stanstead spur to Rock Island, Quebec. 

Like a stay of execution, the rail line remained dormant and quietly rusted away for a few years, however, in spring 1992 the scrappers were finally called in and the railway was torn up.

Prior to the railway's demise, rumours often surfaced that part of the railway might be developed into a tourist operation, however, nothing ever came of that. Tragic. In terms of scenery, this line could have been one of the best. The Orford Express came along too late.

Today, reproducing any of these scenes is impossible. 

Abstract from a 1980 CP Rail employee time table

Carload customers were non-existent. Bridge traffic and waterfront users were all that moved over this route.

"The Massawippi Speeder" Actually, it was anything but speedy. Recording this scene in July 1984 was nothing more than the plain blind luck of being in the right place at the right time. I just happened to be on the way back to the cottage after a swim in the lake and about to cross the track. That was the one and only time I ever saw or heard a CPR speeder on this route. Some days things just worked out.

Trains were not the only attraction on the railway. Kie on a hot hazy evening with Lake Massawippi in the background in summer 1981.

The small bridge over Brown's Brook located just shy of mile 15; the white mile board visible in the distance on the left side of the track. My ultimate goal was to photograph a train at this location but that was not to be. Anyway, I enjoyed making the half-mile walks here and swimming in the lake.

One more look at 92 southbound in July 1984 as it meanders along Lake Massawippi. A string of bulkhead flatcars loaded with Canadian lumber destined to the United States. Nothing works better than wood to get a fire going over trade issues concerning Canadian lumber going to the United States.

The Massiwippi Missiles, fourth class trains listed in CP Rail employee time tables as 92 southbound and 93 northbound, were for me the most challenging trains to photograph and that was in spite of the maximum track speed of twenty-five miles per hour.

In July 1984, service was down to three days per week and train times were any time. Times posted in the schedule were pure fiction. Without the aid of a car and a scanner I was forced to rely on older technologies: ears and legs. If I heard the train whistle in the distance, and hearing it depended on wind direction, I would grab my camera and race downhill on the footpath to trackside to get there first. Many attempts were necessary to finally obtain a satisfactory picture, much to the amusement of neighbours after they caught on to what was going on.

If nothing else, at least I can now identify with those crazy farm dogs that love to chase after cars.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum August 30, 2017

Some days when least expected...

Over the years I've made countless futile searches for an image of a train, any train, crossing this particular railway bridge; I didn't think any existed... and this week, purely by accident, I struck pay dirt!

March 02, 1968, saw this 2-car CPR Budd train crossing the wooden trestle in North Hatley, Quebec, with frozen-over Lake Massawippi in the background. The event was a Canadian Railway Historical Association special excursion. (Fred Angus photo)

 The same bridge in October 07, 1989, before the railway was scrapped

"A run-past through the woods." Another March 02, 1968, scene of the same CRHA-chartered Canadian Pacific excursion train on the Massawippi Valley Railway. The location was not identified. (Fred Angus photo)

Yes, this is the same North Hatley that former US president Bill Clinton visited about two weeks ago, thus putting the small picturesque town in the spotlight... for a while at least.

On this note, the final image below is dedicated to politicians everywhere because the result looks to me like a typical political solution.

Is half a bridge better than no bridge at all? I suppose the answer is a matter of opinion.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, 3 October 2014

What is a Roomette?

Let's start here, one place where roomettes are found.

Above is Via Rail's Train 15 making its scheduled 15 minute stop at Moncton, New Brunswick while en route from Halifax to Montreal; enough time to step off the train for a few minutes to record a few scenes.

By the time Canadian Pacific Railway purchased this and the other stainless-steel Budd built passenger cars in the early 1950's, North America's railways had perfected the art of cramming basic but modest comforts of home into spaces the size of a closet.

Here is a brochure that Canadian Pacific Railway issued in the 1950's detailing the then new stainless steel passenger equipment placed into service for the introduction of "The Canadian"
Below is an up close view of one of those former CPR stainless steel passenger cars in Train 15. This car is named Chateau Dollier. The name should be changed to Chateau Dollars because sleeping car accommodations are rather expensive these days. An airline ticket between Halifax and Montreal would have been less expensive but air travel is not for those who enjoy the journey rather than the destination.

Anyway, my accommodation on the train was in this particular car in roomette number 4. Via Rail's "Chateau" series sleeping cars have 8 duplex roomettes, meaning they are more compact than the regular roomettes that are found in Via Rail's "Manor" series sleeping cars.

A roomette is ideal for one person for overnight train travel, whether it's only for the one night on the "Ocean" between Montreal and Halifax, or for the four night odyssey across Canada on the "Canadian" between Toronto and Vancouver.

Here is a floor diagram of a "Chateau" sleeping car. In the mid 1990's and some forty years later, Via Rail was placing these diagrams in their timetables. Very little has changed inside except for the removal of one section to make room for the added shower facility,

One thing to keep in mind if you check the Via Rail website; you won't find roomettes listed as a choice of sleeping car accommodation. Via Rail has since dispensed with the traditional railway names and now calls a roomette a "Bedroom for one."

Let's get back on the train and step inside roomette 4.

The scene below shows the bench-style seating for the daytime part of the journey. A travel bag can be stowed beneath the seat. That's an armrest that folds down when wanted. The sliding door is closed and latched. The door can also be latched to remain open as well.

One more look inside the 1950's CPR brochure. In spite of the passage 60 years, this is perhaps the best illustration of what a duplex roomette is and still is today, which is the type of roomettes found in the "Chateau" sleeping cars. Roomette 4 was the lower type of accommodation.

In the corner is a tiny side-table that is ideal for holding a few small items, a bottle of water, maybe a book, some loose change overnight, even an i-phone. A raised edge ensures that items won't slide off while the train is in motion.

Beneath that at floor level is a tiny closet for a pair of shoes. More than half a century ago in the golden age of train travel, overnight passengers would the next morning find that shoes left in the closet were cleaned and polished. A tiny separate door from the shoe closet to the hallway made shoes accessible to the porter without disturbing passengers. Those days are long gone. So too are the access tiny doors to the hallway.

Turning around, below is the scene as seen from the roomette doorway. Shown in the lower right corner is the toilet with the cover down. It can also serve as a footrest while one is seated.

Midway on the right, yes that part that looks like a drawer, is the bed...and it does slide out just like a drawer. Shown on the top right is a cover that pulls down like a blind and hooks on to the bed frame during the hours the bed is not in use. For the photo, the cover is pulled it up to show the bed.. Smaller baggage can also be stowed beneath the bed but getting bags in and out can be awkward with the toilet in the way.

The next scene below shows the bed pulled out.

When fully pulled out for its intended use, the bed will cover the toilet, the seat and all the floor area except for a tiny corner by the doorway. Just make sure you have everything out that you need before going to bed for the night. If not, then you'll quickly find out why.

Partly shown on the left is the window with the blind down.


Below is the stainless steel sink which folds down from the wall. As you can see, it's located above the toilet. Both hot and cold water are available for washing. While the train is moving water in the sink will constantly slosh around, but water never seems to run over on to the floor. Well designed for use during the journey. When done, simply fold the sink back into its place and the water will drain out.

In the scene below is the night light which is easy to reach even while lying in bed.

If you're not ready to go to sleep, then turn off all the lights, raise the window blind and look outside. Even though it's dark outside, you can easily see and watch the night time scenery pass by from the darkened comfort of inside.

"There's nothing to see!" you say.

That's Canada! Those seemingly endless miles of trees, hills, rocks and water is Canada. 

In today's world, long distance passenger train journeys that require days rather than hours to complete do not make any sense. Trains can only go where the tracks go. The convenience of driving your own vehicle makes more sense for land travel and flexible choices of route.

That having been said, the train journey itself is the adventure; not the destination. A sleeping car roomette offers a comfortable, even nostalgic means to make that journey.

(Originally published January 2012. Moved to this blog and updated October 2014)

The Oddblock Station Agent

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Triple Crown of Train Travel

Perhaps now enough time has passed since the January 15, 1990, Via Rail cuts to permit a look back at train travel in 1989 and keep emotions tempered.

Train travel was exciting... an adventure too! The way it once was... and perhaps should be. This image was on the cover of Via Rail's September 29, 1980 system timetable. This scene was captured in the former CN/GN passenger train station in Vancouver, BC.

The Montreal Gazette's Aislin has a genius for putting into illustration what words cannot adequately say. This 1989 illustration of course was referring to the Government's announced decision to cut Via Rail service on January 15, 1990.

While I have always considered myself a railfan and a sometimes dedicated train traveller, I did not even attempt to buy a ticket for a seat on any of what would prove to be the final run for many passenger trains. At that time I expected there would be too many media people probably making their first and only trip on a train and most likely being an annoyance to legitimate veteran train riders wanting to quietly say goodbye to their favourite trains.

As to which three trains would or should make up a triple crown of train travel in Canada can be debated, however during 1989 I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel on three of Via Rail's hand-me-down name trains inherited from CP Rail and CNR, and these trains are the three that I have nominated.

The Atlantic

The first rail adventure commenced on March 26. My wife and I were going the full distance from Montreal to Halifax on Via Rail's Atlantic which was formerly CP Rail's Atlantic Limited. In 1978, after Via Rail took over CP Rail's scant but surviving passenger services, the train was operated through to Halifax instead of terminating at Saint John.

While I had travelled between Montreal and Megantic on CP Rail's Atlantic Limited many times, I had never travelled the rails eastward from Megantic. I had always planned to do that but just never did. Procrastination should be considered the rail traveller's worst enemy. 1981 with almost no warning, Via Rail's Atlantic was discontinued, ending passenger train service between Montreal and Saint John over CP Rail. Cancellation also ended any hope of making another trip over the former Megantic Subdivision or the possibility of a first trip on the rails through northern Maine.

When aspiring politicians made election promises to restore the Montrea-Saint John train service, I cosidered it nothing more than worthless politilca babble. The records show, however, it was one promise that was actually kept. Via Rail's Atlantic was restored on June 01, 1985. Very few times in life come along when one is given the opportunity to correct a past mistake., and for me, making this rail trip east was to be one of those very rare occasions.

Our children stayed behind with my parents while Kie and I travelled alone to Halifax. A second honeymoon some may say. After all, the Atlantic, headed by a young FP40 paired up with an aging F unit, did rather resemble my wife and me. Our train was a lengthy thirteen car mix of former CNR and CPR equipment; a blue baggage car, three blue coaches, two daynighter cars, a stainless steel dining car, three blue E sleeping cars, two stainless steel sleeping cars completed by a stainless steel dome observation on the tail end. Our assigned bedroom was in sleeping car "Edmunston" the first of the three "E" sleepers. After quickly settling into our first class closet-sized accommodation, I retreated to the rear of the train to find a seat up in the dome. 

"E" sleeping car Elizabeth. These former CNR passenger cars (later Via Rail) built in 1954 by Pullman Standard were assigned the "E" designation because this entire group of 4-8-4 sleeping cars (4 sections, 8 roomettes, 4 double bedrooms) all had names beginning with the letter E.

At 18:30, almost to the second, the Atlantic gently eased out of Central Station, rumbled over rue St. Antoine and commenced its 1210 kilometer trek toward the ocean after which the train had been named.. Now more than 125 years old and modified several times during its life, even by today's standards Victoria Bridge is an impressive structure.

Later, clear of the bridge over Riviere Richelieu and with Mont St. Hilaire a distant view from the dome, I vacated my seat in the glass attic. For months Kie had been hinting that she wanted to eat out for dinner and I figured that St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, was probably far enough out. Dinner in the dining car had long been my favourite choice of restaurant. 

What would a train named the Atlantic and bound for Halifax have on the menu? Clam chowder and Digby scallops? 

Yes, that is exactly what was on the menu and the food was surprisingly good. Quite a few miles later I was enjoying a second or third cup of coffee when the train rumbled across the bridge above the St. Francis River, making its descent into Richmond, Quebec.

I was already back upstairs in the stainless steel caboose when the train pulled out of CN's Sherbrooke station and commenced the climb toward Lennoxville and connection with CP Rail. After the Atlantic had backed onto CP Rail's Sherbrooke Subdivision and the interlocking flickered from red to green, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Ahead were 66 miles of the former Megantic Subdivision and another three more subdivisions through to Saint John. Nearly thirteen years had elapsed sine my last trip over the Megantic Sub and I was about to fulfill an almost life long dream of travel over CP Rail's International of Maine Division.

Soon after the lights of Lennoxville had faded from view and fewer traces of civilization could be seen in the dark, the other passengers up in the dome quietly disappeared. A recent snowfall made visibility fairly good from the darkness of the dome. For most people though, I suppose watching the head end of the train disappear from view through curve after curve amidst two walls of trees in unfamiliar territory may lack appeal. There was no other place I would rather have been seated except maybe for a seat in the lead unit.

Racey, Johnville, Bulwer, Birchton, Cookshire, Ross, Bury, Long Swamp, Gould, Scotstown and Spruce. Now mostly former stations and former sidings obliterated by the passing of time, I could still name them from memory and point out their locations in spite of the dark and snow cover. Kie could only quietly endure; her ties to her past are far from Quebec's Eastern Townships.

The lead unit's horn sounded for the unsignalled road crossing a little west of mile board 16 and I was restless. Milan, Quebec, was ahead; that tiny town where all my previous journeys over this route had taken me to or from. Today, 1989, the station was gone, the siding was gone, my grandparents were gone, even their old house was gone. At mile board 15 the lead unit's horn wailed again, this time for the crossing in Milan, and within 30 seconds all was passed and out of sight. While the "Atlantic" would allow me a journey over the route of my past, the train could not return me to my past held dear. Time had forever severed all tangible links with my youth. Sadness? A little, but I am forever grateful for having been given those years.

A westbound freight was waiting in the siding at Nantes. That would be the only other sign of rail activity that I would see between Sherbrooke and Saint John. The descent from Nantes through Glen River (former siding) into Megantic was made a lively pace, the quickest since the train had departed from Sherbrooke, but nothing like the last westbound trip I made nearly thirteen years earlier; but that is another chapter.

The descendant of CP Rail's Train 42 coasted to a stop in Megantic and my long awaited rail journey over the former Megantic Subdivision was finished. Kie decided to retire for the night. This had been her first trip over these rails and I am certain she must have been wondering about my undiminished fascination with this mostly curved route through mostly nowhere. During the fifteen minute break I briefly ventured down from the dome to an open door and stepped down on to the station platform. Although the building was lighted, I saw no sign of life in the big red brick structure. Spring may have arrived in Montreal but winter still ruled Megantic. The midnight air was cold and fresh snow was deep. A few seconds was long enough to be satisfied and say I had been in Megantic again, and I retreated to the warmth inside the train.

ABS - Automatic Block Signal
Megantic to Boundary, the Quebec-Maine border, was the final major climb the eastbound Atlantic would encounter, an ascent to the highest elevation on the entire route between Montreal and Halifax. CP Rail's Moosehead Subdivision is ABS territory. Every signal approached displayed green and then flickered to red as the head end of the train entered the next block. 

At some time after the descent from Nantes and the climb out of Megantic, a bright, near-full moon had appeared above the trees. Visibility was exceptionally good. Alone in the dome I was thinking about staying up all night. Sleep won out and I too retired for the night as the train neared Jackman, Maine.

I was awake early and, after speedily washing and dressing, retreated to the dome of the Park car. Offering a similar overview of the equipment in front, a Park car is akin to a luxury caboose on the rear of a passenger train. Anyway, while I was awaiting early morning sunrise from upstairs in the glass attic, Train 12 coasted by the Danforth, Maine, station, a former Maine Central Railroad structure. Later at Vanceboro, Maine, the train made a brief pause to allow the United States Customs officers to leave the train. Afterward, the Atlantic trundled across the bridge over the St. Croix River and back in to Canada. While we remained on board the train we never officially left Canada.

Arriving almost on time at McAdam, New Brunswick, the Via Rail consist squealed to rest along side the famous huge stone structure that stands as a reminder of the golden age of railway passenger travel not so many decades ago. Joining Kie in the dining car, the two of us feasted on a hearty breakfast of pancakes, syrup, eggs and sausages, all of which was augmented by a bottomless cup of coffee. Following the mandatory  thirty minute rest in McAdam, the Atlantic charged eastward and within two miles, was rattling along atop the steel bands at or near the 65 miles per hour speed limit. An hour later and just east of Fredericton Junction, New Brunswick, the pace was more relaxed as an on time Atlantic twisted and turned through a continuous series of gentle curves. A little more than a century earlier the railway builders carved out this frugal but skewed route following the proverbial path of least resistance along the shores of the Saint John River and other waters. One notable highlight was an almost endless sweeping bend that cut through the community south of Grand Bay.

Canadian Atlantic Railway RS-23 8023. The CAR was a short-lived shortline-type railway operation established by CP Rail as a final effort to turn around the remaining money-losing Atlantic Region mileage. The experiment failed and the entire CP network east of Lennoxville, Quebec, was abandoned outright in January 1995. (Bob Heathorn photo)

Most of the tracks in the Saint John Yard were empty. The few rail cars present were empty intermodal flats patiently waiting for containers that would probably never arrive. All the major containerized ocean carriers had long since deserted Saint John for other ports. Motive power in single file was idle and I spotted RS-23 units in Canadian Atlantic Railway lettering. The entire rail yard appeared to be standing at attention for the morning appearance of the Atlantic. Lack of rail traffic was probably the true reason for no motion.

The finale was a stunning crossing of the Saint John River high above well-known Reversing Falls. This was immediately followed by a somewhat anti-climactic snail's pace descent of the steep grade terminating near Via Rail's Saint John passenger depot. An on time arrival concluded my journey over CP Rail's former International of Maine Division and the McAdam Subdivision. I was grateful to have been able to fulfill a life-long dream, one which could have very easily remained forever impossible.

"The Canadian"

During these years Kie has patiently listened to me recall numerous details about various journeys I made on CP Rail's Canadian. After the rumours about passenger train cuts finally became official news, I wanted to try to book space on Via Rail's Canadian to make a last trip over the fabled rails of the Van Horne route between Calgary and Vancouver. Also, I wanted my family to have one chance to see the mountains of western Canada from CP Rail's perspective.

Single, I had made the journey between Vancouver and Calgary in the mid 1970's on CP Rail's Canadian as often as I could, which was frequently. Employee passes made the trips no cost or low cost and I took every advantage of the pass privileges during the three years I lived in Vancouver. Unfortunately, looming changes in the Canadian Pacific organization left me with no doubt that my position was soon going to disappear. On good terms with my boss I ended my employment and returned to eastern Canada, grateful to have had those three years with Canadian Pacific in western Canada.

Oddly enough, while all coach space had been sold out through to the planned final run, some sleeping car space was available on the dates I was interested in. In fact, two complete sections were available in the same car, so all of us would be together. Conveniently, Air Canada had announced a seat sale for travel in late November and I had one week of vacation remaining which my employer was already pushing me to take. Travel arrangements went together perfectly.

Snow was already several feet deep in Banff, Alberta. During the Canadian's obligatory ten minute stop, some passengers were leaving the train but many more passengers were boarding and almost all were Japanese. Later walks through the train indeed confirmed that most of the sleeping car passengers were Japanese. Many appeared to be tired and bored; making for a quiet train because they shunned the dome cars as well as the dining facilities. Unfortunate though for Canada's visitors; the train was on time and the Canadian's entire ride down the "Big Hill" was made in daylight. Although grey and snowing, the descent from Stephen to Field was no less spectacular.

Circa 1980's: Via Rail's eastbound Train 1 at Ottertail Creek between Golden and Field BC. No snow on the ground in this particular photo but snow was abundant here in November 1989.

One memorable moment that comes to mind was early morning before dawn. Via Rail's Train 1 was proceeding along the upper Fraser Canyon. It may have been the wheels squealing against the rails through curves that awakened me but I cannot recall. I pushed the window blind up as far is it would go, propped up the pillows and lay back to watch the coming dawn. When the train curved left the head end was sometimes visible. Not too long later I heard rusting around in in the bunk above and then clicking on and off of the light switch. My daughter was in the upper berth and I was in the lower. After listening to a few more minutes of clunking interspersed with fiddling with the curtain zipper, it was obvious that Kimberly was not going to go back to sleep. Rather than have everyone awake early I had her come down and the two of us watched daybreak from the window of the lower berth.

Shortly afterward near Cisco, where CP and CN swap sides of the canyon, our train rumbled across the bridge over the Fraser River and immediately charged into a tunnel. Our side of the train now overlooked the river and North Bend was just ahead. I told Kimberly about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, about CPR's "Canadian" and why we were making this "last" trip. At times I would mention features we would soon see just ahead, and as we passed by them, she would keep asking, "How did you know, Daddy?"

Four Days Later

Via Rail's Canadian slowly rocked and groaned through switches, eventually squealing to an unhurried stop in Calgary, a surprising forty minutes early. Yes, I had turned my watch forward. Calgary was cold and clear and my 1284 miles of rail travel through the mountains were now history. My family rushed on ahead but I lingered behind and stood alone on the platform for a few moments. The brilliant afternoon sun was highlighting and reflecting off the features of the stainless steel features train. With a familiar hissing, clouds of steam were rising from beneath the cars. This is how I wanted to remeber "The Canadian" and I bade a final goodbye to an old friend.

The Cavalier

Our third trip was simply an impulse purchase... mine that was.

A final trip on the Via Rail's overnight trains 58 and 59 between Toronto and Montreal, had not even been wishfully thought about. When I went downtown to Union Station to pick up the tickets for our trip on the Canadian, out of curiosity I inquired if any sleeping car space was available on the "Cavalier" for almost Christmas Eve travel on Friday, December 22. Space was available!

October 1980: Kie inside our bedroom awaiting 59's departure
Without so much as pausing to think about it, I immediately booked the two available bedrooms and bought the tickets. I knew my children would be delighted because they had already resigned themselves to the fact that they would not be spending Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. And I would be able to indulge in one more final journey on another soon to disappear train.

In 1988 my employer moved the head office from Montreal to Toronto. I was given the opportunity to follow and did so. Because our home in Roxboro did not sell quickly, I was compelled to travel back and forth between Montreal and Toronto on weekends during that summer. That long distance commuting reintroduced me to the Cavalier because Kie and I made a one way overnight trip on the Cavalier in October 1980.

Combing a night's rest with eight hours of worry-free travel on the Cavalier made more sense than seven or eight hourse of mindless, boring driving on Highway 401 while trying to stay out of the way of crazy truck drivers. The 23:35 departure Sunday night also allowed me more weekend hours at home.

Why Via Rail's Montreal-Toronto overnight train was permitted to travel into history on January 15, 1990, will never make sense. Before you make up your mind though, read on.

Although copied from Via Rail's September 29, 1980, system timetable, the Cavalier's schedule in 1989 was almost identical; departing both cities at 23:35 and arriving the next morning at 07:30.

The week before Christmas 1989 was bitterly cold in Toronto, even for former Montrealers. Temperatures at night were dipping down to -22C and that December 22nd evening was no exception. I had timed our departure from Etobicoke so that we would arrive at Union Station around 22:30, quickly check in, go right on to the train and settle into bed for the night.

So much for the best laid plans of...

We arrived at Union Station only to find crowds standing in almost endless queues. The extreme cold weather was wreaking havoc on Via Rail schedules and trains were departing late... very late. The "Northland" should have been gone long before we arrived but passengers had not even boarded. As for the Cavalier? The train's empty consist had not even been shoved into the station.

Via Rail employees did not seem to know when the train would be ready other than it would be some time... not too long... really... and definitely before Christmas. Impatient passengers were irritable, many of the numerous small children were fussing and all we could do was wait like everyone else. Sleeping car passengers were lucky though. With bedroom space already assigned we could seek out places to sit and wait out the delay. Pity the coach passengers who dared not move and lose their places in line.

The time was almost 00:30 when sleeping car passengers were finally permitted to board. Originally I had planned to make notes and record the names and numbers on the equipment in the train's consist. (train nut stuff) Reality dictated that my notebook would never leave my pocket. Late was understatement; outside very cold and my own children tired and cranky. Boarding the train was not the expected relief. Bunking down in the bedroom, with our winter coats on, was like spending the night in a refrigerator except colder. While steam and heat were supposedly passing through the pipes, we felt no evidence of that. Worse, plumbing was completely frozen and the toilets plugged with ice. Mercifully, sleep came early.

1980: $44.00 for a bedroom for 2 on the Cavalier
Around 02:00 I was awakened by noise outside. Pushing up the window shade to see where we were, I was surprised to discover that the train was still in Union Station; and it was still reefer cold in the passenger car. Sleepily I silently wondered, "Will anyone on board tonight really lament the demise of this train?"

In spite of the freezing cold I did not awaken again until daylight. The train was still late but had definitely made up some of the lost time. Around 07:30 I estimated that we were probably near the Ontario-Quebec boundary. Racing through Coteau within the next few minutes verified the accuracy of my estimate. On the floor outside the bedroom doors, plastic boxes containing our cold breakfasts had been left by seemingly invisible crew members. Maybe they had found a car that had heat. Our breakfast boxes must have been kept in a refrigerator to keep them from freezing. At least the fruit cups had no ice but no one wanted to eat. My wife and children were complaining about the freezing cold and I reassured them we would be in Dorval at 08:00. Lucky for me nothing else went wrong and we were all on the station platform within minutes of 08:00. Outside in the -24C at Dorval did not seem any colder than it had been on the train.

That trip was a facet of Canadian winter train travel that I had not experienced before and those memories of a frigid overnight spent in the Ice Box Express would remain with my wife and children.


October 1980: Car 5931 carrying pretty bride...and the markers.
On January 15, 1990, both the Canadian (on the CPR route) and the Cavalier followed steam and passed away into railway history. Of those three passenger trains, only the Atlantic partly survived the Via Rail system surgery. Service frequency for the Atlantic was reduced from daily departures in each direction to three days per week.

Will any of Canada's remaining passenger trains survive into the year 2000?

Should Canada's passenger trains survive into the next century?

While pondering these questions and trying to remain objective, the answers are not clear or simple.

If you love train travel in this country, then do not waste time just thinking about making that trip. Get going!

 (Written March 1993)

The Oddblock Station Agent