CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Saturday, January 29, 2011

By the Light of the Coal Oil Lamp

There is a lot of night in the northern winters . With no electricity , the coal oil lamp was the primary source of light , if you wanted to see anything before 8:00am and after 4:30pm .

The switch lamps used coal oil to ensure that trains could see if switches in the rail were open or closed along the route . Prismatic coloured glass amplified the signal's warning distance .. Part of Dad's section job was making sure the switch lamps were full and lens cleaned of soot , using coal oil itself to do the cleaning . He checked the lamps twice a day .

As well , because there were no flashlights ,  a coal oil lantern lit Dad's way at night on his freezing walk
to check the lamps and see if he needed to shovel out switches that were clogged with snow , every hour throughout the day and night until the storms were over . The lamp doubled as a handwarmer at the coldest times . The swinging lantern was an emergency signal used to stop trains in case of danger on the track .

In the house , Mum trimmed the wicks on the lamps of carbon build up so the flame could burn steadily and more cleanly . She cleaned the globes so that those small flames could cast the best light on winter evenings to chase away the darkness a little longer . Bedtime was early to preserve coal oil and wood after 8:00pm . 

In the evenings , with no neighbours to visit , my parents spent a lot of time visiting with each other and reading aloud . Mum had brought a few books with her, which she would read to Dad by lamplight . Dad finally admitted that he couldn't read well if at all , despite reaching grade seven . The Nuns gave up teaching him and more time hitting him , telling him how he was " stupid and would never amount to much ." Mum refused to let him believe that 'nonsense' knowing full well he was an intelligent man capable of more . So , by the lamplight she began teaching him to read .

Newspapers , catalogues and magazines made their way up the line from station to section house , then on to the next . They were read and reread by isolated people all along the spurline before they ended up cleaning lamp globes and starting cookfires . Trainmen would fling them out of the locomotive window on trips through with no scheduled stops . Anything still readable was sent forward the next time a train stopped on the way up the line .

Using the newspapers , Mum had Dad read to her every night after supper . It was long and frustrating work for Dad . But Mum patiently corrected him and kept encouraging him . She showed him little tricks and methods to overcome the learning problems he had and make it easier . They would discuss everything they read in conversations through out the days and evenings when they were together . These lessons made Dad a life long reader .

I remember him often reading aloud from the paper at the kitchen table , when I was young . He fully expected everyone to listen and make their opinions known , especially if they agreed with his . Sometimes , Mum  and he would look at each other after he had finished reading an article and smile , remembering a time when he couldn't read .   

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