CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our First Train Trip

 Section jobs were being reduced as  a result of diesel power coming . 

New track beds were now going to use slag , a byproduct of Sudbury's smelting industry. Old track was torn out and new beds put in using new machines not seen before . Section men had specific materials to become familiar with in order to do their old jobs .

 Some of those old jobs were disappearing ,too : switches became electric rather than powered by a man pulling it into position ; the coal oil lamps were replaced with electric bulbs . The section man wasn't needed to fill them twice daily , just change a bulb occasionally. He would still be needed for greasing switches but half the switch work was eliminated in the change over . That meant that many more section men would be laid off . Dad did not want to be one of them .

 The work of the near future was in rebuilding track . Dad knew that he had to become familiar with the changes. He transferred and spent the summer of '58 working on a gang from Ramsey to Biscotasing , on the Sudbury-Chapleau run. He would return to the section job in Mattawa for the winter , after gang work closed down . It was seasonal work .

 Dad knew that knowledge was the key to survival in this work .He would "do his damnedest" to remain employed . My Father packed on Sunday after supper , caught the passenger train at 2:00 am Monday morning , and arrived at his bunk car an hour before work , in time for breakfast .

 The few hours sleep on the passenger train was interrupted by the habit all CPR employees had of checking his watch for every stop along the way- synchronizing as usual . On Friday night , he returned home to spend the weekend with us before repeating the process again.

In the summer of  1958 , Dad  decided to ask permission to bring us along for one week . He couldn't take any holidays so it seemed like a solution to separation anxiety . We would join him and get to see him everyday after work . Of course , we couldn't stay in the gang cars with all the other workers - not a healthy atmosphere for women and children . So, Dad arranged for a service car that we could live in for a week . Two adults and three children , ages 5 to 11 , in a box made for two .

 It was an exciting announcement to us children . We were going on a holiday...for a whole week . And , we were going to travel on a passenger train...for the very first time .

Mum and Dad went all out . We each got new tops and shorts for the trip . The train fares were waived as employees families got a free round trip each year anywhere the CPR went. This was the first and only time that we were able to use that privilege . We were heading for Biscotasing and it sounded wonderful .

 When Dad woke us to catch the two o'clock train , we were hastily dressed in our Sunday best and rushed to the station down the track . For the first time, we sat where all passengers who travelled the train sat - the CPR waiting room . We felt privileged . Speaking in hushed tones , we stared in wonder at the posters on the wall- while Dad explained where these beautiful places were and how long the train ride was to each location. In this way , he reassured us that our trip would be short by comparison .

When the Station Master announced the pending arrival of the train , he set the signal paddles atop the station by pulling a lever inside the office . These paddles indicated to the engineer that a night time stop was required at Mattawa . Mum and Dad bundled us outside to wait on the bench for the locomotive to come to full stop . And stop it did with an enormous burst of steam ...very impressive indeed .

Then the conductor , who had been leaning out the window , unlatched the door and pushed down the steps . Dad got on with the suitcases and I thought he was going by himself . I could feel tears welling up in my eyes which disappeared when he reappeared a few moments later .

" All abo-oard " the conductor chimed for our benefit ...no one else was boarding except our family .It was our cue . With help , we were loaded and settled in our seats while the conductor closed the door and signalled the 'all clear' to the engineer . The bell rang and the locomotive slowly moved the train out of Mattawa . In a short time , we were rocked to sleep by the motion- exhausted by the emotion of it all .

When we awoke , we were at Ramsey where the passenger train's locomotive was taking on water and coal for the long push north and west to Chapleau . Within an hour , we had arrived at our destination . Biscotasing !

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