CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tears of Steam

From 1949's successful pilot program with diesel on Vancouver Island , it was only a matter of time before the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada completed the switch over . It took eleven years for diesel to chase out the last steam locomotive .

When Dad had taken us on the Passenger train hauled by a steam locomotive in 1958 , only he and Mum knew that it would probably be the last time to experience it , as well as our first . Within the next year and a half there would be no more .

During that time , we saw new diesel engines out of Montreal , being hauled to points west behind steam engines . It was exciting and sad at the same time . As long as we saw them going somewhere else , we would breathe a sigh of relief . Not yet !
 The streamline gray and red diesels looked modern and very impressive . Yet , they were cold and characterless , without the personality that brought the steam engines to life . It would be a hard change for the people . Especially , CPR people on the front lines .

When 1960 rolled around, Dad announced that the engines that brought such excitement to the trains would be doing their last works in the Mattawa yard that year . The diesels were already doing the long hauls and the  "Canadian" - a silver , bullet-shaped passenger train complete with viewing cars made test runs.

New posters appeared in the station with a view of the Rockies from the windows of the 'Canadian' viewing car . Since no black smoke poured from these engines , such an innovation was possible . When we were little , we all longed to travel the Canadian  through the Rocky Mountains so we could see the front of the train from the end - just like in the posters .

The last steam locomotives continued to work in the Mattawa yard organizing freight cars for run to Temiscaming along the Ottawa River  and the daily passenger service north . That summer , Dad persuaded an engineer to bring us children for a ride for the experience and a memory that few would have or experience again . It was against the regulations , but the engineer agreed with no hesitation . He was proud of 'his' locomotive and gladly got the Fireman to lift us inside . He had few months left with 'her' and would see it to the end . Anyone, who loved the locomotive as much as he, was welcome .

Wide-eyed , we absorbed every bit of busy-ness :coal and fire , gauges and levers , hissing and bellringing . We felt the power in our feet as the engineer slowly brought us forward a few hundred yards , then in reverse , back to where we started . We cheered and laughed , yelled and chattered the whole time . The engineer , the firemen and Dad grinned from ear to ear at our response and pleasure . I will never forget the sensation of it all . It was wonderful !

The date was set for Diesel to make its official takeover run in November . Everyone would be coming out for that one. The 'Canadian' would run the whole distance across Canada full of officials waving their way through small towns across the country - a flash of silver and gone - except in larger locations.

But there was a smaller crowd gathered on the platform everyday during that week before . Station master , telegraph operator , off-duty engineers , section men , yardmen , section families and their children ,retirees , the occasional road rider (hobo) and lots of little boys rushed to bid farewell , whenever they could , to each steam locomotive that whistled its approach into Mattawa .

 We saw the last telegraph messages being handed out on loop sticks to through-trains, and ran along the platform to collect each one for the Station Master . We watched freight loaded onto the wagons . We saw the signal paddles removed from the top of the station . For each train , we ran down the platform to be sure the men in the caboose saw our farewell waves . We didn't know which particular locomotive would be the last . It was necessary to wave goodbye to all the familiar faces that passed through ...still on time .

During the following months , we watched as steam locomotives were hauled behind diesels- east to Montreal graveyards .

Diesel Photos from trainweb.org

No comments: