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Saturday, July 12, 2014

CPR running trades in early days part of great railway experience, Harry Pellow writes

Harry 'Butch' Pellow 2012
 Harry  'Butch' Pellow, a member of one of Chapleau's earliest families, is better known as one of Canada' foremost architects, but took time to share the history of some of the early days of the running trades on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Harry is the son of the late Aldythe and C.A. 'Bill' Pellow. He was the architect for the Chapleau Civic Centre, Chapleau Recreation Centre, Cedar Grove Lodge, Chapleau General Hospital and the golf club house.

His brother, Dr. William R. 'Bill' Pellow assisted with the research for this article.

On a personal note, Butch is my lifelong friend, and once again I thank him. 

by Harry 'Butch' Pellow

In the beginning trains were run by commonly understood rules; communications were sent  in Morse code and later telephone and then combined into multiple copies on a parchment type paper and transcribed by dispatchers along the line. Conductors and enginemen were guided by cross-Canada Company timetables which instructed arrival and departure times, distances between sidings and which trains had priority and which did not. There were frequent changes in instructions originally given, and it was a challenge to ensure that information was properly transcribed and passed to engine crews en route.  This was not a perfect system and injury and even death were commonplace.  Today we take so much for granted.  If we have a true emergency we just dial 911 and there is a response network at hand already placed in active mode to relieve stress and within a few minutes we are whisked away and into an emergency unit of a hospital and treatment begins immediately. It was not so on the CPR in the early days.  

          The most dangerous area for the brakemen was with the couplers that held the train together. They became a symbol of the perils of railroading and, known as the link and pin system, were responsible for thousands of injuries.  The brakeman was required to hold the link in one hand and the pin in another and split timing was essential to make the connection between the cars. 
Dr Bill with his father "Bill" Pellow

One fraction off in timing or a slip and there could be loss of fingers and hands and even death. On occasion the brakemen were crushed between two cars being coupled. The Railway Safety Act corrected this dangerous occupational hazard in 1893. In the early years collisions in various forms occurred frequently resulting in death and life threatening injury. It was not uncommon for Chapleau’s shop whistle to signal such an event and we recall even in our own lifetime the signal that would alert every home and every person that some serious accident has taken place and alerted those who must to be ready to come to the station ground and be prepared to assist. 
Chapleau station 1886

          Chapleau is mid-way between Cartier (Nemegos Subdivision) a distance of 136.4 miles and White River (White River Subdivision) a distance of 129.9 miles and a hundred years ago the travel time would have been 4 to 5 hours between each of these points. By the 1940’s transcontinental passenger runs would have this timing chopped to 3 hours and 10 minutes. As we know, transcontinental passenger service is no longer provided in Chapleau and so too, the sights, sounds and smells of the old iron horse are extinct.

A glance at a early photo of engine 275, the first came to Chapleau  in 1896,  is what were referred to as “the ‘small power tea-kettles”.  They were designed to handle in the order of 400 tons which compared with engine “1950” the largest ever built prior to 1909 and later the 5433 which handled in excess of 1940.  These are numbers most relevant to the men who ran the engines but demonstrate some relevance to the scale of equipment required to pull loads through Chapleau in its trek westward.
Engine 1950 (Ian Macdonald collection)

          In a very short time from the late 1880’s into the early 1900’s there was a transition from wood burning steam locomotives to those using coal for fuel. Automatic stokers were still somewhere in the horizon and not yet invented.  The engineers of the day were constantly alert to the level of his coal and water and to run short on either was a fault.  To run out completely was a serious offence and was unforgivable.  To run out of water and have your boiler explode, and if you survived, meant termination from the Company. The tenders were small and fuel and water needed replacement often. No wonder that the location of stations were originally determined by the presence of both wood for fuel and water for steam. It would take a few more years to see boilers that moved “superheated steam” and had a pressure of 275 psi.  Engineman of the day were truly engineers and demanded respect which they received.  The “butchers”, who were engineers without skill in handling an engine or the braking would wear their firemen down in short order by abusive handling of the controls and the engine crew were constantly on the deck hand firing. In the day the engineer was call “sir”.  
Chapleau Yard 1886

          Life as an enginemen was not a comfortable job in summer or winter but in winter canvas hung down from the ceiling to keep out the cold and the effects of Northern Ontario’s severe weather; there was the penetrating sub-zero cold and the snow and rain.  The wind chill factor was unheard of and if it was 50 or 60 below (F) outside it was almost as cold inside the cab despite the boiler heat or the stoker’s coals. The windows were ill fitting and often opened for visibility. One’s comfort was not a consideration but “running the night express on time and on schedule was critical”.

          Life as a fireman demanded strength and endurance, patience and understanding. There was   a stability pole placed in the cab for the fireman to back into and provide a fulcrum and swivel point   as he shoveled coal from the tender into the firebox and the novice, not used to the sway and roll of the engine, would invariably be hurled off balance and his shovel of coal would wind up at the feet of the engineer and not in the firebox.  Not a popular move. The prospect of promotion was motivation to persist however; and the possibility of a prestigious job as engineer with better pay, better schedules and respect made it worthwhile. 

          This column briefly describes life for the running trades in Chapleau in 1900 when the Railway was little more than a dream; but yard, rail and line maintenance, passenger comfort including awesome dining service, sleeping car accommodation, refrigerated water and ice cooled Pullman cars; and of course their signature hotels, were a very big part of the great railway experience that was created as well, and it lasted for over 125 years. We will never understand or enjoy it again.

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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