Memories of a Close Meet with a Ghost Train
The reason I refer to it as a spoke is because I was thinking back to when Ottawa was in its heyday as a busy Canadian Pacific rail terminal. Back then, Ottawa was referred to as the hub of a wheel. The various branchlines extending out from it were the spokes. The spokes were the Maniwaki, Waltham, Carleton Place, Prescott, M&O and Lachute Subdivisions. As the spokes gradually disappear, it makes one wonder how much longer the remaining spokes can support the hub. I suppose only time will tell.
With the abandonment of the M&O and the many thousands of miles that I had to put in travelling over that particular piece of track during my career with CP, one cannot help but have memories, some good, some bad, and some of the unusual variety.
Picture the winter of 1946-47 - a long cold winter with lots of snow and extremely cold temperatures. I was braking on the M&O way freight from Ottawa West to Outremont (prior to the building of St. Luc yard in Montreal's west end). The assignment was ordered at Ottawa West for 8:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and travelled to Hurdman, via the Prescott Subdivision to Ellwood, (today's Walkley Road), then onto the Sussex Street Subdivision to Hurdman, near the present Ottawa Station, where it joined the M&O Sub. to Vaudreuil, then onto the Winchester Subdivision to Ballantyne, then the Adirondack Subdivision to Outremont Yard in Montreal's north end.
This was a very busy job, with setting out, lifting, and switching of local cars, unloading and loading of merchandise at most of the stations from Navan (Ontario) to Hudson (Quebec), and clearing passenger trains. At that time, there were a lot of passenger trains between Montreal and Ottawa, not to mention the additional suburban trains that had to be contended with and cleared, on the portion between Vaudreuil and Rigaud. To say that we had to be on our toes would be putting it mildly. By the time that we arrived at Outremont, it was usually 22:00 and more often than not, midnight or later. On the return trip, we were ordered at Outremont for 7:00 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, arriving in Ottawa any time after 15:00. Not many of the spare men liked to work the M&O wayfreight, and when one of the regular men had to be off for a trip, there was a lot of scheming to avoid getting caught for that job.
On the trip that I am going to tell you about, our crew consisted of Barney O'Neill, engineer; Cy Griffith, conductor, Baz Trudeau, head brakeman, and myself as rear brakeman. I do not recall the name of the fireman. We also had a lineman from the Communications Department, riding in the cupola of the van, looking for broken wires on telegraph poles. Broken wires were a common problem in the extreme cold weather. The principals whom I have named have long since passed on, so I have no one to vouch for my story, but you can take my word that it actually happened. Barney was a perfect gentleman and had many years of service, but most of it was in the yard or on the branch lines. When he came out on the main line and on the job with us, it did not take long for us to find out that quick moves were not in his repertoire. When we did try to make one with him, our hearts were in our mouths until we got finished. The type of fellow you could trust your life with, if you didn't want to live too long. Cy was something else. Before bilingualism was ever heard of, Cy was fluent in both languages, English and profane, and he could switch from one to the other with great ease.
The trip went without incident and we arrived at Bourget (Ontario), mileage 61.6, in time to complete our work and be ready for departure on the arrival of No. 503, the morning passenger train from Montreal. We were talking to 503's crew and found that they were going to Leonard, mileage 70.6, for Second 8 from the west. We had a train order with a run late on Second 8, and had plenty of time to go over to Pendleton (Ontario), mileage 56.0, and get into the clear. After 503 left, we started to pull out of the siding and Cy told Barney in his best vocabulary how he wanted him to get the train over to Pendleton. We had about 10 cars so we slipped over to there in about 12 minutes, and still had plenty of time to clear Second 8. On the way over, I took my jacket off, and was standing at the sink peeling the potatoes for dinner. We seemed to be a long time at the switch before he started to pull into the siding, so I went out on the end of the van and looked ahead. I noticed Baz standing on the ground waiting for Barney to back up. He had over-run the siding switch. I also heard something loud and clear that put my heart in my mouth - a train coming! Thinking it was Second 8, I yelled at Cy who came out of the van and listened. Looking at his watch, he exclaimed: "It can't be her; she's not due out of Bourget!"
When panic sets in, people do strange things, and I was
no exception. I reached into the rack of the caboose for a fusee and started
to run back to flag behind the train. I got about a pole length from the
van, and realized that there was no cap on the fusee to ignite it. I ran
back and got another fusee and again started out to flag, knowing that
I couldn't get very far and the engine crew on Second 8 wouldn't be able
to see me more than a quarter of a mile around the curve. By the sound
of the engine working and the blowing of the whistle, I thought that she
was at the crossing about 2 miles west of where we were. With no coat
on, in my bare head and hands, and trembling from fear and cold, I aged
a hundred years in a couple of minutes. It was a bright sunny day, and
so cold that you could hear a pin drop a mile away. I could hear Cy roaring
at Barney. I am sure that they must have heard him on the engine even
with the windows closed. While I was running and looking back over my
shoulder to see if they were making a move, I noticed the lineman crawl
out of the cupola window and jump with all his belongings into the waist-deep
snow. He wasn't going down with the ship! I got to about six or seven
pole lengths by the time that they got the train into the siding, and
Cy hollered to me to come back in. The lineman was still wading around
in the snow when I was on my way back. By the time I returned, the train
was safely in the siding, and Baz, who had stayed at the switch, was having
a coffee with Cy and wondering what all the fuss was about. We had all
heard the train coming, but were positive that it couldn't be Second 8,
because it was running late by train order, and was still not due for
a couple of minutes. We tried to imagine where the sound came from, and
so clearly. The only possibilities were either #503 going up the hill
out of Hammond, mileage 65.1, about ten miles away, or across the Ottawa
River on the Lachute Sub. No matter where it was, it sure raised hairs
around Pendleton for a few minutes. The answer came about three weeks
later when we were again at Pendleton under similar weather conditions
- clear cold morning with a brisk wind blowing in the right direction.
The train was on the CNR Alexandria Subdivision, around Casselman, about
twelve miles away. This was one of several incidents at this particular
siding that I will never forget. When the siding was finally removed from
service sometime in the early 1960's, I felt a bit of relief, knowing
that we would never again have to suffer through any more close calls
clearing passenger trains or ghost trains at Pendleton.