Railroad Stories – Past and Present

We are currently looking for railroad stories or poems for our web page. If you have any stories or poems you would like to share with us, please e-mail us at kickandpush.sharbotlake@gmail.com .

We start out with a several poems.

By: Tom Cat

There used to be a railroad town back in the days of steam
A lot of us guys get tears in our eyes when we sit back and dream.
Of a platform packed with travelers for Ottawa and Toronto
Some going north to Renfrew and girls for Camp Oconto.

Ernie Walker worked the key, for telegrams and wires
Scotty Meldrum kept the books in winter and stoked the fires.
The station men were many, I’ve mentioned only two
The others can wait for a later day in another poem for you.

Across the track from the station, stood the old Hotel
You could stay overnight or spend a week, they treated everyone well.
You could rent a boat, hire a guide who’d show you where to fish
The staff would then prepare your catch and serve a tasty dish.

At the top of the hill was the general store, a place for food and drink.
There were chamber pots and rubber boots and dresses in blue or pink.
There were harness parts and homemade tarts and bargains galore
There wasn’t much you couldn’t find on the shelves of Thompson’s Store.

The Dentist was a friend of Dad’s, his name was Weatherhead.
When I close I my eyes I can see him yet, his face was round and red.
I remember well a trip to him, it was in the winter season.
The snow was deep, it was very cold and a toothache was the reason.

They held me down like I was bound and I prayed to Our Maker
In a moment of truth, he’d pulled the wrong tooth and had to return for the acher.
I was doubly sore and Dad was too and it wasn’t hard to see
It wasn’t my jaw he was thinking about, it was Old Andy’s fee.

And who could forget big Jack Simonett, he was our local MP
For a used car or truck you’d have your best luck on a deal with Arden Lee.
Russ Sully was a great fixer of cars, as a friend they didn’t come any better
With hammer and wrench he’d work at his bench and fine tune your carburetor.

Arthur Shanks was a small wee man, on the School Board he was a Trustee
His judgements were fair, all ways on the square, he was known for his honesty.
Frank Dowdall worked on the section, a great fisherman was he
With his teeth of gold, many tales were told and his eyes would sparkle with glee.

The Doctor’s House on the crest of the hill is now our local Hotel
You can buy a good meal and rest your feet, it’s run by Denis Dinelle
Herb Campbell was a section man and a Mason of great renown
He told his jokes to all the folks, he was the prankster of the town.

Percy Lake was another fine man and he didn’t have much hair
His head was round like a billiard ball but he was always on the square.
Harold Donnelly worked away all week, he was on the CPR.
He raised a real big family and owned a seldom run car.

Neil LaRock was also away all week, I think it was the Hydro
His favourite chair is still sitting there where he looked out the window.
Jim Warren ran a grist mill where farmers bought their feed
He ground the oats and bagged the corn and sold all kinds of seed.

Fergie was signal maintainer, he drove a fast motor car
In heat of the night you could see his headlights and hear his exhaust from afar.
If you took a walk around the block, the Hall was on your right
People would come from near and far for a dance on Saturday night.

This was the center for social affairs and local politics
A place you could go to see a good show, they used to call them “The Flicks” ‘.
Many a man made friendships there that lasted all his life
It was there I met a sweet wee lass who later became my wife
Well, I’m signing off on this poem now, I’ve had enough to say.
I hope that it amuses you and helps to make your day.

Transcribed  from the article below:

by: Tom Cat, Sharbot Lake

In an earlier poem you will recall I mentioned those railroad men,
Well now that I’ve done some homework, again I’ll take up the pen.
Ernie Boyd sent a seniority book, it was a big help to me,
When I look down that list of names it jogs my memory.
One windy day back in the fifties I heard Ernie working the wire,
With a call for help to the outside world, Lanark was on fire!
Tom Hughes was a man from Arden, he was lean and gaunt
“OA” was his station call when he worked at Lavant.
Dick Cameron was before my time, he worked at Sharbot Lake,
I’ve heard he was a perfectionist and never made a mistake.
Lorne Madill was another man who was really good on the wire,
With a style and tone that was all his own, he could send like a house on fire.
Another “mit” I used to admire belonged to Ernie Walker,
He was Agent at the ‘Bogie” and was a good wire talker.
At various stations along the line you’d find Bernie Winger,
His fame was known both far and wide, he was a real wing dinger.
Tichborne was a real hot spot, the letter “A” was its call,
So many men worked there over the years, I’d never remember them all.
There was Hayes and Keyes and Mosier, when I apprenticed there,
Some were good and some were poor and others only fair.
Ed Hayes had a classic style admired by all the rest,
Of all the men who worked the wire, I think he was the best.
I used to marvel at his skill when he was on the key,
He knew all the tricks of the trade and passed them on to me.
Another station west on the line, its name was Wilkinson,
And there to be found was Kenny Brown, Goodberry and Allison.
Bill Robertson’s name now comes to mind, he was the agent at Perth,
Boots and shoes, he sold at home, priced at half their worth.
A man from Glenvale joined our ranks, his name was Lloyd VanOrder,
Dale Clarke was agent at Harrowsmith, he married Ed Hayes’ daughter.
Well, now that I’m nearly done with the list, my poem will soon be ended,
And for all those men whose names I’ve missed, I hope you’re not offended.
Sometimes in the middle of night I’ll hear a call in my sleep,
And when I awake and find it’s a dream, it’s enough to make me weep.
For the sounders will click no more my friends, silent they’ll always be,
No more the chatter of relays, gone forever, the telegraph key.

Transcribed from a local newspaper article.

The 1409 Report

Mr. Uren, let me tell you when,
On a west-bound drag proceeding.
On the mentioned date, at an easy rate,
All speed restrictions heeding.

I had a string of 50 things,
The hog was steamin’ bummy.
The tallow green, one trip had seen,
And the shack was in her crummy.

Two miles I drove, from Mountain Grove,
With smoke and cinders tossing.
Two farmer men with cattle – ten,
Were passing o’er the crossing.

The horn I blew, an hour or two,
I tried my best to stop her.
I had a hunch some of the bunch
Had come a nasty cropper.

Too late I stopped, to the ground I dropped,
And back to the scene I wandered.
One cow had died and by her side,
Two more their last were sighing.

Those rubes they swore and their hair they tore,
And raved like men demented.
I let them rag, called in my flag,
And resumed my way contented.

At Ardendale, I told my tale
to Operator Burleigh,
And once again, I yanked that train,
and arrived at Havelock early.

So now you know my tale of woe,
Each word the truth unyielding.
I’m very sorry it happened so,
Your’s truly – Sammy Fielding.

By:   Mr. Sammy Fielding – CPR Locomotive Engineer
(likely written about 1928)

Glossary and Background (written by Clare Price’s grandson, Dr. Peter Frise).

The poem describes an incident that happened in the late 1920’s when a CPR freight train struck and killed some cattle at an un-signalled level crossing just west of Mountain Grove, Ontario (about 130 km west of Ottawa along Hwy. 7).  Sammy Fielding was the locomotive engineer and he was well known for his poetry.  Mr. Fielding submitted the incident report (called a 1409 report) in the form of this poem to Mr. Uren who was the Section Superintendent of the CPR line between Ottawa and Peterborough.

The 1409 report was used to report incidents along the railroad and it would likely have formed the basis of compensation paid by the CPR to the farmers for the loss of their cattle.

My connection with the poem comes from my grandfather (A.C. “Clare” Price).  Clare was born at Mountain Grove in 1899 and worked on the CPR for 51 years from 1914 to 1965 (i.e. he started working for CP when he was about 15 years old).  Despite his grade-school education Clare Price eventually became the Bridge and Building Master for all of southern Ontario from Windsor to Ottawa.  He led the crews that built dozens of major stations and structures including the Bloor Viaduct over the Don River in Toronto.  He also served on the royal train which carried King George and Queen Elizabeth across Canada in the late 1930’s.  Clare died in Peterborough in 1992.  One of my earliest memories is of sitting on his knee while he recited this poem to me.

The other major characters and terminology in the 1409 report are as follows:

  • 50 things – refers to the number of freight cars in the train. A 50 car train was a pretty big train in those days.
  • the hog was the steam locomotive – likely of the Pacific 4-6-2 class. The fact that it “was steamin’ bummy”, means that the engine was operating well and that the trip was going nicely, at least until the cattle incident.
  • the tallow – is the fireman who stokes (with a shovel) the boiler of the locomotive with coal. The tallow on this particular trip was new to the CPR (i.e. – he was “green”) and this was one of his first trips.
  • the shack – is the train conductor who rides in the caboose or crummy at the rear end of the train. He would have been responsible for walking back along the track and placing a warning flag to indicate to overtaking trains that Fielding had stopped his train on the line.  In those days – there was no radio communication between trains and so everything had to be communicated by flag and/or horn and light signals. The reference to “her” is likely a tease between Fielding and conductor.
  • the horn – all trains were, and still are, equipped with either a compressed air or steam operated horn which is extremely loud. Fielding’s statement that he blew it “an hour or two” is likely sarcasm but was meant to emphasize that he did his best to warn the farmers to move their cattle off the track.

I know the area where this happened and the level crossings along that part of the track are pretty isolated.  Also, the track west of the little village of Mountain Grove is quite twisty and it is likely that the train came around a corner and Engineer Fielding saw the cattle on the tracks too late to warn the farmers.  It is also possible that the farmers were not listening for a train and/or were sleeping and simply missed hearing it.  Finally, a big train takes a long distance to stop and so it would have required a significant warning period to get the cattle off the crossing.

  • Operator Burleigh – was the telegraph operator at Ardendale (a small hamlet west of Mountain Grove, down a little dirt road south of Hwy 7). The village of Arden still exists although there is no longer a station there.

About 40 years later, in the late 1960’s while my dad (Don Frise) was attending summer school at Queen’s University in Kingston, my family rented a cottage from Mr. Burleigh at a place called Burleigh’s Point just west of Kingston on the Bath Road.  The cottage is still there and sits high up on a hill above the waters between the Bath Road and Howe Island.  Mr. Burleigh retired from the CPR in the early 1960’s and went on to own half a dozen cottages at the Point which he rented out in the summer.

  • Havelock – is a little depot town located right on Hwy 7 about 120 km further west of Mountain Grove. My mother (Helen) was born in Havelock in 1929 and she and the rest of the Price family lived there on and off until the mid-1940’s.  Helen passed away peacefully in June 2009 in Peterborough.

Our family cottage is now located about 10 km north-east of Havelock on the Crowe River.  Havelock still has a picturesque CPR station (now operating as a restaurant) and some railway activity in the switching yard although not nearly as much as during the 1920-60 period when it was a major centre.

The Dedicated Mailman

In wintry days of old, when auto’s weren’t so good,
There lived a man, who above all other men stood.
He was a mailman, and one day going to meet the train,
That old “25 Star” coughed and spat as if in pain.

It sputtered and in the cold refused to start,
So this young man, who took his job to heart
Shouldered the mail bags, and started to hoof it,
Not for his own station, but the next one to it.

The engineer waited at Snow Road on him to show,
He guessed what has happened, but did not know.
Then he gave the whistle a blast and was on his way,
Astonished that the mailman had missed a day.

But much to his surprise — waiting on the track
At Mississippi station with the mail bags on his back.
Stood the the young mailman shaking with the cold,
Carry that heavy load as if it were gold.

That’s how the story goes about the young mailman
Who, for miles, to beat the K&P train he ran.
Such dedication and devotion had that fine lad,
I know this is true for that mailman was my dad.

by Kathleen (Jackson) McCuatt.
She was the daughter of the mailman, W.J. Jackson.

Eternal Tie

We cannot reach the sun or stars
Or dabble in the Milky Way;
We cannot grasp the brilliant Mars,
Nor change a single night to day.
These things are far beyond the groove
We humans occupy, but then,
Right here on earth we can’t remove
The railroad from the railroad men.

It’s in the blood, there must it stay,
Becoming stronger hour by hour …
The yards, the trains, the rights-of-way,
The signals, wires, and motive power.
If Heaven has no rails and ties,
And earthly memory serves us then,
We’ll be a bunch of lonely guys,
We railroad men, we railroad men …

by Charles Dubin

Virgil Garrett – A Boarding Car Experience

In early December 1950, our boarding cars, consisting of a tool car, sleeping, dining and cook cars were on a siding in Agincourt. Ken Greer and I would drive from home early to warm the boarding car. Electricity came from an industrial plant nearby. It was very cold, with snow on the ground. We decided to forego hooking the electrical connection, and get a fire going in the Quebec heater, not realizing a painter, new to our gang, had tossed his work pants behind the heater. The fire going well, we went to bed and soon asleep. Ken’s bunk about 6 feet from the heater, my bed, father away, perhaps 15 feet. All well, until I suddenly awakened after approximately 20 minutes and was confronted with a solid thick blanket of smoke about 10 feet from me and now fully awake, yelled to Ken to get up, no response. I hurried to him and shook him to a sitting position and assisted him through the door which I had opened for a breath of fresh air.

Ken was very groggy but with my assistance and cold fresh air was able to stand
on his own which allowed me to investigate the cause of our problem which happened to be one pair of pants smoldering behind the heater and quickly disposed of in said stove, except one belt. When this careless person came to find pants missing, was verbally informed of his stupidity that these were gone they were very fortunate though because of Virgil’s unexplained awakening. Maybe inherited danger response. Maybe a greater power than human. Prevented death of two B&B workers in the sleeping car. From deep asleep to unexplained wake up two young bridge men didn’t become casualties but carried on with their regular lives. This incident was never reported because of the investigation that would certainly happen.

The Garrett Creek Nightmare

This story was written by Dellerene Craig Gibson. She was the daughter of John Craig, a railroader who worked on the K&P his entire career. He bought an island, Craig’s Island, located across from the government dock and built his daughter a cottage there.

It’s a story that doesn’t exactly say where or when this “nightmare” occurred. Matthew Garrett owned a farm and lived in Olden for a while. Maybe this suggests the creek was in the upper end of the Lake and named after him. Original surveys for the Ontario Quebec Railway (later C.P.R. Havelock Subdivision) called for the line to cross five islands. I’m guessing these are the small islands in the lower end. From the Ottawa Citizen – August 21st, 1882, “The present survey crosses on five islands by a fill which in one place will be in water fifty-five feet in depth”. Any more ideas?

Anyway, it’s another Sharbot Lake railroad mystery.

Garrett Creek Nightmare.

Garrett Creek was famous because of the C.P.R. system’s building of the trestle.

Who could have thought that this drainage ditch could become a killer?

Dellerene did not know just where it empties into Sharbot Lake. It’s so innocent looking, no rushing torrents, no large water falls or rocks, just the persistent draining.

Nature has a determination to have its own way. For some reason the C.P.R. had changed its plans to cross the area where it was the narrowest point from the north to the south. This plan led the C.P.R. into the Garrett Creek trap.

The Creek drained the land on each side of its path, bringing down silt for eons of years, with the gentleness of a lamb.

With all the silt coming gently down into the lake, it was difficult for the railway to build a stable-bottomed trestle across the mouth of the creek. It now became clear that this wobbling trestle could be the cause of a train wreck.

This wreck could cause the death of many people to say nothing of the grief that goes with a train wreck.

Different methods of control were tried. Even the thousands of square yards of gravel had no effect. The gravel just oozed out and can be seen to-day (1977).

The lake was all clogged with weeds so thick at times, it was almost impossible to land at the cottages on the west shore.

C.P.R. finally had enough. Fertility had won out, now it was determined to solve this problem. In the meantime, the CPR had built a by-pass line called the Lakeshore Road. Pile-drivers were brought in. Telegraph poles were driven in until they reached a solid bottom.

The Garrett Creek nightmare was before this last method was used, trains approaching from the east to west, had orders to cut their speed as far back as Maberly and Arden.

This procedure slowed the rhythm of the train. Eventually this line has been abandoned, but the trestle still remains as a monument to the C.P.R.

Here are two stories found in the book “In Search of the K and P” by authors Carol Bennett and D.W. McCuaig.

“Farmer Bill Francis lived beside the K and P back then, and one day he was aghast to discover that two of his cattle had wandered onto the line and been killed by the train. Of course, this was a serious loss to a farmer, and it seemed to him that the train crew just weren’t showing the proper contrition for this accident, and neither did it seem that any compensation would be forthcoming from the railroad. Fuming he vowed to teach them a lesson.

Just past his home, the train had to negotiate a steep slope, so when the train was due again, out he went armed with a generous supply of fat, with which he proceeded to grease the rails. Along came the train, and failed to make the grade. The farmer experienced a certain grim satisfaction as he watched the train grinding to a halt. Sand had to be fetched from Sharbot Lake before it could go on it’s way once more.” (page 52).

The next story is by Ed Hall

“You mention an episode in 1919 when caterpillars stopped the train. That happened again in 1939. I was in an army band travelling from Petawawa to Kingston to play for RMC graduation. This would put the time about mid-June. Somewhere in the hinterland, on a heavy grade, the drive wheels began slipping, lubricated by the bodies of masses of tent caterpillars, and the train soon came to a halt. We reversed direction, and were taken back to a level stretch where the train was disconnected at the middle. The first half was taken up the grade, two men standing on the cowcatcher sweeping the rails with brooms, over the top and on to a siding. The engine deposited the cars and returned for the latter half of the train. The operation took a couple of hours or more, during which time we had dinner in the car in the rear section, which had been left in the area most densely infested with the caterpillars. Between the sound of the creatures dripping from the trees, and the sight of the creeping, crawling ground, the dinner was less than a delight.” (pages 116-117).

On Hobos.

“At Robinson’s crossing (mile 38) on the right hand side of the road on the south side of the track sat railroad shed where tools were kept. The men gathered there to eat dinner and the hand cars were set off there. In the depression of the 1930’s a hobo lived in the railroad shack all one winter. He left for the day wile the men were around working on the railroad and returned for the night. He would gather willows and he made flower stands out of them and sold them for 25 cents.”

“Hobos would ride the rods under the trains or on top of the cars or in empty box cars. Sometimes the conductors would get tire of the hobos riding the train and they would lock them in box cars. They might end up at the other end of the country before someone would hear them and let them out. They would mark the tracks near any house that gave them food so the next hobo who came along would know they could get food there. The folks who gave the food would go out and try to rub off the marks. Some people would slice a loaf of bread lengthwise, butter it and hand it to them. The difference between a hobo and a bum is the hobo will work for his food a bum won’t.”

From Lois Webster’s book – Reminiscences of Bradshaw Community and Bradshaw School.

This book as available for viewing in the library in Sharbot Lake.

Story by Jimmy Allen

“I always liked to be around the station, because of all the action that went on. A train due at Sharbot Lake at 7:00 p.m. (always late) carried passengers and freight from Kingston. This train caused a lot of activity. It had to unload all the carload freight into the freight shed from the KP cars, for Sharbot Lake and points east and west on the C.P.R. to points south on the KP, switch cars to C.P.R. tracks then switch cars from the C.P.R. for south, reverse the coach and baggage car, then turn the engine headed for Kingston ready for leaving, on arrival of passenger train from Toronto between 4 and 5 am.

Turning the engine was quite a feat. It took all the night staff, plus the train crew. The turntable was in Slabtown (Doranville). Before the men could turn it, with the engine on, the engine had to be properly balanced.”

A few years after the C.P.R. took over the KP, they built a Wye for turning the train or an engine around. It was south of the steel bridge on the causeway. A heritage sign is located here.

Note – the C.P.R took over January 1, 1913

Joe the Porter
By Harry Hinchley

Joe the Porter was the assistant front desk man at the Union Hotel in Sharbot Lake, or, to use his own classification, “the Porter”.

His duties were many and his hours were long and his pay was not large. Perhaps this has some bearing on cigarettes because Joe was always in short supply and often completely out of this commodity.

This brought about one of his failings – a propensity of habitually begging cigarettes from his friends. When Joe felt like a smoke, which was often, he was not at all backward in soliciting some, even though his friends did not always approve and often said so.

One cool October Saturday morning when the usual crowd had gathered in the lobby of the Union Hotel, someone took some exception to Joe’s habit of “bumming” smokes. Joe admitted his shortcomings and even promised to make amends. So, to nail him down before he changed his mind, it was suggested that Joe sign an agreement to this effect. Joe was co-operative. He even produced a sheet of hotel note paper on which an agreement could be written out. A form of contract was hastily drawn up and presented to Joe for his signature.

Joe read it over and accepted it all except one final clause, which would have allowed him the privilege of accepting a cigarette offered to him only when he had none in his possession. Joe balked at this one, so in accordance with his expressed wishes, the clause was deleted by a stroke of the pen.

Then Joe signed the agreement, and promised to give up his habit of soliciting free cigarettes from all and sundry who might be “in or about the premises of the Union Hotel at Sharbot Lake”.

We have not heard of Joe for years and do not know if he is even still alive. But let us hope that he is still living and well. Joe was a good kid and he meant well. But, like so many others, at times he found it difficult not to give in to temptation.
A copy of the original agreement, written on the Union Hotel notepaper accompanies this article. As it is difficult to read, the original unedited text of Joe’s contract is set out below:

“I, Joe the Porter, hereby agree that I will not bum, beg, endeavor to procure without compensating remuneration, steal, or illegally acquire any cigarette or cigarettes from any guest, customer, boarder, traveller or transient lady or gentleman who may or may not be at in or about the premises of Union Hotel in Sharbot Lake. I further agree that I will accept one if offered (provided I have none in my possession).”
Signed Joe E. The Porter
Saturday, October 13, 1928

HH 358b

Original “contract”

Thursday 18/04/1901 The Record, Chesterville

“A good story was told by a travelling man last week that illustrates the speed of the local trains of the CPR – says the exchange. The train had been slower than usual that day and the passengers were thoroughly disgusted. Among them was a nervous woman and a boy. During the trip the conductor came around and the lady presented him with a full ticket and a half fare for the boy. The conductor looked at the boy a moment and then said “Isn’t that boy more than twelve years old?” Quick as a flash the lady replied: “He wasn’t when we left Perth, but I think he will be a voter before we reach Montreal.” The conductor accepted the half fare ticket and moved on.”