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The New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
Reader, Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Railroaders

The men who worked on the last New Brunswick steam locomotives on the CPR Chipman-Norton run miss shovelling coal and getting cinders in their eyes.

By Mac Trueman

Just as a golfer can close his eyes and picture the perfect swing,
Wylie McGinley, 73, still hears the sharp metallic clang of his shovel
against the iron door.

This satisfying sound came only when he heaved a scoop of coal into
the firebox of No. 29 in just the right way, so that it spread evenly
across the blistering firebox of this historic steam locomotive.

He shoveled untold tonnes of Minto coal in his nine years as a fireman
on an obscure Canadian Pacific Railway train that ran between Norton
and his home town of Chipman, in the 1950s, charging through bushes
and across pastures and scattering barnyard animals, on a route that
never went near a city.

This was one of the last steam-driven trains in the CPR system by the
time the railway parked the three steam engines that served this line
and replaced them with a small diesel locomotive in October of 1959.
For the previous two years, hobbyists had been coming here at the rate
of one or two a week from across the United States to ride the train
and get photos. One man lugged a suitcase-size portable tape recorder
to pick up the sounds.

In March of 1960, the diesel broke down in a snowstorm, forcing the
railway to fire up No. 29 one more time. It was kept in service the
next four days, making this CPR's last regularly-scheduled commercial
passenger train to be drawn by steam, says ex-railway man and train
historian Wendell Lemon, in Moncton.

All three steam locomotives used on the Chipman-to-Norton run are now
museum displays.

CPR's official name for this train was "The Central," because it
travelled to central New Brunswick. But those who experienced the
creaking, wildly-swaying ride knew it as the Blueberry Express,
because when the train broke down or else stopped at the Perry tower
to take on water, the passengers all got out to pick blueberries.

The tiny train left an indelible mark on those who worked on it or
rode it.

"Every night, I think about that train," says Don DeWolfe, 84, who
worked on CPR trains out of Chipman for 17 years, mostly as a brakeman.

"The smoke, the cinders in your eye, the sound of the whistle, the
ringing of the bell. You won't hear that today," he said.

"I miss the whole thing, because I loved railroads," said Annie
Barton, who never skipped a day of work in the 17 years she was agent
for CPR and CP Express at the Cumberland Bay station. "If I had my
life to live over again, that's what I'd start right in with."

On his now-rare visits home to Coal Creek, a few kilometres from
Chipman, retired UNB English professor Robert Hawkes makes a point of
wandering through the overgrown field where his great-grandfather's
house stood and The Central used to come rumbling past.

"I can almost hear the train coming and the whistle blowing, and it
brings back all those memories. There is a very definite sense of loss."

Mr. Hawkes, now 71, said his first memories of The Central date back
to age 6, when he used to stand at the Coal Creek station with his
mother, waiting patiently for the first black blotch of smoke to rise
above Lily Hill. It meant the train was just leaving the Cumberland
Bay station, on the far side of the mountain, and was yet 15 minutes
away, or even longer if it was heavily slowed by a heavy load of
freight cars.

Within a few minutes of the first smoke, the melodious hoot of the
steam whistle could be heard in the distance. It grew to an
ear-splitting level by the time the mammoth, black locomotive, with
its bell ringing and steam shooting in every direction came rumbling
slowly past, shaking the station and the very earth with its weight.
Young David cringed for safety behind his mother's skirt.

It all is silent today. The stations are gone, the bridges have been
torn out and even the roadbed has disappeared in alders and weeds.

Riding The Central was much like train travel today, only a lot slower.

In 1945, when 12-year-old Gerry Taylor took The Central to Chipman to
get to Camp Wegesegum, the highlight of the trip was when the train
stopped in the middle of nowhere, and passengers were invited to join
the crew in refreshing themselves at a woodland spring, equipped with
a single tin mug.

"It just seems like yesterday," said Mr. Taylor, now retired from
advertising sales.

"That was Perry," Mr. McGinley recalled. "It was real good water."

The all-wood combination passenger and baggage coach that rode often
behind one or two freight cars was divided into three compartments:
one for passengers, one for baggage and one for smokers. The sides
were of dark-stained wainscoting, and the clerestory above the ceiling
let in extra light and drew off some of the summer heat.

"The seats were dark plush. And there was a distinctive, even
attractive, odour, I would have to say, even though we don't like the
smell of cigarettes any more," said Mr. Hawkes.

In the 1940s Mr. Hawkes boarded in Chipman while attending high school
in a day before the region had school buses. He left class early on
Friday so he could take the train home to Coal Creek for the weekend,
10 kilometres away.

You were in for a rough ride on this train, which pitched from side to
side in addition to front-and-back - "even more so when the frost was
coming out of the ground in the spring time," he said.

Instead of electricity, the passenger and baggage compartments had
propane ceiling lights, which burned with an audible hiss,

although brakeman Charles (Bud) McGinley - Wylie's brother - remembers
only one winter trip that ended so late that the lights had to be
used. In winter, the coach's baseboard heaters were warmed by a
coke-burning furnace that the brakeman stoked at the back of the car.
In summer, "You put the window up, and that was the air conditioning
you got," Mr. DeWolfe said.

And if you did, you had to be careful of cinders.

"That was a bit of a bother trying to get that out, rolling the lid
back on a wooden match, because the cinder would stick right to your
eye," retired school principal Laughland Fulton recalled of the trip
he took home to Chipman while attending summer school in Saint John,
in 1949.

Speed was not a hallmark of the Blueberry Express, which seemed to Mr.
Fulton to make frequent stops where there wasn't a building in sight.
Once he saw someone reach out from the baggage door and place an empty
five-gallon milk can on a stand in the middle of a pasture.

The return train would stop here again to pick up a full milk can, on
its way to a dairy in Saint John or Sussex, he was told.

Nor was this a high-pressure job. Mr. DeWolfe, a brakeman, watched his
conductor sitting endlessly at his desk at the back of the coach,
doing nothing.

That's why Auction 45s was a prominent part of the day.

One time Bud McGinley got conductor Percy Lister to stand behind
baggage man Ervin (Dinny) Swift and signal his hand. But Mr. Swift
caught them.

"He threw his hand of cards at me and said he'd never play again . . .
we're just a bunch of crooks."

Mr. Swift was so steamed that it took Mr. McGinley two full days to
talk him into another game.

"And he made darned sure that Percy Lister wasn't standing behind him."

Life wasn't that easy for those on the outside.

At Cumberland Bay, Miss Barton said she would sling as many as 20
heavy five-gallon cream cans into the baggage compartment while the
men did nothing but watch.

When the section man laughed at her request to rid the snakes from the
station well, it turned her ophidiophobia to rage.

"The next night, when they returned from work, all those snakes were
lying between the rails . . . I got them, I killed them, and I put
them where they'd see them."

In early summer, anglers - riding with their heads out the open
windows - would have the conductor stop the slow-moving train when it
happened upon a promising trout stream. The train would pick them up
on the way back to Norton. Berry pickers did the same thing in late
summer, and in the fall it was deer hunters.

By the time Mr. DeWolfe joined the line, around 1943, the brass
spittoons had been removed from CPR coaches, to the distress of many
crewmen, who were forced to direct their tobacco juice out the baggage
door instead. Mr. DeWolfe recalled that this was why his conductor
carried an old coffee can. Most crew members chewed tobacco because of
the smoke and dust on the train, Wylie McGinley said.

Even though he never worked for CPR, Mr. Lemon, the historian, credits
the Norton train for inspiring him to his 25-year career with Canadian
National Railway.

At age 12 he began hanging out at the Chipman roundhouse, which stood
only 250 metres from his home. He soon was hitching locomotive rides
around the rail yard in return for stoking the sitting locomotives
while crewmen were away at lunch.

One Saturday, as the train set out from Chipman, young Wendell asked
engineer Johnny Myers and Wylie McGinley if he could "fire" just a
couple of shovels.

"Wylie handed me his gloves, and he told me in that booming voice,
'Lemon, you're fired.' "

The boy scattered three or four shovels into the fire box, slammed the
door and waited for the shovel to be taken from him. But three or four
minutes later, it was time to fire again, and he still had the shovel.
Several firings later, the train was heading into Coal Creek, with
Wendell shoveling and Mr. McGinley pretending to look out the window.

"He fired all the way to Norton, and he did an excellent job," Mr.
McGinley recalled.

"And that's when I got the railway bug," Mr. Lemon said.

Wylie McGinley admits it wasn't his idea to join with Mr. Myers and
the Blueberry Express in late October, 1951, on tracks so rickety they
would take only tiny trains running less than 25 miles per hour (40
kilometres). With a young man's taste for speed and power, he dreamed
of firing the big freights between Chipman and Fredericton. But with
no job seniority, the young fireman had to look for work that nobody
else wanted. And The Central was it.

He soon had an intimate knowledge of the line's three locomotives. No.
136 was the best riding and easiest to fire, but the weakest. No. 144
was the strongest, but he frequently skinned his knuckles working its
shaker bar. No. 29, with its big 60-inch (1.5-metre) drive wheels, was
the fastest, although it was known as a coal hog. Mr. McGinley put
that reputation to rest one day by nursing the train from Norton to
Chipman on 105 shovels of coal - a quarter of what a larger steam
engine used.

Although it was the unspoken duty of every engineer and fireman to
wave to as many children as possible, Wylie McGinley took this one
step further. He ducked into Sayre's store in Chipman every Saturday
and bought bags of hard candy, which he heaved to a group of children
in a field just beyond Thompson Station. The bags, bursting upon
impact with the ground, would disappear beneath a melee of kids.

"It looked like a football game."

The Norton-to-Minto line began in 1888 as the Central Railway of New
Brunswick, which was purchased by the New Brunswick Coal and Railway
Company in 1903. This was in turn bought up by the Province of New
Brunswick and leased to the CPR in 1914 for 999 years.

In the 1950s, the train left Norton at 8:40 a.m., stopping at Case,
Belleisle, Scotch Settlement, Annidale, Thorne, Perry, Thompson,
Cody's, Washademoak, Bagdad^correct^, Young's Cove Road, Granville and
Pennlyn (the railway's name for Coal Creek). It arrived in Chipman at
11:30 a.m., having covered a distance of 44.6 miles (72 kilometres) in
two hours, 50 minutes, if it was on time. The return train left
Chipman at 1:10 p.m. and got to Norton at 3:40 p.m.

The Central had its lucrative years.

"We did almost a million dollars worth of business around 1950-51,"
said Gerald Connell, who was station agent at Cody's when it had three
lumber mills and thriving pulpwood and Christmas tree industries. He's
92 now.

But barely a decade later, the prosperity ebbed away or was hauled
away by trucks across the province's expanding highway system. And
CPR, claiming there wasn't enough business here to pay for needed
repairs to its bridge across Washademoak Lake, got permission to
abandon the line.

Bud McGinley had heard about crowds that used to travel on his coach.
But it never happened during his day, he said.

"In later years, nobody travelled on it. Some days you'd go up and
down, and never see a person at all."

Only a few years before this, the Norton steam trains had drawn
spectators from across the country. But when the last train from
Chipman ran by diesel, on March 31, 1962, nobody came for a last look.

When it passed through Cumberland Bay at noon, crew members got out
and shook hands with Miss Barton and shed some tears.

"And then they brought the trucks in, and loaded all the stuff - the
desk and everything - and away they went."

CPR Locomotive 136 is still pulling trains, at the South Simcoe
Heritage Railway, in Tottingham, Ont.

"The last time I was up there, they let me fire the thing," Wylie
McGinley said.

CPR No. 144 is displayed at the Canadian Railway Museum, in
Saint-Constant, Québec, and No. 29 stands at the entrance to Canadian
Pacific Railway's North American headquarters, in Calgary. You can
find the image of Wylie McGinley's favourite steam engine on the
Locomotive 29 lapel pin that CPR sells on its memorabilia web page as
a souvenir of Calgary.

Last year, a woman in Chipman whose children and grandchildren have
grown up, told Wylie McGinley that she was one of the children he used
to throw candy to at Thompson Station.

Last fall, a group of old railway men, including Bud McGinley, Mr.
Connell, former Belleisle agent Roy Northrup, 94, and former fireman
Arthur Slater, 79, combed over the entire route of the Norton train by
car, but found few traces of their old rail line.

"It just makes you think of how old you are and how much time has
passed," Mr. McGinley said.

"I think mostly about how young and how good a shape we were in then.
When I was working at Norton, I was between 20 and 30 years old, and
my health was good. And to compare it to today, after you've gone on
50 years or more - it's quite a change."

But changes or not, his brother Wylie still longs to fire another
steam locomotive.

"It would be just for the trip. I don't think I'd like to go back to
it full time. Unless it was a good piece of track."

The New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
Used with permission

Photographs of the train, hauled by 136
Use your browser BACK button to return here.

The Tripleheader

Story of the last run of CPR 136, one of the trio of 4-4-0's mentioned above,
Toronto-Orangeville and return on Sunday, May 1st. 1960.

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