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Memories of Drake Street Roundhouse in Vancouver

Andy Cassidy

This office was an interesting place. At times it was home to mice, and at times rats. As I primarily worked the 16-24 shift there, that was when you’d see, and hear them. Every night, at about the time when Bruce Chapman would call from the Operations Centre in Montreal for an update on things, this mouse would poke his head out from behind the wall between the Engineers locker room and the office. I’d be sitting there eating my soup crackers, and would throw over a few crumbs. Eventually he got bold enough to come over to my chair, and in a few weeks he was eating out of my hand! John Vint,(AKA Scotty), who worked 08-16 named him Egburt. He ended up with a mate, then three or four kids. One night I was sitting there and right on time Egburt sticks his head out to see if it’s safe to come out. In the mean time I hear this noise there, then suddenly these three little guys come barrelling out and over top of Egburt. I guess they were having a game of tag or something. Well, Egburt freaked out, and you could hear him yelling at these unruly kids to get back in the nest. Of course they complied. I guess they got a lecture after that on the dangers of being a mouse and how to conduct themselves in the dangerous public areas.

On another occasion, a Labourer who was on the 24-08 shift as Fire Watch was catching a few Zee’s in the office. He woke up only to find a rat on the desk, and another one sitting on his lap! He wasn’t too happy about that.

In these days we had no cell phones. So when anybody called, they had to be patient and let the phone ring 50 times or so, as I could be anywhere in the shop, a long way from the phone. We had a loud Klaxon Horn mounted outside the roundhouse, and you could hear it blaring away from anywhere in the facility. Usually it would be the crew clerk calling, or Bruce Chapman looking for an update on the local power. That was the highlight of my evenings. He’d always be in a hurry to run over the power issues etc. If he had his way the call was over in 30 seconds, so I always tried to drag out the conversation by expanding on all the issues, plus telling him things like how I was cutting my grass in the middle of winter here when they were knee deep in snow back in Montreal, etc. I think I had him on the phone for 15 to 20 minutes or so at times.

The photo of the 7093 getting some engine repair work done on Track 11 of the Diesel Shop brings to mind a story.
We all know Alco and Baldwin engines are very durable, unlike the delicate GMs, right? Well just how tough? Nobody used a torque wrench that I ever recall in those days. Just tighten it till it squeaks, and that’ll do! So, one day a machinist, (or so he thought), was assigned to replace a power assembly on one of our switchers. I can’t recall if it was an MLW or Baldwin, but it really doesn’t matter. So away he goes to do the assigned task. Later in the shift, the supervisor comes by to see how things are going. Having some trouble getting the piston down into the liner, says the machinist. But not a problem. He just brought up a sledge hammer and a block of wood, put the block on the piston, then started pounding on it with the sledge. Well, the engines were tough but not quite that durable! I recall with the Baldwins that occasionally they would hydro lock when cranking them over. Not a problem though. Just hold the start switch in till the water slowly pushed by the rings or valves, and once it got rolling over it would start in an instant. They never smoked. Had great compression unlike the MLW’s. Water in the oil… Who cares? It’ll boil off!

The Diesel Shop portion of the Roundhouse was at the north end, and consisted of pits 10 through 12 that were set up to maintain Diesel Locomotives. The three pits were deeper than the standard pits in the roundhouse to properly be able to work under the trucks of the diesels. Pit #10 was always covered with boards. It was primarily used for doing head and liner re & re work etc., with the overhead crane. Pit #11 was set up with reinforced concrete pads for the jacking up of units. We did not have a drop table there, so we had to jack up the units and wheel the trucks out onto the turntable, then over to Pit #12 where they were repaired. That shop area also was equipped with an overhead bridge crane, as mentioned above, that ran the span of the three pits. The four 35 ton Whiting Jacks worked as a set and could handle the weight of a GP9 or an A unit. Anything heavier had to be lifted with the resident steam crane.

There are a number of good stories I recall about this place, but I’ll share two that were significant for me. First though to set the stage, when we had to remove the trucks from some switcher for repairs, we set up the jacks and lifted it WAAAAY up. We would move the trucks out by means of an old genset welder we kept for that purpose. Basically, we’d connect the welder to one of the two traction motors in the truck, and that would provide the power required to drive the truck out from under the unit. The way we controlled this movement was very primitive. After connecting all the leads and turning on the welder, you’d pick up two bare ended long leads and touch them together momentarily to complete the connection and get the truck moving. Hopefully the right way! With DC current, this meant a lot of arcing and sparking that was hard on the eyes, so generally you held the leads behind your back and made the connection. I had a few old coats catch fire this way!

With the truck successfully moving out from under the unit, we wheeled it out onto the turntable. That was another risky maneuver, as sometimes the leads would stick together and you’d be yanking away at them to break the electrical connection. But if the truck got moving too fast, it would fly off the far end of the turntable onto the ground over at the CP Transport side of the roundhouse. They had removed the rails there, so that made it a problem to get it back onto the turntable. Most of the time though, you wheeled the truck out and stopped it in the right spot by putting a stick under the wheels. It had to be centered on the table for balance, otherwise the table would not turn. So positioning was critical. Also to note here was that the shop doors, (or barn doors as some would say), would have to be open and blocked with the locking dogs mounted on small posts outside the doors.

One afternoon, I was assigned to move a truck out from some Baldwin switcher that had a grounded Traction Motor. So I set it all up and moved the truck out to the turntable, moved the table over to track 12, reversed the electrical connections and started wheeling the truck back into Pit #12. I happened to be standing next to the welder just inside the door on Pit #11 while making and breaking the electrical connections with the cables. No problem as I was moving the truck off the table and up towards the shop. However, what I didn’t realize was that I hadn’t locked the barn door open on the far side. (That’s the one in colour photo next to the brick wall with the ESSO outline above). Unfortunately I couldn’t see it as the other door was blocking my view. The wind had caught the door and moved it “JUST” foul of the movement. So there I am merrily moving the truck in, very slowly I might add, and next thing you know the truck hit the door. If the door had been an inch either way, it would have just smashed the door up. But it hit dead on end and all the force went against the main post the door was hinged to. It’s a great big 12” square, or larger vertical post mounted on a concrete support about 8” high. Well, the truck knocked the post right off the support, then smashed the door. The whole corner of the building sank down. I thought I was going to be fired for sure, but they laughed it off the next day and the B&B came by and fixed it up with no hassle. I was sweating bullets there for a while!!

Another near miss experience that was very scary came when we were jacking up a switcher one day. Initially you placed all four jacks under the jacking pads of the unit, and then manually raised the jacks to just make contact with the pads. Once all set, you used the master controller to lift all four jacks in unison to the height required. So we did all that and the unit is almost at the top of the required lift when I noticed about a ¼” gap between the jack and lifting pad on the corner closest to me. What’s going on? I go to the other side, where the other guy is supposed to be watching what’s going on, and the jack on the far corner was not operating at all! It’s at the bottom! So now we’ve got a unit jacked up in the air with only TWO jacks kitty corner to each other! We managed to get the unit back down okay, but I’m telling you, I was shaking in my boots. If that sucker had come down due to a slip, or if a jack broke under the weight, we’d have been killed for sure. Luck was on our side that day!

I could go on and on about this kind of stuff, but you get the idea. Safety then isn’t what it is today. Very few people ever got hurt though, thank goodness.

One of my more memorable boiler room experiences with regard to the “Apprentice Instructor”, Ted Ladd. “Yes, good old Ted! He was also the Stationary Engineer, and he got me out of a mess of trouble one day. One of my tasks was tending the boiler room activities playing stationary fireman. Well, things go okay when they are working right, but one day the fire dropped out and the alarms rang. Well, I soon found out I didn’t know all I thought I knew about the system! I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get things back up and running, to no avail. So I ended up RUNNING over to the school room and thank the lord he was there. He meandered back over to the boiler room with me and we got things up and running. What had happened is the Coach Yard guys had put the Canadian on steam and whipped the valve open. Well that drew a stack of steam, and along with it the water level, which was why I couldn’t get the boiler re-lit. Obvious to me now of course as to what to do, but at the time I was lost. Thank goodness Ted was there!”

The Induction fan supplied a forced draft to the boiler. The original stack on the boiler was a good 100 feet high, but the top rotted out and at least ½ was removed for safety reasons. That induction fan played an important roll in keeping the heat moving through the tubes and up the stack. At one point after the stack had been lowered, the heat in the boiler was excessive and the sides bulged out considerably. Not a good situation. That even with about a foot of firebrick lining the walls. Anyways, we had two cats that called the boiler room home. Forget their names now, but one suffered as a result of that induction fan! Not seen in this photo is the other side of this fan. Driven by a 575 volt 3 phase motor, the coupling was normally covered by a guard to protect against the rotating shaft. Jim Jacoboni was one of the regular Stationary Fireman working the boiler room one shift after the fan had been worked on the previous shift and the guard had been removed so the coupling could be serviced. Well, the one cat decided that walking under the shaft between the motor and fan was a good idea. NOT! Jim was right there when the cat took his trip, and what a trip it was! He said the shaft caught his tail and the cat was going around like a rag doll with blood spattering all over the place until the tail was ripped off and the cat was lying in a heap against the wall. Jim ran out to get help, but when he came back the cat was gone? He figured it was dead from the thrashing it took. However, he saw that it had crawled out the door by the trail of blood it left behind. Figuring that was it for the cat, he cleaned up the mess, and the guard was replaced the next day. About a month later, the cat came back, minus the tail. He carried on being one of the two mascots till the place closed down in 1981.

2860 on the table at Drake Street. C.1968 Three photographs. Leif Sorensen Collection

2860 which was fortunate to be sitting inside the shop on the then pit #2 looking like it could be fired up anytime. Which in fact it was some years later after a minor going over. I’ll always remember that day, as they got it steamed up behind the oil shed. It had steam coming out from all over the place. Bill Silver, the General Locomotive Foreman of the day, got in the big chair and took the controls in hand. Opened the throttle and away it went. The problem was though, the throttle got stuck with some slag or something internally and would not shut! So there he is going from forward to reverse and back, and at the same time opening and closing the throttle in futility trying to stem the flow of steam to the cylinders. Eventually he applied the brakes and got it in the neutral position, killed the fire, and just let it sit there venting through the cylinder drain cocks till it cooled off.

When I started at Drake Street the 3716 was parked along with a few other pieces of equipment on the stub track south of the two main tracks that lead into the roundhouse. It was one rusting hulk let me tell you, and I thought at the time that it was impossible to ever resurrect this thing. Well, I was VERY wrong about that. It is currently looking VERY FINE indeed on the KVR.

3716 was oil-fired and equipped with a non-standard 7000 gallon tender and 2275 gallons of oil. Normally, this class of engine had a small 5000 gallon tender or a large 10000 gal. tender. 3722 a coal-fired Lambton engine had a 7000 gal. tender.

Drake Street 1968

8520 passenger equipped GP9 at Drake Street Sorenson Collection

8520 looks like the one I was assigned to wash first thing one morning in October 1972. As you can see in the photo, there is the old oil shed right behind the unit to the right. What a grimy hole that was. Anyways, as you can also see, that black pipe running along above and behind the unit is the shop steam line. Just out of view to the right that steam line ran to the oil tank and also to the side of the shed feeding the heat radiator inside, and an auxiliary line to the outside. We had that line piped into a 45 gallon drum of water and Oakite Detergent for washing the locomotives. The problem was that soap mix just never did the job all that well. So, when the boss wasn’t looking, we used to fill a pail with the Oakite at 100% concentration and scrub the units down with that. It really cut the grease then!! The bad part though was, it really cut the paint as well!!!!. So here I am scrubbing away on the north side trying to get the units, (Transfer set back to back), done before they depart at 0900 hrs off the shop track, Another guy was on the south side cleaning, but he wasn’t doing it like I was. Anyways, then the boss comes out and starts giving me the gears. “Hurry Up And Rinse That Off”, he says! So we both grab hoses and start rinsing. Before the water hit the carbody I knew I was in poop! Once that water contacted the units, all you could see was Tuscan Red running down the carbody like blood pouring from a freshly slit throat! Then as we are rinsing the power starts pulling out and he’s yelling at me that we are both going to get fired! Holly Shit! We jump into the shop truck and run down to the station at the other side of downtown to see if we can do anything with it before any big bosses see it. Well, thank goodness it ran off and dried out and didn’t look any worse than this pic. In the end though, we still hit the paint with 100% soap, but just made sure we did small sections at a time. Whew, that was close! LOL!!

Older memories of Drake Street

More photos inside Drake Street

Andy Cassidy was an electrician at Drake Street roundhouse. He later went on to become Locomotive Foreman on 16-24 shift (that's 4-12 for Eastern Lines boys!), and is now enjoying his retirement.

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