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Braking on the Railroad

Al Howlett

Looking from our house down across the LE&N to the north side of the Grand River
with the Varnish Company on the left of the bridge. Saw mill on the right.


1942 I was 10 years old and my younger brother Jim was 8. We were always poking into something or exploring anything that looked mechanical. Even today kids like to push the buttons usually on a computer. Computers were far away in the future and most things worked by mechanical means in those days. Any thing with handles that could be worked was always fair game.

The Lake Erie and Northern electric line ran by our house at the bottom of a hill behind our
Property, so it was a natural interest to us boys. We would see the big silent running red passenger cars passing many times each day to or from Galt. We often rode with mother or grandmother sometimes to Galt or South to Paris, Brantford or even to the beach at Port Dover. What fun that was to see the operation from the comfort in side the car with all the fancy electric lamps and the woodwork. There was even a white button in the wall next to the seat that a passenger could push to request a stop I think. I never tried this however as I did not want to get into trouble, but the push button temptation was there just the same.
At the end of the car was a toilet and in the wall was a glass jar full of water and a supply of paper cups with a pointed bottom. I think this was to limit the amount of water you could get. The water in the jar always looked blue but this might have been the glass color. I asked the conductor one time where they got the blue water? The answer was "Blue Lake"

The Glen Morris station a former stone house built in the 1840s was a place to hang out summer and winter. The waiting room was located in the former parlor. A ticket wicket and operators area with bay window, plus a roll up ticket cabinet adjoined. There was a locked door to this area with the word "Private" in gold lettering. I never recall a ticket agent or it ever being used for that purpose. A big station coal stove was used for heat in the winter. Wooden seats were attached to the walls in the waiting room. There was a locked telephone box in one corner that was used to call the dispatcher. A great place to wait for the train or warm up in the winter. On the South end was the freight room with a raised platform outside for shipments. The rest of the building was used as a dwelling for section men and families or later rented out. My grandparents lived in this old home in 1904 when my father was born there. The house was converted into the station about 1913 when the LE&N was constructed.

Glen Morris was well served by the LE&N. The main line had a siding that was used for many freight inbounds and later for car storage for the gravel cars on their way to the pits in Paris. There were also white washed stock unloading pens. I only remember about one car of cattle being unloaded here. On one side was a covered in weigh scale house for wagons. Turnips from local farms were burlap bagged and loaded into reefer cars for shipment to the New York market we were told. We would climb the ends of the cars and look into the empty ice bunkers through the roof hatch covers always, mindful of the overhead trolley wire. Another shipment inbound was a tank car of Varnish thinner oil for the Hannan Varnish Company over on the other side of the river. It was of interest to us how a pipeline delivered this oil from the car connected to a hand-railing pipe on the bridge over the river and then down into an underground tank at the varnish company by gravity.

The siding had the usual high switch stands with oil lamps something that was of interest. Those little handles to adjust the wick flame in the lamp got our attention occasionally. The light could be made brighter or produce smoke out the top. But we never turned them out as it was oblivious they were needed. Having lived with oil lamps at home until 1939 we knew about these things.

The wartime brought interesting things to the LE&N in the rail cars that had been used to carry loads of scrap metal. The gravel pits at Paris shipped out cars of gravel on the LE&N and empty inbound cars would be stored on the Glen Morris sidings until needed. Many of these mill gons and hoppers would contain many small items that had not been cleaned out. Like magnets we would explore the cars for interesting things to pick up.

Modern hand brake on an auto rack car

One day while exploring we noticed that these cars were equipped with a handle for applying the brakes. Well here was something that needed checking out. Pulling the handle up was quite easy and a clicking noise indicated that something was happening. Well that was fun so lets try another one. This was repeated in quite a few cars until we noticed the LE&N electric locomotives approaching silently. We beat a hasty retreat to the nearby woods to observe the locomotives backing onto the cars in the siding. There was a clank as the cars were coupled up to the locomotives. The hum of the air compressors was next as the brake line was charged up with air to release the brakes. There was a jerk as the cars tried to move and some grinding noises but everything stayed put. Next there was a rattling as some one tried to release the brakes. Once again power was applied and no movement. Then some words of discouragement could be heard coming from the head end. Then more rattling of brake gear. This time the cars started to move with loud screeching of brake shoes as the powerful electrics hauled them on the main to Paris. 20 minutes or so later we could still hear that squeal getting less as the train slowly ran the 6.5 miles to the Paris pit.

Well two little boys kept that adventure with braking levers to themselves for over 70 years, so now you know! 2015.



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