|FTLComm - Tisdale - Wednesday, December 18, 2002|
|This morning there was a very light snow falling on Tisdale making
things look much more like one would expect for December. As I came up to the railway
crossing the scene above struck me in wonder for as you can see there is snow on
the top of the rail. Certainly not an uncommon sight but to me this scene was not
as things should be and as I looked West in the picture at the bottom of the page
the same oddity was present.
I grew up beside the track, every village kid in Canada grew up along the track because few houses were more than a few hundred yards from the reason for the village's existence. In our case the edge of the front lawn was the edge of the ballast and only a few times in my life would I ever remember snow on the top of a rail, well at least for more than a couple of hours. Each year at Christmas the railway would cut back on traffic on Christmas Day and New Years and on those two days there would only be the early morning passenger and the "midnight." So for a couple of days each year if it snowed during the day or night there could be a scene like these you see in these pictures.
Our railroad line was the Cromer Sub of the CN line from Winnipeg to Brandon and on to Regina. Not a main line but for southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba a fairly important rail link. Half an hour's drive North was the CP mainline from Vancouver to Halifax and an hour North of that the CN mainline from Winnipeg through Melville, Saskatoon to Edmonton.
But our rail line was our link to the world, certainly we had roads and what in the fifties would have been called highways, but there was only pavement on #1 and it was a miserable trail, narrow and even then choked with traffic, pretty much what it is like today. But in the fifties the railroads serviced the prairies and the government of the country recognised the prairies as a part of the country, there was respect and there was participation.
Trains then were numbered with odd numbers heading West and even numbers heading East so that the transcontinental passenger trains on CP were #1 and #2, the Dominion trains running on CN were $3 and #4 and the two trains that came and went each night to us were #5 and #6. Depending on the time of the year you could step onto the passenger some time in the dead of night and step off in Regina at eight having slept through Inchkeith, Kipling, Glenavon, Momartre, Vibank, Davin. On a Friday night I would climb about the passenger at the Regina station just at six and be home before midnight. Every day these trains made their way past us East and West. Hand a letter to the postal clerk in the mail car and it would be in a business or person's mailbox in Regina that same morning.
Each morning 410 was the scheduled freight hauling grain to the lakehead and each late afternoon or early evening 409 rumbled through hauling empties back from the lakehead. On Wednesday anywhere from eleven until two in the afternoon you could expect to see the "Way freight" often a train of twenty or thirty cars and sometimes a baggage car carrying LCL (less than car load lots). Barrels of motor oil, furniture from Sears, farm implements, an overhauled motor for West's garage, metal parts of a granary, every kind of thing a village and its surrounding farmers needed came and went on the train.
Thursday was often the time for "shipping" the stock yard would come alive as cattle were brought in to be shipped to market or slaughter. The stock yard would have dozens of men shouting and moving cattle from trucks then up the ramp into the waiting cars that had been spotted by a freight. The train would arrive the cars picked up and those cattle in the Winnipeg or Regina stockyards for sale the following morning.
I was a paper boy and each morning I would go to the station and collect the stack of papers, the Winnipeg Free Press and would hike around the village, one for Jack Hurst, another for Burnetts, Jim McIntyre, both McKillop families, Mrs. Dicky, four for the McClements, Stan Brown, Wallace's, Moore's, two bachelors, Dan McPherson's, West's, Parker's and Sirois.
For all of the importance of the tracks, even more important was the link to the tracks, the station agent. Dennis Leonard's dad was the station agent when first came to Langbank and the place was all business, Dennis' dad wore a tie. There were a few relief agents before Cliff and Mary Hollaway moved into the Station their boy was the same age and a bosom buddy of my little brother. Cliff was a gentle and kind tall man with diabetes. He kept a huge coffee pot atop the pot bellied stove in the waiting room and at coffee time every seat would be full as the talk and laughter flowed around the room. As a paper boy I got to sit and listen in on holidays when I wasn't in school, I was one of the guys. Russell Wallace, the Pool agent, Jim Parker the National agent, Wilfred McKillop was the dray man, George McClement would sometimes show up, my father and his railway gang, and sometimes Ted Burnett the postmaster would show up with some excuse to be there. Joining in would be the odd farmer and Cliff leaned out of the wicket chuckled and lit a cigarette.
When I look at track I see that time, I can hear the sound of a distant whistle, the puff of a steam locomotive, smell the inside of the engine cab, feel the rock in the caboose, sense the rippled rattle as a train lurches from a stop one coupler after another slapping as the train tightens up and starts to move each wheel creaking and the blast from the steam piston then the tinkle of the bell over the din of all that machinery moving into a living, breathing event.
The step flips down in front of the first car as the trainman jumps to the platform, hands an envelop to Mr. Hollaway, the postal car doors slam shut. Conductor Tommy Cole nervously looks up and down the platform, the trainman swings his lantern and Tommy yells "Boarrrrrrd" and disappears into the darkness up the stairs, I step on the step and follow Tommy the trainman scoops the step up and the platform begins to move as I open the door into the dimly lit coach. Tommy didn't like the lights on and once I found a seat there would be total darkness, clickity clack, clickity clack.