Railroading Ranger

My engine is cold and still,   no water does my boiler fill,   my wood affords it’s  flame no more,   my days of usefulness are o’er”.       From an old English Poem,  written on the tombstone of a Locomotive Engineer in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.

The year is 1890, it’s late September and the day breaks with an unusual fog and bone chilling cold.  I must get down to the Midland Railroad Station (formerly the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton ) for my first run to Lindsay as a fully qualified locomotive engineer on the 4-4-0 “Lindsay” #605. The designation 4-4-0 refers to the wheel arrangements on this particular engine.  This means there are 4 small wheels on the ‘pony’ or lead truck and 4 large drive wheels and no wheels  on a trailing truck.

Lindsay # 605 ready to go

Lindsay # 605 ready to go

As a ‘Hogger’ or ‘Eagle Eye’,  I will be in charge of hauling several cars of bricks from the old Roundhouse in Port Hope to their new home in Lindsay.  The purpose of this massive move was deemed  necessary because all of the engines from several hundred miles of serviced tracks had to be run to Port Hope to be maintained and serviced regularly .  As Port Hope (mile 00.0) was located at the extreme south end of the line, it made sense to locate the Roundhouse to a central location like Lindsay on the Bethany Sub.

The #605 will be waiting, having been readied for the day’s journey by maintenance crews  overnight.  She will have had her firebox cleaned of ashes and her boiler will be filled with water.  The Tender will be filled with wood (maple, elm, tamarack or beech) and water.  The water tank  in the Tender must be equipped with ‘baffles’ to prevent water from sloshing around and possibly derailing the engine out on the line.

When sufficient steam has been reached in the boiler, the Floor Cocks must be opened and primed by expelling steam through them for several minutes to blow out any traces of water.  The reason here is that water does not compress (steam does) and any water would damage the drive cylinders.  Having pumped up the train brakes with compressed air (no air means no brakes) and released the locomotive brakes we are now ready to proceed.

At this time I now blow TWO LONG whistle blasts to indicate that #605 is ready to proceed from the station.  Opening the throttle and pushing the Johnson Bar from its centre position forward (Johnson Bar pulled all the way back reverses the locomotive).  The locomotive slowly starts its journey northward to Walton Street,  where we  must have a flagman give us access to Ontario Street.  Picking up a little more speed we pass the Ganaraska Hotel  (still in operation today).  ONE  LONG whistle blast  indicates we are passing over a bridge, one of three Ganaraska river crossings in a one mile stretch from Port Hope!

The concrete bases are still visible from the Ganaraska River trail

The concrete bases are still visible from the Ganaraska River trail

Passing local businesses, Rutter Granite, Peacock Coal and Nicholson File we now have the ‘highball’ signal to proceed at about 20 miles per hour.  Nearing  Dale the whistle screams out TWO LONG, ONE SHORT & ONE LONG  blasts indicating approaching a public road crossing.  As the line runs slightly up hill for another 10 miles the Johnson Bar is adjusted to create a shorter piston travel which uses less steam / more volume.  The engine is now operating in the “Company Groove” saving fuel costs.  As the Station Master tallies fuel consumption for each locomotive,  a bonus was  awarded for efficiency of the engine operators which caused considerable rivalry between crews.  Farmers often discovered their wood piles (one cord per 35 miles) stacked and ready for sale near the tracks raided by an engine crew to ‘conserve on fuel’.  Sometimes when locomotives ran out of wood, the Conductor would hand out axes to male passengers to cut down trees!  After crossing Hope 4th line (Canton) we are nearing Hope 5th line and Quay’s Crossing.  Knoxville (Hope 6th line) followed by  Perrytown,  Hope 7th line (mile 8.54) soon roll by.  Quay’s and Perrytown are both Flag Stops only and unless flagged down for passengers or freight, we have no orders to stop.  Approaching  Campbellcroft  Station (mile 9.8) I blow THREE SHORT blasts (means REVERSE  when standing) of the whistle to indicate a stop here has been ordered .  Pulling onto a siding which contains the Station, Scales, Freight Shed, Stock Pen, coal and lime supplies.  ONE SHORT blast of steam means we are stopped and brakes are on. We wait here until a south-bound mixed  (freight and passenger train) approaching from the north is cleared of the station.

Orders received to continue to Millbrook (mile 18.2). This is a roughly four mile climb up the moraine and we have to split the train in two north of Campbellcroft and make two trips to the top of the Summit (Carmel).   The rails now drop down alongside a small stream to about a mile and a quarter south of Millbrook.  Here we cross a massive curved wooden trestle over Big Creek.  A stone culvert and fill later replaced the trestle.  Note:  see earlier blog “The Illusive Bridge”.

The rest of our run from Millbrook to Bethany, Omemee and Reaboro is very uneventful.  Our destination is now Lindsay (mile 81.2) and we are required to pull onto the Santiago yard, a three siding yard about a mile east of Lindsay and await clearance into the station.  The name Santiago is a local interpretation of the spelling of San Diego, Cuba, which had been the site of an historical battle in the Spanish-American War.    This gives us time to shake down the ashes from under the boiler and dispose of them.  With the aid of our steam injection pump we fill up the water in the boiler and oil and grease journals of the train wheels.  A note here:  boiler water must never be allowed to drop below the top of the boiler.  Low water or adding cold water from the tender here could cause a massive explosion of the boiler.  The result might be the loss of the boiler which would be found several  yards away on the ground, leaving only the cab and engine frame left, and my Fireman and I, if luck was with us!

Having time here, I am reminded of an interesting story.  “Early rail days, there were no air brakes on trains.  In the fall of 1877, a train on the Midland Road, southbound for Port Hope, leaving Millbrook a coupling broke and the rear cars & brakeman left behind in Millbrook! “.  Note:  in these days trains were braked by hand.  A BRAKES on whistle called for a man from the “Crummy” or Caboose to  twist and turn the awkward “armstrong brakes” to stop the entire train!  “The engineer not aware of the problem carried on.  At the usual point he whistled for brakes.  No response.  Train was now on a down grade and at considerable speed racing through Port Hope.  An engineer of the Yard engine realized there was a problem.  The train would run down the grade and either crash into parked cars on a siding on the centre pier or plunge into the harbour!  The Yard man turned a switch and sent the train up the grade westerly towards the Grand Trunk station where it was brought under control”.

Another unusual story (truth unknown), an engineer running in heavy fog one evening had his head extended out of the cab to try to familiarize where he was.  Ten miles later the Fireman became suspicious that the train was not slowing on a steep downgrade.  The engineer had not spoken or moved for what seemed like a long time.  Shaking the engineer’s shoulder to get his attention he realized the engineer has headless!  Apparently a roadside sign near the rails had caused his untimely demise.

A train from Port Hope ran into a team of oxen near Omemee in 1859.  The road-bed was torn up and the engine and three coaches took to the ditch.  The mangled bodies of the oxen were left beside the track over night.  By morning a pack of wolves had eaten everything but the bones.  In 1880, three minor wrecks had occurred in a single week, to the west, east and north of Lindsay.  One p’d off  passenger who had been in all three announced:  “the train can go to Jerico, I’m going to walk”.

Several year later, a passenger train from Port Hope running in impenetrable fog collided with the rear of a freight engine at Santiago Siding (exactly where we are now parked) east of Lindsay.  The freight engine’s Fireman was killed and a caboose ran wild for a mile to the west.

An interesting fact:  the Rotary snow plow was patented in the 1860’s by a Toronto dentist.  It took two decades to catch on.

A modern example of the Rotary Plow

A modern example of the Rotary Plow

Having orders , we approach Union Station in Lindsay, we unhook our cars and are connected to a consort of coal to be transported to the Peterborough Works yard.  A few years ago we would have had to head south (again) to Millbrook and connect to the Lakefield Sub and head north (again) to Peterborough!  We now have a new ‘short-cut’ from Omemee east to Peterborough known as the “Missing Link”.  This reminds me of a true story.  In the construction of this short-cut (1882) there was a swamp west of that  city near Lilly Lake.  This “sinkhole” had an immense appetite and trees, logs, stones and gravel disappeared the morning after they were dumped in!   Even after rails were laid, a train of cars were left out on the roadbed during construction VANISHED overnight and were NEVER recovered!  As I may seem to be rambling here, I will now end this history lesson.


Note:  today all of these railroads are gone!  Listed below are the sections of these former railroads that can be safely (thank God for Ranger!) walked or cycled.

Port Hope  4th line to the 7th line south of Campbellcroft, now part of the Ganaraska Hiking Trail.

North and south from Bethany, unsure at this time how many kilometers.

Omemee east into Jackson Park (Peterborough) and follow the Rotary Trail north to Lakefield.

Omemee west through Reaboro to Victoria Avenue in Lindsay

North from Lindsay on the Victoria Rail Trail (one of my favorites) through Ken Reid Conservation Area, Cameron, Fenelon Falls, Cameron Lake, Somerville, Burnt River, a County Forest, over Crego Creek Bridge and into the quaint village of Kinmount.  This trail may now be useable north all the way to Haliburton.

Regards, Ranger.

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