trainspotting (blog)

Of bad coal and the ride of a lifetime

Hours late, and rescued by a fast-tracking CP RS18, Ontario Rail's Owen Sound-Toronto excursion calls at Orangeville on October 13, 1974. Bad coal set the stage for the ride of a lifetime.

I've had more than a few wild rides in locomotives, but one of the wildest of all was forty years ago tonight. It was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday of October), and my friend Peter and I hurried to Orangeville after work in hopes of seeing the southbound return of a two-day Toronto-Owen Sound steam excursion powered by the Ontario Railway Association’s famed pair of former CP locomotives: ex CP 4-4-0 136 and D10 4-6-0 1057.

We needn’t have rushed. Operator Morley Janes, on extra-duty at the CP Orangeville station to clear the special, informed us that the train was late. Very late. So I whiled away the time making time exposures of the Moonlight’s RS10 8569, RS18 8739 and wooden van 437229 parked outside the station. As I did, the plot thickened and the stage was set for the ride of a lifetime.

After struggling over the road all day, the Eight- and ten-wheelers lost their battle with the effects of bad coal. At Dundalk, 27.3 miles north of Orangeville, another 55.8 miles from the train’s destination of Toronto Union Station, and several hours late they gave up. A crew was called to run light engine from Orangeville and rescue the special.

I recognized the engineer who responded to the call from my brief stint as Second Hour operator at Orangeville; he had no objection to taking us along for the ride. Morely slid a sheaf of train orders across the counter; we piled into the cab of the 8739 and rode to the rescue.

The man at the throttle knew every inch of the railroad, and exactly how fast he could travel it with out leaving the rails. For most of the way to Dundalk, that meant rocketing through the blackness at 60-65 mph, nearly double the 35 mph maximum speed posted in the timetable. Somehow, he kept the 8739 on the track, but he managed to throw me from the cab seat more than a couple times as we hit rough spots and hurtled around curves safe at half the speed. I did my best to hang on and savoured every second of the ride.

The cab got crowded after we coupled to the 136 and company at Dundalk, so I relocated to the train. I took up position in the vestibule of a heavyweight coach behind the tender of No. 1057 as the triple-header got underway. The southward trip was somewhat restrained in comparison to the mad dash to Dundalk, but there are few things sweeter than leaning on an open Dutch door on a cool night, taking in the aroma of coal smoke and listening to the shout of a hard-working Alco 251 and the relaxed down-but-not-out exhaust of a 4-4-0 and 4-6-0, and a magical mix of air horns and steam whistles calling out for country crossings — all set the satisfying backbeat of six-axle heavyweight coaches riding jointed rail. Take my word for it.

greg mcdonnellComment