trainspotting (blog)

A Maple Leaf memory

Here are a couple photographs I've ignored for a few days short of 45 years. It's December 31, 1969, and I've just stepped off CN train 159, the Toronto-Chicago Maple Leaf, as it makes its station stop at Kitchener, Ont. I've been up all night, having ridden No. 59, the overnight Montreal-Toronto Cavalier, and connected with 159 at Toronto Union on a homeward journey following an epic six-day visit to Montreal. D.P.M granted the tale of that "Montreal for Christmas" some 11 pages in Trains magazine years ago, but the photos of my ride home have seen neither the light of day nor that of an enlarger lamp since they returned from the processing lab that served Tracy's Lucky Dollar variety store a few blocks from home some 45 years ago. At the time, I couldn't afford prints; paying for processing-only on the meagre income of a 15-year old was tough enough.

As it is, I'm surprised — pleasantly, I mean — that I had the film and the foresight to photograph No. 159 on that snowy morning.

It's not that there's anything special about the train or the scene, even if the lead unit is GTW 4950, one of just three boiler-equipped GP18s in the Grand Trunk stable. It's exactly the opposite. The photos capture the absolute essence of the everyday, the things a kid hanging around the station expects to last forever.

So 45 years down the road, I'm immersed in the details of these simple photographs: the steam swirling about the train, the baggage man and his cantankerous Mercury baggage tractor; the knot of passengers anxious to board and escape from the cold to the steam-heated comfort of Can-Car coaches; the reefer on the yard track and the container on stilts beside it; the vine covered walls of the H. Krug Furniture Co.

And then there's the going-away view, a throwaway by most standards, but rich in atmosphere, with the accelerating Geeps framed between the snow-covered CN Express trucks parked at the sheds and the row of factories that stretch to the King Street crossing. In the distance, there's the King Street gate tower, where there's almost certainly a green-and-cream PUC Can-Car Brill trolley amid the traffic stopped by the lowered gates. There's a boxcar in the siding at UniRoyal, a high switch stand properly topped by a kerosene lamp, and so much more.

Joni Mitchell comes to mind as I linger over these old images and relish the memories they revive, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

Savour the moment!

No. 159, the Maple Leaf pauses at Kitchener, Ont., December 31, 1969.

Chicago-bound, GTW 4950 and 4920 accelerate westward, framed between the snow-covered CN Express trucks parked at the sheds and the row of factories that stretch to the King Street crossing.

greg mcdonnellComment