Binding the West With Bands Steel

II.—How M. J. Haney Built the Rat Portage Branch

J. L. RUTLEDGE April 15 1920

Binding the West With Bands Steel

II.—How M. J. Haney Built the Rat Portage Branch

J. L. RUTLEDGE April 15 1920

Binding the West With Bands Steel

II.—How M. J. Haney Built the Rat Portage Branch


IN the early days of railroad building in the West, it was largely a matter of the survival of the fittest. It was a strenuous life in which only hardy souls could flourish. It was work against odds that required for their defeat an unwavering confidence and courage, and in which the worker made the best use of whatever resources were to be found in his neighborhood, without too diligent an enquiry as to whether anyone else had been counting these resources his own or not.

When, with the coming to power of the Sir John A. Macdonald Government, the idea of a lake and rail route from the head of the lakes to the West was definitely laid aside in favor of an all-rail route, the importance of completing the lines under construction became the more apparent. This section consisted of the survey from Selkirk to Rat Portage, a distance of 110 miles. The earthwork on part of this section was under contract to Sifton and Ward, the former being the father of Sir Clifford Sifton, while the tracklaying was being done by Joseph Whitehead, who had completed the work up to Cross Lake. There, however, owing to poor financing, Whitehead found that he was unable to continue the work, and his contract lapsed disastrously for himself.

Whitehead was one of the pioneers of railroading, having been at the age of 16 or 17 the fireman on Stephenson’s "Rocket.” His son, Charles Whitehead, was manager of the work, and that which was completed was well done, while he had a splendid plant for completing the work. The only thing that was needed was money, and that was not to be had.

Men Were in Ugly Mood

WHEN Haney took charge of this work on the forfeiture of the contract, he faced an anything but pleasant situation. Money having run out, the men were of course unpaid and were in an ugly mood, and had decided to strike. Haney called them together and told them that, as soon as the pay sheets could be made up, they would be paid. With that the quieter spirits settled down, but there were a considerable number who were not in a mood to hear words of wisdom, and were bound to

“All right,” said Haney, “go if you want to, but the men who stick will be paid first.”

Despite everything some of them left the work. As soon as the pay sheets were made out, Haney went to Winnipeg to get the money. While at the hotel there, some of the strikers discovered his presence, and called on him to demand their pay.

“I told you what I would do,” said Haney, “and I’m going to do it. I told you that the men who stayed would be paid first. And you can bet your last dollar that they will all be paid before any of you get a cent.”

“All right,” said the leader of the deputation, “but you will never out of Winnipeg until we get our money. You can bet on that too.”

“That’s a point on which we differ,” Haney replied. “Now I think I am going to row across the river to St. Boniface, and get an engine there at midnight to-night and get back on the job. That’s what I think, and you can do whatever you please about it.”

The deputation left, still declaring that Haney would never get away with the money. If the truth must be told also, he was not very sure of it himself. They were rough characters, and they felt, anyway, that they had some right on their side. However, Haney decided to take the chance, and, with somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 on his person, he had himself rowed across the river at midnight, boarded the light engine, and was away.

Nothing happened, whether the disaffected ones misjudged the time, or frankly disbelieved that he was telling them the truth, no one knows. But at any rate Haney kept the strict letter of his promise to his men, and paid those who stuck first. That very factor of keeping absolute faith is, as Mr. Haney himself says, the whole secret of handling men.

Finding Food for the Men

BACK on the job again, he was once more faced With a serious problem. The financial failure of the contractor had not only left the men without money, but had left

the work without supplies for the summer.

Back there on the lines construction roads were an unknown quantity. What they called roads were mere trails that would have shaken a wagon to pieces in ten miles. Heavy hauling was only possible in the winter when roads could be made over the snow. When the break up came about the middle of March there was no possibility of getting supplies, save by packing it in on men’s backs.

If the work was to be done within the time limit of the contract there must be 4,000 men kept on that work without cessation, and 4,000 men take some feeding, and huge supplies generally; and the caches were bare.

Collingwood Schreiber and Michael Haney sat down together to figure out the proposition. They made lists of all the necessary supplies, and, when they were totalled up, they came to a gross weight of a thousand tons that had to be distributed pretty well over the length and breadth of this hundred and ten miles. It was a task that usually took the better part of the winter, and it was now March 1, and they knew that if they were to get those supplies in at all they would have to be in by the fourteenth.

There didn’t look to be much chance of getting the thing done, and Mr. Schreiber was ready to admit it. Haney too admitted that it was a practically impossible task. But it had to be done if the contract was to be filled and on March 1 Haney started out to get the thing done. He had, of course, all the teams belonging to the construction work to depend on, but he knew that these could not possibly do the work. So he went over the whole district. Wherever there was a frontier farmhouse, he cajoled and browbeat the farmer into hiring his team for the work. In a few days there was not a team anywhere in the whole district that was not working for him. The roads on the snow were black with a constant stream of teams night and day, each delivering their quota. So the impossible was accomplished. On March 15 Haney was able to report that every pound of that thousand tons of necessary supplies was in and distributed along the line.

The Work Becomes Difficult

THE construction on Section 14 was not unlike that on the Pembina branch and presented few engineering difficulties. It was merely a matter of earth grading, and a question of keeping adequate stores of materials.

When Haney took charge of the work the bulk of the track laying had been done on Section 14 so that his work was almost entirely on Section 15. running from 37 miles east of Cross Lake to Rat Portage. This was an entirely different proposition.

On this section the country took on a much more rugged appearance, with heavy out-croppings of rock, and many deep ravines that required extensive earth tills. This type of work, necessitating as it did heavy rock cuttings, and the bridging of almost bottomless "muskegs," was of an extremely hazardous nature.

In the rock work nitro-glycerine was for the first time

extensively used for blasting. Back in '82 handling nitro-glycerine w-as not the child’s play it is to-day. It was not then packed in cartridges that are as near fool-proof as it is possible to make them.

It was handled in 10-gallon cans, in a liquid, and consequently in its most dangerous form. As it could not possibly be hauled in on wagons, because the jarring of the wagons would unquestionably have caused it to explode, it was the custom to pack it in on men’s backs. Though familiarity bred, as it always does, a certain type of contempt for the danger, there were surprisingly few accidents. One day, however, a man who was packing in a can stumbled on a rock. There was a tremendous explosion, and as for the packer, he had simply disappeared. Not a sign of him remained. He had been blown into atoms too fine even to leave a trace of the tragedy that had occurred. But this was not the only danger. On occasions the cans would leak slightly, and the nitro-glycerine might lie in small pools on the rock. This was not usual of course, but it did happen. One day there was a boy riding a mule along the pack trail, and apparently the mule stepped into such a pool.

In any event there was an explosion and the shoe from one of the fore feet was blown up clear through the mule’s body. The mule dropped in

its track stone dead, but the boy rider'escaped unhurt Filling in the Muskegs

’TPIIE “muskegs” too provided their quota of difficulty A and hazard. In some instances, in working through these muskegs, there was found a frost foundation, even in the heart of the summer, frost that apparently had been there for ages. Enormous fills had to be made on this foundation and, when completed, the work looked as though it would last forever. Months after, however, difficulties began to occur. Sink holes would develop on the fills, and had they not been carefully watched might well have been disastrous. The new earth on the frost foundation had caused this frost to melt, and had left a fill founded on the shifting mud of the muskeg. The line had either to be diverted or the sink holes filled in. Time and again these holes were filled, only to have the trouble repeated, until finally the fill apparently got so deep that it had no effect on the frost, and the work stood firm.

In other places where there seemed to be practically no bottom to the muskeg the road was carried forward on mattresses. This was a roadway floating on the top of the muskeg, made of long timber crossed. Sometimes this method of construction would run for six or eight hundred feet. Later, of course, these places were filled in.

Methods Used for First Time ’’P'HERE was indeed in this part of the construction an enormous amount of filling to be done, and some huge embankments to be made. It was a place where machinery could be used to advantage, and in forcing the work along Mr. Haney made full use of such equipment. Though steam shovels and steam plows had to be hauled in sections by teams, and assembled later, there was a very considerable number of these machines used. There was. too, a good deal of novelty in this form of construction, for several of the machines were used for the first time. The steam shovel had of course been used before, though probably never as extensively as on this work, and what is known now as the gravel plow had been used in a crude form in some construction work in the East. This plow was, however, developed and improved, and was a material factor in speeding the work. Haney at that time origii -ated and designed what is now known as the Wing plow for spreading the earth. This plow is now used everywhere in work of this character, hut the first one of its kind was built and used on Section 15.

Even as the work drew toward a conclusion, Haney was always faced with the difficulty of getting necessary supplies for the line, and even the cars for the transport of

urgently needed materials. As a matter of fact most of the materials for this construction work came in to the country over the Pembina Branch, and most of the cars and construction materials were just as urgently needed by T. J. Linsky, who was at that time in charge of the operations of the Branch. Linsky needed the cars to give the better service that was demanded on this section of the line, and therefore, as the survival of the fittest was the rule of the game in those days, he kept the cars and left his friend Haney up on Section 15 biting his thumbs and looking at the work. Biting his thumbs was not a congenial occupation for a man accustomed to see lines of rails growing under his hand, but Linsky had the advantage. He actually had the cars down there on the Pembina Branch, and he could always prove that he had use for them, and so he had. Arguments might squeeze half a dozen cars out of him now and then, but that didn’t help matters much.

How Haney Got His Cars

ONCE when things had grown unusually complicated owing to the scarcity of flat cars, Haney grew desperate. He sent a light engine down with orders to prospect around St. Boniface and see what could be picked up in the way of cars. As luck would have it, there was a train of empty fiat cars waiting in the yards billed for further down the line. The crew on the light engine weren’t worrying about Mr. Linsky’s troubles. So very gently they backed onto the track, coupled on to the rear of the train, then waited breathlessly while the fireman ran to the front of the train and carefully uncoupled Mr. Linsky’s engine. In the dark they were able to get away without discovery, and they rattled happily along with thèir twenty-five flat cars quite unmindful of the disturbance that would result when it was discovered that there was a lonely engine where there should have been a full train. This was a master achievement that could not be readily repeated every day, but for all Mr. Linsky’s protests and vigilance it was repeated once during the season with almost equal success.

There were times too when construction materials ran short, and when every day lost meant the endangering of a contract. It was not possible in those early days either to wire for supplies and have them shipped in in the course of a day or so. It was a long round-about trip, and to fall short might well mean the lapse of days or weeks; and such delays were ruinous. It chanced that in the work on Section 15 they ran short of railroad spikes.

Now it happened that Haney knew there were two carloads of spikes in the railroad yards at Winnipeg. They didn’t belong to him, and were not destined for Section 15. But Haney could not get the thought of those cars of spikes out of his mind. They were there and he knew the number of the cars. It certainly looked to a construction engineer in need of spikes like a gift from heaven. Anyway in those good old days of construction there was not a very sharp distinction between meum and turnn. If you had anything that anyone else was likely to need, better sit on it till it was used. That was the generally accepted doctrine. If you didn’t do so, why anything, unprotected was fair game. Anyway the thought of those two cars of spikes lying idle there in the Winnipeg yards was too much for Haney, so one dark night a light engine with a regular crew and a conductor in charge was sent down there to pick up the cars at all costs and bring them out to Section 15. It was a job after the hearts of the train crew, and after a diligent search they finally located the cars, untangled them from the array in the yards and got them safely away. There was a wild night ride to Cross Lake. During the day the boxes of spikes were unloaded at strategic points along the line, and the next night the empty cars were spirited back to the railway yards at Winnipeg, apparently without anyone having become aware of the occurrence.

It was late in the fall of that same year that Collingwood Schreiber, the General Manager of the railroads then in operation, was going over the nearly completed Section 15 with

“There’s some loose work in this system somewhere,” he said. “I’ve been able to get at most of the trouble but there is one leak that I confess has puzzled me. We had two cars of spikes in from Emerson in May of this year. The cars were checked into Winnipeg all right, and show on the Winnipeg yard records, and they were checked out of there, whether empty or not I don’t know. I have been tracing those cars all summer over practically the whole continent, and I’ve just located them, one in Georgia and one in Texas, but of course they’re both empty now. But what I can’t make out is what became of those spikes.”

`Why didn't you ask me about it?' Haney enquired.

“What in the devil would you know about it?” Schreiber demanded. “Didn’t I tell you they were checked in and out of the Winnipeg yards?”

“Well,” replied Haney, “if you care to walk back a mile or so along the track I think I can show you every one of those spikes.”

History does not record what the General Manager had to say on the subject, but he was an old-time railway man and he knew railroad-building ethics, and probably subscribed as fully as Haney did to the general proposition of the survival of the fittest.

IN those early days of railroad construction, the foreign laborer had not become the large factor in rough labor that he is to-day. As a matter of fact, the bulk of the laborers on this early construction work came from Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, and beside these men the bulk of the laborers were Irish navvies. Mr. Haney, speaking of these men, stated that in all his experience of construction work he was never served by such thoroughly competent workmen.

“These men,” he says, “were individualistic workers, ambitious and competitive, and strong and healthy. They took a real and personal interest in the work, and their effort was to see how much they could get done, rather than how little they could do. They were as interested as anyone in pushing the work forward to the last possible

“I knew something of these men,” he continued, “because I lived with them for months and even years. Even where there was an engineers’ mess on the work I always messed with the men. I got to know them better that way, and they got to know me, and it made working together easier. But, aside from that, I lived more or less intimately with them because I enjoyed it. The Irish

navvy was a naturally brilliant and light-hearted man, with a gift for telling stories, and with a certain boisterous humor, that at the same time was real humor. These two types of labor were certainly the best I have ever known, and I never, while I was working with them, had any real difficulty.”

Mr. Haney accounts for his success in handling these men partially to the fact that while they were dealt with firmly, they were yet dealt with justly, and there was no effort toward too rigorous a curbing of their liberties.

Controlling the Liquor Traffic

A T the time of the construction of these lines, the ** Canadian Government had passed a law providing for a dry belt for ten miles on each side of the railway. That was the law and the Government provided officials technically known as “whiskey dete tives” to see that the law was obeyed. There were four of these officials on the work on Section 15 and one of the engineers was appointed magistrate to deal with any cases of infringement. While this looked a fairly adequate protection it was not as much so as it appeared. There were systematic gangs of whiskey peddlers who appeared on pay days. These peddlers worked either in conjunction with the police, or avoided them; mainly they worked in conjunction. It was rough work, as Mr. Haney states, and this liquor running, in the main, did little harm, and its prohibition would have entailed a good deal of difficulty, so that, except on special occasions, he made no effort to curb this traffic, leaving it to the “whiskey detectives” to keep it within reasonable bounds.

Sometimes, however, there was a bit of key work to finish that had to be pushed at full pressure. At such times the men were worked in three eight-hour shifts, and the admission of liquor at such a time was serious, because it slowed down the work, not only on the sector but on the whole section.

“I remember one such case,” says Mr. Haney. “It was important work, so we sent for the liquor peddlers. It was always possible to locate them. They came to me and I told them about the situation, and told them they must not bring whiskey in at this time. They promised that they wouldn’t do so, and on former occasions they had scrupulously kept such promises, so I let it go at that. But evidently the thought of the profit to be made out of these five hundred men was too much for their honesty, and coming on the work one morning I found pretty well the whole camp roaring drunk. That little outburst tied up the work for a whole week.

“It was one thing to say nothing when the business did us no particular harm. But it was quite another matter in this case. I sent for our four whiskey detectives, and told them that if the whiskey peddlers were not before me by noon, I would see that they were all promptly discharged. It was an illuminating sidelight on the close co-operation of these two factions, that within an hour or so the whiskey peddlers were produced. They were haled before my magistrate. According to the law, for a first offence of selling whiskey in this prohibited area, there was a fine,

' for a second offence a larger fine and imprisonment, and for a third offence a still larger fine and imprisonment. There wasn’t much difficulty in proving almost anything against these men, and as they had broken their word we were not inclined tobe lenient, so we fined the three of them for three first offences, two second offences and one third offence, which totalled $3,600 for the crowd, which was somewhat more than they could have made in their last venture. The magistrate remitted the prison sentence and we gave them transportation to Winnipeg, and told them if they ever came back we would have them sent to jail. As a matter of fact they never turned up again.

One of them was shortly afterward hanged for murder, and the others evidently felt that ours was not a healthy neighborhood.

“I had some difficulty for a while with one or two of my best foremen. Every once in a while they would drift into Winnipeg on a drunk and be gone for a week. When they came back they were very shamefaced, and worked as hard as two men, so that we really did not suffer so much from their absence. However I thought I’d try a plan that, knowing the men, seemed to offer a chance of breaking them of this habit. I kept my eye on them and discovered that every two or three weeks they were bound to drift away. The next time I felt this occasion approaching, I called the foreman to me, and told him that I was sending him to Winnipeg. He seemed a little puzzled but not unwilling. He went and drifted back again four days later a little the worse for wear, but with a towering ambition for work. Three weeks later I again called him to me and told Continued on Page 66 him to get ready to go to Winnipeg.

Binding the West With Bands of Steel

Continued from page 22

“I don’t want to go to Winnipeg,’* he


“Yes you do,” I replied. “Anyway you’re going.”

He went, but certainly he went unwillingly this time, but he came'back in the same dilapidated plight.

The next time I called him in and told him to have the assistant foreman look after his work, he was frankly rebellious.

“I don’t want to go to Winnipeg, and I’m not going,” he stated. “I’ve got too much to do.”

“Well you can let McKellar do it,” I said. “For you’re certainly going tc Winnipeg.”

He went, but he was mad through and through, and he was back in two days, with little but the smell of liquor on his breath.

The last time I sent him, it looked like a fight. He went but he was back on the same train. It’s one thing to steal away for a few quiet days of dissipation, but it’s quite another thing to have someone else thrusting these days upon you. He didn’t like anyone deciding that he should get drunk any more than he would have appreciated their efforts to prevent him becoming so, and as long as we were on that work he was never away another day.

In this connection there is one interesting thing to be noted. “In those early days of railroad building,” says Mr. Haney, “there was not an engineer, contractor or traveller who were not hard drinkers. Practically every transaction was consummated with a glass. When I was engaged in the construction of the Crow’s Nest Pass Railway, 20 years later, not five per cent, of the engineers I had with me ever touched a drop.”

Deficit Turned into Profit

A BOUT the time that Section 15 was completed the Canadian Pacific Railway came into being, and Mr. Haney represented the Government and was associated with A. B. Stickney, then manager of the C.P.R., and Mr. Halcomb, of the Grand Trunk Railway, in the transfer of these sections and the lines in operation out of Winnipeg to the Company.

When Mr. Haney took over the defunct Whitehead contract for the building of Sections 14 and 15, there was a deficit of somewhere between $350,800 and $400,000. Under his management this was cleared off, and there was a balance to the good on the contract of $83,000. This amount the Government paid over to Joseph Whitehead, the original contractor.

Haney was not long to remain idle. In the fall of 1881 he met Andrew Onderdonk, who held the contract for the building of the lines in British Columbia, and arranged with him to take over part of the work. In the following year, returning to Winnipeg en route to British Columbia to take up this work, he was taken ill and was unable to proceed. Just at that time there had been a change of management on the C.P.R., Mr. Van Horne succeeding Mr. Stickney as general manager. Mr. Van Horne, learning that Haney was in Winnipeg, offered him the position as superintendent of operation and construction on the lines east of Winnipeg, which included the Pembina Branch and the lines east as far as English River.

WILLIAM VAN HORNE — Sir William Van Horne as he afterwards became—was, according to Mr, Haney, one of the most outstanding figures among the long list of able men who have guided the destinies of the C.P.R. When he took over the infant fines he brought to the work an organizing ability that did much to encourage the further development of that peat system. He was somewhat of a martinet, perhaps more so than was customary among the officials at that time. His swift anger and the fairly corrosive power of his speech when thoroughly aroused made him, in those early haphazard days, somewhat a figure of dread among the workers on the road. Though, through it all, no one questioned the justice of his actions.

Mr. Haney tells of one of his meetings with Sir William. He was out in the freight yards at Winnipeg, when his secretary came hurrying down the track.

“Van Horne is out on the warpath,” he said, “and he’s hot enough to melt the rails. If you’ve got any friends or relatives at home who are fond of you I’d advise you to hunt a cyclone cellar.”

“Well,” continued Mr. Haney in telling the story, “I was feeling pretty hot myself at the time. A lot of things had gone wrong, and jobs had been held up because of shortage of materials, that I couldn’t procure; I was just in the humor to meet anyone looking for trouble, so instead of getting out of the way I walked down the yards to meet him.

“My secretary had not overpictured the thing a bit. When he saw me he began to point out things that were wrong on the system. He did it systematically, and no man knew more about that system than he did. He punctuated his comments with a picturesque selection of words that fairly made the air crinkle. It was a gift with him. I waited till he stopped from lack of breath. ‘Mr. Van Horne,’ I said, ‘everything you say is true, and if you had claimed it was twice as bad as you have, it would still be true. I’m ready to agree with you there, but I’d like to say this: Of all the spavined, one-horse, rottenly ■equipped, badly-managed, badly-run, headless and heedless thing for people to call a railroad this is the worst. You can’t get anyone who knows anything about anything, you can’t get any materials, and if you could it wouldn’t do you any good, because you couldn’t get them where you wanted.’ And from there on I went on with a list of complaints that was more complete than Van Horne’s because I was closer in touch with the work, and I garnished this recital with a trimming of words that made his outburst sound like drawing-room conversation. He waited for me just as patiently as I had waited for him, and when I was finished there was a kind of grin on his face.

“ ‘That’s all right, Haney,’ he said,

•T guess weTunderstand one another. Let’s get to work.’ That was Sir William Van Horne.”

It wasn’t all a bed of roses keeping this j railway in operation. For one thing, ¡ there was a steadily growing stream of emigration following the line of rails, and it taxed the resources of the road to handle this and the necessary supplies to feed and house them, and to provide material for the further construction of the fine. Foreign cars were sometimes delayed for this reason, and as a result the United I States railroads imposed an embargo on foreign cars that necessitated trans-shipment of freight at the border. Of course this doubled the work. But after some time matters ran more smoothly and the embargo was raised. Then came the great flood on the Red River in ’82; along the Pembina Branch there were many bad washouts that needed a lot of care to replace.

Warfare Among the Officials

XJOW and then there was a little war’ fare among the various officials of the road that produced an interesting situation. Mr. Egan was general superintendent at the time, and Haney had the impression that Egan was after his scalp. ' Haney had charge of the delivery of materials of construction supplies. In one of his tours of inspection Egan discovered what he considered to be a shortage of ties, so he at once wrote Haney telling him to ship every available tie at once and in future to attend to this work more closely.

This rather nettled the young engineer, so he went to Winnipeg and from every corner of the city gathered in the loafers and out-of-works and shipped them out on flat cars along the fine, every place where ties were available had its crew of workers, and they began to move forward by the trainload. Within two days he had loaded 140 cars and had blocked practically every siding between Rat Portage and the front with ties. ,

From the scene of construction where the ties had begun to arrive came a heated

“What in----are you doing?”

Back went the equally laconic answer. “Filling orders, send more flat cars and will double quantity in 24 hours.”

Haney never got another blanket order of that description.

During the Fall of that year he was again taken ill, and decided to resign. In March of 1883, however, he was once more back in Winnipeg en route for new fields of activity in British Columbia, to a new form of work and a new field of adventure, and to new and onerous tasks that were to add another chapter to the fascinating story of the early days in the West.

Binding the West

Continued from page 73

wood Schreiber was installed as Superintendent and General Manager.

This not only lifted from the shoulders of Haney the difficulties of operation, never a congenial task, but left him foot loose and fancy free. It brought to the fore again also the construction on Section 15 and Section 14 immediately east. This was a job that Haney had always hankered for since his first visit some years before. It was a job that presented difficulties that had not been known in the earlier work, that had, therefore, the virtue of novelty and interest that caught his fancy. He applied and was given the work of constructing Section 15, and so .was once more back at his well-loved task of getting the thing done.

The story of the building of Section 15 of the C. P. R. will be told in a forthcoming issue.