The Making of a Railway Man

SIR GEORGE BURY January 15 1926

The Making of a Railway Man

SIR GEORGE BURY January 15 1926

The Making of a Railway Man


ONE day in 1902 when I was carrying on as divisional superintendent at Cranbrook in the Crow’s Nest country I received a message from Mr. McNicholl, the general manager, who had stopped off at Winnipeg on a trip of inspection, asking me to come on the first train to meet him. I hopped the train, wondering what I was wanted for.

When I arrived at Winnipeg he said that the Lake Superior District, which ran from the Great Lakes to the borders of the Province of Quebec, was blocked up and in bad shape. Did I think I could unblock it? Could I move the traffic?

I said I could if he would let me have a free hand, could start in five minutes, and take charge when the train reached Fort William in the early morning.

Mr. McNicholl said he would make me assistant general superintendent at the start and if I would unblock it he would make me general superintendent within a few months. He said: “Now you must

understand that at once you must take daily from Fort William one hundred cars.”

“If I am to succeed I must be let alone, with no instructions, and I promise in fourteen days to have it cleared and also the cars waiting at Fort William down to normal, but I shall do it in my own way or not at all.”

They had tried many officers and all means to unblock that division and move the traffic offering, but unsuccessfully, so I presume that is the reason I could dictate a little.

The Lake Superior district was considered the hardest on the system, on account of its grades, bitter cold in winter, and many other reasons. It had been, and later was, the graveyard of many railway officers’ reputations, and made old men of some of them.

There is no use in recounting what steps were taken, but I practically did not take off my clothes for twelve days, rushing from point to point, and doing things that were out of the ordinary but which had to be resorted to in the circumstances. Again luck favored me, as the weather turned mild a day after I struck the district, and in twelve days I had the accumulation of cars cleared up, things moving smoothly, and was in the happy position of being able to suggest to Mr. McNicholl to arrange to have more loads handed to me as my engines could move more traffic than the west was giving to me.

It was during the two years I was on this district that I ran into trouble when I ordered freight trains to run with double loads and two engines. I was taken on the carpet by Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, the president, but I won my case and I am sure he was glad that his protege had won.

Another Promotion

'T'vURING the fall of 1903, the West, I am sorry to say, was unable to handle the traffic offered, and the howl that went up from the people could be heard to the very heavens instead of only to Ottawa as it can be to-day. The people yelled, and, believe me, although I love the West and the westerners, they are some “yellers.”

The traffic came along in bunches and my district (the Lake Superior) which had hitherto been the nightmare of the company, left the centre of the stage.

A change had to be made in the West. Leonard did not seem to fit the western people, who adored Mr. William Whyte, the former manager, and a man with one of the most lovable dispositions I ever came in

Fie is a resourceful man who appoints himself arbitrator between himself and his antagonists—and gets away with it —but Sir George Bury, in this, the second instalment of his memoirs, speaks of his use of this device as if it were the normal method of settling labor disputes. Even a pistol battle with a mob of strikers is described as if it were a part of the routine that led to a vice-presidency of the C.P.R.

contact with. The company had to restore Mr. Whyte to favor, making him second vice-president and divorcing the West from the. eastern part of the company’s lines.

Looking for men with western experience to aid him, Mr. Whyte turned to me, and asked me to come to Winnipeg as his general superintendent. The Lake Superior district was well organized and running smoothly. I knew should I go I should not only have the disadvantage of being not wholly a westerner but likewise that of having come from headquarters and be more or less distrusted. Mr. Whyte offered me several thousand dollars more per year to come and I thought I might as well get into the fight again as it seemed to me that the only time I got on was when there were emergencies to be met and trouble to overcome.

Arrived at Winnipeg in the winter of 1904 and established in the office I was to occupy, I ran into a discouraging situation. There were many dead engines in the yards and no room to thaw them out in the old engine house. Part of the new engine house was ready but without a roof, which was to be of concrete.

The lines in southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan were blocked with snow, as were many of the northern branch lines. The great railway was almost at a standstill, but such was the popularity of Mr.

Whyte, and the people’s faith in him that the press treated the matter kindly.

The first thing to do was to order a temporary roof placed on the new engine house, to care for the engines and try to unblock by degrees the various lines, taking the most important first. The prairie men had. never been as capable in snow fighting as the men east of the Great Lakes, nor as the men to the west of the Rockies. In the prairies the snow is never deep but the winds blow it into the cuttings, filling them, and as sand mixes with the snow it becomes

very hard, too hard for easy handling.

A few days after I took charge, the main line section between Winnipeg and Brandon was reported to have the cuttings impassable, so I ordered a plough out and went out with the roadmaster. When it became very dark and the blizzard raged, they wanted to lay up for the night. That would not do, according to my training, so I undertook to pilot the plough myself, as an example of what -was expected. Six Galicians worked the levers. Elsewhere I had always seen snow ploughs with their aprons (a cutting piece of steel on the nose) set to cut at least two inches below the rail head, and I assumed the prairie ploughs were likewise arranged. We took the largest engine and started away at the best speed that could be made. We did very well for the first sixty miles*, going through the drifted cuttings like the wind and throwing the snow to the edge of the right of way, and then, for it was dark, I did not signal the men to lift the nose for a road crossing as I should have, and the plough was partially derailed. It was re-railed readily and we proceeded, the engineer being told to watch close for signals, as in the dark we might have to make a quick stop.

After we had gained a high speed again the front wheels of the plough were derailed through the apron failing to cut the hard snow. We frantically pulled therope to signal the engineer to stop, but it broke and we were helpless.

We knew that with everything frozen, the plough might run close to the rails on the straight track even with the front pair of wheels off the rails, but that if we ran into a switch a smash was inevitable. We had either to take a chance in jumping from the swiftly moving train or stick to it and pray that the engineer would stop before reaching the switch. In a few minutes the lighted switch came in sight and in a second we were scrambling out of the plough which had been hurled off . the track and landed on its side at the edge of the rightof-way. None of us were hurt much.

As soon as there was a let-up, I had all the ploughs brought into the shops and their cutting points set right and we had better snow plough service and fewer derailments thereafter.

Coming to Winnipeg, I brought only two men with me from the Lake Superior district. A yardmaster, Murray,, whom I needed at a strategic point, and my chief clerk, D. C. Coleman. When I was superintendent at Fort William I had engaged the latter in 1899 asa stenographer and I had had him with me since in the various places I had been stationed at, believing him to be extraordinarily able. The fact that in the fall of 1918 he was made vice-president of all the western lines of the company, having successfully handled the intervening positions, bears out the opinion I have always had of him.

The country was goingahead at a tremendous pace. Emigrants were pouring in by the trainload, extensive new railway mileage was being built, but remodelling lines in operation and keeping traffic going over them was a much greater effort than simply building new lines.

Shortly the company started to double track the line between Winnipeg and Fort William, “the spout,” as Sir Williamhad christened it. The line ran through many rock cuttings and was laid over about forty miles of muskegs, scattered here and there. In one place a tunnel had to be widened for a second track and the grade for both tracks through it lowered five

feet. As the work advanced sixteen shovels were employed at a time with several work trains attached to each and over this an immense traffic movement had to be made in the fall and spring months.

Fortunately the contract for the rock work was let to a firm of which General Jack Stewart was a member. There was an occasional block, and at times I was hard put to ward off the demands for the shutting down of the work. I knew that if we shut down during the periods of rush traffic we would not have the work done for years, and insisted on full speed ahead. We would take a work train or two off the job sometimes to stop the yelling, but we never stopped the work.

How a Mortgage was Lifted

ANNUALLY the president and directors made an inspection trip and every one was greatly keyed up for the event. The party came on a special train, traveled over the lines in daylight and would miss nothing. Everyone had to be on his toes and prepared to answer all questions about the working of the lines in his territory.

Much work had been done on my district since the preceding fall inspection and it was really looking very nice. I had re-introduced the ballast spreader, and pushing it over the track with an engine made the track look very pretty.

The trip went without a hitch of any kind; all trains met being on time, the stations looking nice and an entire absence of weeds, and that debris to be seen on many roads. Near the end of my district I was sitting on the front of the president’s car, looking over some messages, when Sir Thomas came in and sitting down beside me said:

“Well, Bury, you have got along very well, haven’t you?”

“Yes, but after these long years of work all I can show is a house, and it has a $6,000 mortgage on it,” I answered.

He said no more, but in fifteen minutes came out and handed me a voucher reading for $6,000, “awarded by the Executive Committee for exceptional services on the recommendation of the second vice-president.” This was in 1906.

About three years after I had come west as general superintendent I was promoted to the position of general manager, next to Mr. Whyte, the second vicepresident for the West. This gave me the control, under him of the operations of all the lines between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast, including three districts, each with a general superintendent in charge, and with about 15 superintendents under them, together with the other district and divisional officers necessary to operate the lines. The central district, with headquarters at Winnipeg, was running about as I liked it, and I had now to bring the other two districts up to the same operating level. I did not anticipate great difficulty, with the district operating from Calgary, but I felt I was in for much opposition on the British Columbia end, and it was only to be expected, naturally.

That division crossed five ranges of mountains, had the heaviest grades of the whole system and the officers had been on it from construction. They had a hard time with snow slides, floods, moving ground, and some had lost their lives in the path of duty, while others had been injured. Naturally they resented interference.

During my first official trip through the mountains I stopped at a divisional point, had my car placed on a light freight train and climbed up on the engine to talk with the engineer. He was a young man and shortly placed his train at very high speed. The line skirted the river, in some places about three hundred feet above it, and looking out from a train the line in places appears to be on the edge of a cliff. There were many sharp curves, and as he continued to increase the speed I had the wildest ride in my life.

It was my duty to restrain him and I felt nervous enough to do so, but I sensed that if I took any such action word would be circulated that, the first time they had had Bury in British Columbia, he had been given the scare of his life, so I decided to take chances on a derailment and let him run as fast as he wanted to. A sign of fear out there would ruin an officer in the eyes of the men.

Arriving safely at the terminal, I sent for the engineer and said to him that he should be discharged for reckless running, but that as I had not had the moral courage to stop him from fear of what the men might think, I would forgive him, but that I should take means to find out if there was any more such reckless work and, if there was, would take some’drastic steps.

On this trip I had directed that the passenger trains be double-headed over the mountains, and I travelled on the first train so run. It moved very satisfactorily and the trains have been run in this way ever since. The method is not only safer than the old method of putting one engine on front and one at the rear, but it makes for the comfort and enjoyment of passengers on the observation cars.

But that was not the last heard about double-heading the passenger trains. The locomotive engineers sent a committee to wait upon the superintendent, objecting to the change; the superintendent being unable to meet their wishes, could only refer them to the general superintendent, who telegraphed to me in cypher saying the men felt pretty strongly about the matter and he thought we would have to restore the old practice. The position I had taken was right and to have receded then would have been a blow at my prestige and prevented obtaining full results in the future. He was directed to stick fast to the decision and he answered that the committee demanded an audience with me.

In due time they arrived. There was much arguing and getting nowhere, so I said to the committee “let us arbitrate.”

“Oh no,” they said. “We would get the worst of it.” The locomotive engineers and I had always been very friendly and I suggested that I was content to let the three men on the committee be the arbitrators between them and me. I said:

“You, Bill, wi’l represent me; you, Tom, represent the engineers, and I recommend that you, Jack, be the chairman. Remember, I require your findings in writing, to be kept on file so that if your decision is to revert to the old practice of pushing instead of double-heading, and an accident results attended with loss of life, the responsibility will rest with you boys.”

Hesitating a while, while this sunk in, they retired for a few minutes. Finally they returned and said:

“We have come to the conclusion that, as you are a good sport, we have faith in your fairness, so we are agreeable that you be the sole arbitrator between us and yourself.”

I accepted and said: “I shall proceed to Revelstoke shortly, where I shall hold sittingsand come to a decision.”

Bury Judges Bury

IN TWO weeks I was at Revelstoke to sit on the case.

The officers who should have been my witnesses all said that from their long experience they favored the trains being pushed. I then called upon the engineers to produce their witnesses. They picked as their sole witness an old engineer of fine character, a man whose engine I had often ridden on as a boy when I was Sir William Van Horne’s secretary. He explained the engineers’ objections to the new method was that the leading engine was manned by younger men who controlled the air brake and that these young men had not the experience of the regular men. Besides, when the helper engine was coupled ahead of the regular passenger engine, it would throw back cinders on the regular engineer and when the helper was cut off at the summit and the passenger started down the steep grade with the train running by its own momentum the cinders would blow back sometimes into the eyes of the engineer. They also cited where an engineer had

nearly let a train over-run a station because he could not see clearly.

I promised a decision in the morning. All were on hand and I stated to them that after fully considering the matter, in all fairness, I decided that Bury won and that double-heading would continue. After pausing for a moment, while the listeners stood around flabbergasted, I said that the only vaiid objections that had been presented against the new method were the younger man handling the brake and that the cinders blew back. Therefore, the helper engine would hereafter be placed behind the regular engine, which would overcome these two objections. Switching in the helper behind the regular passenger engine would mean a little more delay than simply coupling it on ahead, but we were prepared to stand the delay and I should expect them to save all the time possible.

They got weary in time of the extra work of cutting in the helper, and simply placed it ahead, and the trains have been run in this way ever since and successfully.

We parted in good spirits. They were good sports, a most excellent body of men, and I never knew them to refuse to take a train out, no matter what the weather was, and time and again they risked their lives for the company in emergencies.

In time we had the British Columbia operating as the remainder of western lines and making a net earning as was not thought to be possible.

Looking for Trouble

T SHOULD have explained that for some years before, A we had been having trouble with our labor in the shops and, in fact, the men had become almost unmanageable, so much so that discipline was being lost day by day. Something had to be done. I was afraid I should not be supported in taking a strong stand, so when the second vice-president went to Mexico and the president was in Egypt, I made up my mind that I would bring things to a head. I wrote to the officer in charge of eastern lines saying that I expected trouble with mechanical labor, and that I was afraid that we could not hold out if a strike came about.

He answered, as I expected, that if there was any difficulty about holding out in case of trouble it was to be looked for in the west and that I would bewell advised to mind my own business.

Therefore, everything being all set, I told the head of the mechanical department to post a notice in the shops that on a certain date we would put in a sliding scale of wages, hoping that it would immediately bring about a strike, and end the intolerable state of affairs then existent. A strike was threatened, but it did not come off as I hoped, as the men asked for an arbitration board.

In time the arbitration came about and a decision was given, the company’s arbitrator and the chairman making one decision and the union’s arbitrator a minority report. The company accepted the majority report, as' it had to, because if the minority report had been accepted it would make for a precedent and therefore arbitration would only be a farce.

How a Strike Was Handled

THE fight was on and lasted for six weeks with strenuous happenings. At one time we had seven hundred men within the enclosure of our Winnipeg shops. We fed them, had beds for them and, as we would not let them out for fear of losing them or having them beaten up, we arranged for amusements and arranged a service on Sunday as well as establishing a branch bank. Near the end we could not prevent some of the men going into the city in twos and threes and most of them were beaten. I called upon the mayor and demanded police protection, for the men were entitled to that protection for which a citizen pays taxes. The police protection was not forthcoming, so that some drastic action was necessary.

On a day when the strikers had arranged for a demonstration opposite our large shops I got hold of the mayor and said that if he did not stop it, so soon as the strikers gathered I would open the gates of our shop fences and if the strike breakers, who were brave—for it takes a brave lot of men to work during a strike—started out and a pitched battle took place he and the city authorities would have to bear the blame. I told him further that each of the men working for us was armed with home-made slung shots, clubs, etc., and there was no telling what would happen.

The strikers started to congregate opposite the shop gates around noon and shortly afterward the mayor Continued on page 62

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and police appeared. Myself and the head of the mechanical department stood just outside the shop gates and I told the mayor that at 12.15 sharp the gates would be opened. He thought I was bluffing and it came to the time when we started to unlock the gates. The mayorthen losthis nerve and ordered the police to disperse the strikers and so the battle did not come off.

Of course I üiu not want it to come off because the strikers were old employees, loyal in their hearts to the great railway and individually friendly to the officers; they had been carried away by the mob spirit. The strike naturally cost both the company and the men some money, but we had peace for a number of years. In time we took back all the old men with the exception of a few rather fanatical characters which the company and the men were better without.

During the troubles we had a lot of passenger cars to be cleaned daily; they were in the open and it was not as easy to protect the men as in the shops. Galicians had been doing the work, but they had struck when ordered to by the leaders, although they did not know what they were striking about. So soon as we knew the strike would be on we had on hand fifty little Japanese who were afraid of nothing. After they had been working a few days the Galicians came down en masse to frighten them away. The Japanese as the strikers approached broke soda water bottles in two and holding a piece of jagged glass in each hand stood forth and waited for the attack. It did not come off.

Answering an S.O.S.

A FEW years before our large freight sheds at the lake front, which were manned by Hungarians, Italians, Greeks and others from south-eastern Europe, were tied up by a strike. The men made no demands but commenced to terrorize the local officials by chasing them away from the company’s premises and then

proceeding to shoot and threaten to set the premises on fire. An urgent message reached me and, gathering up a hundred Austrians and Galicians, I took a special train and proceeded with all speed to Fort William. We had secured eleven men from our police service, trying in the hurry to pick out the most reliable men.

I thought I knew the Fort William situation pretty well, having been a superintendent at that point for a year and onehalf, and I really believed that there would be no violence and that my presence with some show of force and strike breakers would lead to a solution. A few miles out of Fort William in a jocular mood, I called in the eleven guards and said to them that there might possibly be trouble and they need not go into it if they did not want to, saying that all those who would follow me were to stand on one side and those who wanted to live for ever to stand on the other side. Only one man wanted to live for ever, explaining that he had a large family, and he was excused.

Arriving at Fort William station, about a mile from the freight sheds, I was met by the superintendent, who advised against going down to the sheds just at the present, saying he feared trouble. To hold back was an exhibition of weakness, so the train was ordered down the yard to the sheds.

No sign of the strikers was visible, so the Galicians were placed in the large boarding houses of the company and locked in, while we proceeded to look around. Soon we saw advancing toward the boarding houses from the foreign quarter, which was situated half a mile east, a mob of men lead by a tall, nice looking man of about thirty, carrying a yellow flag. Our police had been reinforced by the five local men employed by the company as police at Fort William and we took up positions about five feet apart in front of the boarding houses. To be frank, I expected that when the men arrived they might make some threats, but that after a eonferenee, possibly, we

would learn what the trouble was and be able to come to some agreement.

The Battle of Fort William

THE mob of strikers massed between a large power house and the stock yards in a space of one hundred feet and across the street from the boarding houses which had the yard tracks at their backs. Each of the police and myself bad a revolver. The strikers at first started booing, then commenced throwing pieces of mud. Then the leader, who was behind a telegraph pole, put his head around it and pointing a revolver at us, shouted:

“Me I am thurty years hold; don’t care how long I ada live.”

With that he opened fire.

A general fusilade followed from the strikers with all kinds of weapons. I had been threatened by men with revolvers before, and in fact have several in my possession taken from would-be killers, but when the first bullet whistled I could not help ducking and I felt very nervous. Of course for us to have retreated would have meant a slaughter and a lost cause, and I am proud to say that none of my men flinched, although all were wounded more or less. One poor chap lost an eye and another got a stiff knee for the remainder of his life.

The policeman next to me, named Boddington, a retired Sergeant-Major, who had been through wars in Africa, Egypt and India, was as cool as a cucumber and said to me that he believed if he could hit the Greek the mob would run. He waited his chance as coolly as if at target practice and finally hit his man, laying him low. Some more of our shots told and the mob ran for life. Boddington figured that they would return and when we looked our equipment over it was found that there was no more ammunition.

I said to Boddington: “Well, there is my revolver loaded.” It was empty, although in my excitement I thought that I had simply been giving directions and had not fired at all.

We were then in a bad way. So a yard engine with Boddington was rushed to the city and the first hardware store entered and all the ammunition and rifles taken. We saw the men forming up and starting to come back and it can be imagined how we longed for the return of the switch engine. It arrived about the time the strikers were a hundred yards away. Each man of our force was given a rifle, although there was no time to load. The strikers did not know that the rifles were not loaded, so they stopped to palaver. Finally they sent an interpreter forward with a handkerchief on the end of a pole with a message that if we would give up our rifles there would be no more shooting, that many of the strikers had served under the Kings of Greece and Italy, and that if we wanted trouble we could have it good and plenty.

Well, no Anglo-Saxon could stand that and the interpreter was sent back with the message that all our men carrying rifles had been British soldiers; that they could never think of surrendering to the Latins, and that, if the strikers approached one foot nearer, the battle would be on. They did not come on and the fight was over for the moment.

However, we did not know what to expect when darkness set in, so we placed a string of box cars outside the boarding houses and ran barbed wires from the ground over the wheels to the bodies of the cars. It is to be wondered why more of us were not seriously hurt at the short range that separated us in the skirmish, but the large number of strikers were massed in a small place and shot high; a box car behind the boarding houses after the fray looked like a colander, however.

After the fight there was nothing to do but pay the men off and replace them and there was quiet for two years until another baby revolution came along.

The second vice-president had been knighted and was now Sir William Whyte. It was rumored that he was to retire, but there was no word as to his successor. Naturally, I felt I shou.d succeed, as I was now the general manager, but there were other officers looming up.

Sir William retired in the fall of 1911 when the president, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, and directors came west during the usual annual inspection. His resignation was announced at a dinner in Winnipeg. The morning after this banquet the presidential party continued their trip over the western lines and, as Sir William

had decided to go duck shooting, I accompanied the party in his stead.

I thought I had things rather well in hand and the road did look nice, yet there seemed to be rather more than the usual criticism and as time went on it began to get on my nerves.

A Close Shave

I HAD arranged ior the train to stay over night at Crows Nest, a divisional point, but the track I had directed to be made ready so that the presidential train would be away from the noise of the switch engines, was not in proper shape and I immediately decided that the train should be removed to The Loop, about five miles further west. I told the conductor to hurry into the telegraph office and secure the necessary train orders, as I did not want any delay to the train. _

There is a tunnel through a gravel mountain just east of The Loop which is timbered and about one thousand feet in length. The curves between The Loop and Crows Nest are rather sharp. The swiftly moving train was oscillating quite a bit as it swung around the curves, so I slipped up to the baggage car where the train conductor was, and told him to send a brakeman over to the engineer to tell him to slow down. Then as was my custom I said to the conductor: “Let me see your orders.”

These stated that he had until seven to make the Loop.

I looked at my watch. “Good heavens,”

I said, “it is seven now,” and pulled the airbrake and stopped the train.

As I ran ahead with the brakesman to flag a train if one was coming, out sprang a freight train and the two engines stopped a few feet apart, just at the east end of the tunnel. Jumping on the freight engine, I told the engineer to reverse his engine and back up his train quickly while the presidential train came right along, and believe me, there was only one of the directors who knew what had happened, and he never said a word. Had he done so, he would have created a degree of nervousness in the party which would only be natural.

Of course, the practical railway officer knows that no matter how carefully roads are managed, slips will happen.

The engineer and conductor stated that had I not slowed them up and then stopped them, they would have been at the east switch at seven and the other train been waiting. That was all in your eye, but under the circumstances I thought it best to let it go at that.

We went on to Vancouver and back to Calgary with still no word of a successor.

I, of course, had too much foolish Irish pride to say anything.

Another Step Upwards

A MONTH or so and the annual meeting was due. Just a day or so before, Sir William was going down to it, for he was a director, I received a message from Sir Thomas to come to Montreal. We went to Montreal, and I attended the meeting. Lunch, and still nothing had been said.

About two-thirty Sir Thomas sent for me and said:

“Bury, look over this circular and tell me if it is suitable.”

The circular appointed me in full charge of western lines as, Vice-president. He said:

“Your salary is doubled and I want you •to rún up and tell Sir William Van Horne aboutit. I know he will be pleased.”

I went up to see Sir William and found him with Sir William Whyte and Mr. Aikins (now Sir J. A. M. Aikins). Sir William smoked his long cigar and told stories, but I do not believe he could have been better pleased if it had been his own son. Kindness and affection shone out and he could not hide his emotion. Neither could I, but what else could be expected under the circumstances?

The third and concluding instalment of Sir George Bury's autobiography will appear in the February 1 issue. As a vicepresident of the C.P.R., Sir George met difficulty after difficulty with the resourcefulness that one would expect after reading of his earlier exploits. The story of how he defied the best engineers on the continent in order to complete the famous Rogers Pass tunnel, and the story of his sudden resignation when E. W. Beatty became president are both vividly dramatic and make intensely interesting reading.