Pioneers of the Steel Trail
One: At the Throttle of the First Transcontinental
EDMUND E. PUGSLEY
Introducing a series of articles describing the trials and triumphs of the men who adventured with the Iron Horse in conquest of half a continent
SO MUCH has been said and written about the great Canadians who conceived and carried to successful conclusion the construction of the first transconinental railway against almost overwhelming odds, oth physically and financially, that it would seem utile to attempt to add to the record. Canadian history >ooks are full of the exploits of these statesmen railoaders, and rightly so.
But seldom has more than a casual reference been nade to the men who made possible the execution of the >lans of the master builders—the men who by sheer grit ought their way through wilderness and mountains, gnoring untold hardships, exposures and dangers, sans iny but the most primitive of comforts, yet without nurmur or complaint. Wars are declared and directed >y kings and governments, but hey are fought by the men in the renches. And in like manner the Canadian Pacific Railway—the irst Canadian Transcontinental —was planned and directed by he Government and its managers;
)ut it was built by the men with he shovel, the axe, the surveyor’s nstruments, the monkey wrench ind the lantern. Without the villing service and indomitable spirit of these sturdy pioneers the colossal task could never have oeen accomplished.
The trail that they left behind hem—two ribbons of steel set rour feet, eight and one-half nches apart for a distance of 1,885 miles—has been doubled since that time for many hundreds of those miles in order to accommodate the millions of people and billions of tons of freight that have followed after. But they were the pioneers.
To us who follow their trail in solarium-observation comfort, it requires a well-trained imagination to catch more than a faint glimpse of what their efforts must have cost.
The great majority of these intrepid spirits have signed their last orders. Yet there are still a few left to enjoy a wellearned rest in the quiet evening of their lives in the less rigorous climate of the Pacific Coast. As a class they are unassuming, inclined to be taciturn regarding their own actions, and extremely loyal to the company to which the best part of their lives has been given, yet withal intensely human.
At a recent annual reunion of old-time railwaymen,
sponsored by the local Division of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers at Vancouver, B.C., seven men were singled out as having special historical significance in connection with railway development in Canada, and these seven were photographed in one group.
They were: Peter Righter, engineer of the first passenger train into Vancouver; W. H. (Billy) Evans, engineer of the first transcontinental train to reach tidewater at Port Moody direct from Montreal; George Munro, who witnessed the turning of the first sod and the driving of the last spike ofVhe Canadian Pacific main line; Sam Macintosh, who joined the Grand Trunk staff in 1866, a year before Confederation; Donald (Daddy) Black, who holds the distinction of having stolen a portion of railway in Manitoba under dispute during
construction days; Duke MacKenzie, who claims to have pulled more Royalty over the road than any other two men, and is referred to by some as “Lucky Duke” and by others as “Devil Duke”; and Lou Patrick, who
fed the firebox of the first locomotive to reach Winnipeg by crossing over the Red River on the ice.
In addition to these there are several pioneer conductors still living; C. W. (Dad) Risteen, conductor of the Countess of Duff erin, the first C.P.R. locomotive, who is now in retirement at Victoria, B.C.; James Doig, conductor also during construction from the start of the C.P.R., and now tending his garden at Vancouver; Peter Barnhart, conductor of the first passenger train into Vancouver, with Pete Righter as engineer, and now operating a gas station at Kamloops, B.C.; and Joseph Fahey, also one of the originals of the eastern section, who still prefers Winnipeg as his home.
The men I have named have each lived a life packed with incident, much of which is of historical value. It is impossible to relate their stories in full in this series, even if each could be obtained in its entirety; but to permit these men to carry the tale of their major events with them on their last long trips, together with such other information as they may have which may be of historical interest, would, to say the least, be regrettable. Hence this effort.
Big Foot to the Rescue
TDETER RIGHTER, engineer of the first passenger train into Vancouver, was born at Boonton, New Jersey, October, 1852. He left the service of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western in 1874 for Montreal to commence a lengthy period with the C.P.R. It was then known as the “Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa and Occidental Railway,” and was operated by the Government. In 1878, he was sent west to help in construction out of Rat Portage, Port Arthur and Winnipeg.
“Always,” he said, “I wanted to be on the job that was farthest west. I believe if the road had been built through to China I’d have been driving the first engine Continued on page 69
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into Hongkong. So when I heard that they were starting in from the Pacific coast end I wanted to go out there, and out I went.
“But I’m getting ahead of my story— sort of overrunning my orders, if you know what I mean. We had pretty tough going on that North Superior job and right on into Winnipeg. Snow? Say, that’s about all we did in winter, just buck snow. And that was aplenty.
“I mind one time—it was out Vermilion Bay way—we had two engines pushing a snowplow. We’d back away up and then take a big run at it. Sometimes we’d get through, and other times—well, we’d go through something else, away off into the country. We were lucky if we landed right side up and nobody hurt. One night, I mind, we were backing up like that to get a good start and my engine had wood piled up all around the back—yes, we burned wood, them days—and everybody got out and helped to load it, even to the passengers sometimes; and—well, we come to a switch as we were running back and I’m darned if the engine didn’t take off into this here spur after the tender had headed down the main line. We broke the drawbar between the engine and tender, and the engine piled into some cars standing on the siding. And there we were— four of us all pinned in, and no way of getting out with this cord wood all wrapped about our necks. There were two brakemen and the fireman with me. The fireman was well ballasted and we called him ‘Big Foot, the Guide,’ just like he was an Indian. But those feet of his were considered a part of the C.P.R. equipment thereabouts and after a while he got to working them around in that wood pile until he had kicked the whole pile off us.
“Snow? Say, there were mountains of it !
“One day there was a fellow fussing around my engine. I had one of the Baldwin type and we all thought they were pretty good. The old fellow had on overalls and after a while he came around to me and says: ‘Are these pretty good engines, Mr. Engineer?’ I says, ‘Yes, not bad for Baldwins.’ ‘Well,’ says he, T was thinking of buying me five or six, if you say they’re any good.’ Just like that, as though he was buying five or six marbles or cough drops. I says: ‘What you thinking of doing with them, old-timer—using them to push your barrows or churning your butter?’ And I laughs at him. He grinned a bit, too, but he came right back at me and says, ‘No, I was just going to use them on a contract I have.’ He talked a while with me after that, till all of a sudden it struck me who he was. It was old John Ross, the big millionaire contractor of that time!
Montreal to Vancouver—For the First Time
TN 1884 I started for the coast, going A south from Winnipeg and west through the States to Portland. From there we travelled by boat to Victoria and again by boat to Port Moody. I worked east out of Port Moody on construction and then west into Vancouver.
“The road might have been built sooner into Vancouver, but there was a scrap on with the property owners at Port Moody, who claimed that their town was the agreed terminus of the road. They did everything they could to block it being built on to Coal Harbor, but eventually the C.P.R. won out in the courts and the job was rushed through in the spring of 1887.
“It fell to me to haul the first passenger train into the new Pacific terminal, and that was a red letter day for Vancouver. The line had been completed to tidewater at Port Moody late in 1886 and a
regular service established to there. When I got my train at North Bend on the morning of May ‘23, 1887, with engine 374, the train had arrived there an hour late. Of course, the wires had been busy telling Vancouver that their first train would be late as they never dreamed that the schedule set could be beaten. But I knew that down at Vancouver there were hundreds of people waiting to see this train, so I told Pete Barnhart, my conductor, that I was going to open up and he’d better hang on. The superintendent, Harry Abbott, was on board, but no one gave us any orders to run an hour late, so I cut loose and brought her in right on time.
“It was a holiday in town that day and hundreds had flocked to the waterfront to see us arrive, but when they heard that we would be an hour late a lot of them had gone away back up town again, so they told me afterward. Still there was a big crowd when we got in, and as soon as I blew the whistle for the station they all came running down, men, women and children, shouting and yelling and whooping like mad. There was probably between two and three thousand there in five minutes after we got in. The road was built on piles almost all the way in from Hastings Mill and all the ships in the harbor were flying flags in our honor. We were all heroes that day. They set Mr. Abbott up on a baggage truck at the end of the platform and the mayor, MacLean, gave an address of welcome.
“There was no business done in Vancouver that day except at the hotels.
“It was a lively little town, and when you consider that it had been burned flat to the ground just eleven months before, they deserved a lot of credit and had a right to celebrate. Cordova Street was the main street then, and already they had built a lot of twoand three-story buildings on each side. And in honor of thearrival of the railway they had built a fine big arch right across the street with the words ‘To our visitors and the C.P.R. its Pacific terminus.’ It was made out of fir trees and evergreen.
“The station then was just a mere shed. Quite a difference to the present terminus. We had a flock of people looking over the train and engine all day. There were one baggage car and four passenger cars, one being a colonist and one a Pullman sleeper with a porter. But I think my engine, 374, was the main attraction. Hodgins, the locomotive foreman at North Bend, had put in a hard day and night decorating it for the occasion and she was quite a sight. It being jubilee year, we had Queen Victoria’s picture in front of the headlight, and around the top of the big round smokestack were the words ‘Montreal greets the Terminal City.’ Along the side of the boiler it read in big letters ‘Ocean to Ocean’.
“Under the headlight were the words ‘Acadia’ and ‘Eldorado.’ And, of course, the whole engine was trimmed with evergreen. Yes, I was quite proud of my engine that day, and of the job of running her into Vancouver with the first through train across Canada. The rest of the crew that day were, besides Peter Barnhart, conductor, Madigan and Kirby as brakemen, Kavanagh in the baggage car, and George Taylor firing for me. Lacey Johnson, rode in the cab with me. He was master mechanic. There was an arch built across the track near the station. Banners carried such greetings as ‘The Orient greets the Occident,’ ‘Confederation accomplished,’ and others which I forget now.
The Luck of the Game
T HAD a steady run from then on, work-
ing as far east as Kamloops. Yes, I had a few accidents. I remember one morning when Billv Armstrong was master mech-
anic—later he was partner with Morrison as contracting firm. It was a Saturday and Billy says: ‘Pete, there’s a nice new engine, all painted up for you. Try and be careful with her.’ I said ‘All right’ and took her out with all her nice paint, on a freight train. We had a long hill to go down with a bridge at the foot. There was a grade up on to the bridge, so we used to run at the bridge to make the grade. We had all hand brakes those days and the brakemen and conductor had to get out on top of the train and set up brakes going down hill. This morning they let me down pretty fast so we’d make the bridge without stalling, and, by george, there at the bottom of the hill was set a switch wide open for the spur track with a bad order box car setting there looking at us. I grabbed the whistle and squealed for brakes, but it was too late to get action on them and so I yelled to my fireman to jump and I scrambled out, too. When I got on my feet again, I stood there and watched that nice newly painted engine plow her way through that old box car and on down among the stumps and brush until it hit the Fraser River, where it piled up with a lot of cars on top of her and set fire.
“Poor old Bill almost cried when he saw it. I knocked my wrist out of joint but otherwise no one was hurt.
“Another time we were running around what was known as Seabird Bluff with a passenger train, making fast time, when I saw a slide right ahead.
“ ‘Jump!’ I yelled to my fireman, but neither he nor I had time to get out. The engine hit that mud and turned off and headed down into the river, but somehow we both unloaded on the way down. Good thing we did, for the engine went right out of sight into the river.
“Railroad men often play in luck. I was running out of Kamloops one time and was due out of there at night. I took a notion to go duck shooting through the day and my boat got away on me. I was a long way from town, so I walked over to a ranch and borrowed a horse to ride back on. That bony old beast made me pretty tired and sore before I got in, for I was jogging him so I wouldn’t be late for my run. The call boy came for me soon after I got back and told me I didn’t have to go out if I didn’t want to, for my engine had been damaged. We all had our own engines those days. I was mighty glad of an excuse to lay off that night, and next morning I found out how lucky I was, too, for that train ran into a washout and the engineer got badly scalded and lost a leg from it.
T3UT I was destined to lose a leg myself, after all, it seemed, and that was my last trip. It was on August 19, 1901, that I finished up my railroad career. I got my train late at North Bend. It was late and had been outlawed, so I had to run on train orders. It seemed that there was a boat waiting at Vancouver for the connection, so they gave us a time or train order schedule which was pretty fast. We took water at Yale and at Hope I had made it up again until we were only a minute late. Then as we shot around a curve I saw a tree lying right across the track. The track walker had gone home thinking there were no more trains. I hollered to my fireman to jump but I didn’t have time to get out myself. We struck that tree and it skidded along in front of the pilot for a ways and finally got jammed underneath and turned us over with two box cars on top of us. About all I could think of was the delay this was giving us after me making up so well. I felt kind of dazed from the shuffle and after a while I managed to pull myself out from somewhere, I don’t just know what was on top of me, and I somehow got around the tender to the other side trying to gather
my wits again and all of a sudden I felt something was wrong with me. I looked down at my feet, or where they ought to be, and, by george, one of them was smashed right off and dragging behind by a tendon!
“Well, that finished my rail career. They ran me into Vancouver hospital and —the boys behind me on the list went up one in seniority. You know it’s quite a grim joke among railroadmen, particularly with the junior men, to look for one of the seniors to get killed or die, so they’ll make room for another. Of course, it isn’t serious, you understand.”
A Locomotive Duel
’ I 'HERE’S another story that Pete
^ didn’t tell about himself that is worth recording: In those good old early days Dominion Day was celebrated in true Canadian style, with games and contests of strength and skill featured throughout the entire day. Pete Righter was due in Vancouver on Number One, Dominion Day morning, and Bob Mee was ready to go out on Number Two, shortly after arrival of Number One. Pete was late. In the usual course he would have arrived and cut off his engine, running back over a single track to the shop. But being late he had just reached this point when Bob Mee came from the roundhouse with his engine ready to hook on to Number Two.
The two engines met on a short trestle along the waterfront of Burrard Inlet. Both claimed the right of way. Neither would back up. Presently they had come together, coupling the engines.
“Get that pile of scrap out of the way or I’ll shove you into the inlet,” called Pete.
“What with?” scoffed Bob. “You couldn’t push a wheel barrow off the track with that coffee pot.”
With that, Pete opened the throttle and with a start succeeded in forcing the other engine a few feet backward. Bob set his brakes, checked Pete, and then he, too, opened steam. Pete was now forced back until it looked as though he had lost the day entirely. But no. Pete hadn’t bucked snow for years and mountain slides, too, without experience. Just as Mee considered he had won he suddenly found his engine stalled and again running backward. And so it went. Now Pete was master, and again Bob Mee had control. See-saw back and forth they puffed and blowed, with a fast gathering audience of holiday-makers on the bank cheering wildly. For, be it known, the feat of engine pushing was considered just another part of the programme that had not been announced and therefore the more enjoyable.
Swiftly the news spread up town and hundreds ran to watch this unique performance. But, alas, for the performers and the audience, too, the news also reached the ears of another—and he also ran to the scene. But not to applaud.
“What the blank blank blank do you think you’re pulling off here?” bawled the voice of the local superintendent. “Back up here, you! Back up, I say! And both of you report to me at my office.”
The duel was over with the score a draw, and the crowd reluctantly withdrew to tamer sports. Both duelists were given thirty days suspension for their part in the performance, but both were the best of chums thereafter. Such is the nature characteristic of the railwayman. He may fight like a cat during working hours when he meets another of like calibre, but off duty he soon forgets.
Editor's Note—Peter Righter s story is published posthumously, his death having occurred since this article was written. The second article of a series by Mr. Pugsley on the experiences of pioneer railroaders will appear in an early issue.