Pioneers of the Steel Trail

Three: “Duke” of British Columbia

EDMUND E. PUGSLEY July 15 1930

Pioneers of the Steel Trail

Three: “Duke” of British Columbia

EDMUND E. PUGSLEY July 15 1930

Pioneers of the Steel Trail

Three: “Duke” of British Columbia

More tales of rail life in the days when the man at the throttle expected trouble—and found it


ASK anyone who came in contact with Duke McKenzie, for many years locomotive engineer on the Canadian Pacific Railway, what kind of a man he was, and the answer would probably be: “He was a prince to work with, a fool for luck, and a devil for mischief.”

Born at Toronto in 1862, Duke McKenzie first entered railway service as a fireman on the Grand Trunk, but soon heard of the opportunities for young men in the West on the new transcontinental, and May, 1883, found him hostlering at Emerson, Manitoba.

In the fall of that same year he went farther west to take part in construction operations at Calgary, and from that time he was at the front line continuously until the driving of the last spike of the C.P.R. at Craigellaehie.

“I pulled the last load of rails to Craigellaehie the night before the last spike was driven by Donald Smith,” said Duke. “And I took the official train from Revelstoke to Griffin Lake, fifteen miles west.

Bob Mee, engineer, now dead, pulled this train to the last scene.

“I have the first photograph made of this scene, and after the photographer gave it to me he broke the plate while making the next print, so that any photos now in existence are copies of the original in my possession.

“After the connection was made on November 7, 1885, I went back to Revelstoke to work on the mountain section, but no attempt was made to keep the line clear that winter, as we had no snow-fighting material. A regular service was inaugurated the following summer.

“A Tough Town in Those Days”

TN JUNE, 1886, we got engines at Donald and commenced cutting out the snow from the slides

that had buried the track. On June 5, we reached Griffin Lake and I left for Montreal to fetch an engine. I ran this engine, number 378, light as far as Port Arthur and from there I hauled a train to Donald.

“Donald was a tough town in those days, as was also Laggan. Saloons abounded and gambling was wide open, with fights aplenty but few casualties. There were upwards of 500 men in the railway gangs alone, but these all melted away like the snow in June as soon as the line was completed.

“The engines were converted from coalto wood-burning at Donald, for wood was an easier fuel to obtain in those days.

“The big hill between Hector and Field was the heaviest grade * and the longest at that time. When

we started back with the official train from Craigellaehie after the last spike had been driven, the snow was threatening to tie us up before we got through, and it required five engines to take the train from Revelstoke to Field. I was engineer on one of these, engines.

“During the Kiel Rebellion of 1885 we pulled trains of soldiers from Medicine Hat to Calgary, and I remember we took one train of French Rifles from Calgary to Donald, and took them back two days later. There was no need for them at Donald, but it was simply a scheme to get them away for a time, as they were afraid they might join the rebels.

“After we got the road opened again and the regular schedule was placed in effect from Port Moody to the east in July, 1886, I worked an engine between Kamloops and Port Moody, numbers 1 and 2, which ran each day. When the final link was completed to Vancouver in 1887, I went on the run between North Bend and Kamloops, which I kept for seven years. “From Kamloops west, in 1887, it was one continuous

string of slides. Every night something came down, and there was scarcely a night that I didn’t break a pilot on my engine.

“We had plenty of trouble, trouble of all kinds, until the road bed had been well ballasted and protected. I remember an amusing incident concerning Superintendent Cambie and President Van Horne. Mr. Cambie was standing close to the track when a train went by.

‘‘ *Wre really must have more ballast, Mr. Van Horne,’ he said, ‘Why, I was standing ten feet from the track and got splashed!’

“Van Horne could be very blunt when he wanted to be. He simply snorted and replied: ‘Well, you blankety fool, why didn’t you stand farther back !'

“I ran between New Westminster and Vancouver via Westminster Junction for a couple of years and then took a main line job again, commencing in 1895 out of Vancouver, where I worked until 1921, the date of my retirement on

account of ill health. Continued

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Pioneers of the Steel Trail

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“Runaways were quite common in the early days with the old hand brakes and small engines. Washouts were frequent, too. But it was all taken as a matter of course and there was always a way out. I remember once a washout at Griffin Lake. We felled a good-sized tree across the break and built a temporary trestle on that.

“Stony Creek Bridge was one of the I big feats of engineering through the mountains. It was 298 feet high across a canyon, and the first bridge was all wooden trestle work. I was the first ! engine out on to it and they had only half tied it at that time. It made me feel rather creepy. There was no railing on it, either. But, strange to say, as soon as they ran that little piece of wooden rail along the side I never minded going over it again.

“Gumbo Cut Bridge was another peculiar structure, or rather the formation acted strangely. At times it would move right out of line, and they would just jack it back again and brace it with timbers. The first time it was crossed was at night. It was only half tied and they used two engines, with a string of cars in between. The crew of the first engine got out and walked over, and then the second engine shoved the first one over, after which the second engine was hauled over by the first. At one place the piles were just pushed down without need of hammer, but when they tried to pull them out again there was too much suction.

The Brakeman’s Revenge

V\ TV, USED to have some great times * * with brakemen during the all handbrake days, before air was installed on freight cars. Of course the brakeman was the common prey of the crew.

“I remember onp engineer who disliked to use his reverse on the engine to help hold the train, preferring to set hack and blow his whistle for hand brakes, and making the train crew check the train. Working with him was a big boomer brakeman fresh off the Pennsylvania line and he got tired of the attitude of their engineer.

“One day when they reached a big hill on their run, the boomer was perched on the first car behind the engine. Just as soon as the train dipped to the grade he slipped down behind the engine and pulled the coupling pin, then climbed hack and gave the signal to the other two trainmen to set brakes. The train slackened its pace, hut the engine rolled i merrily on down the hill.

“Presently they heard the short ‘peep’

I from the engine whistle, signifying to the I train crew that it was time to check the speed of the train. Soon afterward they heard a longer blast which meant a more insistent demand for service. But still the engine roared on its way down the hill. Again came the faint call, farther and farther away now from the train, but more and more insistent for brakes. The last they heard of the engine the driver must have had his whole weight on the whistle cord for there was just one long, continuous shriek.

“The engine ran wildly down the hill and two miles beyond the water tank at the bottom before its terrified driver realized that he was all alone and that j no long train was shoving him to his ! destruction. He reversed and ran back to find the train spotted correctly at the water tank and the conductor waiting for him.

“ ’What happened you, Bill?’ enquired the conductor, innocently.

“But the engineer was deaf to the I question. He had grabbed the biggest

wrench he could find, and springing to the ground demanded:

“ ‘Where’s that darn fool brakeman?’”

“A Fool for Luck”

A S TO his so-called luck on the road, 4 U anf| hi«. few accidents and many near accidents, Duke himself says practically nothing. Yet from others with whom he! was closely associated for many years it can be gathered that Duke had good reason to be termed “lucky.”

What appears to have been his most serious accident was the time his engine dived through a caboose and seven refrigerator cars, demolishing the latter but not seriously damaging itself. Duke himself “unloaded” without personal injury. The accident was due to sudden fog and short flagging.

One of the most concrete illustrations of his “luck,” however, was given by a conductor who ran with Duke for many years. They were dusting down through the Fraser canyon one morning, with the conductor snatching a brief breakfast in the dining car, when the train came to a sudden and undignified stop. A lady had her coffee spilled, and rose with some very pointed and uncomplimentary remarks about unskilled hicks who were permitted to operate engines on this “onehorse” railway. The conductor hesitated a moment to reassure the lady passenger before hurrying forward to ascertain the cause of the unusual stop. And on his arrival he found the pilot of Duke’s engine caressing a goodly portion of one of the side mountains that had decided to trespass on the right-of-way. Duke sat calmly surveying the scene.

Conductor Jim looked around the curve and back at the train. Then he looked up at Duke with a feeling of awe.

“How did you know it was there, Duke? You certainly couldn’t see it when you set the air!”

“Oh, I just had a hunch,” was the laconic response. “I saw a little cloud of dust and just felt that things were not quite right.”

That was all. But Duke’s hunch that day probably saved many lives, including his own, and incidentally added to the good record of the road for which he worked. The irate lady passenger later strolled forward to see what all the fuss was about, and right there her manner changed from one of criticism to almost reverent worship for the man who had spilled her coffee, but had thereby saved her from serious injury.

Engineer to Royalty

A ND it is quite possible that this same 4*reputation for hunches, or luck, or whatever else it may have been that followed, or kept just within the range of Duke McKenzie’s headlight for upward of thirty-eight years, had a lot to do with the arrangement of crews to pull the many members of Royalty who have travelled safely across Canada at intervals by way of the first transcontinental. Be that as it may, the records show that Duke has held the throttle on more royal trains than any other two engineers. Usually, it is said that railway officials breathe silent prayers of thanksgiving when once they have delivered their royal charges safely to other care, and every precaution is taken against mishap during their trips over the road. Therefore it is only natural that an engineer with the enviable reputation held ! by Duke McKenzie should be singled out ! to “do his stuff” on such important! occasions.

When Lord Stanley was Governor! General of Canada he made a tour of his ! temporary land, and Duke McKenzie was ! selected to handle his train from Kam^

loops to North Bend. Since then, he seems to have had his wiry figure in the cab seat of some portion of the journey of every royal train across Canada until his retirement.

When His Majesty King George, then Duke of York, was making his famous tour of Canada with the Duke and Duchess of Teck, it was “Duke” who did the honors of piloting the royal train west from North Bend to Vancouver, where he was held over to make the return trip and then pulled it right through to Kamloops.

Between Yale and Thompson Siding the Duke and Duchess rode on a specially constructed platform in front of the engine, number 441, but fortunately our Duke had no occasion to demonstrate his familiarity with hunches by giving the visiting Dukes a close-up of freshly shifted scenery in the natural. All the way through, our Canadian mountain scenery was on its best behavior and stayed “put” where it belonged. One can but surmise the result, had one of those hills taken a notion to go on a rampage, or a sudden desire to view our coming sovereign at closer range.

Their Majesties expressed themselves as highly delighted with the scenery and with the opportunity afforded them of viewing it all from such an unusual vantage point.

When the Duke of Teck came forward to see the platform provided for the others he exclaimed:

“By Jove! When was this put on? It’s bully!”

When the Duke of Connaught made his official trip he was afforded an all daylight tour with “Duke” officiating at the throttle both ways; and when the Prince of Wales made his first official trip west, the old reliable B.C. Duke pulled him from New Westminster to Hope, from whence the train was diverted to the Kettle Valley line.

Stealing a Railway

DUKE MCKENZIE’S record as a pilot of royalty is unique, but there are other records of the old days equally unique, if not as royal. One of these is that of “Daddy” Black, who is probably the only living railroader who ever managed to steal a sizeable chunk of railway and get away with it. He got his first taste of rail life on construction of the old Grand Trunk branch line from London to Sarnia in Ontario in 1859. By 1883 he had enlisted in the service of

the C.P.R. and was engaged on construction in southern Manitoba where the raillifting episode occurred. I’ll let him tell the story in his own words:

“The town of Emerson, Manitoba, will probably never forgive me stealing that piece of track, but I was only obeying my orders, and if I hadn’t done it someone else would have.

“There was an agreement between the Corporation and the Canadian Pacific Railway in the construction days of 1883 that the railway was to build into the town, the town to build the bridge over the Red River. Well, the C.P.R. built the road up to the bridge, the corporation went bankrupt and couldn’t pay for the cost of the bridge. This would let the railway in for the cost if they used the bridge, so it was decided to abandon that portion and run the line around another way.

“Emerson police expected that some action would be taken by the railway and they watched the men’s movements closely, but they made the mistake of confining their watch to the daylight hours. I was in charge of an extra construction gang and was chosen to go down to Emerson on a Saturday night to take up the track that was inside the corporation limits, about a mile and a half leading to the bridge.

“By Sunday morning we had a good portion of the track torn up. Word was passed along in town and officials ran frantically about trying to forestall us, but it being Sunday they could not obtain an injunction to stop us. Some of my men were finally arrested, but I succeeded in keeping clear of the police, standing inconspicuously in the crowd of spectators. That was probably the chief reason why I was chosen to go and do this job, because I was not known in those parts at that time, having been working farther out on the line.

“My men resisted arrest with bars and tools, working away all the time, and by daylight Monday morning we had torn up and removed the whole portion of track.

“Later on, the whole unpleasant affair was agreeably settled by the town paying for the bridge in order to get the railway through.”

This is the third of a scries of articles híj Mr. Pugsley on the exploits of the pioneer railroads. A fourth will appear in an early issue.