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More Stories of the IB&O Railway

January 16, 2024

John Train of Kinmount on his velocipede

By Guy Scott

The Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa Railway is a legend in local lore. It ran from Howland Junction to Bancroft—the Ottawa terminus never happened: it was just a fantasy used to promote the railway.

In the pre-snowplow days (before 1930), the railway lines were often the only access roads kept snowplowed. The railway simply bolted a huge snowplow on the engine to keep the tracks clear. There was no special snow plow, the regular train moved the snow. A century ago there were fewer trees to act as wind blocks, and (supposedly) more snow in winter so the railways dealt with some pretty massive snow drifts. It was not unusual for trains to get stopped by monster drifts and have to back up and hit the drifts again (and again). At the worst of times, it was necessary to break out the shovels.

Local residents often used the rail line as a plowed road in winter; whether the transport was on foot or by horse. One time the train caught up to a farmer hauling a load of wood along the plowed tracks. The train stopped and the crew helped the farmer get his load of wood off the tracks. After passing, the crew stopped a second time and helped the farmer and load back onto the tracks. Now that’s service!

The IB&O met a special train set rom the Grand Trunk Railway from Lindsay at Howland Junction. One wintry day, the Lindsay train became stuck in a particularly nasty snow drift at Howland and had to drop the snow plow to free itself. The Lindsay crew decided to continue back to Lindsay and return the next day to free the plow. When the returned the next day, the snow plow was gone! Evidently the IB&O owner, Charles J. Pusey had heard about the ‘abandoned’ snow plow and sent a crew to liberate it. (Evidently the laws of salvage were applied along the IB&O!) Like the pirates of old, the IB&O crew used the snow plow for several months until rumours reached Lindsay on the whereabouts of the missing machinery. The GTR sent a crew to Irondale to reclaim their property. To make a point, the Lindsay office of the GTR sent a bill to Pusey for ‘rental’ of the plow. To make his point, Pusey sent a bill to the GTR for rescuing the plow from the drifts in the first place. Touche!

Children rode the railway for half-fare. One day at Howland Junction, a woman and a ‘rather large child’ disembarked to meet the Lindsay train. On inspection, the boy had a child’s half-fare ticket. The conductor questioned the ticket: “This boy of yours is far too big for a half-fare ticket.” The woman replied: “Well maybe he is, but he wasn’t when he left Baptiste Lake. He’s a growing land and yours is a slow train.”  It was often stated the IB&O ran by calendar instead of schedule. It was notoriously slow, often averaging about 20 miles per hour.

Unscheduled stops were frequent (see previous story about the farmer on the tracks) and the IB&O was often late meeting the GTR train at Howland. Pusey advertised his passenger service in 106 under the tag line: ‘Leave Bancroft at 11 am, be in Toronto by 9:00 pm” (same day!) To meet this schedule was a challenge. The GTR was constantly arguing with the IB&O over late trains. Sometimes the problem was caused by rundown or broken equipment. After one frustrating stretch of missed trains, a correspondent from Highland Grove commented, “Engine number 2 is still out for repairs, but all is not lost. John Train of Kinmount is still on the Road!” John Train owned a velocipede: a 3 wheel bicycle-style contraption for use on the rails. Evidently he ran up and down the tracks. This service was clearly more reliable!

Hand cars were also extensively used. In the early days, these were hand powered, but later gas engine models appeared. Since the IB&O track was only used every other day, the track was open for (public?) use. Locals frequently “acquired” a hand car to travel on their own pleasure. Gordon Barr of Gooderham tells the story of one winter’s night the locals decided to attend a dance in Tory Hill. A group of teenagers commandeered a hand car and set off up the line. Along the way, his younger sister fell off the car. They stopped, picked her up out of the snowbank, and continued on. Presumably, they returned by the same method. Try that today.

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