Stories of the IB&O Railway at Baptiste
November 21, 2023
Baptiste Station, 1966
By Guy Scott
The height of land west of Baptiste Lake had one of the steepest railway grades east of the Rockies. The maximum recommended grade on railways was 3%, or 3 feet of rise for every 100 feet of track. The terrain was so rough between Highland Grove and Baptiste that the tracks hugged the shorelines of three lakes (Jordan Lake, Diamond Lake and Baptiste Lake), the theory being that the shorelines were the only level spots around, and it was easier to fill in the shore lines than the valleys and gullies between the hills. At Baptiste Hill, the grade was 3.5%, and it was necessary for the IB&O to park the train on a siding, haul half the cars up the hill, and return to haul the other half up in a second trip!
One time during this operation, the cars broke free from the engine and rolled back down the hill. A section crew was replacing a rail near the bottom of the hill. They were several minutes away from completing the task when they noticed the runaway cars coming down the hill. They calmly finished their job with the hurtling train coming at them. The rail was just nailed down when the cars passed safely over the rail, knocking the crew’s hand car into Baptiste Lake and eventually rolling to a stop. It was easier to fish a handcar out of the lake than half a train!
In 1890, an IB&O engine did end up in Baptiste Lake. It slid off the track and into the nearby lake. The insurance agent was called, verified the loss and paid up. After the cheque was cashed, the IB&O crew managed to lift the old engine out of the lake, repair it and with a new name it rejoined the meagre fleet. In fact, derailments were so common on the IB&O that the train crews carried equipment to fix derailments as best they could.
On one winter run, the engineer noticed the tender was not aligned properly to the engine. Closer inspection revealed the wheels of the locomotive were not even on the rails. The engine must have hit ice on the track and jumped off the track. By the marks, they estimated that the engine wheels had travelled off the rails for at least 4 miles. Not to be beaten by such a ‘minor’ issue, the crew used jacks to raise the locomotive up and back on the rails. The train went on.
During a particularly bad tent caterpillar infestation, an IB&O locomotive started slipping on the rails. The crew unhitched the cars and ran the locomotive up and down the line squashing the caterpillars. With the newly improved traction, the train continued.