The Legends of Mary Ann and the IB&O
December 18, 2022
A Rail Car on the IB&O at Baptiste
By Guy Scott
The quirky little IB&O has generated a lot of local legends. Let’s just say most of these stories are true. Always trying to cut costs, the IB&O purchased (I prefer the term ‘recused’) unwanted, out-dated, or past their best-before-date equipment from other railways. The first locomotive was an antique steam engine built in 1855 and ‘recused’ from the scrap heap of another railway company. The first IB&O engineer, Sam Hancock, named her the “Mary Ann” after his wife. Two explanations have been proposed for this act: a term of endearment OR he thought the old gal huffed and puffed like his wife.
The Mary Ann was designed to burn coal, but it was expensive & scarce in Haliburton so wood was substituted. When fuel ran out, the crew simply stopped and helped themselves to the nearest supply. Settlers’ woodpiles were preferred, but when not handy, the abundant local forests were utilized. This uneven diet caused the ‘belching’ of sparks. The Mary Ann’s old smokestack contained a screen, but it was not 100% effective. It was said the IB&O crew were the best (and most active) ‘firefighters’ in Haliburton County. The Mary Ann was described as a ‘gentle soul’ who never hurt anyone. During the frequent derailments, she simply ‘squatted’ quietly on the tracks until help arrived. There were no spectacular crashes for the Mary Ann.
While the IB&O was privately financed, government bonuses were still important. These grants came with strings attached, usually a deadline for finishing the section. One order of steel rails for the IB&O was ordered from England. When the ship arrived in New York, the company did not have the cash to pay, so the obliging ship’s captain carried the rails back to England as ballast and returned them on the next trip. When the IB&O owners realized they didn’t have the rails to finish the Irondale-Gooderham section on time, they used a creative approach. A dozen rails and a work crew would lay a short section of track, run the train onto it, rip up the track behind and lay it again in front. By this procedure, a locomotive was ‘warped’ into Gooderham on time to collect the bonus! It was not recorded how the locomotive got back to Irondale.
The IB&O trains were never known for their speed. Stops at all the flag stops and stations were accompanied by lots of visitation & news spreading. One day at Tory Hill Station, the conductor lingered a little long in the gossip shop, and when he stepped out, saw the train disappearing around the next bend. No problem, he simply caught up on foot! And it is safe to say, train crews in pioneer days were not track stars. If caught between stations at meal-time, the IB&O crews would often just stop the train for lunch in a nice, quiet spot. It was also rumoured a favourite fishing hole was sometimes a whistle stop as well (in season of course!).
Haliburton County has some rocky terrain. In ‘mountainous’ terrain, railway tracks were not supposed to exceed grades of 3 ½%. At Highland Grove, one hill well exceeded this benchmark of 3.5 feet rise per 100 feet of track. The grade here was actually steeper than in the Rocky Mountains! A siding was built at the top & bottom of the hill, and the locomotive towed only half the train up the tracks at one time. A caterpillar infestation so coated the tracks one June, the locomotive could not get traction. Uncoupling the cars, the engineers drove the locomotive up & down the tracks to squash the caterpillars. Once the tracks were cleared, the train proceeded.