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Train Crews

April 7, 2024

CNR Locomotive 3105 and hopper at Fenelon Falls Train Station, 1975

By Guy Scott

Railways needed many employees to keep the trains running. The employees were usually grouped by role or job. The section crew were in charge of maintaining the railway lines and structures such as bridges, culverts, buildings, etc. The railway stations also had separate staff such as station agents, telegraph operators and freight loaders. Each train had its own crew. At regional or district headquarters there were repair mechanics, train dispatchers, yard masters and numerous office staff. The operation of a railway was a complicated operation.

Each train that plied the railway lines had its own staff or crew. The crew of a steam powered mixed train usually numbered 4. Larger trains had more staff, especially if there were special passenger trains involving all the conveniences of a hotel on wheels, but in the Lindsay district, most trains were mixed trains. This meant they carried both freight and passengers. The standard staff for a mixed train were engineer, fireman, brakeman, and conductor.

The boss on the mixed train was the conductor. It was his job to make sure the rest of the crew did their duties. He was responsible for the freight on each train, making sure the correct freight was loaded and unloaded and the cars were organized. At various stops he supervised the loading of freight and the addition of any new freight cars to the train. He checked passenger tickets sold by agents at the various stations. If it was a Flag Stop (which had no agent or ticket seller), he sold tickets as passengers boarded. The conductor rode at the back of the train, in the caboose (if there was one) or the passenger car. He was responsible for all the paper work as well. Many veteran railroaders said anybody could be an engineer! But that statement does not do justice to this important position. The engineer position seems to be a glamorous job, for most railway crew men aspired to be an engineer. Nobody wanted to be a fireman or brakeman if he could be an engineer! Their main job was to drive the train or operate the locomotive. Since the train operated on rails, the main operation was to start and stop the engine. But the job involved more than just stop and go. His duties also included watching the track for obstacles, both natural and man-made. He was the “whistle-man,” alerting everyone and everything that the train was coming. He was also the “on-site” mechanic, expected to do on the spot repairs. If the engineer couldn’t fix it, it was a major problem! The engineer was also the second in command after the conductor. When a train schedule was posted, the names of the conductor and engineer were posted with the train number and destinations. That speaks volumes.

In the age of steam, each train contained a fireman. It was his primary job to add fuel to the steam engine from a tender (a special car containing fuel) that was right behind the engine. The earliest trains ran on wood, but coal was the preferred fuel. Coal was much more efficient as it burned hotter and longer. But wood was readily available anywhere in our area; coal had to be imported. The IB&O would often stop along its route and help itself to handy wood piles. Sometimes they paid for the fuel, sometimes not! The fireman was also responsible for making sure that the boilers were filled with water. At regular intervals along the rail line, water towers were strategically placed so that the steam locomotive could top up with this important ingredient. Firemen were also engineer-assistants, expected to help the engineer or replace him. At stops along the way they also assisted the brakeman or staff with loading and other duties. When steam engines went out of use, the fireman’s job became redundant.

The brakeman had a series of miscellaneous duties on the train. He rode at the back in the caboose and operated the brakes on the cars. He was also a signaler, who waved a flag for the engineer that the train was ready to depart. It was the brakeman’s job to couple and uncouple the cars to the train as instructed by the conductor. When a train pulled into the station, there was usually at least one siding that contained railway cars that needed to be added to the train or there were cars that needed to be left behind. That often meant a lot of back and forth, coupling and uncoupling, and generally reorganizing the train. It was the brakeman, who assisted by the fireman or other staff, who did the grunt work.

Kinmount was a rather busy station. There were at least 5 sidings in town that held freight for lumber mills or general businesses. Photos show one siding parallel to the station for general freight cars. Another siding ran from the water tower behind Hopkins & Marks Store for cars to deliver loads to the main street businesses. Austin’s Mill and the mill at the site more recently occupied by Tim-Br Mart as well as the Stave Factory also had their private sidings to load and unload at their leisure. Charles Heels, in his book “Railroad Recollections,” records that it took between 30 minutes to one hour for all the switching and freighting to be done at Kinmount (This was every day!)

The brakemen also operated any switches on the line. Switches were used to deliver trains onto the sidings for whatever reasons. This not only included moving freight cars around, but moving whole trains off the main line to let other trains pass. Every day except Sunday, a mixed train would run between Lindsay and Haliburton. The train from the previous day stayed overnight in Haliburton and departed at 6:00 am. It arrived in Lindsay at 9:10 am. At 2:40 pm, the north bound train left Lindsay and arrived at Haliburton at 6:10 pm. This train also carried the mail. If businesses warranted it, a separate mixed train was sent as far as Fenelon Falls as well. Every day a special mixed train would also leave Lindsay to meet the IB&O train at Howland Junction. The IB&O connector would take 3 hours and 45 minutes to cover the 36 miles and stopped at all points along the way. It left Lindsay at 11:35 and arrived back at Lindsay at 6:15 pm. The two trains obviously passed one another during the afternoon run, likely while the IB&O Special was still at Howland Junction. Coordination and tabling were important!

Since both trains were locals or mixed trains, Kinmount as serviced by 4 trains a day. After 1919, the IB&O moved to an every-other-day schedule, evidence the railway traffic was in decline. In 1955, a mere 5 years before the demise of the IB&O, the trains ran from Bancroft right through to Lindsay and ignored the turn table at Howland Junction.

Since the line was served by 4 trains a day, local residents could catch the morning train and travel to Lindsay, do their shopping or business and arrive back home the same day. Residents could also travel between stops on a daily basis. For example, a resident of Haliburton could ride to Kinmount and return back to Haliburton the same day. Charlie Henderson, who lived at Watson’s Siding (the first flag stop south of Kinmount) recalled travelling back and forth to town on a regular basis with a choice of times to come and go. It was just like a private transit system! Rail connections to the outside world were also possible. Lindsay had 6 separate rail lines servicing the town, and one of them was the Toronto Flyer, an express train that delivered passengers to Toronto in a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes! Not bad, even by today’s standards!

The IB&O also provided good service to residents as far away as Bancroft. You could board the train in Bancroft in the morning, and be in Toronto for supper! In the age before motor cars, this was quite a service. No wonder local residents looked on their railways with fond memories.

Most trains on the Victoria Line were mixed trains. But excursion trains could be booked for special occasions. Picnics, group outings and special events often used an excursion train. Sometimes the railway company itself would hold a summer picnic excursion for its employees. Orillia, Peterborough and Haliburton were favoured destinations, just far enough away for a short train ride, but not too far! The picnic was held at a local park, close to the track. If not enough passenger coaches were available, flat cars with temporary plank benches were added. The children in particular like the outdoor ride (it was during the summer after all!).

But the biggest excursions of all were held on the 12th of July every year. The Orangeman’s parade was widely celebrated and different towns would take turns hosting the picnic. The northern lodges would rotate between Kinmount, Haliburton, Fenelon Falls and maybe Gelert and Gooderham; all rail stops because train access was vital for the visitors. The southern region would celebrate in Lindsay, Peterborough, Port Hope or Cobourg. These larger celebrations could be quite large and often crowds of 10,000 celebrants would arrive by rail! Sometimes the trains had so many riders, they would return for a second load! The Lindsay Station yard would be cleared. A 1913 schedule give the reader a look of the freight trains for the day, and the many sidings would be filled with special trains, labelled with destinations like a bus station today! Another special train was the Circus Train. The circus never ventured north of Lindsay, but each year at least two circuses would travel to Lindsay. Residents from the outlying communities could attend the circus and return home via special excursion trains. The Circus Train often consisted of 80 cars, and required 4 separate trains to carry it to Lindsay! The Circus Train would park along a street away from the station and unload the animals and gear into farmers’ wagons hired for the occasion. A special circus parade was held to advertise the show. Two shows were held: an afternoon matinee and an evening show. By next morning, the whole circus was gone by train to the next town.

In later years (before motor cars were common and the roads were plowed), excursion trains often were booked for hockey games or tournaments. For many years, “tourist specials” or service to the summer camps, were another feature of the passenger train. These trains usually ran every Sunday on both the IB&O and the Victoria Lines.

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