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Our Love Affair with Trains
by Ron Kitson

Our quiet nights on that little 100 acre Ontario farm all ended in the fall of 1945.

We had an auction and moved to an apartment on King Street in Bowmanville above our new cold storage and meat business. King Street was also known as Highway 2 and until they built the 401 south of town, all the East/West traffic along the North shore of Lake Ontario went by our front door.

We were near the top of a rather steep grade where the truckers would double clutch right under our windows and it took some getting used to.

Three blocks to the North was the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) station and as a boy, I loved to be there when the old steamers would stop and fill their bellies with water.

There was a mill pond close by and water was pumped up to the big tank which had a boom that swung out over the trains to dispense the water. Often you'd see the engineer with his long oil can and perhaps a handful of "waste" providing routine maintenance.

Waste was a fibrous material left over from processing cotton. They would pack the journal boxes with it, then soak it with oil to keep the bearings lubricated. The engineers would also use some of it to wipe their hands.

During WW II, we sent "Care" packages filled with treats and other gifts overseas to our soldiers. Well, it seems they had some left over when it all ended and we tried to always be at the station when the troop trains came through and catch candy bars and other treats they would throw from the windows.

Once you've been around trains, there's something about them that stays with you. Especially the old coal burning steamers with kerosene signal lanterns, Pullman and freight cars and a caboose. Pullman cars are passenger cars which quickly convert to "sleepers" with upper and lower bunk beds and curtains. They were named for their inventor, G.M. Pullman (1831-97).

To pass "Train Orders" to those on board if the train wasn't stopping, the agent attached them to the "Train Order Hoop" and someone on the train would stick an arm out and hook onto it as the train sped though. The hoops came in two lengths, a short one for someone in the caboose and a longer one to reach persons in the locomotive.

Pakesley Station
Pakesley Station

Messages to other railway stations or offices were keyed over the telegraph wires using a form of Morse Code that utilized clicks instead of tones for the dots and dashes. We used to watch through the front bay window while the agent would key out the messages.

Every train station had a "Station Clock." CPR used a Seth Thomas "World" model with pendulum and standard wooden case. Once the pendulum was properly adjusted, these clocks would vary only a few seconds in a month provided you didn't forget to wind them.

Having the correct time has always been pretty important when it comes to running a railroad. Kinda like T-times I guess. You'd better be there on time or they leave without you.

To hear a steamer's whistle off in the distance at night has no match and the faster the train is moving when it blows, the sweater the sound. It's easy to sleep on a train with not only the hypnotic sound of the whistle, but the constant rumble of the wheels on the tracks and the clicks of the coupling joints.

My first train ride was in a boxcar. Two of us decided to jump a freight to Oshawa one day instead of hitchhiking. One of the boxcar doors was open so while the train was stopped, we jumped in and were soon on our first free ride.

Oshawa was a city of about 60,000 people so we were pretty certain our train would stop there but it didn't. It did slow down so we had to decide on whether we wanted to jump, or ride it all the way to Toronto, another 45 miles or so.

We decided to jump and jump we did. We went "ham over teakettles" (or something like that), acquired a few bruises and scratches but otherwise we made it and never ever tried it again.

Hunters Special
"Hunters Special"

My Dad and eight of his pals used to take the "Hunters Special" from Beaverton, Ontario up to Pakesley, now a ghost town near the Key River north of Perry Sound for the fall deer hunt.

Hunt Camp
Hunt Camp

The hunt camps were built close to the tracks because there was no road into that area then. After the two-week hunt, the "Hunters Special" with passenger cars for the hunters and boxcars for their trunks and deer would stop at every camp to bring the men and venison back home.

There was a great love affair with trains prior to super highways and the jet-age but most people have since decided they'd rather drive or fly and our romance with the railroads has sadly faded.

(Photos from the Kitson Family Albums)




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