Bending the rules, close calls, late night runs, stories of frozen cats, Greenpeace protests, bomb threats and skiing across town to call out the crew. Those were some of the tales enjoyed by an audience at the Revelstoke Railway Museum this weekend as retired railroaders gathered to share episodes from their colourful railway past.
Former Railroaders Jack Carten, Warren Watson, Dennis Holdener and Les Handley shared their stories as part of the Railway Reflections: “And We Were Lucky” on Saturday. The entertaining event was held in conjunction with B.C. Heritage Week. Here, the men share the experience which stands out most for them:
Jack spent almost 43 years working for CP Rail. He started as a call boy in 1943. His last trip was in September 1985. His family is from New Brunswick, but Jack was born in Revelstoke.
“I was a call boy in 1943 I was working the midnight shift,” said Jack. “There was the Regent Hotel, the Revelstoke Hotel, the King Eddy, the YMCA … it was big. The firemen would come from out of town and stay at the YMCA. I’d have to call these people different places, they’d disappear. They’d allow me to go everywhere, I wasn’t even of age.”
Jack recalls one particular individual from Golden who would often “come up fighting.”
“Three times I went flying out into the hall,” Carten said. “The fourth time it didn’t happen again. I went in and hit him with a pillow.”
Warren is a third generation railroader. Both his father and grandfather worked for the railway.
“As a conductor you get called to spend a lot of time on the railways,” Watson said. “A few years back we got called to Golden for a GPS balance. We figured we were getting called to some stupid job.”
Warren explained that in the past balancing had been done by men running alongside the trains with crowbars. For this to happen the train had to slow down to between two and four miles per hour. For the GPS balance to work the train needed to pick up speed to 20 miles per hour. To the men’s doubt and amazement, the GPS balance worked. “We kind of had to eat a bit of crow on that one,” said Warren.
Dennis got his start working as a crew clerk in 1962. A true Revelstokian, Dennis was born at Queen Victoria Hospital.
“It was the winter of 1971 or ’72, about December 15th. We were called to go east,” begins one of Holdener’s tales. “We got to Albert Canyon … it took us 12 or 13 hours to get to the west switch at Albert Canyon, we had dug out every switch. The next day coming west I remember as we come up the hill when we got to Stoney Creek we got stuck behind another westbound. We were there for a day and a half because a slide at Connaught had come down. At Stoney Creek we had a lot of time. About 12 hours in we started to look at the food and the cigarettes — every one smoked in those days — we divvied up the cigarettes, I think we got 16 apiece. There was so much snow you could jump off the box cars and go down eight feet.”
Les spent 40 years as a railroader. He now works shifts on the No. 5468 locomotive as a volunteer at the Revelstoke Railway Museum.
“I was chosen as a fireman on the Governer General’s train that went from Sicamous to Kelowna and back. That was Vincent Massey (Governor General) in about 1950 or so.”
Railway Reflections: “And We Were Lucky” was presented as part of the BC Heritage Week.