Chapter 5:   Working on the Railroad

The entire operation; scheduling, organizing and maintaining the trains; dealing with passengers and freight, was very labour-intensive. The largest employer in many towns was the railway. Good wages for hard work was the norm, but the trade off was being away from family for days at a time.

Maintenance men known as "wipers", "steam mechanics", firemen, engineers, radio operators, stationmen, conductors , and brakemen all played a role in keeping the trains on-time.
And time was paramount. Each railroader couldn't work until he acquired a railroader’s watch...Not just any watch.

Watches had to be checked by the station watchman. You couldn't board the train without it. The watches have become heirlooms passed on to their children, one of the last  relics of train days no one has the heart to scrap! 

Just keeping the engines running on time required mountains of coal – shoveled by hand. A fireman, as that lucky person was called, would throw a tonne of coal for every 50 miles, and the average speed was 50 mph.

Water for the boiler was required every 50 miles and was usually provided from water towers.

Wireless radio was not available on the moving trains, but railroaders are inventive people. They had practical ways to pass messages from stationmen to moving trains.

The station operator attached notes to large hoops. The engineer or fireman on the train would extend his arm out to hook the hoop on his arm to retrieve the message, dropping the hoop along the way.

"It often stung a bit when the engine was going too fast"

The stations along the track had land lines so messages like the delays or hazards up the rail could be called in.

The “Yard”

Only a fraction of railway work took place on the track. Each divisional point like Brandon had extensive facilities for maintenance, for routing trains, for re-fueling with water towers & coal docks.

Brandon had three main yards. The CPR was located along Pacific Avenue west of the 1st St. Bridge. The CNR was along McTavish Avenue between 1st & 6th street. Both are still railway properties today.

The Great Northern had a three stall roundhouse and maintenance facilities along Pacific Ave at 26th St. prior to 1936.

CN facilities, McTavish Ave. near 1st St.

CP Roundhouse

CP Roundhouse site.

East from 1st. St. Bridge

West from 1st. St. Bridge.

The Brandon CPR Yard is built like a shallow bowl so that a railcar could be released at one end and would simply slowly roll to the centre. The grade out of Brandon yard is only 2% but that is a challenge when you’re pulling a full load of cars and they often needing the use of the “yard slug to help the train climb the grade and get up to full steam.

They also would use a yard pusher to help them move the freight passenger and box cars into line. There were all kind of signals and terms used to simplify the work.

White paint on driver wheels on CPR trains usually meant that the train was used for passenger traffic. A white flag on a train indicated a "yard slug" or a pusher. Manually operated sephomores were used to tell engineers to slow down or stop