Locomotive and railwaymen

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The occupation of railway workers

The first station and station agent

The railway station at Rivière-du-Loup had just opened to passengers, with Thomas Roberts as its station agent. Originally from Upper Canada, he married Mary Ann Jones in the Anglican chapel at Lévis. At that time, he was the agent of the Craig Road station of La Chaudière. Roberts moved to Fraserville in 1860. As was usual at the time, he lived in the station with his family. He was responsible for telegraphs, transmitting the train orders to the conductors, selling tickets, and supervising the sending and receiving of merchandise and postal parcels. Station agents were expected to multi-task!

Besides the station itself, the site included a warehouse for storing merchandise, a hangar for locomotive maintenance, a water tower, and a shelter to keep wood.

A thousand cords of wood per day were needed to produce the steam for the locomotives of the Grand Trunk Railway. The company obtained this supply at certain points along the route. A number of farmers and companies also sold wood where the trains passed

Peat moss was another source of fuel. Cut into blocks, it could replace wood for heating. Used mainly in Scotland, Ireland, and Norway, it was tried out in the Grand Trunk network in the 1860s.

Fraserville station at Rivière-du-Loup in 1860

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Thomas Evans Blackwell, Grand Trunk Railway at Rivière-du-Loup, 1860, PA-205428.

Newspaper article on peat of Grand Trunk Railway

“The Grand Trunk Railway has extended the use of peat moss to a larger number of locomotives. At this time, the company is building vast depots in Montreal to store huge amounts of this fuel.”
Source : Le Canadien, La tourbe, 4 Sept., 1868, p. 2, column 6.

1871 - The conductor

The conductor was like a ship’s captain. He was the person who received the train’s movement orders. He worked in collaboration with the brakeman, the fireman, and the locomotive engineer.

In 1871, Vital Laflamme was the conductor in Rivière-du-Loup. Hailing from Saint-François-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, he worked for the Grand Trunk company. In 1871, Vital moved from Montmagny to Rivière-du-Loup with his family. A railwayman from a very young age, he left his native region to support his family, and again, had to leave his adopted home to work in Lac-Saint-Charles as a section man. Railway workers were often obliged to leave their home towns to fulfill the railway company’s requirements. In 1903, Vital Laflamme, now too old to work, returned to Saint-François-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud to live on his retirement pension. It was there, in the town of his birth, that he buried his wife and spent the last years of his life.

Birkhenhead Locomotive No. 50 at the station Fraserville

Source: © McCord Museum, Birkenhead locomotive, No. 50, circa 1860, William Notman, N-0000.5.25.

Read the story of 98-year-old Valmont Pettigrew, former locomotive mechanic (27 Sept., 2010).

A guy named Thibault bumped me - that’s what we called it in those days – Thibault made me lose my place. He arrived from Parent in the Abitibi region. I couldn’t do anything about it, so I went to work on another train. I was lucky because there was a fellow there younger than me; his name was Émile Levasseur. Thibault was older than me. When he came from Abitibi, he announced: “I’m going to bump Pettigrew; I’m going to take Pettigrew’s place.” You couldn’t do anything about it. If he had seniority, that was his right. I had the right to bump Joe Thériault, who was younger than me, and I could do it with Émile Levasseur.

1876 - The road master

The road master was in charge of inspecting, maintaining, and removing snow from train tracks and bridges. He supervised several work crews in each of these sectors.

James Yeo came from Devonshire, England. In 1852, he arrived in Quebec as an immigrant. He was hired for Grand Trunk construction projects, working first in Ontario, then in Montreal. Towards 1870, he was in charge of arranging contracts on the construction sites of the Intercolonial Railway. In 1873, he and his family were living in the Trois-Pistoles area, where building was proceeding at full tilt.

In 1876, with the opening of the line to Rivière-du-Loup, James Yeo was road master of that section. The work carried out by Yeo and his gang of section men required exceptional strength. Repairing damaged rails, preventing rockslides, clearing the tracks and the station access in winter: it wasn’t an easy job! Living with James Yeo was his son, Henry Arthur, also a railwayman. James died in 1923 and was buried in the Protestant graveyard of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Rivière-du-Loup.

The first railway bridge over the River du Loup

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Bridge on the Rivière du Loup, 1871-1875, PA-022032..

Office of the railway engineers of the Intercolonial

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Bureau of Engineers, PA-022128.

Workers shoveling snow off the the line, 1910

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Pelletier-Landry, Workers shovelling snow off the line, 1910, pl074.

Railroad crossing a rock

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Temiscouata Railway, bl0717a.

Read the story of 98-year-old Valmont Pettigrew, former locomotive mechanic (27 Sept., 2010).
The section men

What did the section men do?

- They’d make sure the tracks were clear and would take care of any problems. The tracks were connected by iron joint bars and bolts. They’d check them and tighten the bolts, or move them. They’d compact the ballast under the ties so the tracks wouldn’t move. At a certain point, they might notice: ‘Hey! This bit’s crooked.’ They’d fix it up and re-align it to make it straight.

When something was reported – because sometimes there was damage and it got reported – there were numbers on the telephone poles. We’d tell them: it’s between poles 94 and 93. Then there’d be a car, a truck especially outfitted for that, with equipment, that would come from Charny to do the repairs.

1883 - The station, the station agent, and the telegraph operator

The new station of Rivière-du-Loup was inaugurated in 1883. The station agent and the telegraph operator had their offices in the middle section of the ground floor. Waiting rooms for passengers were situated on either side: one for women and one for men. The road master’s office was upstairs.

Day or night, the station staff had to replace each other. The telegram was the principal means of communication not only in the railway world, but in general, in an era when telephones were still few and far between. The telegraph operator received the section controller’s orders and relayed them to the station agent. Joseph Alfred Pratte was one of the station agents at Rivière-du-Loup between 1890 and 1910. He was responsible for transmitting the train orders to the conductor. The timetable had to be respected to the minute!

J.A. Pratte, station agent at Fraserville

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Stanislas Belle, J.A. Pratte, 1907, b10528a.

Fraserville station built in 1883

Source : Rivière-du-Loup train station, Stanislas Belle, postcard, circa 1895, Private Collection.

Newspaper advertisement of the Intercolonial Railway in 1887

Source : SHGRDL, Le progrès de Fraserville, Intercolonial Railway, 23 March, 1888, p. 3, column 5.

1888 - The brakeman

The brakeman was posted in the caboose, from where he activated the brakes of the cars and made sure that the axles did not heat up

In the beginning, the brakeman had to activate the brake wheel of each car by using his brake club. Running along the tops of the car with this stick was a difficult and dangerous feat, and a number of brakemen were severely injured by falling from moving trains. From the 1890s onward, most trains were equipped with a much safer automatic braking system. However, the car-coupling system remained the cause of many accidents. The railway workers had to hold the hooks and fit them into the loops as the train backed up, and many lost fingers or hands. Luckily, the method of attaching cars evolved, and in 1900, it too was replaced by an automatic system. The brakeman and the conductor also had to be careful not to allow the wheel axles to heat up, or those “hot boxes” could cause the train to derail. From the cupola of the caboose, however, they could quickly detect the appearance of smoke or other problems.

Napoléon Ouellet was the son of a farmer from Saint-Modeste. His family emigrated to the United States in 1889 when he had just begun his career as a brakeman, at twenty years old. In 1900, he was promoted conductor. He worked at the Rivière-du-Loup station until his retirement in 1930.

Napoléon Ouellet, brakeman at Fraserville

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Stanislas Belle, Napoléon Ouellet, 1909, b12700.

Temiscouata Railway caboose no 201

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Temiscouata Railway caboose, bl0739.

Overturned locomotive on a railway

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Derailment on the Temiscouata Railway, 1910, bl0016.

Newspaper article announcing an accident on the railway Newspaper article

”Accident on the Intercolonial Railway: “During the year that ended on June 30, 1887, there had been 99 accidents on the Intercolonial Railway, of which 7 caused fatalities.” Source : SHGRDL, Le Progrès de Fraserville, 14 Sept., 1888, p. 2, column 3.

1894 - The fireman

The fireman had to constantly heave wood or coal into the furnace to keep up a high temperature so that the pressure produced by the steam would continue to activate the train’s wheels. He had to follow the orders of the locomotive’s engineer.

The fireman and the engineer were protected from cold, wind, and snow by an oil-cloth placed between the tender (coal bin) and the engine.

William Henri Rougeau was a locomotive fireman. He began service with the Intercolonial Railway in the 1880s. Like his colleagues, he was a member of Lodge 119 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. In 1888, he married Catherine McNeil, a young woman of Scottish descent. Born in New Brunswick, her parents left the Maritimes to come to work in Rivière-du-Loup in 1869. Her father, Daniel McNeil, was a train engineer, her brother George was a locomotive mechanic, and her brother William was an engine fireman.

Locomotive No. 4  Temiscouata Railway

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Temiscouata Railway, bl0723.

William Rougeau and his wife

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, William Rougeau, 1900, b04074c.

Locomotive No. 12 Temisoucata Railway

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Locomotive of the Temiscouata Railway, bl0741.

1900 - The section man

The section man maintained and repaired the tracks under the direction of the track supervisor.

Tasks concerning tracks, bridges, and sliding embankments were assigned to the section gang. Responsible for maintaining a track section (hence, their name), they moved from one point to another on hand-cars powered by a two-handle pump, which was why they were known as “pumpers.”

Of British origin, Henry Arthur Yeo was born in Trois-Pistoles in 1873. His father, James Yeo, was track supervisor at the Rivière-du-Loup station. Arthur Yeo became a section man like his father and his brothers. In 1903, he was working for the Intercolonial Railway and lived in the parish of Saint-François-Xavier -- more precisely on Rue Saint-André, nicknamed English Hill. He lived there until 1950.

In winter, a plow was attached to the front of the locomotive to allow it to proceed through snow drifts. To clear snow from the shunting yard, a team of shovellers might include 300 men.

The lengthman took care of the general maintenance of the station facilities. He made sure that the premises were clean and tidy, and filled the reservoirs of the signal lamps with oil. This job was often assigned to older employees or to those who had suffered accidents.

Men standing on a platform of rail haulag

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Pelletier-Landry, Hauling flatcar, 1907, pl119.

Group of Canadian National and Temiscouata Railway

Source: SHGRDL, Railwaymen, circa 1914, lent by Jean-Paul Lepage.

Plow clearing a track in winter

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Pelletier-Landry, Plow on the track, Derrekey, 1910, pl077.

Passenger train entering the  Fraserville station in 1942

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Pelletier, Retirement of Adrien Lajoie, 1942, p00091b.

Read the story of 77-year-old Réjean Lebel, former conductor (30 Sept., 2010).

“Winter meant clearing snow. There could be as many as 350 men after a snowstorm because it was all done by hand. In the morning, they’d take people’s names down. They’d say: “You, you’re going here, and you, you’re going over there.” They sent them all over the place, like to the turntable of the round shop. There were always people there because you couldn’t let that table get blocked. They’d clean it off. People shovelled, a steam hose would melt the snow, and so forth. A snow train would come after a snowstorm. A lot of people were needed to fill it, and then they had to go and empty it.

It was really a pleasure in those days. Everybody worked. Everybody gave their time: the railway employees, the residents of Fraserville, the farmers. In winter, if they weren’t too busy, people would come to clear the snow.”

Read the story of 98-year-old Valmont Pettigrew, former locomotive mechanic (27 Sept., 2010).)

“I shovelled too when I was a boy. We’d shovel the snow and throw it onto the flats - the platforms – and they’d take it over beyond the curve. It was a nice job. There might be a hundred men and sometimes even more; it was all done by shovel. Because in the yard, there was no place to pile the snow: the road to Saint-Ludger was on one side and Rue Lafontaine was on the other. They had to gather it up and take it away. I had some friends who worked as clerks there, so when I showed up, I was certain to be hired. When there was a snowstorm, instead of going to school, we’d go shovel for the CNR; it paid better.”

1905 - The locomotive engineer

The locomotive engineer was the train’s mechanic. He was responsible for starting and stopping the train.

Charles Delisle was a locomotive engineer. He started as a fireman and was promoted to engineer in 1904. In 1908, he was president of Lodge 119, the Rivière-du-Loup branch of the firemen’s and mechanics’ union. He worked on steam locomotives for 42 years.

Every profession had its own union which was divided into lodges. Rivière-du-Loup’s lodge was number 119. The railway unions were started by a group of railwaymen in the State of Michigan. Created in 1863, the railway workers’ Brotherhood headed various American and later Canadian union branches. Each union branch determined the railway workers’ tasks and salaries, and collected their group insurance dues. The union decided who would be promoted, depending on his seniority in the company. There were separate sections for the firemen, the engineers, the conductors, and so on.

Steam locomotive on a railway

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Joseph-Adélard Boucher, jab0077.

Charles Delisle, locomotive engineer

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle, Charles Delisle, 1908, b11420.

Intercolonial Railway Hockey Club

The names of the players on the Intercolonial Railway hockey team remind us of the English, Scottish, Irish, and French-Canadian origins of the railwaymen. The Maguires, Browns, Flahertys, Desrosiers, and Deschênes worked side by side and got together to play their favourite sport. The language spoken on the railway had always been and would remain English until the 1970s.

Hockey team of the Intercolonial Railway in 1908-09

Source: SHGRDL, Intercolonial Railway Hockey Club, 1908-1909.

Read the story of 98-year-old Valmont Pettigrew, former locomotive mechanic (27 Sept., 2010).

My English was good enough for me to understand the orders and translate them into French. It wasn’t hard. It became routine, with the same things being repeated all the time. For example, at Sainte-Hélène, we would meet a train with such and such a number, and we knew that we’d either have to keep on the main line or take the side line. Those terms were all in English!

1908 - Workers in the shops

A first locomotive maintenance shop was built to the south of the station for the trains of the Grand Trunk Railway.

As new railway networks opened up, shops were added and employed an increasing number of workers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, engine maintenance was done in the round shop, the maintenance of cars was done in the car shop, and the heavy machining work was done in the machine shop. The Temiscouata Railway also had its own shops.

Yardmen, mechanics, blacksmiths, sheet metal workers, and unskilled labourers worked in the shops. They built or repaired the wheels

Towards 1920, railway activities, including the station, shunting yard, and shops, employed up to 900 workers in the town.

I.C.R. shop workers., 1926

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, I.C.R. shop workers, 1926, bl0039.

Workers and wagon wheels in front of the locomotive repair shop

Source: Locomotive repair shop, end of 19th century, Collection Richard Michaud.

Inside the locomotive repair shop

Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Pelletier, Machine shop, Canadian Arsenal, 1953, p11792d.

Former railway locomotive of Canadian National

Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Antonio Pelletier, Canadian National, Engine, 1951, p09268.

1920 - The call boy

The main duty of the call boy was to hand the employees their work schedules. As the telephone was not yet common in homes, this young clerk had to go to a worker’s home on foot or by bicycle, rain or shine, to tell him he was expected on the next train. He was also responsible for delivering messages from one department to another in the station. To get a job as a call boy was often the best way to put a foot inside the company.

Stations of  the Intercolonial and Temiscouata Railway

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Martin, 1906, m11086.

Bicycle in the Simpson's catalog in 1931

Source : Simpson’s Catalogue, 1931, Private Collection.

Read the story of 98-year-old Valmont Pettigrew, former locomotive mechanic (27 Sept., 2010).
The call boy

Not many people had a phone. If I was called for three o’clock, they’d come to the house to say: ‘Mr. Pettigrew, you’re called for three o’clock,’ and they’d tell me the train number and all that.

1940 - The locomotive engineer

The profession of locomotive (mechanical) engineer remained practically unchanged for a hundred years until the arrival of diesel and electric locomotives.

Valmont Pettigrew was the son of train conductor Charles Pettigrew. Born in 1912 in the Saint-François-Xavier neighbourhood of Rivière-du-Loup, he began work as a clerk, then apprenticed as a mechanic in the machine shop. This is where he learned to repair and operate steam engines. Skillful and talented, he went to work on the trains, where he learned on the job with the other railwaymen. The last mechanic of the steam era, he communicates his love for these powerful engines that required specialized training to control.

The last steam locomotives were pulled from the Canadian National Railway network in the 1960s.

In those days, one learned the trade from older railway workers. When this apprenticeship ended, the aspiring engineer had to pass an examination set by the company before being authorized to operate a steam engine.

Locomotive No. 12 of the Temiscouata Railway in winter

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Locomotive No. 12 of the Temiscouata Railway, bl0731.

 Header of the newspaper Bulletin politique  Newspaper article about the engineers of the Intercolonial

“Of the five candidates who wrote the examination for the position of engineer mechanic at the Intercolonial Railway, two obtained their title: Joseph Dubé et Joseph Huot.” Source: SHGRDL, Bulletin politique, Results of engineer’s qualifying examination, March 21, 1899, p. 1, column 5.

Read the story of 98-year-old Valmont Pettigrew, former locomotive mechanic (27 Sept., 2010).
The locomotive engineer

When I saw the pressure start going down, I couldn’t let it go down. Otherwise, I’d be in trouble, because the water had to go into the boiler too. I had to adjust the water so it wouldn’t go down, but at the same time, it couldn’t be too much. We needed steam, not water! Air pressure, steam pressure – we had to have all of them at once.

I had an advantage over the others because I started off in the factory – the shop, as we called it. I learned from a man named Mailloux who taught me how to start up the engines. We were the ones who set the speed, the run, so to speak. Going up a slope, we couldn’t let the engine stall, either; we had to take it easy and then we would go up. When engineers couldn’t get it right, the train would stop and they’d have to shorten it. They’d have to take part of it to a track at the nearest station and come back to get the rest of the train.

1945 - The conductor

The train conductor, with his cap and buttoned-up jacket, carried out the train orders and greeted waiting passengers when the train pulled into the station.

In the steam locomotive era, the cabooses served as the conductors’ private quarters. They ate, slept, and kept their clothes there, with different uniforms according to the type of train: passengers and freight cars each had their own style

Born in Rivière-du-Loup in 1885, Joseph Savard entered the service of the Intercolonial Railway at age 15. He went from apprentice mechanic to brakeman, then to train engineer in 1916. He began to collect his railway worker’s pension in 1949, after 49 years of service.

Two collectors of tickets in front a passenger car

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Ticket collectors, bl0743.

Temiscouata Railway caboose no 201

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Belle-Lavoie, Temiscouata Railway caboose, bl0739.

Mr. Coulombe, conductor of the Intercolonial Railway

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Stanislas Belle, Mr. and Mrs. Coulombe, Saint-Ludger, 1906, b10260a.

train schedule of Canadian National in 1945

Source : Canadian National brochure, Train schedule, 1945, Private Collection.

Mr. Joseph Savard, conductor, in front of a passenger car

Source : Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Fonds Pelletier, Mr. Jos Savard, Rivière-du-Loup, p08185.

Read the story of 77-year-old Réjean Lebel, former conductor (30 Sept., 2010).
The caboose

Before that, the caboose was the residence of the train staff.

A caboose would be assigned to the conductor and the two brakemen with him. They had to keep it tidy. When they arrived in Mont-Joli, they wouldn’t go to the hotel: they’d sleep in the caboose.

The conductor’s bed was on one side. At the end, there was a desk for him to work. On the other side, there were two beds for the two brakemen. In the evening, before the departure time, they had to make sure they had enough coal for the trip – they used it for heating in those days. They’d bring in water for cooking, washing, shaving, and so on.

Some of the conductors were from other places. If there was a conductor from La Pocatière and he came to Rivière-du-Loup, the caboose would be his home in Rivière-du-Loup. He would go back to La Pocatière maybe once a week, but the rest of the time, he’d stay here. He’d take good care of the caboose, dusting it and mopping the floor. It was his home, where he slept, ate, washed, and everything else. In summer, he had to bring ice for the icebox to keep the food fresh. Everything was thought out, and it had to be kept in order.