MY FIRST SUMMER JOB – A RAILROADER, by Gordon McIntosh
To begin this story, let me say that I am a third generation railroader (Canadian Pacific) following in the footsteps of both my Father and my Grandfather.
My railroad career commenced in June of 1944. As WW11 was raging , every person of military age was away in the forces and high school students were welcomed to alleviate the labour shortage. My Father was Section Foreman at MacGregor, MB. It was under his guidance that I survived the first week on the governing end of a track shovel for 10 hours, 6 days a week.
The purpose of this story, is not to garner glory for the labourers of the days gone by, but rather to pass on to some, to perhaps bring back memories to the ‘old timers’, of just how labour intensive things were on the railroad. Our country was just over a great depression and money for enhancement of railway roadbeds, rolling stock and facilities were taxed to the limit. On the prairies, for the most part, the 100 lb. steel and creosoted ties sat on very little ballast, mostly mud, and so heaved in winter and pumped into slush when it rained. In winter months the track would heave off-level with the heavy prairie frost, and was “levelled up” by placing hardwood shims between the tie and tie plate and respiking. with the arrival of warm weather these shims had to be removed. Imagine putting in and subsequently removing 20,000 shims each year, as was done on the MacGregor East, and other sections. When the shims were removed and the first frost gone, the Foreman marked the ties to be replaced, and the new tie was dug in, tamped into place with shovels, tie plate placed in position and tie further tamped up by use of a tamping bar, 8 strokes on each side of the rail, at base of the tie. Now, this was labour! You developed sturdy arm muscles on this one. Spikes were driven and then on to the next tie. It was said a good pair of workers were capable of replacing 16 -18 ties per day, however, my partner and I attained 12 one day, never slackening. They must have been much better men to attain 16.
Can you imagine unloading creosoted ties from a box car, as the train moved slowly, in the heat of the summer? It was ‘hell’. The Foreman rode atop the box car and struck the roof with a pick handle to indicate a tie should be pushed out the car door, usually 2 or 3 ties per telegraph pole length. The creosote burned your skin and the air was foul. Some of the gang wrapped their boots and pant legs with jute sacks and tied them with twine to stop them from being ruined. The Company later loaded ties in slatted stock cars, but this was frowned upon as the creosote was harmful to the animals, should they come in contact with it. What about the men loading and unloading? The Foreman did get a small bottle of calamine lotion from the Company supply car, which proved of little use.
I vividly remember hundreds of passenger trains of that era. Many stopped for water, some highballed through. There were many special troop trains with service personnel at windows waving. There were also prisoner of war trains, all coach windows drawn. When the train stopped for water, armed Home Guard soldiers stepped down at each coach stairwell, to survey train for escapees.
These were war years, everyone worked hard. While the glory and accolades might have gone to Company officials, many of whom were detested by the average worker, it was the labourer who faced the winter cold and the summer heat. I was paid 28 cents per hour, the Foreman received about 35 cents per hour, and we were actively solicited to buy war bonds. My ‘First Summer Job’ became a permanent job until 1947, at which time I transferred to a Class B railroad terminal, with a view to learning telegraphy, but therein lies another story for another time.
My Recollections of Souris, 1950 – 1952
I vacated the night Car Checker’s position at Minnedosa and moved to a day position as Assistant Agent, Souris, summer 1950. Harry Casey was Agent. Jim Kerby was Freight Clerk. My job was, morning Janitor, viz. sweep the floors, supply the washrooms and prepare for arrival of highway truck from Brandon. Usually around 10 a.m. Unload, write up bills, transfer express to local drayman for town delivery, Jack Burnett and Ralph Sopp. Tend wicket for delivery of express and prepare for afternoon traffic: four passenger trains passed through during afternoons, viz. 137-138, Brandon-Estevan/ 55 – 56 Winnipeg-Regina. In addition to these the Lyleton passenger departed and later the Reston-Wolseley mixed arrived. As a result of these arrivals and departures, I never saw so many 5 gallon cream cans, both full and empty, and distributing empty cans to proper carrier took a few days to master. It was incumbent on me to place signs stating which train was for such and such destinations. If I ever slipped up, or missed placing signs, I was rather harshly reprimanded by the Assistant Superintendent, who as near as I can recall, was of very little use to the terminal. I prepared the account for Souris Creamery, on a weekly basis, approved by the Agent and submitted for payment. With the advent of the Christmas season, I was to bill express by weight and in most cases at minimum charge iof $1.50. Here again I never ever handled so many frozen turkeys destined Winnipeg, 1 pa frozen poultry, etc. I enjoyed my position and when it was time to move on, I was thanked with remarks like “Sorry to see you go”. In 1952 the 40 hour week became the law of employment for non-operating trades on the railways in Canada. As a result there were Telegraphers positions created and I bid on them all, landing the Binscarth, Shoal Lake, Minnedosa swing shift. So I moved my family, wife and daughter to Binscarth. With time passing I bid in the Agency at Morris, MB. and in 1971 the end came (all Manitoba CPR stations were closed down). I was fortunate to receive a job with Marketing & Sales, 150 Henry Ave., Winnipeg, first as Freight Tariff Compiler, Rate Analyst, Supervisor Freight Tariff publications, Intermodel Representative Winnipeg & Saskatchewan, Freight Tariff Publications Officer, retiring in 1985, 3 months short of 40 years continuous service. I reside in Winnipeg and try to keep active and in touch with CP pensioners. At times it was a “tough go”, no expenses on the road, but my wife helped more than I could ever tell. We were both children of Railroaders, she was the daughter of Roadmaster Ivan M. West. (Editor’s note Gordon’s wife passed away a number of years ago, and Gordon died a year or so ago. He helped us with memorabilia for our museum and also his Railroading history above…FD…Jan.1, 2018) More names that come to the mind of Gordon F. “Red” McIntosh, 1950-52 are as follows Jim Ahern, Locomotive Foreman, Frank Shanks, Car Foreman Buck MvLaughry (should be Car Foreman) Jack Burnett Drayman, Ralph Sopp driver for Burnett, Teenie Brown & Mrs. Shand Lunch Counter Purveyors, Art McCartney, Lineman, Steve Balanyk, Telegrapher, W,G, (Bob) Kilpatrick, Telegrapher…Steve Balanyk used to encourage me to learn and master telegraphy and it was with his assistance I was sent to Deleau, MB. to start my Seniority August 5th 1950. This discourse could aptly apply to so many men. In retrospect, I am satisfied it happened and though the Railroad has changed so much, the memories linger on! Gordon F. McIntosh #183817, Assistant-Agent, Telegrapher-Agent, Freight Tariff Publications Officer, Western Lines……..“AMEN”