Memories by Jack E. Clevett

Canadian Pacific Railway History

Written by Jack E. Clevett 1991

Canadian Pacific Given Eighty Acres: Negotiations

      Until 1890 Souris and area were without rail communications. Grain had to be teamed to Alexander or Brandon and supplies of all kinds had to be hauled from one of the same two points on the main line of Canadian Pacific Railway. As early as 1884 Glenwood Council had requested W. H. Sowden when in Ottawa to interview the government and stress the urgent need of rail service, but it was 1890 before the line from Brandon to Estevan reached Souris.

    In 1892 the Glenboro line was completed to Souris, following a bonus of $15,000.00 per mile given the Company by the Manitoba government in return for a low rate to Winnipeg for Estevan coal, and Souris was established as a divisional point.

     As the prosperity and growth of Souris have since been so closely associated with the Canadian Pacific, it is interesting to note the negotiations and land grants given the company in return for the establishment of the village as a terminal.

   When the federal government entered into the agreement for the construction of a rail line across the prairies and to the coast, it’s grant or bonus to the company included all the odd numbered sections for ten miles on each side of the line to be built.

   This did not affect the odd numbered sections in the northern part of Glenwood Municipality as the main line when constructed was fifteen miles from Souris village. Consequently the odd numbered sections in Townships 6, 7 and south half of 8 in ranges 20, 21 and 22 remained with the federal government. The federal grant to Millbrook Colonization Co., actually embraced townships 6 and 7 and the south half of 8 in ranges 20, 21 and 22, excepting of course the school sections, 11 and 29, and the Hudson Bay three quarters of 8 and all of 26.

   In it’s agreement with the Sowden Colonization Co., the government reserved the even-numbered sections for the colonists which the company agreed to bring to the district; and each homesteader was given the privelage of purchasing the odd-numbered half section adjoining his homestead and pre-emption for $2.50 per acre.

By the same agreement the promoters of the Company which included W. H. Sowden, J. N. Kirkhoffer, Major Fairclough and Woods and Kells were given the right to purchase the odd-numbered sections after the homesteaders of the party had decided not to take up their rights.

Through this arrangement the Sowden Syndicate secured the ownership of section 33-7-21, the southwest portion of the present townsite of Souris and W. H. Sowden acquired the ownership of section 3-8-21, the northeast portion of the townsite.

Kirchoffer had homesteaded the east half of section 4-8-21, the northwest partookthe townsite; and Sowden had homesteaded section 34-7-21, the southeast part of the townsite. Among them they owned almost all the present townsite.

In the negotiations that developed over the establishment of Souris as divisional terminal, the Canadian Pacific was given 80 acres of section 3-8-21 by Sowden for it’s roundhouse and yards. In addition the rail company was given every other lot in the westerly portions of the townsite and agreed not to allow any elevators west of Third Street. Following this agreement the Canadian Pacific at once built a two stall roundhouse and Souris became a terminal point.

The district suffered severely by the dry years  of 1892 to 1895 and the fact that wheat was worth only 35 cents a bushel for No. One Hard wheat, and 34 cents a bushel for One Northern wheat in 1895. Even in 1895 employment in Winnipeg was at a low ebb with wages as low as 10 cents per hour on such buildings as the Wesley College, now named United College.

With the return of better crops during the last years of the century the town and district made rapid progress. In 1892 a brick yard was established by Squire Sowden on the bank of Plum Creek and South of the C.P.R. bridge. It was operated by a man named Dayne, who later went to Hartney and ran the brick yard at that point. Ten years later, in 1902, A. L. Young and C. H. Brindle established a brick yard east of the village, near the iron springs. Among the employees were S. Lightfoot, Tom Maitland, Ben Yallop, Frank Butler and James Green. While these yards only operated for a short period of time, they undoubtedly were the reason for many of the business blocks and residences of that period being of brick construction, with some faced with imported pressed brick. The Kitchen brothers, Dan, Squire and Whitely were the men who built nearly all of these buildings. C. H. Brindle was the architect that planned some forty or more of the business blocks and residences of that period of the town’s growth.


   The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1890 signalled the growth of Souris as an important rail terminal on the prairies. The first line was completed in 1890 from Brandon. The second line was completed in 1892 from Winnipeg through Glenboro.

In 1910 the Canadian Pacific revealed plans for moving their terminal five miles west of Souris, at what was called Schwitzer Junction, where the line splits, with one line going to Arcola and beyond to the Kootenays, as a second Trans Canada rail line, while the second line went to Estevan to the coal fields and connected to a line from the United States. The C.P.R. had even purchased about four hundred acres of land at Schwitzer. The Souris Town Fathers of the day, put in a great deal of effort and time negotiating with the Company and getting land owners to agree to make sufficient land available and the Canadian Pacific Railway was given 80 acres of land where the shops, coal docks, and yards were located for their proposed expansion. The first line through Souris connected with Brandon and only after the town voted to install sewer and water did the Railway decide to build their terminal in Souris instead of Schwitzer. Therefore Souris became one of the first rural towns in Manitoba to install  sewer and waterworks. The CPR constructed a 2-stall roundhouse which was later increased to 6 more in 1912 and eventually had 18 stalls. There was a turntable installed to accommodate the parking of engines in this roundhouse and to turn an engine around to go the other way. It consisted of a platform in a round pit riding on a single rail driven by steam.It turned until it lined up with the rails going into one of the stalls, or to the line coming into or out of the shops. These stalls had pits four feet deep, so that it was possible to work underneath and to lubricate the wheels of the steam engines.

The steam power was supplied by a boiler in the roundhouse manned 24 hours a day. This boiler also provided heat for the buildings around and the large water tank in the winter. Every engine coming in had to be spotted under a smoke stack in the roof of the shops, to keep the shops free of smoke.When the engines came in, the shop staff went to work to prepare it to go back on the job. The fitters went to work first, putting in new brass bushings or putting in metal shims to improve the loose ones of the working parts of the engine.The boilermakers were men who worked on the water and steam portion of the locomotive to caulk or rivet any leaks. Sometimes they had to go into the firebox as soon as the engine came into the shops, after the fire had been dumped outside in the ash pit.   They had to caulk any steam leaks inside and with the temperature inside reaching approximately 160 degrees F. They certainly earned their wages. The boiler washer had to wash out the boiler portion of the engine to remove scale and sludge which had built up from the water. The wipers had to keep the fire going or put a new fire in the locomotive, grease the moving portion of the driving wheels, put supplies such as oils, greases, etc., on the engine and keep the outside of the locomotive especially clean. Labourers had no definite job, but helped anyone that needed help. The stationary fireman had the job of keeping two boilers fired up to supply steam for heating the shops, steam for a water pump to keep up pressure for the boiler washer and steam for a generator to supply electricity for all the buildings (before hydro). Sometimes in the winter, the steam was so bad you could only see a few feet ahead of you. There was a coal dock which was filled by manual labour and gravity fed it into the engine, as was water, into the tender. There was what they called the “rip” track where repairs were made on boxcars etc. A kilometre east of town were 17 tracks, called “The yards” where trains ended their runs and other trains were assembled by the yard engine for departure. The yard engine also served as a pusher engine to help push trains 5 miles to get up the hill north of town toward Brandon. Section work has changed over the years, from pump-car to an engine driven track motor car. Each gang used to cut a swath on each side of the track with scythes, and used pick and shovel. Track ballast began as just soil, to patches of cinders to being rock ballasted. Weed control went from hoe or track shovel to chemically sprayed. There used to be Right of Way fence on both sides of the track which had to be maintained by the section men digging in 8 ft. cedar posts by hand. Each railway terminal had a repair track (Rip Track) for the purpose of repairing bad order cars. All trains arriving and departing rail yards had to be inspected. Car Inspectors walked around the train looking for defects, such as cracked arch bars, dragging broken beams, faulty draw bar, etc. Any defected car was carded with a “Bad Order Card” and the Yardmaster was notified so he could have the yard engine crew switch out these cars and take them down to the “Rip Track” for repair. A bunkhouse west of the water tower was where train crews from out of town stayed overnight before they took a train back to their own terminal. To the North of the bunkhouse was a house for the foreman of the “rip track” and to the South of the tracks was a house for the Locomotive Foreman. At what is now the crossing on Highway #250 there were crossing gates which were operated manually by a man in a small building on the South side of the tracks. many a youth spent time in this shack helping to move the big levers that lowered or raised the arms.

   In 1911 the cornerstone of the Station was laid which was to be one of the finest in Western Canada. It had a freight shed, baggage room, waiting room, ticket office, express and telegraph office, lunch counter, and modern ladies & mens washrooms connected to water and sewer on the main floor. On the 2nd story floor were the Train Dispatchers offices, Superintendent’s and clerks. Roadmasters, Assistant Superintendent and Engineering Department offices. The divisional offices were moved from Souris to Brandon in 1933. The Souris Division was absorbed by the Brandon and Portage Divisions. The Napinka and Snowflake Subdivisions were portioned to the Portage Division, and the Arcola, Reston-Wolseley, Estevan, Lyleton, Boissevain and Alida Subdivisions were amalgamated into the Brandon Division. (See photo of Time Table of  Sept. 29, 1929 below illustrating Divisions that formed the Manitoba District).This Timetable was contributed to us by Bill Hooper of Revelstoke B.C..

 The surrounding grounds were the winner of many awards with their gardens and green lawns cared for by R. T. “Tom” Clevett. There were two spur tracks on the south side of the main line, just East of the new station. The Southernmost spur track held the freight shed, which was the first station, that had served Souris from about 1890. The spur track situated immediately South of the main line was used for work gangs, called B and B gangs (Bridge and Building crews). They were housed in sleeping, dining, and kitchen rail cars. The local kids got some benefit from this as the cook would feed us a whole pie fresh from the oven which to us was a real treat in the hard 30’s and 40’s. On another spur were the livestock yards, Imperial Oil storage tanks & shed, White Rose storage tanks & shed and two grain elevators.

   Six days a week there were 4 passenger trains a day running into Souris, two going East to Brandon and Winnipeg and two going West to Arcola and Estevan. There were also two mixed trains (made up of freight, grain & passenger cars). One called the Reston-Wolesley and the other the Lyleton Mixed. There were also two way freights, one to Estevan and one to Arcola, which ran on a regular basis. With 5 men to a crew, there were a lot of men in Souris working the trains as there were approximately 12 crews on the through freight board over and above the passengers, mixed and wayfreights. There was also a twice weekly freight from Winnipeg that tied up in Souris overnight and returned East the next day with a new load. This train was manned by a crew from Winnipeg.

   In September of 1921 over 800 cars of grain went through Souris in one day. In 1924 over 24 million bushels of grain went through Souris in one season.

   The introduction of the powerful diesels spelled the demise of the steam engine and the end of Souris as a major terminal on the rail line. In 1961, the roundhouse was closed and what was necessary for the shop staff and car repair shop was moved to the station. This move cut off the shop staff and car repair men to a minimum of two or three men on a shift. The upper part of the station was made into a bunkhouse, with three bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen and washroom.  IT WAS THE END OF AN ERA, GONE  FOREVER !


written by Harvey Saunderson who farmed near Schwitzer Junction. Included in Jack E. Clevett’s Memories.

    Schwitzer Junction was originally situated just North of Wickstrom’s buildings on 21-7-22. However, the C. P. R. discovered that, after stopping here, the trains had difficulty getting started up the grade. Consequently, sometime around 1914 they changed the Arcola line so that the junction with the Estevan line was on SE 27-7-22, about two miles Northeast of the original location. On this site, a good sized station was built consisting of a waiting room at one end, freight shed at the other end, and the office and living quarters in the centre section.

As there was only a single track between Schwitzer and Souris, a staff system was used. The Conductor was required to have a staff ( a bolt-like instrument about six inches long), before he could leave either Souris or Schwitzer. The machine holding the instruments would not release any, if there had been one removed at the other end. This interesting arrangement insured that there could only be one train on that stretch at any given time. For years three switch rail lines were on the North side of the main line. These ran for one half mile east of Schwitzer, and were used for passing trains. There was a loading platform beside the most Northerly line. Also on this line, as many as six portable elevators would be situated in harvest time, loading grain into 1,000 bushel boxcars.

   Nels J. Lobbert spent some time at the original Schwitzer station, boarding at Wickstroms and he was the only agent at the new station, leaving when the CPR phased Schwitzer out as an active station, about 1932. A relief Operator assisted Mr. Loberg during the busy seasons, so it was obviously a busy place. It was also a very popular centre for the neighbourhood as Mr. and Mrs. Loberg were both musically talented and enjoyed having neighbours  in to practise for Community Club concerts and just to have fun. Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Sarson and family lived just east of Schwitzer in the C. P. R. section foreman’s house. The Sarson’s were music lovers also, so consequently the Schwitzer “community” of two families made a real contribution to the Breezelawn and Whitefield districts. For years, two Eastbound and two Westbound passenger trains stopped at Schwitzer six days a week. This service was used by many in our district. All trains, both passenger and freight, had to stop and the Conductor had to register.

   Menteith post-office was operated out of Schwitzer for a number of years, with Mrs. Loberg as post-mistress. Money orders for Eaton’s or Simpsons or others, could be purchased from the post-office and the parcels would come by mail, if small, or by express, if larger, to Schwitzer.

As kids, we used to be fascinated by the messages coming through the telegraph and by watching Mr Loberg operate the key. Mr. and Mrs. Loberg operated at several stations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan after leaving Schwitzer. They retired to Coquitlam, B. C. and both died there.

Caretakers were stationed at Schwitzer after closing as an “active station”. Mr. and Mrs. David Vyse and daughter, Lily, lived there for a few years. Mr. Vyse met a tragic death in February 1943, when he got off the bus two miles North on highway No. 2, and started walking home. Snow started to fall and became very heavy and Mr. Vyse lost his way. He was found the following day, about three quarters of a mile Northeast of Schwitzer. Mrs. Vyse later moved to Souris.

Allan Waterman continued as caretaker for several years, but had moved to Carman sometime before the station burned in 1954. A spark had set fire to the platform and the fire was well advanced before it was noticed late at night. So went a landmark ! And now Schwitzer is just a painted sign at the junction of two right-of-ways.……………………Written by Harvey Saunderson


   I quit school in May and started to work for the railway on 31st of May 1943. I went to work as a “Wiper” and eventually a locomotive fireman. I made my first trip as a fireman with my Dad as engineer and we worked a train from Souris to Brandon and return, and were all night and got home about 8 or 9 in the morning. I was working a 14 O’clock to 22 O’clock shift as a wiper at the time and when we got hone I told the Locomotive Foreman that I wouldn’t be in to cover my shift and he said, “what shift? You are on the fireman’s spareboard”. I wasn’t sent back to wiping again, as some of us were transferred to Minnedosa and Brandon when we were cut off the board at Souris in the spring. On my second  or third trip I had an engineer named George Allen and we had just come in from Brandon and were yarding our train and had to double some cars over into another track. Being inexperienced I wasn’t  up on repeating the signals to the engineer when the brakeman was working on my side, and we were moving a little fast, when the brakeman swung us down as we coupled onto cars in the track, and I hollered “whoa”. We came to a stop with a bang and the engineer struck his head on the window frame which made him rather angry, and he shouted at me, “Whoa, what the hell do you mean whoa, I’m not a team of horses”. Fortunately nothing was broken and he quickly held his temper. I knew it must have hurt him, because it threw me against the window frame and broke my plastic cigarette case in the bib pocket of my overalls, and bruised my chest.George was real good and explained how to repeat signals, which was a big help. In the spring of 1944 I ended up having a row with the Master Mechanic in Brandon and I went and joined the Navy, and was away for 18 months. I went back to work on the railway, when I got my discharge from the Navy and made it my life’s work, and wasn’t laid off for more than a total of eight months from then until I retired.

WINTER STORM OF FEBRUARY 1947 by Jack E. Clevett

(Please note there will be pictures in this story. If you click your cursor on them, they will enlarge, if a plus sign comes up, click again & it will zoom in more. Click again to reduce size. Then go to top left hand of your screen & click on the “back arrow” To get it back to normal…..editor)

   There was a bad blizzard in the winter of 1947 and roads and even rail lines in Southeastern Saskatchewan and Southwestern Manitoba were blocked for a few days. There were at least five trains stuck between Oxbow and Estevan, Saskatchewan, and after first being called for a trip to Brandon we were eventually sent west on a double header snowplow to pull the Oxbow way freight out of drifts west of Hartney, as they had cars of livestock on board. After getting them out and going to Lauder to turn around to return to Souris, they decided to send us on to Estevan because the Passenger train was stuck at Frobisher. We arrived at Oxbow and were told that there were five or six trains stuck between us and Estevan. Because I had been on duty for 18 hours, I booked rest and got a room at the hotel. They left without me but only got about a mile out of town and wound up stuck for about thirty two hours. They hired all the men they could in Oxbow to dig the plow out and finally they got it out, but only going forward and they couldn’t go any further than Rapeard at the bottom of the hill as they didn’t have enough coal to go on. A triple header snowplow was sent out of Souris and after several tries got through the snow on Oxbow Hill to the plow I was on, and everyone came back to Oxbow for the night. The triple header left early the next morning and eventually cleared the track to Estevan and we were ordered out to pick up the Passenger train at Frobisher and take it into Estevan, which we did. We arrived in Estevan about eight O’clock at night and some joker ran along side the engine as we pulled in hollering at us for coming in two hours ahead of time. He didn’t seem to realize that the train was actually over two days late. The outcome of the storm was that five engines had to be sent to the repair shops in Winnipeg for a lot of serious repairs.I never experienced a storm like it before or since. I have worked through a number of tough storms, though. Another time I was on a plow with my Dad, when they kept running us on a plow ahead of the Passenger trains between Estevan and Lauder, back to Oxbow and then to Napinka and return to Estevan. We did this for a couple of days before that storm blew itself out.

MORE MEMORIES….by Jack  E. Clevett

   In 1951 I wrote up as a Locomotive Engineer and was set up as same in late August and was the youngest engineer, age wise, on the Manitoba District, as I had only just turned 26 which really made me feel good. Because of the Depression years my Dad never wrote up for engineer until 1940, when World War 2 was started.

   Through Dad I became active in the Firemen’s union, (which no longer exists today) and served as Legislative representative, Sec-Treasurer and eventually Local Grievance Man. The first and latter positions required my going to Ottawa and Montreal for a couple of meetings. I led a strike by the Local here when the Company tried to get rid of all the firemen. We went to Arbitration and the Company was forced to work us all out, except for a few recent hirees. This all came about after they switched to diesel power. As a result of this strike I was threatened with dismissal by the local Assistant Superintendent, but fortunately the law was on my side. When diesels put me out of work at Souris, I went to Winnipeg, and then to Kenora to hold work. I was in my forty-fourth year of seniority when I retired in 1986 and have been told that I had the biggest turn-out of well wishers that anyone had ever seen in Brandon. On my last trip down from Broadview, I had my son, Jerry, as my Conductor and we made an unscheduled stop at Oak Lake to pick up my daughter, Lorraine and Grandson Garfield 111, to ride the last thirty miles into Brandon with me. The delay to the train was minimal and nothing was said about having unauthorized people on the engine. The Superintendent presented me with a plaque commemorating my years of service, and I in return did something no one else had ever done, I presented him with all the rule and regulation books I had been required to carry whenever I went to work, they were all tied up with a pretty ribbon. I hear he kept them in plain sight in his office as a conversation piece. I had given out a verbal invitation to all my fellow railroaders to come to my home for a drink and snacks. This was also at the same time that all my relatives were coming for a family reunion on the July long weekend. There was well over a hundred and ten people signed the guest book. It was fortunate that we had a huge paved yard for them all to park in, as most of my fellow railroaders and wives came. I know we drank a lot of booze and ate a lot of food and that everyone enjoyed themselves and socialized real well, and had a good time. There were relatives and friends there from as far away as California and Vancouver and Winnipeg to the East.

THE  PRAIRIE  DOG  CENTRAL……….(See pictures below)

    It was a beautiful day in July 1981 when The Prairie Dog Central arrived late, as trains sometimes do, but there were about 1,000 spectators at the station anxiously awaiting it’s arrival. The 99 year-old “Iron Horse” chugged it’s way into Souris to help the town celebrate it’s Centennial. Jack Clevett served as pilot and assistant coal-shoveller for the journey from Winnipeg. Jack was from Souris and was an Engineer for CP Rail. The train made several tours during the 1981 celebrations, carrying history-loving passengers, between Souris and Hartney and again between Souris and Nesbitt.–Written by Jack E. Clevett (1991).

HISTORICAL TRAIN TANGLES WITH 20th CENTURYafter successfully dodging horses and buggies for a good part of it’s 99 year lifespan, the Prairie Dog Central was nearly done-in by a new fangled horseless carriage, Wednesday. The rejuvenated steam locomotive was carrying bug-eyed tourists on its last celebrity run between Nesbitt and Souris, as part of the Souris Centennial celebrations, when it crossed paths with an automobile 95 years it’s junior. A 19 year old Souris woman, Rhonda Kerbis, was treated for head lacerations and released from Souris Hospital after the collision at 10 p.m. at a level crossing three kilometres east of Souris, so RCMP said.

RAILROAD WEEK  JULY 7th – 13th,  1991–On July 12th, 1991 the Canadian Pacific Railway Caboose (CP 437180) opening and dedication was held. Thanks to the Souris Lions Club and the Railroaders for the restoration of the caboose.

 Here’s a tale that will help you cool off:– Four or five weeks ago I promised you another chapter in the story of the Big Snowstorm of  ’47.

    As a meticulous keeper of records, Lawrence Stuckey (aka Dr. Choo Choo) has all the details, and he used them for a chapter in his book, “Prairie Cinder”. Mind you, he knew he was in for a spot of weather. The radio was promising heavy snow, winds of 50 mph (remember miles) and a temperature of 18 F (remember F ?) below. It was a struggle, but Dr. Choo Choo, to give him his other name, made it to the depot for a trip to Broadview on Passenger train #7.

    He would be Fireman with Engineer Albert Kaufman. This was Monday February 3, 1947. What was in the wind was a storm of historic proportion. The trip to Broadview was tough going, but they made it with only a slight delay. They returned to Brandon the next evening on the last freight train to run for several days. For three days the forces of CPR on the Brandon Division were fully occupied keeping Passenger trains running, all of them with double-header engines, and all of them were late. Lawrence received his next call on Thursday: he was to be the fireman again on #1 for Engineer Fred Cook. Lawrence knew he was in for a different type of experience as soon as he was leaving the house; he had to call Mavis to help him push the door open. The drift that had formed over the front steps was determined to keep him housebound. The Cook-Stuckey duo headed west with two engines. Visibility was zero. At Virden, where they stopped for train orders, they had trouble getting under way. At Elkhorn where they stopped for coal and water, they were working in snow over their knees. It’s hardly surprising to learn they were late getting into Broadview. The next afternoon, when they awoke, they were surprised, nay, astonished, to see the train was still at the depot.It hadn’t moved and wouldn’t for several days, fireman and engineer put in time as best they could, part of it in the station listening to weather bulletins. They heard that on the Estevan subdivision, that there was one snowplow and three engines all derailed and abandoned on account of packed snow. In one instance, it required an airplane on skis to rescue one of the crews.

   On the 9th Lawrence was ordered to proceed even farther west, this time to Moose Jaw with engineer A. R. Smith. They were on train #1 with two engines. At Sintaluta they were in a siding for four hours, waiting for three sections of Train #4 to pass, and this was just sufficient time that the drifting snow almost kept them there — stormbound. They were twelve hours late arriving in Regina. As if the storm wasn’t trouble enough, they also had to contend with a blown piston ring. At Moose Jaw the storm was still bad, but the news was good. Our early travellers were told to deadhead home as soon as possible. They decided to go uptown to pick up some of their missed meals, but before they could leave the yards, an eastbound passenger train pulled in and they got on board,— famished. They were just getting off their coats when a news agent came through the coach with an urn of coffee and basket of sandwiches. They bought the lot. Their odyssey began on a Sunday and ended on a Monday, one week later.  P.S…had a great chat one evening with Jack Clevett, a retired engineer from Souris. Paddy Bowman’s blizzard story started Jack’s nostalgia working overtime. Jack was on duty on the Estevan line during the Big Blow. His train got stuck west of Hartney. It got help from a snow plow, but got stuck again on the hill west of Oxbow. On the return trip he had five engines, only one of which worked. What should have been a quick trip, took 18 hours. All this business of blizzards and late trains, brings to mind, a recollection from Medicine Hat. From my desk I could see trains arriving at the depot. One morning to my surprise, I saw The Canadian arrive at 9 a.m. instead of its schedules 9:30. I asked one of the reporters to inquire why the pride of the fleet should be running ahead of time. He called back with a bulletin: this wasn’t today’s train, it was yesterday’s!!

    Weather wreaks havoc on Prairie landscape….. Five or six weeks ago, Jack Stothard reminded us of the Big Blow of ’47 which shut down the town for a few days. It caused such a coal shortage that the young scholars were sent home from locked up institutions. They attended schools on subsequent Saturdays to make up the required number of study days.                                                           Jack’s reminder triggered a memory in the mind of another informed nostalgic, Lawrence Stuckey.This man (sometimes I call him “Stuck” but more often, I call him “Dr. Choo-Choo) was deeply involved in that blizzard. He sent me two documents: one was a reprint an article he wrote for “Prairie Cinders”, the second was an article by Paddy Bowman, whom some of you may recall was a civil engineer here in Brandon. He was in charge of track and maintenance  in this CPR division.                                                                                                    Bowman says it was a Thursday in February of 1947, when the Big Blow struck. He recalls that on that day, a passenger train left Brandon headed for Estevan, a trip of 170 miles. Obviously the employees along the line wanted to make certain this train got through, but that wasn’t going to be easy. What happened was a terrible series of mishaps.                                                                                         At Bienfait, a work train, trying to keep the line clear of drifts, derailed, blocking all traffic both ways. The dispatcher telegraphed to Frobisher, asking the agent there to hold the Estevan passenger train at that point. He chose Frobisher for this purpose, because it was large enough to have some creature comforts in case the passengers were storm stayed. Another train was ordered to run from Souris to Bienfait to help with the derailment, but it got stuck in a snowbank nine miles East of Frobisher. The following morning two locomotives pushing a snowplow left Souris, hoping to clear the track. For hours this unit bunted snow, then backed up, and bunted again, but five miles east of Oxbow, it too had to be abandoned. This left three useless units on one line.                                               On Saturday, a special train left Brandon to try to open the Estevan line. This unit consisted of three locomotives, a snow plow, a passenger car, and a pair of cabooses. On board was a crew of snow shovelers. When a drift was too tall, or the snow was too tightly packed, it was the men with shovels who reduced it to a size that the snowplows could handle. (My back aches just thinking about this as a form of employment).                                                                                           The crew on that special train out of Brandon, worked until Sunday night clearing the track and getting derailed units back on the steel. Monday morning they began the return trip, and it took them until late that night until they were back into the Wheat City. (Pass the liniment).                                                  Now, while I thank Lawrence Stuckey and Paddy Bowman for their contributions, I must add a PS, which may or may not involve this particular blizzard.                                                                                                                  In those days, I heard a radio show called “Neighbourly News from the Prairies”. I once used an item from a paper in southeastern Saskatchewan, perhaps the Weyburn Review. It told of a terrible blizzard striking the area, and of a woman in Beaubier, standing by her living room window wondering if perhaps she was having hallucinations. The snow was so heavy that on occasion she had no visibility at all; a moment later she might see for a block or more. Occasionally she would think she could see human figures approaching, and then the images would disappear in the drifting snow. Eventually there was a lull and guess what? Indeed there were three men approaching, fighting their way through waist-deep snow. This was a rail crew. They had just abandoned their freight train because it was hopelessly stuck. For three days they stayed with that watcher at the window……Do you know where Beaubier, Sask. got it’s name? It’s name honours Miss H. Beaubier, of the Brandon family by that name, who nursed the ‘flu’ patients in that area in 1918 until she died of the disease. Some day soon I’ll give you the Stuckey storm report. OOPs. You have already seen Stuckey’s blizzard memories. Hope you enjoyed it.

Railway work is no longer romantic, now that iron horses have stumbled !!                                               

Souris – Jack Clevett and Cliff Hinks recall with pride, an era when railways played  a much bigger role in the lives of Prairie residents.   Forty years ago, trains still provided towns and villages with their most important transportation link. Freight, mail, and merchants’ supplies were brought in by train. Eggs, cans of cream, and other farm products were all shipped out by rail. and almost every community was served by passenger train.                  The Canadian Pacific Railway once employed 253 people in Souris. Today (in 1991) there are only seven employees. Similar reductions have occurred in train towns across the Prairies. Their number of track workers on the Minnedosa Subdivision has dropped from about 90 to a half-dozen.The first cut in rail employment came in the late 1950’s when steam engines were replaced by diesel units. Nobody had to shovel coal to keep a diesel train moving…… “It was kind of sad when the steamers went out. They were darn hard work, but there was something about them”, recalls Hinks, who was with the CPR from 1953 until 1990, mostly working as an Engineer.           Technological advances continually reduced the need for labour. As engines became more powerful and length of trains increased , fewer “runs” were required. New track building equipment also had an impact and installation long, smooth rails has reduced the need for maintenance. The number of rail stops dropped as elevators closed and trucks replaced trains as the primary method of hauling freight to small communities. 57 Stations were closed in 1971, on the Brandon Division, putting many telegraphers out of work, replaced by Centralized Service Centre in Brandon, MB.  In 1950 railroaders could never have imagined that rail operations would change so dramatically. Hinks said recently, “The old guys who died, if they came back and saw all this, they would just take one look and die again”…..Clevett, who retired as an Engineer in 1986, began work in 1943. He remembers the camaraderie among crews and respect people had for Railroaders. “Morale was high and everybody pulled together. It was a good paying job and you were proud to go to work….it was the biggest payroll in Souris”….”Trains once captured peoples attention and imagination. People would come to railway Stations to see the trains pull into town. If a vehicle pulled up to a crossing, people would wave and children would stick their heads out the window to get a closer look”, he says….People now don’t  appear to care. Trains roll through community after community not noticed by anyone, except an occasional motorist who is upset that a railway crossing is tied up too long”, Clevett says, ..”If you toot the whistle at them, they don’t even look. You are just part of the daily scene”.

Fourth generation railroader provides glimpse inside the cab. …..They’re a normal part of life in this area. Pulled by roaring diesel engines, CPR freight trains pass through each and every day. Yet as familiar as they may be, most of us don’t have any idea what is going on inside the cabs of those engines, or what skills today’s Engineer must have, to keep his train moving safely and smoothly along. But last Friday (date unknown) thanks to the Langenburg Sask. Library and CP Rail nearly 600 people got a chance to actually climb aboard  an engine, settle into the engineer’s right hand seat, and see and hear, first hand, what train crews experience on their daily runs…Diesel 9002, a General Motors SD-40 unit, was situated on a siding in Langenburg, specially for the event and a large wooden staircase was built, enabling folks to climb aboard. Inside the cab, Jerry Clevett, a long-time railroader, who is now involved with CP’s safety and field operations division in the Manitoba district (based in Brandon) was on hand to answer any and all questions thrown at him…..Many youngsters, and even a few older folks, got an obvious thrill sitting in the engineer’s seat, eyeing and touching the throttle and brake levers (Jerry had the lever that makes the engine actually move, safely tucked away in his overalls), and even getting a chance to sound the loud diesel horn and ring the engine’s warning bell.                             A lot of questions focused on the engine itself. Clevett explained that it’s massive 16 cylinder engine produces 1,000 horsepower. It can travel at a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour. It’s large fuel tanks can hold 3,340 gallons of diesel fuel, allowing it to travel Winnipeg to Calgary, non-stop. The engine, which was built in November, 1988, keeps running smoothly thanks to the 129 gallons of oil which are continually pumping through it….Asked why trains hold such attraction for many people, Jerry puts it down to size. “They’re big”. “Everything from a roadgrader to an airplane seems to just naturally attract people’s attention”, he explained…..He is a fourth generation railroader which attributes to the fact that “it’s a good life”, His Great Grandfather came over from England in 1891 and travelled by train across the country. Stopping in Winnipeg, he got into a conversation with a railway boss, who helped him get a job as a section man in Souris, MB. He spent his entire life working for the railway….Jerry’s Grandfather hired on as a helper in the train shops in Souris and progressed on to being a Fireman, and then as an Engineer. His Father followed a very similar path, hiring on at the age of 17 as a callboy, travelling around town by bike (even in winter) calling crews to work. He, too, graduated to being a Fireman and later an Engineer, retiring in 1983 with 43 years of service…..Jerry “hired on” in 1973, starting as a member of a maintenance gang. That didn’t last long, however, as two weeks later he got a job in the Souris shops as a labourer. Taking time off to try his hand at University (and realizing “that wasn’t the life for me”), he rejoined CP in 1974 as a brakeman, “and I’ve been out on the road ever since”…..This past March (1991) , however he assumed his new duties in the safety and field operations department, an office based job, which is finally allowing him to lead a relatively normal life….While the job may be interesting and it may pay well, Clevett says “railroading is definitely tough on family life”. Trains run every day of the year except two at Christmas time”, and they are moving at all times of the day and night. Railways and Unions have been trying to work out a system that will make the job easier on families, but Clevett says “it’s going to be difficult to implement. Trains can’t run on a day-after-day, straight forward schedule”, he says. “There are too many variables to take into account. It’s impossible to run it that way”…..Providing an insight into what is taking place in the cab of a train running at full throttle, Clevett says “that it’s all business”. With perhaps the exception of the coffee pot on a special burner in the centre of the cab, there are few, if any distractions. “You watch out for a farmer coming up to a crossing, or some kids playing alongside the tracks in the town. There are slow orders to slow the train down, and you speed it up after you get over the slow order area.. You’ve got to blow the whistle and ring the bell. There are speed limits, so you’re constantly working the throttle to keep the train at the right speed, and setting the brake. You’re always monitoring your air and everything else. You’re listening to the radio to hear what’s coming at you and what’s going away”. The Conductor is working hard copying Clearances and Slow orders. “It’s a full time job….You’re not sitting with your feet up”…..He noted that between Brandon and Broadview, there are 270 crossings, and the Engineer must blow his horn when approaching each and every one of them……….Yet while the workload  remains ever demanding, the number of people sharing duties is decreasing. Having already lost the brakeman in the old traditional, end-of-train caboose several years ago, on August 18 new rules come into effect, allowing trains to run with only a two-man crew…the engineer and conductor…in the engine. Brakemen will no longer be necessary….Despite ominous changes such as that, Clevett believes the future of railroading in Canada is looking very good. “We’re going to expand into bigger and better markets”. “If we can ever get everything straightened out with the farmers, the Wheat Board, the Railways and everyone else, we can move grain very efficiently. These big inland terminal  are the way of the future, and they are tailor-made for railways to increase their efficiency”….Comparing the per mile cost of hauling freight long distances by train, as compared to hauling it by truck. Clevett notes that trains are vastly more efficient. It was even mentioned that a train uses one cup of diesel fuel to haul one ton of goods one mile…….But that kind of information was not what most of the youngsters who climbed aboard  Friday were most interested in. “Where’s the horn?”, they asked. And despite a pounding headache caused by hearing it already dozens of times, Jerry pointed to the horn switch, happy to keep alive the excitement that the sights and sounds of trains naturally create in young minds and heart.

NEWS FROM CANADA – Enginemen’s Press……

November 18, 1966……..Lodge 464 Hails Vet Members

Brandon, Man.—Officers of Wheat City Lodge 464 recently honoured veteran members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Engineers, with awards for continuous periods of membership.The oldest senior man receiving acclaim was half-century member J.S. Sprout was given 50-year lapel button, and engraved certificate by Local Chairman J.E. Clevett. Second oldest was R. Clevett, father of J.E. The elder Clevett had completed 40 years of continuous affiliation with the BLF&E…Local Chairman J.E. Clevett pinned the lapel pin on his father, noting that he, himself, was recruited into the BLF&E by his Dad some twenty years ago after he had hired on the railroad. The presentations to the two older men were made at the Victoria Park Lodge Senior Citizens Home in Souris…Young Clevett is Local Chairman for the Souris terminal Subdivision of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He received a 20 year membership award. Others in the 20 year classification were W.H. (Pete) Deleau, Gordon R. Austin and Harold E. (Snook) Hale…..The honourees were lauded for their enviable records of unbroken membership and the part they played in building and maintaining a good Brotherhood lodge and effective representation for enginemen in the area.

These articles “Memories of Jack E. Clevett” were found in a binder and donated to Souris Railway Museum by his family.

Typed, and edited by Ferg Devins…