THE RUNAWAY FLATCAR by Gordon F. “Red” McIntosh

The run­away train came down the track and hit the sta­tion a a hel­lu­va whack! 

Remem­ber that old song? Well, let me tell you about the run­away flat car that missed the sta­tion and went for an unevent­ful down­hill ride. These are the circumstances.

I was the Cana­di­an Pacif­ic Rail­way’s Sta­tion Agent at For­rest, Man., dur­ing the peri­od 1961–65. Trains passed For­rest, locat­ed on the Rapid City Sub., on reg­u­lar timetable sched­ules and branched off to 3 oth­er sub­di­vi­sions, viz; Lenore, Var­coe and Miniota.The Rapid City sub., passed over the Cana­di­an Nation­al Rail­way, at For­rest Trans­fer over which traf­fic was inter­changed. The paper­work for such move­ments was han­dled by the CNR staff at Rivers, MB., and the CPR Agent at Forrest.

Trans Cana­da Pipelines main­tained a pres­sure sta­tion North of For­rest, and with plans made to enlarge this facil­i­ty, sev­er­al flat cars loaded with gigan­tic com­pres­sors and duct work arrived at For­rest from East­ern Canada.

Arrange­ments were made with CPR, TCPL and con­trac­tor Ernie McLean of Este­van, Sask., to have loads hauled up at rear of the Min­io­ta train and left on the main track at a spot where they could be dri­ven to, and unloaded by McLean’s dragline crane. This was done. Road­mas­ter Downes instruct­ed Sec­tion Fore­man Savich to fol­low along and assist where required, and to ensure hand brakes were applied to the emp­ty cars as they were unloaded. This he did. How­ev­er, it became evi­dent after sev­er­al cars were unloaded and pushed down, the cou­pling between first and sec­ond flat was not com­plete­ly made and the first car out began to roll away, even though the hand brake had been applied, and smoke was evi­dent from the brake shoe fric­tion. Sec­tion­man Deleau ran after the flat, until he dropped, but could not catch it.  .…(Edi­tor’s note for your info, this sec­tion man Tony Deleau, would be a broth­er to Fireman/Engineer W.H. “Pete” Deleau of Souris MB,).….

From the point of release South­ward, lay some 14 miles of down­hill grade. The flat picked up speed, pass­ing over Provin­cial Hwy #25, over CNR main­line at For­rest Trans­fer, over numer­ous Munic­i­pal cross­ings, past For­rest sta­tion, over Provin­cial Hwy. #10 and South­ward at an esti­mat­ed speed of 30 MPH, ulti­mate des­ti­na­tion CPR main line at Chater.

After the flat whizzed by my office win­dow, I attempt­ed to advise the Train Dis­patch­er in Bran­don of what was hap­pen­ing, but Art Grant, Road Fore­man of Engines, was speak­ing to some­one on the Dis­patcher’s phone about a prob­lem, so I rather rude­ly inter­rupt­ed him and told him the drill, that should the flat car run over the knoll at Barager, it could run out onto the main­line at Chater. I was told Mr. Grant and Gor­don Ding­wall & Divi­sion Mas­ter Mechan­ic vacat­ed Com­pa­ny premis­es in Bran­don and broke all speed lim­its dri­ving out to the Men­tal Hos­pi­tal Spur at Barager, arriv­ing in time to see the flat come slow­ly to a halt. It was their inten­tion to derail the flat by any means they could, like­ly open Barager switch to put the flat  on the ground.

After advis­ing Mr. Grant, I tele­phoned the Plains West­ern Gas Plant at #1 Hiwy., and asked a per­son to watch for the run­away and flag #1 Hwy., cross­ing, even though the cross­ing was pro­tect­ed with sig­nal lights. A lone flat car trav­el­ling at any speed would not be seen and #1 was a busy high­way. The cross­ing was flagged and the flat­car passed over.

So, a cat­a­stro­phe had been divert­ed through good for­tune. All cross­ings at grade were passed over and won­der of all won­ders a CNR train was not pass­ing For­rest Trans­fer. The Min­io­ta train on return, nosed onto the emp­ty cars on the main track, pushed them down to For­rest, ran around them, picked up the run­away at Barager, pro­ceed­ed to Bran­don yard and tied up.

It appeared the sec­tion crew was in for a cita­tion, how­ev­er cool­er heads must have pre­vailed, inas­much as Sec­tion crew was not “Run­ning Trades” per­son­nel and no injury nor loss of equip­ment result­ed. The case was closed. In con­ver­sa­tion with Super­in­ten­dent Lowe next day, I asked him if he would write Plains West­ern Staff a let­ter of thanks. which he agreed to do.

Plains West­ern staff were pleased with the let­ter and to have received some recog­ni­tion. The plant Man­ag­er advised me that they had been on the CPR “bad list” as short­ly before this inci­dent they had flared-off some excess prod­uct and had melt­ed the tele­graph wires on a CPR pole near­by, and had received an angry blast from the CPR linesman.

As Robert Burns so apt­ly put in his poem; ‘the best laid schemes o’mice and men.…gang aft a‑gley’

  The North Branch­es are aban­doned now !.…Writ­ten Decem­ber 2004.



****Edi­tor’s note.…In the 1950’s a car­load of grain escaped from Franklin, Man­i­to­ba and ran all the way to Glad­stone before it came to a stop. No oth­er details are available****