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****