Bill Barr in 1947 held a job as a CPR Fireman on the Winnipeg-La Riviere way freight. He wrote 4 articles about experiences on the job. The first article tells us the duties he had to perform before they even took the engine off the shop track, plus their trip as far as Rosenfeld. I showed this particular article to another former fireman who worked out of Souris and he replied “that is exactly what we did before we started to work”. Bill Barr has given us permission to include these 4 articles in our website in the “Stories” section. Thanks Bill
William B. Barr states “When I decided to write an article on railroading now and railroading way back when, I couldn’t help myself, and went back further than intended. The years were rough and tough, the work was hard and dirty, the days were long and we didn’t know any better. But we sure got an “A” for determination. I was determined to become a railroad engineer and I did. Through all the hard work there was always some kind of reward,either along the way or at the end of the day. For me it was watching nature go by the windoww, waving to people and getting a friendly wave back. I also enjoyed watching the seasons change and knowing at the end ofn the day you had done a good job. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the past” .
The new diesels that are part of our transportation system now are a far cry from the diesels of yore. If we go back even further to the days of steam, you would say I was making this up. Shall we go back to the days of steam? Ah, the romance of steam!
Hold it right there. Let me tell you about this so-called romance.
Picture this. You are a fireman on the Canadian Pacific Railway working out of Winnipeg, Manitoba and are assigned to the La Riviere way freight Yahoo! You are awakened at 4:45 A.M. by the Crew-Clerk. With the train ordered for 6:45. You’re time to be on duty is 6:00 a.m. The birds are not even up yet. Why didn’t I go to bed earlier? It’s going to be a long day, so you better get a good breakfast. You live two miles from the Roundhouse, where you pick up your engine. You don’t own a car, but a bicycle you do have. So, it’s 15 minutes to bike in the summer time or 25 minutes in the winter time, most of the time pushing the bike. You also have to carry your overalls and lunch bucket. And don’t forget your rule book, your railway watch and timecard.
At the booking in office at the roundhouse you have 30 minutes preparatory time before you are due off the shop track, and 15 minutes to get to your train. You must sign the register, check your watch with the standard clock and read and sign all the latest bulletins. You check to see if you can hold a better job, preferably one that has a stoker, not like this hand-fired engine you have today.
Your engine today is #996, a D-10, with 4-6-0 wheel arrangement, and the only thing worth noting about it is that it has a brass numberplate The D-10 was the backbone of the C.P.R. It was a hand-fired engine that could be used in any class of service. With a coal capacity of 12 tons.and a water capacity of 6,000 gallons. It’s range was limited. Built between 1905 and 1913, the D-10’s were still a motive power main stay in the late 1940’s, but since newer steam power had emerged in the late 1920’s and earlyy 1930’s, most of the D-10’s were relegated to freight service. There were approximately 500 of them built.
Time to put on your overalls and smock and your peccary-hog gloves with seams on the outside. (These are very important when you’re about to shovel 10 to 12 tons of coal). You leave the office. You go to the shoptrack and get on your engine. Your engineer today is Fred Stowell. You and Fred have worked this job for the last two years, so you know what to expect of each other.
Your duties, when you get on the engine, are as follows: First, the most important thing is check to make sure the water in the water glass is real (The water glass is located on the front of the boiler to the left side and indicates the amount of water in the boiler). If you don’t see any water in the glass, nothing else matters, except your distance from the locomotive, and the further away you are, the better. When a boiler goes dry and heat is still being applied from the fire, there is a good possibility of an explosion.
You blow down the water glass, so the indication in the glass is real. Let’s make sure. You blow down the three tri-cocks, which are located on the backhead of the boiler, at different levels. It’s water alright. You now take a look into the firebox to see if you have a fire of sorts. You check for any leaks around the staybolts and see that then brick arch is intact. Everything looks good. The boiler pressure is at 155 on the steam gauge, which represents pressure of 155 pounds per square inch. You throw in a couple scoops of coal to see if the shovel works. It works. The shovel you will use today is a # 10 scoop with a longer style sectionman’s shovel handle. It does save the back and allows you to reach further. The Supplyman has already put it on for you. He took it off the engine when you came in from your last trip, put your name in chalk on the blade and hung it up in the sandhouse.