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Island Railway Stories

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story 1

donny's last run

By member Jim Sturgill

These are official CP pictures of Don MacLachlan's last run after 44 years on the E&N on January 8, 1983. The MacLachlan's were a true railway and E&N family, with Don having worked on the E&N from 1939-1983 and his father having worked on the E&N as a fireman and engineer for 50 years from 1910-1960. Dons' brother Al MacLachlan also worked on the E&N as a fireman and engineer for 42 years and retired in 1986. The first picture is of Don at the controls of VIA 6134 (Train No. 2) about to leave Courtenay on his last run. The second picture is at Courtenay station. The conductor on this trip was Gerry Cove and his assistant conductor Al Wilde is at the left in the photo. I am in this photo at the very rear of the picture in my conductor uniform on the left side standing next to the lead RDC. I was working the alternating crew ("B Team" as we called ourselves) as assistant conductor at this time on the Dayliner and this was my assigned day off. However, both myself and my conductor Paul Cozens from the other crew volunteered to assist as honorary conductors to help out on this busy day and honour our friend and co-worker Don. Paul is in the picture at the right standing next to the trailing RDC. Thankfully CP had a photographer on this run and all of us on the crew that day and many special guests that were there were given photo albums a few weeks later.

story 2

an e&n Christmas

By member Jim Sturgill

It was Christmas Eve, 1978. I had been working as the assistant conductor on the E&N Victoria to Courtenay RDC run, train Numbers 1 and 2. It had been a very busy Christmas Eve, passengers were packed in both cars. Gaily wrapped gifts, with their bright coloured ribbons, lined the aisles and luggage racks on both cars.


Since VIA had been planning to run only one car on Christmas day I was to have the day off. Gerry Cove, the conductor, had wanted to have Christmas off but the crew clerk was unable to find a replacement. It was beginning to look as if Gerry would not have his day off. Since I was a single man at the time and would be spending the day alone I offered to work his shift.


Christmas of 1978 had dawned as an overcast yet mild day. I and the engineer, Don MacLachlan went about our duties readying the train for our departure at 0815. We left the station with 25 passengers and headed north. The mood was one of happiness since the passengers were heading off to spend this joyous day with family and friends. As we continued on our journey to Courtenay we made many stops to pick up additional passengers, soon we would have 35 people aboard.


The usual Christmas gifts were once again stacked on the luggage racks or placed on empty seats. Some of the people were busy talking to each other while others were softly singing Christmas carols. As the train continued along the tracks and the miles quickly fell behind us, we soon arrived at mile 55. There we would make another stop. Only this one was not in the schedule. There waiting for our unscheduled stop, beside their small acreage just north of Chemainus, were Mr. And Mrs. Blackstaff. Mr. Elmer Blackstaff was a well-known train and steam enthusiast. It was their Christmas tradition to meet the train and give cookies and candies to the passengers and crew. As they walked throughout the train passing out the goodies, they wished each and everyone a Merry Christmas. To the passengers on board, this stop represented the joyous spirit of the season. After the Blackstaff's detrained we continued north. As I watched the passengers eagerly awaiting our arrival in Courtenay I reflected on this kind gesture of the Blackstaff’s to total strangers. I realized just how lucky I had been to work on this day and to witness this true meaning of Christmas.


Today Mr. and Mrs. Blackstaff are gone and the train no longer runs on Christmas day. The cookies and candies are no longer there yet the memory of this small simple gesture by the Blackstaff’s to their fellow people will always remain in my heart and memory and it will remain a day on the E&N I will never forget.

story 3

The Last CPR Police Badge of the E&N

Courtesy of member Scott McCormick

story 4

The Story Behind E&N Railfreight Model & Paint Scheme

By member Jim Sturgill

This GP38AC No. 3005 was originally custom painted by Jeff Briggs in Cobble Hill for the General Manager of E&N Railfreight Marty Cove, for display in his office at the E&N's Wellcox Yard in Nanaimo. The locomotive was ordered as an undecorated Atlas HO GP38 by E&N Railfreight engineer Jim Sturgill, as Marty knew Jim owned a hobby shop at the time. Jim also set it up with Jeff to have it painted and ordered the display case for it as well. The unit remained in Marty's office until RailAmerica bought E&N Railfreight and began operations as E&N Railway Company 1998 Ltd in 1999. At which time, Marty donated the locomotive to well known retired E&N engineer and author Don MacLachlan, for his personal E&N collection and display as part of his model railway at his home in Victoria where the model remained until Don passed away in December 2011.


While Atlas models later made a very limited number of factory painted E&N Railfreight GP38's in No. 3004, this one was the first model ever painted in E&N Railfreight coulors and was actually the property of E&N Railfreight from about 1997 to 1999, and unlike the Atlas produced model, was numbered 3005 to reflect the first locomotive painted for E&N Railfreight as the second and final locomotive No. 3004 was not painted until about a year later.


The green and yellow colours for E&N Railfreight were actually a copy of the E&N Division CRHA's CN transfer caboose No. 76695 that the group repainted a few months before the creation of E&N Railfreight in March 1996. The colours chosen for the E&N Division's caboose was actually what became the paint scheme chosen by CP for E&N Railfreight as Marty Cove was so impressed by it. The colours and paint scheme the E&N Division members chose and namely by member Derrick Migneault, was based off an MJB coffee can that was in the caboose at the time, which had a design of green with a yellow band around the can. Everyone thought it was sharp and felt a similar design would look good on the caboose with the same shades of colour as well. Cloverdale Paint was the paint supplier donating the paint for the project and their green equipment paint turned out to be a perfect match to the MJB green, which did not even require any tinting and their safety yellow was very close as well. The only change CP made to their version for the E&N Railfreight colours was to make the green a few shades lighter and kept the yellow the same. Therefore, what turned to be considered a very attractive paint scheme and has been considered the E&N's official colours ever since, actually started from an MJB coffee can, and the rest is history.

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(Below) These are photos I took of the opening ceremony for E&N Railfreight with No. 3005 breaking the banner on the morning of March 11, 1996.


Also included is a picture of No. 3005 just after it had been pulled off the barge on Sunday, March 10th before the event. The E&N Railfreight name is still covered to keep the surprise for the following morning. To the best of my knowledge, no photos other than mine were taken of it arriving and with the name still covered. I wish I had got a photo of it coming off the barge, but being I was the conductor unloading the barge, I was unable to get the opportunity to do it.


I was working the freight pool out of Wellcox as conductor at the time. As there was no assigned yard crew on the Sunday, the freight crew would pull and load the barge when it arrived Sunday afternoon, before we began our week which started by heading to Port Alberni at 11:00 AM on the Monday. As timing and shifts worked out, I got to be the conductor to pull the new E&N Railfreight locomotive off the barge on the Sunday along with engineer Don Doumont and we had the privilege of being the first crew to work the following day after the ceremony that began the E&N Railfreight era, and what would ultimately prove to be the means for CP to divest themselves of the E&N to RailAmerica three years later.


No. 3005 ended up being the middle locomotive of our three-unit consist that day to Port Alberni.

story 5

Head-on at Mile 68.3 — Victoria Sub

By member Jim Sturgill — Photos (coloured) courtesy of Ken Perry

These are pictures that most have probably never seen of the head-on collision that occurred on June 12, 1973 at Mile 68.3 of the Victoria Subdivision, just past South Wellington. This was one of the worst accidents that has ever been seen on the E&N, and definitely the worst in terms of equipment lost.


These are probably the first pictures taken at the scene and some of the only ones taken before clean up began. The following coloured pictures were taken by CP E&N employee Ken Perry, who at the time was working in maintenance at the Victoria roundhouse and was sent along with other crews to the site the following day. These photos have been in my collection for many years and were copied from the personal collection of my former co-worker and friend, the late Al Wilde, who was the headend trainman of train Number 51 that day when the head-on occurred.


The accident happened shortly after CP began sending the newer GP-9 locomotives to replace the Baldwin DRS-1000s, which had been operating on the E&N since the end of steam in 1949. By this time, the GP9s had been assigned to the Victoria freight job. However, this day Northbound train Number 51 out of Victoria heading to Wellcox yard had the old Baldwins. Around 12:30 PM, the train known as the Nitinat Logger (as it hauled logs from the Nitinat Valley) was about to leave Wellcox Yard. The Nitinat would run from Wellcox to Ladysmith to pick up a train of empty log cars, then head to Lake Cowichan, and back to Ladysmith with loaded cars. The crew on the Nitinat had noticed the two GP-9s that had been used the previous days on the Victoria freight sitting on the shop track at Wellcox and assumed train No. 51 had already arrived. Feeling so sure train 51 was in, the crew never bothered to check the register book, which would have shown train No. 51 had not yet signed in. The Nitinat left Wellcox Yard with two locomotives, a water sprinkler car for fire control, and a caboose. The crew consisted of an engineer, conductor, headend trainman, rearend trainman, conductor, and engineer trainee. There was also a dispatcher that was riding with them down to Ladysmith that day, who as well, never questioned the assumption that train No. 51 had arrived.


The accident occurred around 1:30 PM in an area of many curves at Mile Post 68.3. Both trains were being operated by engineer trainees under the supervision of the regular engineers. Both engineer trainees placed the brake handle in the emergency position, thus fully applying the brakes as soon as they caught sight of each other's trains, but due to the limited sight in the curves, neither train had any chance to stop. Train No. 51 consisted of 23 cars and was led by locomotive No. 8008 with 8006 trailing. The Nitinat was being led by locomotive No. 8011 with 8007 trailing. All four locomotives were destroyed. Miraculously, the injuries were minor, with the exception of the conductor in the caboose of the Nitinat who was thrown into the stove that was in front of his seat where he was sitting at the time of impact, but he recovered quickly as well. The most serious damage was to the locomotives of train No. 51 since it had 23 cars pushing it from behind. The cab of No. 8008 was nearly completely destroyed and the trailing unit 8006 slid down the embankment. While both locomotives of the Nitinat derailed, neither slid down the embankment or had their cabs severely damaged. One thing that was fortunate, was the fact there is a permanent slow order of 20 MPH on an old mine shaft located at Mile 68.2, which remains in effect until this day. As such, train No. 51 had slowed and was just beginning to increase in speed with the Nitinat just beginning to slow for the restriction, and therefore the lower speed slightly lessened the impact.


After CP's investigation was complete, the entire crew of the Nitinat whom were responsible for the accident was fired by CP for failing to check the register resulting in a head-on. As is the usual case for employees with good records, the union appealed the decision, and all employees returned to work in a little over a year. All involved continued to finish their careers with perfect records, and in the case of the newest employees who were involved, put in another 25 plus years. So the moral of the story must be: Never assume on the railway.

story 6

Story behind the Cowichan River Bridge

By member Jim Sturgill Jr. — Photos courtesy of member Scott McCormick

The Cowichan River Bridge at Mile 39.3 on the Victoria Sub and at 224 feet long is probably one of the most historical bridges in the country as it's the only known example of a bridge of its type and age in Canada.


It was fabricated in 1874 by the Phoenix Iron Works Company in Phoenixville Pennsylvania and was originally built for the Pennsylvania Railroad for use just outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania. It was used for a wide river crossing and originally consisted of seven spans. After becoming too light duty for the ever-increasing size of the Pennsylvania Railroad's steam locomotives, it was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway to cross the St. Maurice River in Quebec in 1892, again utilizing all it's seven spans.


Recognizing the fact the bridge could not support the increasing size of CP's locomotives and axle loads as well, CP deiced to use the bridge to replace the original Cowichan River trestle built by Robert Dunsmuir in 1885. In 1909 CP relocated two spans to the E&N to replace the trestle. The design of the bridge is called a Whipple Truss and originally consisted of just one truss line on each side of the bridge. CP reconfigured the bridge and took two spans and effectively joined them together to create what is now called a Double Whipple Truss to increase its load rating. What ultimately became of the remaining five spans is unknown, but they were likely scrapped over 100 years ago. The Phoenix Iron Works and Phoenix Bridge Works has quite a history. They started steel fabrication by building cannons during the American Civil War and shortly after progressed into bridge construction and patented what is known as the "Phoenix" Compression Column, which is what this bridge uses as its main truss member. These are made from wrought iron and are made in quarters and riveted together to form the column. It is the only known "Phoenix" bridge in Canada and these bridges are now extremely rare in the United States as well.


Phoenix Iron bridges are also known for having unique ornate features and this bridge is no exception. Stars made out of cast iron form the center point of the portal bracing at each end of the bridge as seen in these pictures, among other features as well.

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