Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Big Grain Rush - 1930

With the first frost arriving in the Prairies around mid-September on average,
I am unusually topical with this post about The Big Grain Rush.

If you were to tell me that the brakeman shown was inspired by Marion Robert Morrison early in his career, I would be inclined to agree with you. Do you find that graphic artists often have trouble with rolling stock perspective?

It is impossible to determine how many people owned this October 1930 magazine before I acquired it a railway show. It is possible to state that it spent some time in a basement. The stamp with the Montreal telephone exchange in letters (PL - Plateau?) suggests it was sold/resold before the 1960s. 

Where possible, I have tried to enhance the images so historical details can be seen. Sadly, 'everyone's favourite Canadian Northern photograph' at Dauphin was too dark. 

There are interesting historical details about railway and farming processes in the following article. In particular, the shifting of running trades employees to different geographical locations and the temporary promotions of qualified employees to meet high traffic demands are described.

For students of the history of that era, the magazine date suggests the hard times have begun - in spite of the article's boosterism and cheery tone. The Great Crash of the New York stock market had happened one year earlier. Some contemporary graphs and descriptions follow the article.

*  *  *

Gratuitous Optional Extra: 
i.e. You don't have to read this!

A Rough Financial Context of the Historical Times

Innovations in financial procedures and products created changes of behaviour in many 'average people' in the United States during the 1920s. These procedures were generally not regulated by government authorities and their risks were generally not understood by the people.

The late 1920s were typified by riskless gain on the stock markets - but investments are never totally riskless. If you were an investor, these speculative gains could be increased by using money borrowed from your brokerage firm to increase your purchases. You were only required to provide a portion of the purchase price of your favourite stock, you paid interest on this loan, and you had to provide more money to the brokerage firm if the collateral value of the stock ever went down. This was a 'margin loan'.

The demand and high return from margin loans eventually warped the capital markets - from the perspective of the lenders. Corporations and financial institutions were eventually fuelling stock market speculation by diverting their monies for investment to the stock market through 'investing' in margin loans. But while their normal investments in government bonds, gold or productive tangible assets would be relatively prudent, the underlying assets of margin loans were equity securities whose values had been inflated by speculation.

... Before the US Securities and Exchange Commission was established, there was little regulation to ensure that an 'investment fund' actually contained any stocks at all - even ones of inflated value. There were funds of funds built on pyramids of credit. In the past, they had always seemed to increase significantly in value.

Added to the wonder of never-ending stock market riches was the magical innovation of consumer credit. During the 1920s, the new concept of providing small loans to households ... to encourage the immediate purchase of new labour-saving electrical appliances and automobiles ... stimulated the economy and created jobs. You could buy now and pay over time through a schedule of affordable payments.

Everything unravels ...

When the stock market faltered at the end of October 1929, there were multiple waves of 'foreclosures' on the stock bought on margin. The income from stock market gains was eliminated for the investors from 'Main Street' and all the money they had invested using margin loans was lost. (It had become impossible for the investors to satisfy the legal terms of their margin loans by supplying cash so their stock positions were 'sold out' by the brokerage firms.) 

When the brokerages and other participants in the margin loan market (eg. banks) took possession of that foreclosed stock, its value was rapidly falling through the floor with no bottom in sight.

When Main Street investors had lost their investment assets and the income from them, it was often no longer possible to keep up payments on their autos and appliances bought on credit.

When the companies manufacturing autos and appliances saw demand for their products collapse, they laid off their workers. So did their suppliers and their other business partners.

Almost all of society had become consumed by the 'miracle' of the stock market and consumer credit. Few foresaw, or were prepared for, the bursting of a speculative financial bubble. 

... Eventually 'adult supervision' in the form of new institutions and regulation created by the US Government led to a cautious renewal of confidence in the US capital markets. A disastrous world war which killed 60 million people renewed economic demand and brought back economic prosperity and industrial innovation.

*  *  *

The illustrations below come from the Canada Handbook of 1937.

You can see the drastic decline in farm prices during late 1930 - when the Grain Rush article above was published.

There were also natural calamities affecting The Big Grain Rush.

*  *  *

National Industrial Production Trends

From the hindsight of 1937, 
you can see how industrial production collapsed in many countries during the 1930s 
and how and when it was revived.

* USA: President Franklin Roosevelt's political and economic policies began in 1933.
* Germany: Hitler came into power in 1933 and started re-arming Germany.
* Japan: Military authorities began WW2 early by invading parts of China in 1931.

To some extent, the three 'tides' above raised their neighbours' and partners' economic 'boats'.

Frank Crumit's song - A Tale of the Ticker

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CPR 1984 Lake Louise to Field

On Friday, June 1 1984 we boarded VIA Train Number 1 - after a stay at Chateau Lake Louise - and continued on a trip west to Vancouver. 

Using a car we rented at Lake Louise, we had spent a day or so travelling between there and Field - following trains as we could. During the few days we had at Lake Louise, we also enjoyed some of the many other attractions of the area. But this post is centred on a few photos I took on the way to Field.

from: CPR Annotated Time Table, Eastbound Edition, corrected to July 7th 1905.
While I have Canadian government topographic maps of the area and various other CPR tourist maps ... this rough effort on cheap paper from over 110 years ago does the nicest job of showing the details. 

You can see the Great Divide marked - from that point the water flows either to Hudson Bay or the Pacific. Lake Louise and the other 'lakes in the clouds' are shown nicely. This was before the highways arrived and the settlement patterns became more complex. 

During the era of the Big Hill, specialized mountain crews operated between the two locomotive terminals at Laggan and Field. After the Spiral Tunnels were in service in 1909, Laggan was no longer required as a terminal and the location was renamed for the nearby lake.

Unused postcard, no date.
Above, the old postcard provides a nice overview of the arrangement of the Spiral Tunnels. 

Below, a circa 1960 CPR descriptive pamphlet provides detail and data on the twenty miles we will travel.

Looking back in history, one would be hard-pressed to think of another
similar short segment of Canadian track or roadway which has received so much attention.

from pamphlet: Westward Across Canada by Canadian Pacific, circa 1960.
from pamphlet: Westward Across Canada by Canadian Pacific, circa 1960.

*  *  *

June 1, 1984

Lake Louise, looking timetable west.
Notice that that the original telegraph wires entered the rear of the station - as they generally did.

Our train will be following the original track alignment. Behind is a slightly longer, more 'gently' ascending track which will rejoin our route as we reach the summit at the Great Divide. While heavy freights hauling commodities to the Pacific benefit from the newer route, our train will have little trouble running up the steeper grade to the Divide. 

These photos are in chronological order - I checked the negatives. As soon as we could heave our bags into our opposite roomettes and slam the doors, we ran up to the 'cupola'. The dome was often staked out by people well in advance of the departure from Calgary. This dome community was generally thinned out by the time the train neared the Selkirks. 

Here you can see the lower Spiral Tunnel. 

After years of deferred maintenance on the rolling stock it took off CPR's and CNR's hands, VIA was only given 'life support' funding for its operations, and a lot of things were in poor repair. On one trip, our electrical system failed and our sleeping car was 'trainlined' with the adjacent car to the first point of repair at Winnipeg - we had minimal lighting. On another occasion, they had to shut our room's water off because we had a 'doomsday' toilet valve which would have quickly emptied the car's tank ... we were visited by carmen with plumbing skills in our own bedroom at Winnipeg.

On another trip, there was no steam heat through the night north of Superior. Clearly Rolly wasn't running that night. As a former steam fireman, firing up a steam generator probably enabled him to re-live the days of steam power. He took pride in his tale of the night that a VIA 'train rider steam technician' (yes, they had them - that's how bad things had become) couldn't satisfy the need for heat and Rolly went back and got the appliance generating to specifications.

... As bad-ordered VIA equipment relates to this trip: On the ex-CPR domes, the expensive custom Plexiglas front and rear corner dome windows had become very scratched - sometimes to the point of being opaque for photographs. The smaller front centre window (which carmen could open) had double panes of regular glass and you could get a reasonable shot through it. Westbound passenger trains were usually sent through a car washer, with a stop for manual brushing/scratching of dome windows, as Number 1 departed Calgary.

I have tuned these photos up as much as possible. Having photographed in the domes before, I was using an 80-200 mm zoom and fast film. You can often see light-coloured reflections in the glass in these shots.

Unused postcard, no date.

Here is an eastbound freight on an undated postcard.
Notice the fire damage. Back then, fires were often started by the sparks from steel brake shoes.

Detail from unused postcard.
I was curious about the consist.

Here is the valley (mud flats) of the Kicking Horse as it approaches Field.
The Trans-Canada Highway is the through road which you see.

Unused postcard, no date.
Here is a similar view of the Kicking Horse Valley.
This is a terrible image - and what was 'airbrushed' away in the left foreground?
But notice the water tank between the power and the valley.

I assume we are rolling by Yoho here.

By rail or road, this is always an interesting location for telephoto shots.

You can imagine trains of the 'Big Hill' era coming down something like the gradient of that road.

The eastbound freight is clear in the hole for us with its headlight extinguished.

I can hear Rolly saying it: "Straight Approach!"
Our power has not yet knocked down the light at the east switch, Field.

Officially, back then, this was known as an approach signal ...
but the 'straight' underlines with glee the idea that we are lined on a non-diverging route.

*  *  *

I tried to select a couple of passenger timetables with the most interesting details.

from: CPR public time table; August 15, 1936.
This late-Great Depression timetable shows three trains operating. While most working people were probably not doing well, the CPR still advertised its hotels and the nearby 'dude ranches' - someone, somewhere, still had money to spend. The 300-series 'motor trains' are interesting - Regina to Moose Jaw.  ... And 'meal stations' - mainly for people riding in the coach and colonist cars, perhaps.

*  *  *

from: CPR public time table; April 30, 1967 to October 28, 1967.
Don't blink, or you'll miss the short run of CP's Expo Limited. Both railways ran extra trains to accommodate people wanting to visit Expo 67 in Montreal (and/or to see Canada by train as a personal 'Centennial Project') ... during Canada's Centennial of Confederation. There are some nice photos and summaries of the mainly standard equipment used on this train which you can find on the internet.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Schreiber Yard in June 1987

Most of our vacation time in Schreiber was spent visiting. We usually stopped in Schreiber while on our way to or from Manitoba. So: little time could be allocated to documenting what was going on in Schreiber's yard. I generally had one chance on the way in, or while leaving.

This 'failure to document' was a consequence of the prevalent view among professional running trades people of the time.

Apparently, even for those who had 'cinder-dust in their blood' (a CNR quote), when you were off work, and particularly after you retired ... you were expected to have much better ways to spend your time than hanging around the railway's equipment. The farther away you were, the healthier you were seen to be. To hang around was kind of 'sick' or sad. However, we can all think of notable, celebrated exceptions to this viewpoint - there were professional railroaders who preserved images and knowledge of railway operations and processes. 

... At one point, without even thinking to ask, while out seeing the other sights of Schreiber on a fine sunny day, I once stopped our car at the Schreiber platform (typical vacation behaviour) and Rolly seemed to shrink into the passenger seat a little. He said it was the first time he had been at the tracks since his retirement months earlier. The fact that Schreiber had been a small, thoroughbred railway town probably made it more difficult for someone to casually and anonymously have a close-up look at the new power, etc.

I am thankful that I experienced Schreiber when it still had all the divisional staff there, and when almost everything and everyone in town had some kind of direct link to the railway business. It is probably that unique railway 'company community' - a historical loss - that I regret not being able to document better.

Here are a few photos I was able to grab around the Schreiber yard in a few stolen moments of time.

Before oil company contractors were hired to refuel power with tank trucks, the work was kept in-house. 
Here is a CP diesel fuel tank car at the Schreiber fuel rack.

Here is a suspiciously-round spot. We are looking toward the east end of the yard. You can see how the original 1880s line had to be built in cooperation with the low hills of the Canadian Shield. The right of way was precious enough, that the 'telegraph line' came in over the hills.

The yard switcher keeps the turntable in place for potential use by the next shift.

Tie cars stand in front of the car barn. I am guessing that the add-on section contained larger tools, equipment and offices. I remember seeing a carbody lifted off its trucks through the windows during the early months of 1977. When there was a derailment, the carmen would all leave town to attend to it - usually the Thunder Bay Auxiliary would be attendance as well.

Gulls, facing their nearby inland sea, would perch on the peak of the carbarn roof - to provide that white 'hi-liting'.

Power secured in the yard.

Power from the never-photographed end.

From the station platform we get a look at some Maintenance of Way equipment. As you can see, sand is used now and then to get trains moving. That concrete pad may have once supported a standpipe for topping up the tenders of through passenger trains ... or a steam connection to keep the Superintendent's business car warm on its stub track.

More tie cars and the carbarn from the station side. I think that is some kind of bridge truss in the distance.

Here is the east end of the yard - sometimes photographed by corporate photographers.

*  *  *

Below is a passenger train timetable of the 'Greater Schreiber Area' from the grim, wartime winter of 1943.
Here are some of my guesses about the stops made on the Heron Bay Sub (White River to Schreiber) by Trains 1 and 2.

  • Marathon (then Peninsula) was only a flag stop before the eponymous company built its pulp mill there.
  • Angler and Neys were scheduled stops so military staff could arrive and depart, and so 'guests' of the King could arrive at the German, etc prisoner of war facilities located there.
  • Jack Fish was important as a coal port during the shipping season and coal dumped in the cleared area near the current siding there was distributed along the Algoma Division during the winter. The regular stop also served the community which had become established around the railway facilities. And most importantly, a large concrete coaling tower was used to refill tenders on passing trains.

from: CPR public timetable Nov 28, 1943

Thursday, September 8, 2016

BRC 1922 The Board of Railway Commissioners

Years ago, one would often see framed notices like this in Canadian railway stations. 

Being a locomotive engineer would probably be the best railway job many kids could imagine. But being on the Board of Railway Commissioners sounded pretty good as well. It sounded like a job where one would sit around and talk about trains all day, and maybe go on field trips. I always wondered about  this.

Recently, I found that one of my neglected books included a description of the original BRC - by someone who 'wrote the book' on the Board of Railway Commissioners. That follows below.

But first ... exactly what is the pyramid of authorities described at the top of that notice? 

... Many people take cool photographs of trains ... uh, I guess this is what I do ...

*  *  *

The Parliament of Canada (i.e. House, Senate, King) passed/gave Royal Assent to legislation which became the Railway Act, 1919 (i.e. the current edition of Canadian legislation covering railways). 

A consolidation of legislation and case law was made by a couple of lawyers with KC after their names (King's Counsel - designating an eminent lawyer). This is the document one finds at  . You can see all the older laws they had to bring together ...

*  *  *

Getting Back to That Notice ...

To understand the authority for the notice and its rules, starting from the highest authorities ... 

The Prime Minister and Cabinet advised the King/Governor General ('sanctioned by the Governor General in Council') to approve some directives and rules (regulations).

These regulations had been examined and accepted by an appointed panel of railway experts ('approved by The Board of Railway Commissioners for Canada').

To start the ball rolling ... these regulations were proposed by the company ('adopted by the Directors of the Canadian National Railways') ... because that is permitted under the Railway Act, 1919

Back then, the CNR was a Crown Corporation with directors appointed by the Government.

from: Commercial Canada - Its Progress and Opportunities; ed:Fred Cook; Redman Book Co, Leeds England 1913.
The Grand Trunk headquarters later became the head office of the Canadian National Railways.

*  *  *

You may already know that King George V was generally the last British monarch to share and promote his opinions about how a war should be waged with democratic leaders - during the Great War.

But, as you can see, he was also a 'railway man'. The Canadian Governor General in 1925, The Lord Byng of Vimy, approved the railway rules for the CNR notice. ... But can we be sure that King George V didn't try to pass on his own pet ideas about selling tickets to passengers boarding at flag stops and expectorating on railway property ?! 

King George V and Queen Mary at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley (second season) 1925.
from: 100 Years in Pictures; DC Somervell; c1950; Odhams Press. 

*  *  *

According to the Railway Act, 1919 , Section 290, the directors of a railway company can make rules, etc, and here we're talking about those rules described in paragraphs (e) and (f) ...

That notice will be reproduced in its entirety in another post. It is quite a long and historically interesting list of rules. 

Spoiler alert: Literally the bottom line is that you can be fined up to $40 (about $570 in 2016 dollars) for violating the rules, and the railway can use reasonable force to make you stop ...  eg. spitting, playing games of chance, selling goods without authorization etc.

*  *  *

Let's explore the second best railway job (the BRC) and where it came from ...

Title page - book published 1914, 1922.

A biographical note from the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September 1899 on Simon McLean

Simon James McLean was one of Canada's 'international knowledge workers' - a century ago.

The mention of Simon James McLean (below) comes from the article on Andrew George Blair 1844-1907 in the Dictionary of Canadian biography. Blair was a former premier of New Brunswick and had joined Laurier in Ottawa as Minister of Railways and Canals in 1896.

Railway and Canals Minister Blair had a major falling out with Laurier over Laurier's surprise scheme of the building of the National Transcontinental/Grand Trunk Pacific. As Blair resigned over the issue, he gave a five hour extemporaneous speech in the House of Commons and quoted from his correspondence to Laurier - Laurier's complexion turned from white to grey at this point. 

"It will be difficult to explain why government should build and own the lean section of this railway, and provide a company with government credit to enable them to build and operate the fat section."

This article (below) from The Stanford (California) Daily, September 29, 1908, documents more aspects of McLean's career as he became a member of Canada's professional civil service.

*  *  *

This section comes from Simon J McLean's own book - published 1914, 1922.
My copy cost $7, but this book is also available free at .

As is often the case with political problems, it was about money - particularly freight rates and the prices charged to move the products which farmers produced. Was one type of traffic unfairly subsidizing another?

And who was getting more favourable treatment? ... Canadian vs US shippers, Montreal vs Toronto, region vs region ... and so on to infinity.

*  *  *

I have reproduced Simon McLean's brief description of the creation of the Board of Railway Commissioners. Historically, it is interesting to understand why this field of government regulation had become necessary. In case you'd like to skim over parts of the text, I have summarized a few points, following his numbering system.

Just before section 9: "The old belief of efficiency in competition as a regulator of rates was shattered."

In section 10, McLean describes some of his fact-finding work in England and in the US.

In section 11 (above) the railways were not responsive in dealing with rate complaints. Since 1886, there had been a government failure to set up a system ... to delegate the settlement of rate grievances (from the committee of government politicians) ... to professional officers of the public service.

In section 12, consistently addressing current and pressing railway problems depended on the inclinations and abilities of the Minister. The committee might be paralyzed without his presence.

Finally, in section 14, we see how the Board is to be composed of people who have an understanding of legal matters - because when the going gets tough, the railways and shippers will be lawyering up for a fight. The members of the Board will have an excellent understanding of the legal process.

In section 15, the Board will also be regulating railways when they have an impact on the general public - particularly when it comes to safety. Like robust air traffic control procedures today, 'maintaining separation' between trains on a railway, or where railways crossed each other at grade, would have been very important for public safety when most Canadians travelled between cities by train.

Section 16 - all about rates! Finally, Canada has a body which will deal with all the rate issues. The CPR threatened a court challenge, but backed off in 1909.

from: Commercial Canada - Its Progress and Opportunities; ed:Fred Cook; Redman Book Co, Leeds England 1913.

In section 17, the Board will regulate how railways work with each other. For a national and international system of railways to work efficiently, the little-appreciated field of traffic interchanging and documentation needs to be consistent. 

In section 18, we can see that other areas of national infrastructure needed to be regulated.

In section 19, is a quintessentially Canadian issue which is evergreen in the complaints it generates - the movement of grain. It has always been a source of contention and it always will be - as long as the Prairies remain arable.

Sections 20 to 25: the Board has great flexibility to self-organize - in order to address the often heavy demands placed on it to act. It is has the power to regulate and to have its rulings stand. In less than 0.5% of cases, were the early rulings of the Board overruled or altered by the designated higher legal or governmental authorities.

... The Board ruled on many of the same railway operating and safety issues which the Interstate Commerce Commission dealt with in the US.

*  *  *

Politicians have their memories preserved and promoted by their fans, by their political parties (sometimes), by themselves in often-ghost-written autobiographies, and formally by their countries on currency and stamps, through statuary and in the naming of government buildings and public roads ... and even gratuitously on semi-privatized airports. If new scientific discoveries arise on topics such as substance dependence and PTSD ... academic historians revisit the 'personal demons' of leading figures to foster a more balanced understanding of their lives and accomplishments. Their 'papers' (if not their emails and text messages) are usually carefully preserved. 

If their companies still have any kind of institutional memory extending back before the previous quarter of the financial year ... railway officers and board members are remembered for their efforts to build and to organize railway systems and transportation empires, and for their abilities to keep the competition at bay and to fill the company's coffers with lucre. A great many were immortalized as a railway 'station' - at least in meeting the definition in the rulebook. A handful lived on after their deaths in the fond memories of their employees. Some are assured their place in history for their development of international systems and conventions, or for furthering the interests of the then Dominion of Canada or the British Empire during times of crisis. Like the politicians, they too have been the subject of many autobiographies and biographies -  even in the modern era.

Then, there are the professional public servants ...
who worked to set up and maintain
 institutions essential to the well-being of Canadians ...

from: Montreal Gazette November 8, 1946