Friday, October 10, 2014

Rolly Martin 1928-2006

A note to readers: I met Rolly during my brief time working on the Schreiber spareboard as a trainman during the early cold months of 1977. His reputation for keeping the cab 'as neat as a pin' and for calling 'even' clear signals preceded my first trip with him and I was impressed by his approach. I eventually boarded with Rolly and Theresa in their home.  
Years after I left Schreiber, my brother (riding west on The Canadian) walked up to Rolly at Thunder Bay and introduced himself. Eventually my spouse and I visited Rolly and Theresa, and vice versa, a number of times. Rolly sometimes commented he thought I worked in Schreiber much longer than I did. Rolly passed on many of his career documents to me. I decided to begin Rolly Martin Country (back then on another web platform) in 2004 when Rolly's health began to fail. 

Originally from St-Modeste near Rivière-du-Loup, Rolly came to Northern Ontario as a young man. He first worked as a sectionman on the CPR at Aubrey (near Biscotasing), Sudbury and Cartier. During this time he also worked briefly for the Algoma Central Railway in the same capacity.

Rolly Martin listed on 1947 Algoma Central Railway sectionmen assignments
Rolly is shown on this bulletin to be the permanent sectionman at Hawk Junction.

Hawk Junction, Algoma Central Railway
 Hawk Junction - 'timetable north' is to the right.
 The track at the left corner leads south to Sault Ste Marie.
 The Michipicoten Subdivision to Lake Superior climbs away from the mainline at the top right.

Algoma Central, Northern Division Employee Timetable, 1947
 Rolly's timetable of the line north from Hawk Junction.

Piped rail message for sectionman Rolly Martin
At prescribed intervals - often weekly or more frequently - the roadmaster travelled over 'his' entire track. Any defects noted were documented, and slow orders were issued for trains, if necessary, until repairs could be made. Here, Rolly has received a note to attend to two defective rails. The locations are given by railway mileboard, fractions of miles, then 'telegraph poles' for greater precision.

 Piped rail, the long version: 
  • If a steel ingot cools such that a cavity or depression forms in it ... 
  •  and this flaw is passed on to the rails which are rolled from it  ... 
  •  a lengthwise crack can form along the vertical portion of the rail's ' I ' shape over time ... 
  •  where the molecules of the smooth ingot surface were pressed together ...
  •  but failed to integrate with each other into the steel material's solid structure.
  •  (You fold over bread dough or Silly Putty, but don't mash it to get rid of the folded-in outside surface)

  Piped rail short version: 
  •  A piped rail has a longitudinal web fissure ... which, when inspected, will reveal a glossy-faced internal fault.

How would you do it ?

 Using an old 'pump' handcar and applied physics, Rolly changed a rail  (probably about 800 pounds)
 on the Michipicoten Sub without assistance.

 Assume you will not bring the defective rail back with you.

On to Schreiber

 Rolly then moved to Schreiber, working as a classified labourer and ashpitman at the busy 22 stall roundhouse there. In these occupations, he would gain the experience of  working on steam locomotives.

This would include :
  • Working as a locomotive 'wiper' (cleaning).
  • Refilling the tender with coal and water, and refilling the locomotive's sand dome.
  • Cleaning ash from the firebox after a locomotive came in after a run, and loading the waste into hopper cars for disposal - a dirty job.
  • Helping skilled staff with minor repairs requiring brute strength, or a second, third, fourth pair of hands.
  • Banking and tending the fires of 'idling' steam locomotives as they sat on the 'ready track'. Draining a locomotive so it could just sit around outside and 'freeze' was probably avoided because of all the pipes, valves and welded components which would not drain well and could be damaged by ice expansion.

Schreiber Roundhouse (source: Schreiber Public Library?)
Schreiber in the late 1930s. It seems they had an elaborate ash handling system with carts and tracks.
There is lots of coal smoke to produce the steam being used for shop power and to pipe into the equipment, if needed.

Schreiber, including an enclosed roundhouse turntable in the late 1930s

Rolly Martin trial trip authorization
Rolly's record of unpaid fireman 'trial trips' ... for experience in the engines as they travelled over the Heron Bay and Nipigon Subdivisions.

  (I never did meet engineer J.C. Gagnon while I was briefly working in Schreiber)

The paid firemen would show him the work while the engineers would grade him on attributes ... such as ...
  •  Alertness and attention to signals and safety.
  •  Knowledge of rules and locomotive procedures.
  •  Cab neatness, e.g. keeping the deck clear of loose coal.
  •  Physical capacity to shovel tons of coal per run, and to refill the tender from a water tank.
  •  Most important: Thinking ahead ...
  •  To always ensure enough heat and steam pressure was built up by the time the engineer needed it.
As an example of the last point: Having everything very hot before climbing a long grade. There is a lag between throwing more coal in ... injecting more water (even from a feedwater heater) ... and finally getting more steam for power.

But if you are making too much steam and are not using it up ... the safety valves would lift with a continuous thunderous roar until the danger of a boiler explosion was relieved.

As an old fireman's training book stated:
Would you throw a scoop of coal out the cab door onto the right of way?
You are being just as wasteful when the 'pops' lift and the steam is wasted!
To make things interesting for the student fireman ...
Different engineers often had different 'expectations' and different 'standards'.

Working as a Fireman

 Rolly qualified as a fireman, making his first run on Thursday, September 2, 1948 on CPR engine 3422, a 2-8-0 built by Alco in Schenectady in October 1904.

CPR 3422, twenty years before Rolly's first paid trip.
Shown as a freight engine in the 1930s - before its conversion to a switcher.

Rolly Martin trip ticket for first time firing - on Schreiber switcher

Information shown on the trip ticket:

Rolly reported for work at 1440hr, had his 20 minutes (= 4 miles' pay) prep time and the locomotive was on duty at 15hr. Notice that in this case the fireman shovels about 3 tons of coal during an 8 hour switching shift.

Engineer Bryson was at the throttle as the crew performed the regular Schreiber yard assignment. Back then, besides switching freight cars for various destinations, this work would likely also include changing individual conductors' own 'assigned' vans (cabooses) on each freight train passing through Schreiber. This was before the era of 'pooled run-through cabooses' which stayed attached to the through freight trains as they operated between major terminals.

For the standard 8 hours (100 miles' pay) they worked until 23hr.Then, another 20 minutes was paid to tidy up as the Schreiber locomotive shop took the locomotive back - or before the next switcher crew took over the engine and its work assignment.

The minute to mile equivalents come from the engine crew's Collective Agreements. This 'ticket' was Rolly's receipt for his work ... The switcher's conductor would submit the necessary paperwork for the crew's pay to the Schreiber yard office. Later, upstairs within the Schreiber station, the Division staff would prepare, and issue the payroll cheques on payday.

Rolly Martin receipt for union dues and benefits

 A receipt for Rolly's union dues.

Except for working briefly out of Lambton Yard in southern Ontario, the rest of Rolly's railway career was spent in Schreiber. In 1953, Rolly passed his examination to qualify as a locomotive engineer. He would continue to work as a fireman until a vacancy opened up in the engineer job classification for 'Schreiber men'.

It was also in 1953 that he was married, and shortly thereafter he brought his wife Thérèse to Schreiber. While most families in our society are usually together at the same time each day, the families of most running trades employees experienced a much different type of life. They seldom knew when the telephone would ring - and their loved ones would once again be called to work at any hour of the day or night.

During his career, Rolly worked on locomotives representing over 85 years of technological change. Just after beginning his running trades career as fireman, Rolly witnessed the arrival of the first diesels on the Schreiber Division in 1951. This was one of the many changes Rolly was to experience over the course of his long career.

White River, Ontario, 1950s
Rolly's eastern terminal was White River - shown here in the 1950s. Westbound doubleheaded steam and a new diesel freight locomotive warily eye each other in front of the terminal.

 The changes Rolly experienced included ...
  • Train order and timetable, to automatic block signals, to computerized centralized traffic control systems.
  • Introduction of end to end and train to wayside radio communication.
  • Electricity replacing kerosene in lanterns and markers.
  • The end of steam and full dieselization of the division.
  • The Canadian - trains Number 1 and Number 2.
  • The introduction of computerized train consists and train profiles.
  • The reduction or elimination of firemen, section gangs, operators and tailend trainmen.
  • Roller bearings replacing plain bearings.
  • Ribbon rail replacing 39 foot bolted rail sections.
  • The ability to operate mile long trains and trains of 10,000 or more tons.
  • Wayside "talking" hotbox detectors.
  • Company managers who were recent university graduates replacing "up through the ranks" managers who had experienced the realities of running trades work.
  • The installation of event recorders in all locomotives.
  • The elimination of vans.
  • The discontinuance of through passenger service on the Schreiber Division after more than 103 years.

However, some things about railroading along the rugged granite shores of Lake Superior have not changed over the years ...
  • Temperatures of minus 40 and severe blizzards.
  • Rock slides with some boulders the size of automobiles occupying the track just beyond a blind curve.
  • Washouts and tracks flooded by the waters of Lake Superior.
  • Staying awake and alert after long days on duty with only a few hours of sleep in between.
  • Rails broken by the cold.
  • Days so cold it is not possible to get air through a train.
  • Locomotives shutting down at the worst possible moment.
  • Sitting in a siding for hours.
  • Derailments stranding crews away from home for days at a time.
  • Broken coupler knuckles and drawbars in the middle of a cold winter night.
  • Signals obscured by blizzards and thick fog.
  • The trauma of striking and killing trespassers, or motorists who were careless at a level crossing. Seeing the actual carnage and talking to police as the public gathered.  Being unable to eat for a week, and preserving the yellowed newspaper clipping forever. (In recent years, railways have finally provided counselling - usually at the next terminal)
  • The possibility, through no fault of your own, of suddenly seeing a train approaching on your track with a combined closing speed of 80mph.
  • The knowledge that a moment of your own inattention can land you in the bush, "on the carpet", in the hospital, or worse.

Early diesel locomotives pull a westbound freight at Jackfish Bay (Tunnel Bay). The trackside frame over the second unit is a 'tell-tale' ... dangling wires to warn roof-walking crew members that a tunnel is approaching. Notice there are three crew members in the cab. Former steam firemen were carried as troubleshooters for the new diesel power.

Today many locomotive on-the-road problems are solved by 'turning the computer off and on' from the locomotive cab 'office'.

Back then there were no computers on locomotives.
  • Water, fuel, and oil leaks could make the rocking floors of the enginerooms slippery.
  • Dangerous moving parts and hot surfaces had to be avoided as you lurched through the carbody to solve a problem as the train ran along the track.
  • Buttons, levers, valves, and switches ... needing to be  manipulated in the correct sequence,
  • Pipe wrenches, spanners, and hammers; knowledge, experience, and shouted orders from the hogger,
  • and information from a well-travelled personal library of locomotive manuals ...
were what the fireman used to keep the train moving.

At the Throttle as a Locomotive Engineer

Rolly Martin's first paid trip as (solo) engineman
  • Rolly's first trip working solo as a locomotive engineer was in January 26, 1972.
  • His power was 3007 (GP38, built 1971); 4248  (C-424, built 1966); and 8765 (RS-18, built 1958).
  • He left Schreiber at 1915hr and arrived at White River at 2345hr.
  • The format of the trip ticket has changed since Rolly's first fireman job.

Rolly's merit points for spotting broken rail
Just before I met him, Rolly get 10 merit points for spotting a broken rail near Steel Tunnel. Number 1 was the transcontinental passenger train and the speed limit at this point was 45 mph. Operating over a broken rail could easily result in a derailment.

In the personnel record of a running trades employee, there was a tally kept of merit and demerit points. These were also known as "brownie points". Accumulating a given number of demerit points would result in being "held out of service" (suspension), or firing. Handing out of merit points, such as this, was not common.

In the cab with Rolly

It takes special qualities to work successfully as a train crewman along the north shore of Lake Superior, and when you were in Rolly's cab you knew he was not your average engineer ...

 He seemed to have memorized every rule, regulation and train order. He operated with attentiveness and intensity. Rolly probably appreciated the fact that I followed my training to sweep out the cab immediately after boarding, because he expected the cab to be "as neat as a pin" at all times. He did not tolerate some of my trainmen peers who were not ready for business while working on his engines.

Other engineers expected you to call the approach and stop signals. Rolly expected you to call every signal on the entire subdivision. In my case, his reputation preceded him and I was prepared, but nervous, during my first trip with him. Rolly was right: just one missed signal could spell disaster and Rolly watched for the first glimpse of each signal like a hawk.

 Rolly knew and observed every rule, but somehow you always felt you were moving a little faster with him. He was there to get the trains through with the greatest safety - BUT he was also there to get them over the road. When it was time to "hog 'er out" Rolly was really in his element.

 Many times on the road there would be 'bell ringers' in the locomotive consists. Traction motor ground relays, locomotives low on oil or water, and other malfunctions, would challenge an engineer's ability to keep the train rolling on some of the grades, or to get it started after a meet. Rolly made it his business to know the various types of locomotives well and he was resourceful and decisive when troubleshooting was required.

Locomotive manual carried by Rolly Martin

 Above is a locomotive manual which travelled thousands of miles in Rolly's bag.
 Below is the Alco-designed locomotive it helped to keep running.

  • Back (left): radiator and cooling fan, air compressor, fluid reservoirs.
  • Centre: Diesel motor.
  • Front (right): electric generator, blower ... and above: dynamic brake grids.
  • Below: 3400 gallons diesel fuel.
  • On axles: electric traction motors - all blown for cooling purposes.
The trainman sat in the first seat (circle) at the left of the cab and the former steam firemen were gone  ... having replaced retiring enginemen. So while working as a trainman, sitting more forward in the locomotive than even the engineer:  I was therefore always the first of the crew to arrive at our destination.

Rolly also shared his knowledge and experience. In my case as a trainman, he explained the construction history of the line along Lake Superior, pointing out the last spike cairn. On the road, he helped me develop new skills to make me a more professional railroader. He certainly was not afraid to leave a nice, warm cab in a snowstorm to show a new trainman how to effectively clean out a snow-packed switch. Rolly spent a great deal of time and effort training new engineers and helping them benefit from his years of experience. Today, a number of Schreiber engineers carry on in his tradition.

CP Rail SD40 locomotives near Stephen BC
During the years I knew him, many of Rolly's locomotive consists would have looked exactly like this ... the 6 axle General Motors locomotives which were the CPR's workhorses for several decades at the end of the last century. As Schreiberesque as this photo appears, this 12,000 horsepower consist was photographed climbing just west of the continental divide in the Rocky Mountains in 1984. Once, I was talking to a CNR hogger accustomed to bouncing around in 4 axle GM power in the east ... he extended his arms like The Sphinx and said with admiration that these SDs rode like 'just like big cats'.

 At Schreiber, a very common sound was the whistle and whine of these locomotives' turbochargers. When starting a heavy train, engineers would first fiddle the throttle back and forth between throttle settings 0 and 1 for the first locomotive-length of travel ... to gently stretch out the slack and get the whole train moving. Careful modulation around the low throttle settings continued, as sticky brakes released and the engineer got his first 'feel' of the train. All the while, the turbos would respond to each throttle setting ... by raising or lowering their tone at 100 decibels or so. Neither Rolly, nor any other engineer, had any secrets from the citizens of Schreiber when it came to their application of tractive force as they got out of town.

Main power controls of an EMD SD40-2

Running 'Number One'

 Rolly ultimately rose to become Senior Man on the Schreiber Division and spent the last several years of his career as engineer on The Canadian between Schreiber and Thunder Bay. In 1989, he passed the new and difficult CROR rules examinations (the first major rulebook revision since 1962) with an average in the high 90s. He qualified for cabooseless operations as a "Locomotive Engineer/Conductor" in May of 1989.

Train Number 1 at Schreiber
On a cool summer morning in 1987. Rolly and mate Dave Speer will be taking Number 1 to Thunder Bay after it is serviced at Schreiber.

The Rules Change

 Rolly's qualifications card from passing the new Canadian Rail Operating Rules and cabooseless procedures exams.

The  previous rulebook used by federally-regulated railways was effective (after the 1960 elimination of steam locomotives) in 1962.

In 1990 the new CROR rulebook became effective. At the same time, vans (cabooses) were eliminated and new functions, such as monitoring the tailend telemetry device on freight trains, were added to the engineer's duties. This "Sense and Braking Unit" (SBU) and its new monitoring computer told the engineer when the tailend was moving, tailend trainline air pressure status, it could help calculate when the tailend was clear at a siding, and it allowed the engineer to make an emergency brake application from the tailend if there was a trainline defect such as a crimped air hose near the headend.

 In the 30 years since the end of steam, there had been significant changes in railway technology ... many of them due to 'main frame' central computerization with 'dumb terminals' - such as teletype machines which 'saved data to punched paper tape' - distributed across the railway in offices.

 During the next major wave of change, 'computers' became small, cheap, and reliable enough to mount in railway equipment in the field ... to regulate key functions on locomotives; to synthesize frequencies in radios instead of using crystals; to give hotbox scanners a 'voice'; to bang around on the last coupler of the train inside the Sense and Braking Unit. You could say it was the 'computer' which spelled the end for the conductor's van on the tailend.


Rolly Martin, CPR locomotive engineer at work

 At 0330hr on December 12, 1989, Rolly brought Number 2 into Schreiber station for the last time.
 It was minus 30 degrees as Rolly stepped down from the VIA 6433 into retirement.

Rolly's retirement gathering in December 1989

Left to right: Bill Needham retired Schreiber Terminal Supervisor, Lauri Halonen trainman, Mike Scott diesel maintainer, David Speer engineer and Rolly's mate on Number 1, Doc Nesbitt retired engineer, D’Arcy McGuire retired engineer, Jack Anderson retired conductor, Jack Pollock conductor,  Rolly Martin,  Camille Peras retired conductor,  Sonny Morrow retired conductor, Dudley Cardiff retired engineer, Bob Krause retired engineer, Mike McGrath retired engineer.

Rolly and Theresa at Rollys' retirement

Always eager to learn and experience new things, Rolly and Theresa enjoyed travel, including a cruise up the coast of Alaska and a grand Asia Pacific tour. Of course, Rolly maintained a great interest in the latest developments on "the road" as well.

During our visits over the years, Rolly and Theresa did everything with us from harbour tours of Thunder Bay, to visiting Ouimet Canyon, to fishing expeditions with Dave Speer for Lake Trout at Rossport, to visiting various sites of historical interest along the shores of Lake Superior.

Through their generosity to us over three decades, Rolly and Theresa made immeasurable contributions to my "Schreiber experience".

Through this website, I intend to keep Rolly snapping the throttle through its notches, cycling the air, and calling all the signals on the Heron Bay and Nipigon Subs for years to come.

Rolly Martin at Jackfish