EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Monday, November 19, 2012

Moment of childhood ecstasy for Neil Morris riding in steam engine cab with his Uncle Nick as engineer

When Neil Morris was 11-years-old, he took his first ride on steam engine with his uncle F.A. 'Nick' Card, a Canadian Pacific Railway engineer in Chapleau.

Years later, Neil, no relation to me, a reporter at The London Free Press, wrote 'Moment of Childhood Ecstasy' after his uncle had retired from the CPR in 1978. It appeared in the Chapleau Sentinel, and is a wonderful heartwarming story about a child's trips in the cab of steam and diesel engines with his Uncle Nick as the engineer.

Neil wrote that his uncle to him as "a giant of a man."

"His engineer's cap shoved shoved back on his prematurely balding head he'd toss that enormous plumber's tool box that was really his next 24 hour's meals onto to the steel doorway. Then he was up the ladder and through the doorway."

Then it was time for Neil to join him.

"Up you come fella," his uncle would say "with a grin, arms reaching down to me when what I really needed wasn't a help up the ladder but something to hold a kid's pounding heart from exploding."

Nick Card was born in Lady Minto Hospital in Chapleau in 1914, and served the community as a councillor and reeve as well as being active in other community organizations throughout his life. He attended Chapleau Public School and graduated from Chapleau High School in 1934. His father, William Card, also had served on Chapleau council.

Neil continues: "Inside the warm cabin with its throbbing steam guages, his fireman smiled my way while swinging huge shovelfuls of coal into the gaping firebox.

"The engine lurched as my uncle's gloved hand eased the throttle lever open. Steam blasted from the cylinders behind the cowcatchers. We were moving."

Neil explained that for an 11-year-old it was a moment never to be forgotten, "a thrill relived every time I see a huge steam locomotive on display for a new generation of children to stand in awe over, albeit never to ride."

I contacted Ian Macdonald, now professor emeritus and retired head of the department of architecture at the University of Manitoba and a great railway buff to ask if he knew the type of engines being used by the CPR when Nick was an engineer. Ian also worked on the CPR and received training on both steam and diesel engines.

As always, Ian was back to me quickly: "Steam engine 5433 was actually a Winnipeg locomotive but this locomotive type was the dominant locomotive type on the Schreiber Division during the time Nick was on the road.  This is what makes it the  most appropriate locomotive to preserve. Kudos to Art Grout."

Steam engine 5433 has been on display in Chapleau Centennial Park since 1964 when Mr. Grout, the president of Smith and Chapple Ltd.,  arranged to get it from the CPR. N.R. Crump, then CPR president, was on hand for the ceremony.

As a matter of historical interest, when 5433 was being moved to the site on a temporary track, J.M. 'Bud' Park was the engineer and Earle Freeborn was engineer on the yard engine.

Back to Neil's story. Although he wasn't there  when that "giant of an uncle" retired, others were, nephews like himself who had "enjoyed their moment of glory in one of his engines in their childhood. Each in his turn had climbed that ladder first of steam engines then later of those diesels with their strangely different sounds and smells."

He explained that the diesels were never like the steamers with their familiar pant, hissing jets of steam and huge clouds of smoke billowing upward as they strained to tug a long freight" out of Chapleau.

Referring to his uncle's retirement:

"Gone are the days when an engineer's heart was in his mouth as his own headlight reflected back at him of a snow-covered evergreen on a curve  - his moment of  terror that he was meeting another engine head on.

"Gone are the days when he climbed back into an engine, his coveralls ice coated after a water tender spout took a crazy turn and drenched him in freezing  January weather.

"And gone are the nights of the 'call boy' shouting at the front door that he was called for this train and that.

His Uncle Nick would be home for Christmas when Neil wrote his article and would not have to leave when his 'call' arrived just as the aroma of turkey was starting to emerge from the oven.

"And then he would be gone into the snow without a grumble - just a grinning wish for a happy Christmas for all"

Neil noted this was the railroad life and his uncle loved it adding he hoped other uncles or dads would continue to slip a son or daughter, a nephew or niece onto one of those big diesels for Their "moment of childhood ecstasy."  I don't know if it would be possible today but Neil's story sure brings back memories of train travel.

Neil concluded: "To me, my uncle was a close kin to Santa Claus. Perhaps, in away, he was the spirit of what Santa Claus is all about. And not too surprisingly his name just happens to be Nick."

F.A. 'Nick' Card died in 1986.

Ian sent me other photos and explained: "There are two types of Alco locomotives.  Both were of the earliest type used on the CPR in the 1950's and 60's.  The two road engine consist is pulling a freight train over the trestle into Chapleau. The other more typical locomotive onsist is sitting outside the Chapleau shops.

"2841 is a classic Hudson locomotive was used mainly on the transcontinental trains before they were replaced by diesels. 2841 was relegated to freight service in the late 1950's before being scrapped.

"I include an image of the GM demonstrator locomotives which were the first through Chapleau in 1949.  I include the image because it shows the complete train including the dynamometer car immediately behind the locomotives that monitored locomotive performance. I attach another image of the same GM type in CP paint sitting outside the Chapleau shops."

Thanks Ian as always for your assistance. I received the Neil Morris story from the late David McMillan, who gave it to me when he came to visit me in Cranbrook.  My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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