November 17, 1977 Sense and Nonsense

Trains are a romantic link with our past. Many songs have been sung and stories told of various incidents in railroad history. School-children have learned, and recently Pierre Berton fans have learned of how closely the “National Dream” was linked to Confederation. I have managed, somehow, to ignore trains most of my life. Many of our domiciles have been located within hearing distance of these links with glorious history. At one nerve-wracking period in my life we lived so close to the railroad tracks, I sometimes suspected that the National Dream was rumbling through the next room. Even then my mind refused to acknowledge the significance of their magnificence, and I referred to them simply as “that awful noise”.

My first experience as a passenger on a train happened at a very tender age. Our family journeyed from the Coast to an unknown and unseen homestead in the Cariboo region of B.C. The first lap in our trip was by boat across Howe Sound to the village of Squamish. There we boarded the old steam-driven Pacific Great Eastern. I vaguely recall hanging for dear life to the railings along the train aisles as the P.G.E. puffed and chugged its way through the Fraser Canyon. I also remember my soup sloshing over the sides of the bowl, and onto the table in the dining car. You had to be a fast soup eater on a train in those days.

My only other memory of that trip was of my mother apologizing to the taxi driver on the final lap to our destination. “Two days on that train, and she doesn’t get sick … until now!”

A few weeks ago I again boarded a train, this time from Edmonton and with my three- year-old daughter. We had spent a week there after arriving by Greyhound bus. Anyone who has travelled by bus with an active youngster will probably agree with me, that it is the ultimate in tedious experiences. I had planned on flying home when someone suggested the train.

I must have looked blank because they expounded, “You know, that long, noisy thing that travels on tracks not two miles from your door?”

Statistics say trains are the safest mode of transportation. I thought of this as I climbed into our sleeping compartment with my tired daughter, after switching trains in Jasper. The hypnotic roll and clank of the coach had almost lulled me to sleep when I began hearing voices. The last sleeping car was also the caboose and the trainman at the end was communicating with someone. Apparently our train was “No 9”. I mentally hummed a few bars of “The Wreck of the Number 9” as I eavesdropped on the barely audible conversation.

They were discussing the “south wheel” and I gathered it wasn’t functioning as it should. I suddenly realized that the rythmn of the car noises had changed and there definitely was a “clunk” somewhere in the direction I presumed to be south. I no longer felt like sleeping.

With alarm, I heard another vague reference to the “south wheel” and then clearly, “There’s hardly anyone in the sleeper.” This suggested to me that possibly the south wheel was about to fall off and cause a derailment, but this was of little concern because there was “hardly anyone in the sleeper.” My daughter had awakened and I decided that now was a good time to go to the diner for supper. We enjoyed a delicious, long meal. My daughter had two bowls of soup and never spilled a drop on the snow white tablecloth.

When we returned to our coach, I noted that it was still there. A porter was chatting with the trainman at the back. He waved at us and seemed remarkably cheerful for someone about to be involved in a derailment. I decided that if the trainmen weren’t worried about it, neither was I. My new worry concerned the alarm clock that I had purchased in Jasper. I had bought it in case the porter forgot to awaken me before we reached our station. I had no intention of travelling any further west than I had to. New clocks are not to be trusted. It was possible that it would stop dead sometime on its journey towards 2 o’clock. It had never been that far on its own before.

The terrain near the railroad tracks looked entirely different from the familiar view of the same locale from the highway. However I was sure I would recognize Prince George even in the dark of night. As it was I almost didn’t. My view of the city consisted of several illuminated piles of lumber. By this time I no longer cared that much. I was dead tired and the hands on my new clock seemed to be rotating quite nicely. When my husband met us at the Endako Station, he asked us how we enjoyed the train ride.

“The choo-choo train was fun! “said our daughter. “It’s the Canadian way to travel” I told him.

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