Once Upon a Time: Port Elgin’s Railway Station – Conclusion

Let’s conclude our train ride with John D. Thompson, who wrote about his memories of local train service back in the 1950s.

On one memorable occasion in the summer of 1953, when I was seven, I was invited to sit in the fireman’s seat, taking in the sights and sounds of this incredible steam engine. The engineer’s gloved left hand went up to the throttle lever as his right hand grasped the brass air brake lever. With a lazy sigh the brakes released as, simultaneously, he pulled the throttle open.

Slowly, the engine began to move, the blast of the exhaust thunderous in the confines of the cab. With bell ringing, we headed south down the main line to the siding switch. Approaching a road crossing, the engineer reached for the whistle cord overhead and blew two long blasts. Then he closed the throttle, letting the engine drift before applying the brakes. After the conductor threw a switch on the track, the engineer pulled a ponderous lever which set the train into reverse. He backed up the track, retrieved and hooked up a waiting boxcar.

Its wheels squealing, the train slowly moved forward to return to the main line. I descended from the cab; Terra Firma now seeming very mundane after being up there. With all the passengers and freight loaded, the conductor signalled to the engineer who eased the train into motion. Smoke erupted skyward, the wheels clicked over the rail joints. The mournful wail of the whistle came to my ears as the train cleared town. We stood on the platform until we could hear it no more. By 3:45 the train would be at the end of its journey in Palmerston, where passengers would change for Toronto, Stratford and other points.

In the summer of 1962, when I next returned to Port Elgin, the last engine had whistled through town four years earlier. Some engines were scrapped, one sent for display in Barrie, three sold to tourist railways in the US. But I shall always be grateful for these memories of boyhood.


CORRECTION: In last month’s column, the train station was incorrectly located at Green and Wellington. Readers advised its location was Market and Wellington.

This article was originally written for the 1994 Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook and adapted by Bob Johnston