Once Upon a Time: Port Elgin’s Railway Station – Part 2 [For Part 1 – Click Here]
Let’s take a train ride with John D. Thompson, who wrote about his memories of local train service back in the 1950s.
It has often been said that childhood experiences, when everything seems new and exciting, provide memories that last a lifetime. Some of my fondest recollections are of Port Elgin and the CNR station at Green and Wellington Streets.
A visit to the station became a regular summer routine with my dad to see the Southbound train arrive at 1:33 p.m. The station, well past its 75th birthday even then, was an unadorned frame structure painted in CNR’s standard reddish-brown livery.
Behind his wicket sat the agent. The walls were adorned with framed posters of Cunard ocean liners and a Seth Thomas pendulum clock, ticking off the seconds.
From the still, country air north of town came the faint cry of a steam locomotive whistle as the engineer blew a warning for the highway crossing. It was the most beautiful of sounds: long, mournful and haunting. Far up the track, a black shape appeared, rapidly growing larger. A plume of black coal smoke blew across the fields. As the train neared the station, bell clanging and sideroads clanking, it eased to a halt with a squeal of grabbing brakes. In the cab sat the lordly figure of the engineer, resplendent in striped overalls and peaked cap, our hero who had that marvellous machine under his control.
I moved over to the train with other “junior railroaders.” Even at rest, the locomotive was a thing alive: the rhythmic thump of the air pump for the brakes, the whine of the turbogenerator that supplied electricity, the lazy sigh of steam from the safety valves, the wonderful aroma of coal smoke, steam and hot lubricating oil. On one such occasion in 1953, the engineer invited me up to the cab for a brief ride, the greatest thrill of my seven years.
I sat in the fireman’s seat, taking in the sights and sounds of this incredible place. The fireman’s shovel crunched into the coal pile in the tender, he stepped on a pedal, the firebox door opened, a quick thrust and the leaping flames swallowed the coal.
Next month, off we go!
This article was originally written for the 1994 Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook and adapted by Bob Johnston.