By Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner
For the first fifteen years of my life I lived within half a mile of the main CNR line that ran through Toronto. I saw Circus Trains roll into the Grand Trunk’s Main Street Station. An uncle had worked there once as a Call Boy, and I felt some infinity towards it.
I watched in the crowds as the Circus Trains unloaded their cargo and set up the Big Top where the Ted Reeve Arena used to stand. Then they would load the animals and props and other stuff onto the train and be off to another stop.
I also saw long trains, some pulled by three locomotives, coming up the grade from Toronto’s Union Station, to the Scarborough Junction. These were freight trains, loaded with planes, cannons, tanks and other equipment that during the war years were transported to the seaports along the St. Lawrence River for transfer overseas. Three locomotives gave the train the extra power it needed.
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A side note here: Ford Motor Company had an assembly line located on Warden Avenue and Danforth. About the time World War Two broke out, this plant changed hands, and the Willy’s Company began producing Jeeps in that plant. Then at the war’s end, Nash began manufacturing not only the Nash Rambler, but the Nash Metropolitans,
These were built on Left-Handed drive Chassis, manufactured by Austin, for the Canadian Market. They were shipped from England. The bodies were manufactured either in Canada or the United States, and then attached to the chassis.
Over the course of a ten year period I saw first Ford, then Jeeps, and then Nash cars roll out of that plant, and shipped on flat cars to various points of sale.
As I have said, an uncle…my Mother’s brother, worked at the Main Street Station in Toronto at one time.
Later he was trained as a diesel mechanic…as in the early l950’s, electricity and oil replaced steam.
He was moved to Mimico Ontario, My wife’s father, was also a railway mechanic in Northumbria, before he moved to Canada. He too, oiled the wheels of progress and rolled the locomotives out of the shops.
I remember on a night when our family was visiting the Mimico Cousins, that my uncle took Dad, myself and my two brothers to the roundhouse. It was exactly that…a huge circular building, except that instead of stalls, or garage space, it was equipped with rails. The locomotive was oiled, greased and serviced and made ready for it’s next trip
A turntable sat in the middle. When a locomotive was called for, the turntable turned to the track where the locomotive sat, and with a mechanic behind the controls it was rolled out into the yard, and taken up to a coal-dock where it was fuelled with water and coal. Then the crew came on board, and took over.
An aside once again….I did not know this until many years later, but two men formed a firing crew. If one man was left handed, he was given a bonus. It seemed that a left handed and right handed shoveller could shovel evenly. Working in concert, they gave a steady rhythm that actually saved coal, and made the train run more smoothly.
As the number of diesel-fuelled locomotives increased, inevitably the old steam engines were taken out of service.
I was not prepared for an April day in l960. l accompanied a London Free Press colleague to a quarry at Innerkip; Just to the north of Woodstock Ontario. There were about ten locomotives…lined up one behind the other, waiting for the scrappers torch. During the next few weeks, I re-visited the scene several times. It was fascinating but also very sad to see such an important part of our history cut to pieces.
The steam whistle’s wail
Down the old steel rail
Brought a flood of Nostalgia my way…
As a boy, that sound
Would excitingly pound
In my head…oh bygone day
When puffs of white smoke
Flecked with black bits of coke
Would fly from the stack passing by…
With that lingering smell As the clang of a bell
Would “dong” in a tone far from shy.
That hot rush of steam, in a long white stream
As the wheels rolled clattering by;
Filled with memories haze, those special days
Of an era that did not die.