December’s train recollections come to us from Mr. Bob Mitchell. Thanks for sharing your memories, Bob!
Windsor, Ontario, the Canadian city on the south shore of the Detroit River, was (and still is) a major industrial city like its big brother on the north shore. In the 1940’s it was laced with railroad tracks, both Canadian and American, having such names as Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Chesapeake and Ohio, Wabash, New York Central and Essex Terminal, the latter being the tie that bound all the others together. This was my birthplace and hometown and having come from a railroad family, I was steeped in and passionate for steam locomotives and everything that was associated with them. In fact, I loved all things that traveled on steel rails. The narrow gauge railroad that ran through the Detroit Zoological Park qualified for this. This was reached after a quick trip through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and an exciting ride on the old Peter Witt and PCC cars of the Detroit Street Railways. They glided and clanged up Woodward Avenue from Campus Martius towards Royal Oak where the wonders of this great zoo and its superb railroad beckoned.
My love of all things rail began with my grandparents. Granddad was a station agent with the Canadian Pacific Railway at Indian Head, Saskatchewan, way out west. The dreaded disease called Polio was so concentrated in the Detroit-Windsor area in the 1940’s and it affected so very many kids. Because of this, my Mom, who loved trains even more than I did, having been born in the upstairs residence of a CPR station, took me off to western Canada with her every summer for several years for a visit to Indian Head. There the outbreak wasn’t so bad. Did you know that the baggage cars between Windsor and Toronto carried an Iron Lung for transporting polio-stricken kids to Sick Childrens’ Hospital? West from Ontario, we enjoyed the comforts of the splendid heavyweight tuscan red sleepers and diners available to us on the crack Train #7 – The Dominion – pulled by beautiful Royal Hudson steam locomotives unique to the Canadian Pacific. The dining cars of the day were something to behold with their tables clothed in white linens and adorned with flowers in crystal vases, their cherry-wood paneling, brass fixtures, and the heavenly smells from the kitchen that were beyond belief! The service was impeccable with rules of serving having been set down long ago by William C. Van Horne, famous president of the CPR responsible for pushing the railway across Canada and through the Canadian Rockies. The train delivered us right to Granddad’s platform at Indian Head, the station being a regular stop on the transcontinental main line of the CPR. During one of those visits, we arrived at the height of one of those violent prairie storms. The power was out, and there was my rain-soaked Granddad, complete with railroad lantern, greeting all detainees at the step box. I spent many a wonderful day watching the activity around the “prairie skyscraper” grain elevators that lined the track and the comings and goings of the mainline freights from Granddad’s bay window. Mike, Granddad’s Irish Setter, was my pal. He met the dining car of each passenger train in his quest for table scraps and leftover bones. All the crews along the line knew Granddad and Mike.
Back in Windsor, I saw my first diesel locomotive a the Pillette Road crossing of the Wabash. It was a London-built GMD F7, resplendant in the famous blue and silver livery with the Wabash flag on the nose. These engines were manufactured exclusively for use between Windsor and Buffalo.
Over the years, I studied everything I could about North American railroads, specializing in the age of steam. I was a volunteer with the Canadian Railroad Historical Associations’s now-defunct Salem and Hillsborough Railroad in New Brunswick, Canada where we operated a very fine dinner train and a steam excursion train for many years. I also worked with a wonderful group of volunteers, the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society, that cosmetically restored ex-CNR 5588. This is a 1911 Grand Trunk product that sits on Windsor’s riverfront overlooking the beautiful Detroit skyline. It marks the spot where the first train arrived in Windsor (and to Detroit from the east) in 1854. How fortunate I have been to have had a life-long love of trains. I now share this by teaching Canadian railroad history with ElderCollege, a southwestern Ontario educational enrichment group associated with Canterbury College of the University of Windsor.
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