This month’s Canadian Corner post is a documentation video describing the end of steam operations in Canada. This video features interviews with railroad personnel reflecting on the change from steam to diesel and how it impacted their jobs:
A Historical Irony of the Early Canadian Pacificby Bob Mitchell
“I’ve always enjoyed observing and reading about ironies in life. Shakespeare, among many others, was a master at writing them. We’ve all experienced ironies in our own lives – some humorous, others more solemn – tragic even. In railroad history there are ironies also. The early history of the Canadian Pacific was no exception. Here’s one that’s worth relating here.
Canadian-born James Jerome Hill was born near Guelph in what is now the province of Ontario. After having moved as a young man to St. Paul, Minnesota, he established himself in, among other things, railroad building. He joined forces with George Stephen of the Bank of Montreal in the building of the St. Paul. Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway north to the Canadian border. He joined a syndicate of businessmen – George Stephen, Duncan McIntyre, Richard B. Angus, and Donald A. Smith – that was assigned in 1880 by the Canadian government of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to begin the construction of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. They were on a time limit of ten years as it was a condition of the joining of British Columbia in 1871 into the Confederation that was the new and emerging Dominion of Canada.
A clash of interests took place. Macdonald wanted the route to be all-Canadian, necessitating it to be built through the “unproductive” country of rock and lakes that was northern Ontario. Hill, on the other hand, required that the line be partially built through the United States from Sault Ste. Marie to join his line into Manitoba from St. Paul. To promote this idea, he hired William Cornelius Van Horne, general superintendent of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (Milwaukee Road), to be general manager of the Canadian Pacific. Hill believed that Van Horne would support his need for a partial route through the United States.
Born on a farm in Illinois, W.C. Van Horne had numerous interests as a child – even throughout his entire life. One of these was as a rock hound – an amateur geologist. I surmise that Van Horne recognized the rich potential of the rugged north in the value of its hidden metallic resources – copper, silver, nickel, and gold. He shrugged aside any thoughts of the future difficulty of heavy construction and supported Macdonald in his quest for an all-Canadian line. James Hill subsequently resigned from the Canadian Pacific, returned to the United States, and built the Great Northern Railway south of the Canadian border. Van Horne proceeded to complete the Canadian Pacific westward through northern Ontario, the Canadian prairies, and the dangerous Rocky and Selkirk Mountains to what is now the city and port of Vancouver.
James Hill died an American in San Francisco in 1916, the year following the death of William C. Van Horne, a Canadian, in Montreal.”
Data from CN to 1953 Locomotive Diagrams supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Rail Data Exchange. (Thanks to Chris Hohl for his 30 January 2016 noting the booster’s tractive effort and for his 22 September 2017 email reporting unlikely boiler pressure values for 177 entries. A Locobase macro caused the error .)) Works numbers were 68394-68396 in September 1930, 68540-68541 in October. The Canadian National’s only essay in Hudsons, these were clearly express machines and ran for years trailing the expresses from Montreal to Toronto. K-5s also pulled the International Limited that ran from Toronto through Windsor and Detroit to Chicago on the Grand Trunk’s metals. But, according to Wes Barris of steamlocomotive.com, the CNR wasn’t crazy about the 4-6-4 arrangement and bought only 4-8-4s from that point on. Even so, the last K-5 wasn’t retired until 1967. When the class was headed for the ferroequine knacker’s yard, the CN had decided to preserve the class leader. Well, as often happens in such things, someone failed to get the word and 5700 had already been sliced into with the cutting torch when the mistake was discovered. To preserve appearances, 5703, which was still whole, was renumbered 5700 and is now on display at the Elgin County Railway Museum in St Thomas, Ontario. 5702 went on display for the Canadian Railroad Historical Association in Delson, PQ.
Data from CNR locomotive diagram published on  (confirmed 3 March 2003). This is part of a Steamtown special report on this class. (Thanks to Chris Hohl for the valve gear ID.) See also “Grand Trunk,” Railway Age Gazette, Volume 58 (19 March 1915), pp. 628-629. Works numbers were 54894-54896 in September 1914. The RAG report notes an increase in demand, the use of heavier cars (137,000 lb vs 75,000 lb/62,142 kg vs 34,019 kg for the older cars), and longer trains led to the replacement of the 4-4-2Ts then in service with this design. The result was the ability to pull seven cars instead of the five hauled by earlier locomotives. It had a Gaines combustion chamber and the Security brick arch. “This combination secures complete combustion,” the report continued, “the back end of the firebox being more fully utilized with a resulting increase in the generation of steam; and the amount of smoke is reduced to a minimum.” (For a full description of the Gaines combustion chamber’s intended effect on combustion, see Locobase 4228.) Built for commuter service from Montreal where they ran until they were retired in 1956-1961.
Principal Dimensions by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
Canadian National (CNR)
Grand Trunk Western (CNR)
Number in Class
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase (ft / m)
14 / 4.27
15.67 / 4.78
Engine Wheelbase (ft / m)
40.17 / 12.24
39.37 / 12
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheelbase