Steel Went Through
C.P.R. Short Line, State
of Maine 1887 - 88
SURVEYS for the location of
the Short Line through Maine had been made by Alexander Middleton in the
fall of 1886; but there was considerable delay in starting construction.
This delay was due to
opposition raised by the Maine Central Railway, to the granting of a
charter to the International Railway of Maine the charter under which
the C.P.R. purposed constructing this line.
In support of the
application for this charter, Middleton, at a sitting of the Maine
Legislature, gave evidence regarding the location of the line; and the
Legislature finally granted the charter. But by this time winter had set
in; and construction was consequently still longer delayed.
There was, however, a small
part of the Short Line in the province of Quebec, on which construction
had been started in the fall; and it was carried on during the winter.
This was the part between Sherbrooke and Lennoxville. Sykes and Hodgins
were both employed on this work; Sykes as division engineer, and Hodgins
as his assistant. But the rest of us at Sherbrooke remained unemployed all
As the saying goes, it's a
long lane that has no turning. And the turn came as a pleasant surprise,
early in spring, when we received from Ross the welcome order to go to
Greenville in Maine, and report to A. L. Hogg, the engineer in charge of
the work in Maine.
We lost no time in getting
there, and on our arrival, promptly reported to Hogg, now our new Chief.
I have already mentioned
him as having been in charge of location in the Mountains in 1883. I had
often heard about him; but this was the first time I met him. And I found
him very congenial and considerate to those under him.
There were a number of
engineers already at Greenville when we arrived; and among them was Foster
whom I had not seen for over a year. I was delighted to meet him again,
and we had a happy reunion in his room at the hotel, with some others, the
night of our arrival. He was, as usual, the life of the party.
Percy Girouard, a young
French Canadian whom I had not met before, also entertained us by his
stories and by his lusty singing of Alouette. He was a graduate of Royal
Military College; and was then employed as a draughtsman in Hogg's office.
He later joined the Royal Engineers, and served with distinction under
Kitchener at the relief of Khartoum. He was afterwards made Director of
Railways in South Africa; and was knighted for his services in this
connection during the Boer War.
On the following morning,
Hogg joined us at breakfast. As he smilingly looked us over, there was an
understanding twinkle in his eye; from which it was easy to see that he
knew all about our little diversion of the night before.
To facilitate construction,
the line in Maine was divided into divisions of about thirty miles, each
in charge of a division engineer. These divisions were subdivided into
three sections, each in charge of an assistant engineer.
Middleton was in charge of
the farthest east division, which connected with the Maine Central Railway
at Mattawamkeag. I was to be his assistant on the central ten mile section
of this division. His other assistants were Schreiber on the western
section, and Simpson on the eastern.
H. B. Wright was assigned
to me as rodman. He had been on the Lake Superior division of the C.P.R.
during construction; and he was one of those who had spent the winter with
me at Sherbrooke. So I knew him well.
After spending a day or two
at Greenville getting our camp outfit together, Wright and I set out for
Lincoln, a small town on the Maine Central, and the nearest one to my
section. There was, however, no direct railway connection between
Greenville and Lincoln. So we had to go by a roundabout way, involving
some tedious waiting in changing from one railway line to another.
Eventually, we got to Lincoln all right.
Middleton had not yet
arrived; but Sinclair, the contractor for the work on my section, was
there ahead of me. He had already established his camp and was busy
clearing the right of way. So I got him to move my camp outfit to a site
close to his own camp. This was situated about ten miles north of Lincoln,
on the other side of the Penobscot River; and about the middle of my
A day or two after I had
got settled in camp, Schreiber appeared on the scene. He had been sent by
Hogg to stay at my camp until Middleton came; and to assist me in the
Schreiber's arrival was
most opportune; for I was about to make a slight change in the location of
the line to lighten the work on a large cutting near the camp. So I could
well make use of his valuable help.
There was still some two to
three feet of wet slushy snow in the woods, and snowshoes were a
necessity. We had none of our own, but we managed to get some pairs at
Sinclair's camp. They were pretty well worn out, but we made good use of
them while they lasted.
One day, however, Schreiber
got badly entangled with his pair. They had got so rotten with the wet
slushy snow that his feet went right through them down to solid ground;
while the snowshoes clung around his legs above the knees, like spurs on a
fighting cock. It was a comical sight to watch his contortions in trying
to free himself.
Middleton arrived just as I
had finished making this change of location. He gave it his approval; and
stayed at my camp for a few days. When he left, he took Schreiber with
him, and established a camp for him on the western section.
Middleton opened an office
for himself in Lincoln. But he was much more in his element out on the
work, than in his office. He was a man of even disposition, quiet and
unobtrusive; but with a keen sense of humour. My relationship with him on
that work was of the happiest, and developed into a lifelong friendship.
For the first few months I
was kept busy laying out the work. There was much variety in this, for the
railway did not follow a natural valley route. It cut through a series of
ridges; and across intervening valleys, and rivers which were tributaries
of the Penobscot.
There were many large
granite boulders strewn over the ridges, and from these boulders by the
use of plug and feathers large slabs for the building of culverts, and
abutments of bridges, were readily obtained.
The bush was all second
growth; so there was no large timber. But there was a ready market for
such timber as there was, at the spool factories, and toothpick factories,
which were established along the banks of the Penobscot River.
In the valleys between the
ridges, there was some swampy land through which we sometimes had to
flounder. On one occasion when we were thus engaged, Wright burst into
song with these lines:
"Beautiful bush, with
Beautiful swamps, with mud up to your knees,
Beautiful lakes, and rivers as well,
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sell."
This poetic effusion he
ascribed to Secretan. But whether or not it was Secretan's, it was
particularly applicable to our own situation at the moment.
About this time, H. D.
Lumsden my old Chief on the Ontario and Quebec Railway was appointed
Chief Engineer of the Short Line; and Hogg became Assistant Chief on the
part in Maine.
When I had got the work on
my section all laid out, I had time to spend an occasional week-end in
Lincoln and enjoy some social life. Wright generally accompanied me.
Schreiber too, although his camp was much farther than ours from Lincoln,
would at times join us in these week-end visits. Simpson, however, but
rarely took part in them. He was married; and quite naturally spent his
leisure time in camp with Mrs. Simpson. Moreover, Winn, a small town some
twelve miles east of Lincoln, was quite close to his camp; so when he had
need to go to town, it was to Winn that he went.
Chan Woods, the
hotel-keeper with whom we stayed when in Lincoln, busied himself on our
behalf, and introduced us to a number of families in the town. And by
these we were received most hospitably. We were always made welcome at any
time we chose to call.
Middleton used to tell a
story about Schreiber, apropos of one of these visits. They were visiting
a family in which there was a new baby; and they found a number of ladies
there too, all in ecstasies over this wonderful baby. One of these ladies
turned to Schreiber and said:
"Don't you want to kiss it,
"I don't want to, but I
will," was his rather surprising reply a reply which, however, reflected
perfectly his genial good nature.
We would sometimes visit
also our neighbouring engineers at Brownville, which was the headquarters
of Matthew Neilson, the engineer in charge of the division adjoining
Middleton's on the western end.
William Mackenzie and D. D.
Mann, who each had had separate contracts in the mountains on the
construction of the main line, had now joined forces; and had taken a
contract on Neilson's division, under the firm name of Mackenzie & Mann.
Brownville was their headquarters too.
Although the construction
of the railway was being pushed ahead, no settlement had yet been made on
my section for the land required for right of way, and toward the end of
1887, arbitration proceedings were about to be taken for its acquirement,
before a judge of the court in Bangor.
Sinclair, the contractor,
was also a party in this arbitration, as the owners of the land to be
acquired had included in their claim against the railway company the value
of the timber destroyed by him in connection with the building of his
At the time set by the
court for the hearing of evidence, Middleton, unfortunately had to go to
New York to be with his elder brother George, who was about to undergo a
serious operation. But, before he left, he asked me to go to Bangor in his
stead; and give what evidence I could if required. It thus devolved on me
to go to Bangor, instead of Middleton; and Sinclair went with me.
The court proceedings were
quite informal. The owners of the land were there with their witnesses.
The chief of these was a land surveyor who gave evidence as to the value
of the timber destroyed. He was afterwards cross-questioned at length by
the solicitor for the railway company, who brought out various
inconsistencies in his methods of valuation.
At this point, Sinclair
suggested that the judge, being himself an old lumberman with a good
knowledge of timber-land values, might like to visit the lands in
question, before coming to a decision. To this suggestion the judge and
both parties were agreeable; and a day was fixed for his visit, on a date
when Middleton would have returned from New York.
Although I well remember
the appearance of the judge and also the appearance of the solicitor, and
the surveyor, their names have completely gone from my memory. So I can
only designate them by their professions.
On the morning of the day
fixed for the judge's visit it was in the winter Middleton, Sinclair
and I were at Lincoln to meet him. He arrived accompanied by the surveyor,
who had travelled with him from Bangor; and both had breakfast together at
the hotel. In the meantime, Middleton and Sinclair were devising a way to
separate the surveyor from the judge, on the inspection trip.
The way this was to be done
became very soon apparent. For, when the judge and the surveyor, having
finished breakfast, were standing outside on the hotel porch, waiting for
the conveyance which was to take them to the land to be inspected,
Sinclair drove up to the hotel in a single-seated cutter; and suggested to
the judge that he would find the cutter much more comfortable than the
double-seated sleigh which Middleton was bringing up behind.
With this suggestion the
judge readily concurred, and took his seat beside Sinclair. The cutter
then started off at a brisk pace; and the surveyor, now separated from the
judge, had to take his place beside me in Middleton's sleigh, which came
along a few minutes later.
Middleton held back his
team, in order to let Sinclair For such material, the contract price was
quite inadequate. So the contractors were having no easy time in meeting
They finally came to the
conclusion that they had either to get a considerably higher price for
earth, or let the railway company take over the work.
They had several meetings
with the head officials of the company in Montreal, regarding their
position; and the company at length decided to get R. G. Reid a noted
contractor with large experience to go over the work and make a report
on the probable cost of completing it.
Reid undertook this work;
and one day Hogg, Middle-ton and I, met him at Sinclair's camp. There was
a cutting being made through a high ridge close by; and the greater part
of the material was quite evidently "hardpan". Reid examined it carefully;
and questioned me as to the classification I had been making of this
material. My answers evidently satisfied him, for as soon as he had
finished, he gave the word to pass on to the rest of the work.
We all then got mounted on
horseback and set out on our way, with Reid leading, at a gallop. I was
next in the lead, but Middleton after a time managed to catch up to me,
and suggested I should keep alongside of Mr. Reid and give him all the
information I could. This was easier said than done; for it was a wild
ride over stumps and boulders, which littered our path. Reid proved to be
the best horseman of us all, or it may be that he just had the best horse;
for he still kept the lead; with Hogg trailing far behind.
Reid stopped for a few
minutes now and then, to examine the material in certain cuttings; but in
the main, he kept going. So he was not long in passing over Middleton's
division, and into Neilson's. There, Middle-ton's part in the inspection
ended; so we turned about and headed for our own camp. Hogg, however, went
on with Reid.
Middleton and I came back
at a much slower pace; we had had enough of hard riding. But with this
slower pace, it was getting dark before we reached camp; and it was
anything but pleasant riding, picking our way in the dark through stumps
and other obstacles.
So, when we came to a part
on my section that I knew well, I thought of a way to make the going
easier. There was quite a long borrow-pit by the side of the trail along
which my horse was stumbling; and I considered this pit would make easier
travelling, even although it contained about two feet of water. So I quite
confidently made my horse step down into it.
But I had overlooked one
thing. The bottom of this pit, I knew, was firm clay; but it did not occur
to me that it would be slippery. It was left for my horse to find that
out; for the moment his feet touched the clay bottom, they slid with a
swish through the water, and over he went on his side.
Just then, I heard
Middleton's voice calling out: "Where are you going, Bone?" By that time I
was under water, all but my head. But I still had hold of the reins; and
was free from the saddle. So I managed to get on my feet; and get my horse
on his too. I then led him through the water to the end of the borrow-pit
on to dry land; and there I mounted again, dripping wet.
We got to Sinclair's camp
shortly afterwards, and turned over our horses to the stable men. I heard,
as we were leaving, the man who took my horse remark to the other: "They
must have been riding fast; this horse is wet all over." I did not think
it necessary to correct that impression.
Middleton afterwards took
delight in telling that story on me; with just sufficient exaggeration to
make it the more amusing. In relating the incident, he would say that I
was completely under the water, and that he could see nothing but bubbles
inspection, and report, the railway company granted the contractors an
increase of 50% on their contract price of 25 cents per cubic yard for
earth; thus raising the price to 37½ cents. This was satisfactory to the
contractors, and they carried on, and finished their work.
Later in the summer,
Middleton got the offer from a New York group of financiers of a position
in Brazil. This was to make an exploration by boat of the Tocantins River,
a tributary of the Amazon, and report on the feasibility of its being
He accepted the offer; and
resigned from his position with the railway company. We, who had worked
with him, were all sorry to have him go. And so were the people of
Lincoln. I would not venture to say how many of his lady friends were at
the station in a body the day he left, to bid him good-bye, and wish him
The work was by this time,
so well advanced, that there was hardly any need for a division engineer.
So I became acting division engineer instead. This entailed but little
extra work on my part; for Simpson's section was practically finished; and
my own too. The work still to be done lay, for the most part, in
So I gave up my own camp,
and took up my abode with him. I spent my time partly at his camp and
partly at Lincoln. But I also spent some time at Mattawamkeag, while the
steel bridge over the Penobscot was being erected.
In the latter half of the
year 1888, political questions were being hotly discussed, as this was the
year of a presidential election in the U.S.A. In this election, Benjamin
Harrison, Republican candidate, won against his opponent, Grover
Cleveland, the candidate of the Democrats. I heard much wailing in Lincoln
over this result, by some Democrats who had been holding government
Towards the close of the
work, Lumsden came to Lincoln to see me. He informed me that track-laying
would be starting immediately at Mattawamkeag; and he wanted me to look
after this work temporarily, pending the arrival of Ramsay an engineer
experienced in track-laying who would then take charge. Lumsden told me,
too, that he had made arrangements with a man named Burns to board the
track-layers in a boarding-car; and I would not therefore be troubled by
A day or two afterwards, I
got word that the cars with the track-laying crew were on the way to
Mattawamkeag; so I went there to meet them. But when the cars arrived they
were without provisions; there was nothing at all for the men to eat. The
man Burns, mentioned by Lumsden, had apparently fallen down on his job, to
the intense indignation of the men. And I had to bear the brunt of this.
I was early on the look-out
for Burns the following morning. I met him in the middle of the main
street; and there we had a hot wordy battle. But it did not take him long
to remedy the slip he had made. I can see him yet, rushing around from one
store to another getting provisions for his boarding-car.
This was the same Burns who
in after years was known in Calgary as Pat Burns; and later as Senator
That same day, a slim young
man who was Burns' clerk approached me, and introduced himself by saying:
"I'm George." Although I did not recognize him from his appearance, the
name "George" at once recalled to mind the small office boy I had first
met at Medicine Hat in 1883 George Webster, who many years later became
Mayor of Calgary; and afterwards a Member of the Alberta Legislature.
The erection of the bridge
across the Penobscot was now sufficiently advanced to permit the
track-laying cars to cross; so track-laying was commenced at once; and by
the time Ramsay arrived and took charge, about twelve miles had been laid.
I stayed a few days with
him; but as there was nothing more there for me to do, I left for
Sherbrooke where I made my final report in person. There I spent a few
days; and met many old friends, among whom were Mather, Hodgins, Stoess,
and Holt. Holt had then a contract for part of the work on that division.
Schreiber and I had
arranged some time before, to take a trip together to the old country,
after the work was finished. And this we did. We sailed, later in the
year, from New York to Glasgow, on the steamship State of Nebraska.
It was a few days after
Christmas that I arrived at my old home. There was not, however, the joy
attending this home-coming that there was in the previous one. For
although I was glad to find my father hale and well, and my brother Robert
too, there was a sad change at Dow-hill. No warm welcome there from my
Aunt Wright this time. Both she and Uncle Wright, and also my cousin
William, their eldest son, had passed away; and James, the youngest son,
was carrying on the farm alone.
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