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When the 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 winter.

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 section.

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 meantime.

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 trees,
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, Mr. Schreiber?"

"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 camps.

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 expenses.

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 coming up.

Following Reid's 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 37 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 economically navigated.

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 Godspeed.

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 Schreiber's section.

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 positions.

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 that.

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 Burns.

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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