Steel Went Through
Mountain Division C.P.R.,
THE TRAIN on which I left
Calgary in the spring of 1884, was the first train on which, for some time
past, I did not have to travel on a flat-car, or in a caboose. It was a
through train from Winnipeg with standard coaches, in which contractors,
engineers, and other employees of the C.P.R. were making their way to The
Summit, to engage again in the construction of the railway — work which
had been in abeyance all winter. The North American Construction Company
had by this time ceased to function, and construction work was being
organized by the C.P.R. directly, with James Ross as Manager.
On the train I happened to
meet, for the first time, Matthew Neilson whom I have already mentioned;
and the conversations I had with him made the time pass pleasantly.
I have no distinct
recollection of having reported to Sykes on my arrival at The Summit, as
instructed by Holt. But doubtless I did and he very likely referred me to
J. H. Armstrong who had just been appointed Chief Engineer on
construction; for it was to him that I did report. Armstrong had been the
engineer in charge, during the fall and winter, of the building of the
permanent steel bridge over the South Saskatchewan at Medicine Hat. I had
met him late in the summer at our Calgary Camp before he went to Medicine
Hat; so he was no stranger to me when I met him again at The Summit.
Holt shortly afterwards
resigned from his position with the company, and took a contract for the
grading of a section of the railway near the mouth of the Kicking Horse
River. So I no longer got instructions from him, but from Armstrong, who
from then on became my Chief.
As trains kept arriving
daily with crowds eager to get to work on the construction of the railway,
the scene at the summit might well have been compared to a gathering of
the clans in response to the call of the fiery cross; all keyed up and
ready to go.
While those arrivals were
assembling, and the different engineering camps were being organized, I
had the opportunity of getting acquainted with various engineers and
contractors. Among the engineers, I may mention Chisholm, Bell-Irving, and
Stewart, whom I had heard of the previous year, but had not met until
then. Also G. H. Duggan, a new-comer, with whom I came to be intimately
associated later. Griffith, Doane, and Thomson too, arrived on the scene;
and also, to my great surprise and delight, my friend Mather, who had
completed his work on the O. and Q. Railway.
With the completion of that
railway, others who had been employed on it also joined the C.P.R. One of
these was Barclay. He was put in charge of the laying out and the
construction of the tote-road for the company's transport teams; and on
that account became well known as "Tote-road Barclay".
Tom Holt, elder brother of
H. S. Holt, was another new-comer. He had been in South Africa for some
time, and had served there in the Zulu War, either in the commissariat, or
in the transport department.
Soon after his arrival at
The Summit, he was placed in charge of the company's store there, and it
thus became generally spoken of as Holt's Store. It was the construction
headquarters until the track had been laid farther west. It was then moved
to a new site in accord with the progress of the work.
Some writers on the C.P.R.
construction days in the mountains, when speaking of H. S. Holt, have
referred to the headquarters at The Summit — afterwards named Laggan — as
Holt City, presumably so called after him. I, however, never heard of Holt
City. But Holt's Store, called after Tom Holt, was a familiar expression
which everyone knew.
I had many conversations
with Tom Holt at The Summit, while waiting for the camps to be organized.
In the course of one of these conversations, I was amused to hear him
refer to his brother, H. S. as "the great I am".
On another occasion we had
a ride on horseback together over the old pack trail, as far as Mather's
camp, which had been but recently established near Ottertail Creek. We had
lunch at this camp, and I was pleased to have a chat with Mather again.
But this proved to be the last I was to have with him for some time; for
he shortly afterwards gave up his position with the C.P.R. to take what he
considered was a better one which he had been offered in New Mexico.
Doane and Thomson, on their
arrival at The Summit, at once had an office tent set up and were kept
busy making tracings of the location plans and profiles of the different
sections of the railway on which construction work was about to commence.
These tracings were for the use of the different engineers who were to
take charge of this work; and I lent a hand in making them, for a few days
while my own camp was being organized.
The grading of a few miles
from the end of track up Bath Creek — a tributary of the Bow — to Summit
Lake, which was the real summit, had been left unfinished the previous
year; and the first construction job assigned to me was to take charge of
I had my camp pitched at
the Lake. It consisted of two tents, each 12 feet by 14 feet. The members
of the party were: T. Dand, rodman; A. K. Stuart, chainman; Charlie
Campbell, axeman; and the cook (I don't remember his name now).
One of the tents served as
office, and also as living and sleeping-quarters for Dand, Stuart, and
myself. The other was the quarters of the cook and the axeman; and was
also the dining-room. This was the standard equipment of an engineer's
camp on construction.
Griffith also was with me
on this job for a few days as a spare hand, until he was called back by
Armstrong to be his chief assistant in charge of his office — the position
he had held with Burpee the previous year.
As for the rest of the
members of my party, I knew nothing of their qualifications. They were all
perfect strangers to me, and had been assigned to my party on trial,
without any say on my part. On the whole, they measured up pretty well.
This job was soon finished,
and there were few incidents worth noting. There was one, however, which
tested well Stuart's staying powers, and his fitness for his job. I had
occasion to measure across the lake at its narrow part near the end. It
was still frozen over, but the ice was getting rather rotten. It was
shallow at that part, though, and Stuart started on his way across on the
ice, dragging the chain. But he had not gone far before he got into
difficulties. The ice gave way under his weight, and he found himself
knee-deep in the water. Nevertheless, he did not flinch, but kept on
going, while the ice continued to break at each step as he raised his foot
on to it. Smashing along in this way through the ice he finally reached
the shore, dragging the chain. "Good work, Stuart," I called to him. I
knew for certain that from then on, I could rely on him.
My next move was to what
were then known as the Kicking Horse Flats. There, I had charge of the
grading of a section extending about three miles. The camp was moved by
the company's teams over the newly built tote-road; but I have no
recollection whatever of anything connected with this moving. All I
remember is, finding at some time of the day, our camp pitched in the bush
close to the tote-road, at a short distance past Porcupine Creek. So we
evidently got there somehow.
There were three different
contractors doing the work on this section. These were: Dave Isaacs, who
had his camp on Porcupine Creek; Quigley and McCrimmon, who had theirs
very near my own; and Ole Petersen whose camp was at the farther end of
the section, near the site of what is now the station named Leancoil.
Ole Petersen was a Swede
from the States. He had with him, as an able helper, his son whom we
usually referred to as "young Ole", although Ole may not have been his
name. Both were capable railway builders; they thoroughly understood their
Quigley and McCrimmon were
Canadians. Quigley was of Irish descent, and McCrimmon's forebears came
from Scotland. They were good railway builders, straightforward, and
pleasant to deal with.
Isaacs, as his name would
indicate, was a Jew. He was not a railway builder. He was a hotel-keeper,
and had the Prospect House at Niagara Falls, Ontario. Prior to his coming
to the mountains, he had had no experience in railway building; and how he
managed to get a contract, I do not know. He had, however, a capable
engineer named Davis, as manager, and the work went along in good form.
But although Isaacs knew
nothing about railway building, he knew all about running a camp. He was
in his element in this. He ran his camp just as he ran his hotel at the
Falls. Everything about it had to be neat and tidy. No rubbish lying
about. His camp was therefore a popular one at which to call.
Davis had his wife and her
sister Miss Tilla Bricker, a lively and attractive young lady, with him in
camp; and the presence there of these ladies contributed much to its
Forest fires started
shortly after our camp had been set up. The mountain sides were ablaze,
and I thought it well to have our camp moved out of danger from its
position in the bush. So it was moved a short distance to a site nearer
the river where the trees were sparse.
We had lots of callers at
this camp. James Ross was quite a frequent visitor, and often had
searching questions to ask regarding the work. T. J. S. Skinner, now one
of Calgary's pioneer citizens, carried the C.P.R. mail from the post
office at Holt's Store and delivered it to the different camps ahead. He
had a horse to ride, and led another which carried the mail on a pack
saddle. He was a regular and most welcome visitor. Tote-road Barclay too,
often spent a night with us, when on his way on horseback up and down the
tote-road. He was quite a character and he enlivened our evenings with his
stories full of dry humour. On one occasion, when he got up in the
morning, he found that his horse, which he had hobbled the night before,
had gone into the Kicking Horse and had swum to an island where it could
be seen looking very lonely, and pondering on what it was going to do
next. Barclay had quite a job getting it back; and I can still hear the
language he used.
I have in my possession a
circular letter sent out by Armstrong to engineer's camps on construction,
for their guidance in ordering supplies. It is an interesting reminder of
how we fared in the way of food. It is handwritten, with the exception of
the printed letter-head. This is the letter-head:
Canadian Pacific Railway Co.
Office of Manager of Construction
The words "Winnipeg, Man."
have been scored out with a pen, and the words "Holt's Store" written
above them. So here is what the circular has to say:
Holt's Store, 13th May 1884
List of Provisions for Construction Camps for 1 Month
The letter G. here, under
Armstrong's name, undoubtedly stands for Griffith who generally signed for
Armstrong in this way.
Other articles of food,
such as prunes and canned peaches, were obtainable as alternatives to
similar items on this list. We got fresh meat too, occasionally. This was
delivered to the camps by the butchers at the improvised slaughtering
grounds along the route of the railway under a contract with W. R. Hull —
then a resident of British Columbia; and in after years a prominent
citizen of Calgary.
This list provided for a
camp of five. It will thus be seen that we had an ample variety of food to
satisfy the appetites of healthy and energetic young men leading an
The work of an engineer on
construction is but little understood by the general public. Some
doubtless regard him as simply a fellow who looks through a telescope and
sees things upside down. So, for the enlightenment of the general reader,
I shall, without being too technical, give some details in my description
of the work, which it would be quite unnecessary to give were my readers
Contracts for grading were
let at a stated price per cubic yard of material moved. Solid rock, loose
rock, and earth — as defined in the specifications — had each a stated
price. Clearing the route of trees, and grubbing out stumps, were each
paid for at so much an acre.
It was the duty of
engineers on construction to lay out and superintend the construction of
the work on their sections, and to make and turn in, monthly estimates of
the quantities moved under each classification. On these estimates, the
contractors got paid for their work at their contract prices.
Before I had got my camp
established on my section, contractors with their outfits were already on
the ground waiting to have their work laid out for them. So I had to pitch
in immediately and lay out, at various points spread over my section, just
enough work to let each contractor get a start.
The laying out of the rest
of the work, however, took considerable time; and often much physical
effort. For it involved the setting of slope stakes to mark the top of
slopes in excavations to be made, or the foot of slopes in embankments.
This necessitated taking levels at distances measured on trial, right and
left from the location line; and then from these trial distances and
levels, calculating on the spot, the right distance at which to set the
stakes. And for the guidance of those who were doing the grading, the
depth in feet of excavation, or the height of embankment required at these
points — as the case might be — was marked on the stakes.
Setting of slope stakes was
technically known as cross-sectioning; and from the cross-sections thus
taken, the quantities of material to be moved were afterwards calculated
in camp. They thus formed the basis on which our monthly estimates were
made out. Cross-sections were taken every 100 feet, or closer, depending
on how uneven the ground surface happened to be. When doing this work, we
generally had steep side-hills to climb up and down, and would often have
to dig our toes in, in our efforts to get a foothold.
Dand, whom I have already
mentioned as being rod-man on my party, did not prove to be as agile at
this climbing up and down as I had wanted him to be. He had held the
position of pile inspector on the construction of bridges the previous
year. So, at my request Armstrong sent him to Beckler, the engineer in
charge of bridge construction, to resume his old position as pile
inspector. In his place, Armstrong sent me John Bright; he had been one of
the members of Shaw's survey party which, as previously mentioned, had
been snowed up in the Howse Pass. As soon as this change in my party was
made, I advanced Stuart to the position of rodman, and made Bright
Bright had a younger
brother, Harry, who started work in the mountains as a labourer with the
contractors Quigley and McCrimmon. He was then but a mere boy, but he
manfully handled the pick and shovel. Eventually, he got a position with
one of the construction engineers. After the completion of the railway, he
settled in the MacLeod district; and years later, when the Southern
Alberta Pioneers and Old Timers' Association was formed, he became one of
its most enthusiastic members. He served one year as President.
The great ambition of many
of us on coming to the mountains, was to shoot a bear; and with this end
in view, Stuart and I set out one evening and climbed well up the thickly
wooded side of the mountain adjacent to our camp. We lay out on this
mountain side all night in the hope of getting a bear in the early
morning. But we had no luck; the bears were too wary.
One day, however, while we
were busy in camp preparing our monthly estimates, we heard the sudden
crack of a rifle. Greatly excited, we grabbed our rifles and rushed out,
eager to get into the fray, whatever it was. We found that the rifle shot
we had heard had come from the cook's rifle; and that with this shot he
had killed a bear which had come close to the camp. After the excitement
had died down, the bear was skinned and the skin stretched on an
improvised frame to dry. The best parts of the carcass were later served
by the cook for dinner. This was the first time we had tasted bear meat.
It was all right as a novelty; but left no craving for it as a regular
A few days after this
event, James Ross called at the camp, and it so happened that at the time
he called, Stuart had been having a dip in the river, and was standing —
dressed in the garb of Adam — with his back toward us, drying himself with
a towel. I was looking in Stuart's direction when Ross asked what I
understood at first to be, "Where did you get the bare skin?" Somewhat
taken aback by this question, I looked up enquiringly at Ross, still
seated on his horse, and saw that he was looking at the bear skin
stretched on the frame. Then I quickly realized what his question meant;
and told him the story of the shooting.
The scenery, needless to
say, had an inspiring appeal for us all. There were, however, no kodaks in
those days with which to take snapshots. There were a few itinerant
photographers who took photos here and there along the route of the
railway; and one could buy photos from them. But these didn't always
happen to be photos of the scenes one particularly wanted. So we developed
a taste for sketching; and it was our custom when we paid a visit to a
neighbouring engineer's camp on a Sunday, to take our portfolio of
sketches with us to submit them for inspection and criticism. This
criticizing of each other's work proved most helpful.
Some went in for water
colours, notably Bell-Irving and Lewis; but I never got beyond pencil
sketches. I well remember one picture which Lewis painted. He called it
the "C.P.R. Mail". It showed Skinner on horseback, with his pack-horse
following on the lead, at full gallop over the tote-road; a very realistic
As for my own sketches, I
do not make any pretence of their being works of art. But they are a
reminder of the pleasant hours I spent in making them. A glance at them
now recalls events that are firmly imprinted on my memory.
The summer was a very wet
one, and the Kicking Horse was rampant, spreading out all over the Flats.
Owing to the incessant rains the tote-road got badly cut up, and it is a
wonder that Bender's transport teams got through at all. But they did.
The location line of the
railway on part of my section, near Leancoil, ran across what was at one
time part of the river bed, and the river claimed it again and covered it
with several feet of water. It was therefore impossible at the time to
build the road-bed there. On instructions from Armstrong, however, I
changed the location by making a detour on higher ground above the water
for a distance of about half a mile. So the work went on without any
It was during the summer of
1884 that the members of the British Association for the advancement of
Science held their meeting in Canada; and some of them came to The Summit
to see the mountain scenery. That was as far as trains then ran.
I heard that Sir William
Thomson — better known later as Lord Kelvin — whose class in Natural
Philosophy I had attended at Glasgow University, was among the number who
had come to The Summit. I was hoping that he might venture farther on
foot, and that I might chance to meet him and have the pleasure of
entertaining my old professor in my camp. But in this, I was disappointed.
As far as I could learn, he did not venture so far.
There were, however, others
of the party who were more venturesome. Late one evening, two who had been
caught in a downpour of rain on their tramp from The Summit, arrived at
Isaacs' camp, soaking wet and spattered with mud. I happened to be there
that evening, having a pleasant time in Davis' tent with him and Mrs
Davis, and Miss Bricker. Isaacs suddenly surprised us by appearing in the
tent and announcing, in his own original way, that two gilhoolies had
come; and he enlarged on their plight. Davis at once left with him to see
who these late comers were, and to arrange for their accommodation for the
After some time, he and
Isaacs, accompanied by his two gilhoolies, returned to the tent where the
ladies and I were eagerly awaiting their coming, much intrigued to know
who these mysterious visitors might be. One turned out to be an Oxford
professor; the other was his son, a tall young man in his early twenties.
I can't, however, recall their names.
They had been given a
change of dry clothes — brand new overalls. They certainly looked odd in
their novel get-up; but they were in no way embarrassed by the presence of
the ladies. They were cheerful and frank in expressing their appreciation
of the hospitality shown them.
They stayed at the camp for
a day, to let their clothes get dry. I was afterwards told by Davis that
the professor had been seen that day, chasing a chipmunk, in a vain
attempt to catch the wily little creature — doubtless with the hope of
securing it as a specimen of the fauna of the mountains.
When they left the camp,
they continued on their way farther down the Kicking Horse; and I saw
nothing more of them.
Another visitor whom I met
at Isaacs' camp was J. H. E. Secretan. I had heard much about him but had
not previously met him. He was a well-known engineer, and had been
employed for a number of years on the government surveys for the railway
through the Yellowhead Pass. He had also been employed by the C.P.R. in
1882, on surveys for the line running west from Winnipeg heading for the
Bow River valley. Of his doings on that work I had heard many stories. He
had the reputation of being a great joker, and very eccentric.
As far as I know, his
employment by the C.P.R. had come to an end by the summer of 1883. At any
rate, he was not employed by the company when I met him at Isaacs' camp,
where he was spending a few days. He had come to the mountains, as far as
I could learn, with a view to getting some contract. But I never heard of
his having succeeded in getting one.
His propensity for jokes
became quite apparent soon after his arrival in camp. He had come across a
sheet of Isaacs' writing-paper bearing the letter-head:
David Isaacs, Proprietor."
and this evidently
suggested to him the idea of writing on it an "Ode to the Falls".
I remember only parts of
this Ode, but these parts give a fair idea of its nature. The blanks can
well be left to the imagination. Here is what I remember:
"Oh the Falls, Falls,
What thoughts their memory recalls
"About drinks that make you
As you wander home at night,
After gazing at the sight of the Falls.
"How the tourists they do
Of the gentle landlord Dave
"Oh, the lies, lies, lies,
which he tells
To the heavy English swells
And the belles, At the Falls.
"And how their eyes do
As they liss'n
To those remarks of his'n
About fishes which he bought
Which he made believe he caught
Near the Falls."
Secretan, after a few days
at Isaacs' camp, continued his way westward, and I saw no more of him
during the time I was in the mountains. I met him, however, once again, a
few years later at Winnipeg, where I had stopped over for a day or two on
my way to Montreal, or Toronto. I ran across him there at the old Manitoba
Club, where he was holding forth in his usual serio-comic vein to a number
of the members. I gathered from the conversation that was being carried
on, that he had been Chief Engineer on the construction of a railway
chartered by the Manitoba Legislature to run in a south-westerly direction
from Winnipeg to the International boundary.
I forget the name of this
railway, but it appeared that it had not as yet paid him for his services;
and his hearers were quizzing him about this. In reply to their taunts,
Secretan informed them that he had recently called at the office of the
company in an endeavour to get his pay, but was asked to wait until the
train came in and see if the conductor had any money. "And," he added,
"when the train did come in, there was only one passenger; and he had a
The spiritual welfare of
the men in construction camps was being attended to by two members of the
clergy, each in his own way; and this may have been a vital factor in the
way the construction of the railway was carried on without any serious
One of these missionaries
was the Rev. Angus Robertson, the first minister of Knox Church in
Calgary. He often called at my camp and had a meal with us; so I got to
know him intimately. He was a well built and active young man, apparently
physically fit for the arduous work he was doing. Yet he died of typhoid
fever a few years later — in 1890.
The other missionary was
Father Fay — a Scotsman from Aberdeen with a pronounced Aberdonian accent.
He also was a frequent caller at my camp, and I had many conversations
with him. He had let his beard grow, and with full beard and soutane he
was a picturesque figure, suggestive of a monk of old. Fishing was his
hobby; and I can see him yet on the banks of the Kicking Horse diligently
casting his line. But I never saw him catch any fish. He may, however,
have had more success as a fisher of men.
Law and order was
maintained by an advanced detachment of the North West Mounted Police.
This detachment was in charge of Ralph Bell — the policeman who ferried me
across the Bow River, on my first arrival in Calgary.
He was on police duty all
through the construction of the railway in the mountains. Afterwards, he
became one of Calgary's successful business men. He is now retired and
still has his home in Calgary.
The health of the men was
cared for by Dr. Sweat, an American whose methods were rough and ready. He
was an interesting character. His name was rather an uncommon one, and he
would frequently be addressed by some as Dr. Sweet. "No," he would say,
"not Sweet, Sweat; just ordinary perspiration."
For a time he was the only
doctor on the works; but later, two other doctors — Brett and Orton — were
added to the medical staff.
I had been camped on the
Kicking Horse Flats for some considerable time before I knew of the
existence of the lower falls of this river. At a short distance from
Leancoil it takes a turn to the left and flows southward for some
distance, and then turns sharply to the right. The railway, however, does
not follow the river round this bend, but cuts across a short ridge, and
rejoins the river farther down. The river thus practically forms two sides
of a triangle, of which the railway forms the base. The falls are on the
lower of these two sides of the triangle.
It was Ole Petersen who
first told me about these falls. His camp was situated on the base of the
triangle, and early one calm Sunday morning when lying in bed he heard the
sound of falling water. He got up, and, guided by this sound, he made his
way through thick undergrowth for fully a mile, and found the falls. When
he told me of his discovery, and what a fine sight the falls were, Stuart
and Bright and I, the following Sunday, set out on our own search and
found, coyly hidden in the timber and brush, this Sleeping Beauty in the
The engineers on the other
sections whom I met most frequently were, Phil Foster on the section
adjoining mine, to the east; and W. Z. Earle on the one to the west. One
of the contractors on Earle's section was H. P. Bell, formerly engineer on
the Intercolonial Railway. His contract was at the end of this section
next to mine; so I happened to meet him from time to time, and have a talk
As the summer wore on, the
visit to the mountains of Mrs. Davis and Miss Bricker drew to a close. On
the morning of the day on which, as it had been announced, they were
leaving, there was a gathering of their admirers at Isaacs' camp, to bid
them good-bye. I was one of the crowd, and so was Armstrong. In the course
of the lively talk that preceded the leave-taking, Miss Bricker made some
remark about the train on which they were to travel, and said that it was
so long since she had seen an engine that she had almost forgotten what
one looked like. To this Armstrong ventured the remark that she no doubt
would be pleased to look at an engine again. But with a sly side look at
him out of the corner of her eye, she smilingly replied: "No. I would
rather look at an engineer." That completely took Armstrong aback. He
subsided with a forced laugh, and hadn't a word more to say.
The work on my section had
by this time been nearly completed, and the transport teams, instead of
keeping to the tote-road, took to using, as a wagon road, those parts of
the road-bed which had been finished. This, during the wet weather
especially, played havoc with the newly built and well trimmed road-bed.
But the tote-road had become so badly cut up that only light loads could
be hauled over it, and it was a moot point whether the damage through its
continued use, in breakdowns of wagons and equipment, was, or was not
greater than the damage to the road-bed caused by teams hauling wagons
over it. I had heard Bender, who had charge of the transport teams, hotly
maintain that it was. But Armstrong was decidedly opposed to the roadway
being used as a wagon road, and he instructed me to set up a signboard at
each end of that part of the road-bed which was being thus used,
prohibiting, under his order, teams from travelling on the road-bed, or
dump, as it was usually called. So, following his instructions, I had
these sign-boards put up. One of them, the westerly one, was close to my
Shortly before this time,
Van Horne had gone to the coast, via the States, to inspect the work being
done on the Onderdonk contract, and was now continuing his way eastward
through the mountains, inspecting the work being done under Ross. Ross had
gone to meet Van Horne, and one evening I saw him, from my camp, return
with him in a two-horse rig, something like a buckboard. I saw the team
leave the tote-road and head for the dump. It stopped a second at the
incline leading on to the dump while the travellers glanced at the
sign-board. Then, regardless of Armstrong's prohibition, the team got up
on the dump and sped along at a brisk trot on the way to headquarters at
Whether or not I reported
to Armstrong this defiance of his orders, I do not remember.
Men were constantly
arriving from the east to work on the construction of the railway; and
finding places for them was the job of Bob Woods. He apportioned them
among the different contractors in accordance with their requirements in
the way of men.
But he didn't just send the
men to the jobs he had thus assigned them. He first marshalled them all
together at headquarters, and accompanied them on horseback on their tramp
over the tote-road, leaving some at one camp and some at another, until
all had been given a place.
To see him riding along the
tote-road with his company — like a general in command of an army — was a
familiar sight. He was a well-known character, and was frequently spoken
of as the Dago driver.
Moving about as he did from
one end of the work to the other, he got the latest news of the different
camps; and usually had a story to tell on someone. But we also heard
stories from others in which the joke was on him.
One of these stories was
told me by Griffith who, being in Armstrong's camp, was in a good position
to know what was going on. This story was, that Bob Woods and George Kerr
— a brother-in-law of Ross — were escorting Dr. Orton's two young
daughters on horseback along the tote-road, on some jaunt or other, when
they met Ross — on horseback too. He stopped them abruptly, and enquired
what they were doing there. He broke up the party, and sent Woods and Kerr
away to attend to their work, with the remark, "I'll look after the
Later in the year Griffith
was taken sick, and was laid up for some time. When convalescing, he had a
visit one day from two of his particular chums. One was his cousin Teddy
Williams; and it was he who told me what took place on this visit.
Griffith was sitting up in
his cot having a meal when the visitors arrived. They were smoking their
pipes at the time and continued to smoke. But Griffith did not seem to
appreciate tobacco smoke as an accompaniment to his meal. So he dryly
remarked, "Excuse me eating when you're smoking." This hint was enough.
Out went the pipes.
As contractors and
engineers got finished with the work on their particular sections, they
moved their camps and outfits to new scenes farther ahead to commence work
again on new contracts. The way this moving worked out was like a game of
leapfrog over all; for the camp which was to the rear, being generally the
first one ready to move, was moved on ahead of all the others; and so on.
On the completion of the
work on my section, my camp was the one to the rear, as all the engineers
who had been behind me had by that time moved. I would therefore, in the
ordinary course, have been moved to another section on the farthest
outpost, to look after the grading there. But it was engineering work of a
different kind that I was fated to undertake.
Beckler, an American, who
had been engineer in charge of the bridges, with Fowler as his assistant,
had resigned and returned to the States; and Fowler carried on in his
stead for a time. But he was, shortly afterwards, stricken with typhoid or
mountain fever, of which he died; and Armstrong called on me to fill the
The bridge across Ottertail
Creek had by this time been completed, and the track was nearing the 3rd
crossing of the Kicking Horse. My first work on my new job was to lay out
the bridge at this crossing. It was a comparatively low bridge extending
across the Flats, on what had been Foster's section near its junction with
mine. So I was able to attend to this work without having to move my camp.
I may here mention that in going to this crossing, I had to pass Isaacs'
camp, and, as he was preparing to move, I called to say good-bye. "The
gentle landlord Dave" was in his usual cheerful mood. He presented me with
his photograph, which I still have in an old album, and gave me a standing
invitation to come and stay with him at his hotel at the Falls as his
personal guest, as long as I wished. But the occasion never presented
itself; nor did I ever see or hear of him afterwards.
Plans for the bridges were
made by Doane and his assistants in their office at Headquarters. Duggan,
who for some time had been topographer on Neilson's locating party, had
now joined Doane's staff; and Thomson was still on the job.
The information on which
these plans were based was supplied by each construction engineer, who
gave the data as to length and height of the bridges required on his
section. The contract for building the bridges was let to William
MacKenzie, who hailed from Kirkfield, Ontario.
These bridges might all be
classified according to their type: as pile bridges, trestles, and
trusses. All were of wood, and, generally speaking, all had pile
foundations. Those designated as pile bridges had no superstructure other
than caps and stringers. They were usually low bridges.
The standard plan for both
pile bridges and trestles provided for bents 15 feet apart; and 4 piles to
the bent. My duty was to lay out on the ground the points at which piles
were to be driven; and to see that the bridges were properly built by the
contractor. After the piles were driven, I had to give what was called by
the bridge carpenters, the cut-offs. This consisted of marking on one pile
in each bent, the point at which the tops had to be cut off to form the
base for the placing of sills, or caps. This giving of cut-offs involved
considerable detail work, and calculation on the ground.
As soon as the bridge at
the 3rd crossing of the Kicking Horse was finished — and also the small
one over Porcupine Creek — I at once moved camp, to keep out of the way of
the track-layers. I moved to a site between the 4th and 5th crossings,
past Earle's camp and near to Keefer's on the next section. Keefer had
been on the government surveys in the Yellowhead Pass, and in my talks
with him, he frequently spoke of the Tete Jaune Cache, and of his work
Corey's tunnel — so called
after the name of the contractor — was on Keefer's section. The material
through which it was being driven was blue clay, and it was causing him
considerable worry by sliding and caving in. There was a cave-in when I
was there, in which one of the workmen lost his life.
While the bridge at the 4th
crossing was being built, I became well acquainted with Earle. His camp
was close to the crossing, and we often got together of an evening. He had
a younger brother with him, Sylvester Z. Earle. The letter Z stood for
Zobieski, which was the middle name of both. But Earle always called this
young brother — Bick. So it was as Bick Earle that he was known and called
Earle also had, as rodman,
W. Tye who many years afterwards, when the railway was in operation,
became Chief Engineer.
On the completion of this
bridge, the track was extended to a point near Corey's tunnel, which was
but a short distance past my camp; and headquarters and supplies were
moved there from Holt's Store. Establishing headquarters at this point
made it a busy centre, and in a short time it had all the makings of a
small town. This community was named after the explorer Palliser.
With the bridge at the 4th
crossing completed, I had now to give my attention to the one at the 5th
crossing. It was a fairly high bridge; and the main part of it was
composed of two Howe trusses which were being framed in a yard at the
newly established headquarters.
The site of this bridge lay
beyond Corey's tunnel; and until this tunnel was completed track-laying
was held up there for some time, with consequent delay in getting material
from the framing yard to the bridge site by rail. So, I had a fairly long
stay at Palliser (or rather I should say, at its suburbs) and I had an
opportunity of meeting again a number of people I had last seen at Holt's
Store. Among these were Doane, Duggan, and Thomson; Tom Holt, Curran, and
Lukes the paymaster. Gordon — whom I had not met before — was the
postmaster. Lukes paid out the cash; and Gordon issued postal money orders
for much of it which was being sent east. Taking these two together, they
performed, in a measure, the function of bankers for the workers.
One evening Bob Woods — the
Dago Driver — came over and spent some time with me in my tent. He knew,
as I have already said, all that was going on at every camp, and he told
of these doings, with many elaborations, in a highly entertaining manner.
In the course of the
evening, I showed him a photograph of our camp which I had just had taken
by one of those itinerant photographers I have mentioned. The photograph
shows a wintry scene; although it was not taken in winter, but some time
in August. The wintry effect was due to one of those surprise snow
flurries which may happen at any time, in the mountains. So on that
account it may be regarded as a curiosity.
But that was not the
feature in it that drew forth Woods' criticism. It was the ridiculous
poses of the group: Stuart at the level, and Bright handling the transit;
poses quite out of keeping with a picture of camp life, as the tent in the
background proclaims it to be. But my pose is the most absurd of all. I am
standing with a roll of profile paper in my hands, but instead of looking
at it, I am looking skyward; and Woods, pointing to me in the photograph,
enquired: "What rooster is this, praying?" He knew well enough who it was,
but that was his way of taking a rise out of me.
As soon as the bridge at
the 5th crossing was completed, I moved camp to a point close to the
tote-road several hundred feet above the road-bed of the railway, which
kept close to the edge of the Kicking Horse.
By this time the camp had
been enlarged by the addition of another tent to provide quarters for two
pile inspectors, Dand, and Albro — a Halifax man — and two timekeepers:
Haultain, and Martin. The duty of the pile inspectors was to see that the
piles were according to specification, and that they were driven to proper
resistance. The timekeepers kept record of the time taken in doing all
extra work for which no specific price was provided in the contract. The
contractor was paid for this on a cost-plus basis.
Coincident with this
increase in the size of my camp, there was a change of cooks. The first
cook I had, unfortunately became sick and had to leave. I have already
stated that I did not remember his name; but in trying to recall it since,
the name Harry Nash comes to my mind. As for the name of the cook I got in
his place, I doubt if I ever knew it; for he was known by the nickname of
"Montana Pete". Any man who had a nickname like that must have had a
history. Be that as it may, he was a good cook, and proved to be quite a
hustler when it came to moving camp.
When moving camp on this
occasion, we had an exciting experience. As the team with our outfit was
nearing the spot where I intended to pitch camp, the mules got balky, and
ended by backing the wagon over the edge of the cliff. The wagon pulled
the mules over with it, but by a lucky chance, it stuck against a large
tree growing on the steep slope, some 40 or 50 feet below. But for this,
it would in all likelihood have rolled on down to the river; and that
would have been the end of the mules. The teamster, however, managed to
get them unhitched from the wagon; badly skinned, but otherwise none the
worse for their escapade.
But our camp outfit was
scattered all over the slope.
"Montana Pete", however,
rose to the occasion. He promptly set about searching among the wreckage
for some cooking utensils and food, and had an open fire lit and a good
meal served to all of us in record time.
After this meal, we hunted
up our blankets, and as it was getting dark, we rolled up in them and went
to sleep for the night, on any fairly level spot we could find on the
slope. We were astir early in the morning, gathering up our belongings,
and soon had the tents set up and the camp established at the only level
spot we could find close to the tote-road.
The tote-road at this point
followed closely along the route of the old pack trail known as the Golden
Stairs, which the surveyors had used. In some places, it was just this
pack trail widened to make it a wagon road. It wound in and out along the
face of the slope which tops the almost sheer cliff, at the foot of which
the waters of the Kicking Horse tumble in rapids over rocks and boulders,
on their way to swell the less turbulent waters of the Columbia.
To avoid much heavy rock
work along the face of this cliff, the railway crossed to the other side
of the river at the 6th crossing. The bridge at this crossing was at the
mouth of a tunnel, known as Muir's tunnel, built by Muir Brothers, the
Our camp was almost
directly above this tunnel — some hundreds of feet — so we had some fairly
stiff climbs to make in connection with the bridge building which we
looked after from this camp. Besides the 6th crossing, there were a number
of fairly large trestle and pile bridges, over tributaries of the Kicking
Horse, between the 5th. and 6th crossings. And we had also the 7th
crossing, where the railway crossed back again to the right bank of the
It was somewhere in the
vicinity of the 7th crossing that Holt had his contract. The material was,
for the greater part, solid rock, and in part of this there was a tunnel.
The construction engineer on this section was Bryant, an American with
much experience in mountain construction on the Union Pacific Railway.
Owing to the heavy nature of the work on this section, he had an assistant
engineer named Sheldon, also an American.
My next move was to the
Columbia valley, a short distance past Holt's camp, in the vicinity of
what is now the town of Golden. I have no distinct recollection of making
this move, but I clearly remember my first night in camp there. I missed
the rhythmic sound of the tumbling waters of the Kicking Horse, to which I
had unconsciously become accustomed; and the stillness of the Columbia was
such a contrast that I had great difficulty in going to sleep that night.
Our camp was close to the
log house in which Walter Moberly had spent a winter when employed by the
government in making exploratory surveys for the railway. This house thus
came to be known as the Moberly House.
Chisholm, the construction
engineer on this section, was now using it as his quarters. I had met him
at The Summit, at the time of our arrival there in the spring, so he was
not a stranger to me. As our camps were now close together, I spent some
pleasant evenings with him. As a reminder of the time I spent at that
camp, I have a photograph of Moberly House. It shows Chisholm and his
party in from of the house, in the usual make-believe poses; Chisholm with
his level, and Hodgins, his rodman, at the transit.
As to the work I did from
this camp, my recollections are vague. As far as my memory serves me, the
bridges I had to attend to were, for the most part, pile bridges over
tributaries of the Columbia.
I ran across Holt here, and
I well remember having quite a long talk with him. In the course of our
conversation we got talking about Sheriff Redgrave, collector of poll tax
for the British Columbia government. He was an assiduous collector. But it
was not that which brought him fame. It was his stories. He had the
reputation of being a story-teller of the Baron Munchausen order. I had
met him at one of my former camps; but I had not heard him tell any of his
Holt, however, rehearsed
one of these to me. I cannot pretend to give the details of that story;
but the gist of it was that the Sheriff, one winter, was fleeing on skates
along the edge of a lake, from a pack of wolves. The wolves were about to
grab him when, by rare good luck, he came across some men hoeing potatoes.
Here the story as retold by
Holt ends. The Sheriff's stories, although of different adventures of his,
were all much on the same pattern; there was always some inconsistent
climax to give the lie to the tale. This was the first time I had known of
Holt in the role of story-teller; and it is doubtless this story that has
left this particular meeting with him so firmly fixed in my memory.
My next move was to the
first crossing of the Columbia. About the same time construction
headquarters were moved from Palliser to that vicinity too, and formed the
nucleus of the town which sprang up there — later known as Donald.
The telegraph operator at
this point was Jack Little, whom I had previously met in Calgary. He was a
highly original character, and had his own inimitable way of expressing
himself. In his spare moments, he wrote articles for The Calgary Herald,
descriptive of people and their doings in this neighbourhood.
The bridge to be built
across the Columbia was the principal one which engaged my attention at
this camp. It was a two-truss bridge and the piles for the pier connecting
these trusses were driven from a scow, which was attached to a cable
stretched across the river.
One day, while I was
watching the piles being driven, I saw, approaching the cable, a raft
floating down stream, with a man and a camp outfit on it. It was quite
evident that this raft would get entangled with the cable, which hung low
close to the water. The pile-driver crew shouted to the man on the raft to
look out. Too late! The raft swept under the cable, and passed on, but
minus the passenger and cargo. For the cable caught the camp outfit and
sheered it right off the raft. It caught the man too, but he hung on to
it. With both hands gripping the cable, and one leg over it, he gave an
exhibition of some rather odd gymnastics as he bobbed up and down in his
struggles, half immersed in the water.
When finally rescued from
his plight by the men on the scow, he turned out to be Greer, one of the
subcontractors whom I had already met and knew, quite well. Having
finished a contract, he was moving his outfit to the mouth of the Beaver
River where he expected to get another job. He thought that floating by
raft would be the cheapest way to get there. But he hadn't calculated on
the hazard of encountering a cable on the way.
Some of his outfit was
salvaged, but how much I cannot say. One thing, however, was certain. He
got a cold dip, for the season was well advanced, and there was ice
floating down the Columbia at the time.
There was quite a number of
smaller bridges which I had to lay out from this camp. When these, and the
bridge over the Columbia were completed, I moved camp to Quartz Creek, a
tributary of the Columbia, a few miles from the mouth of the Beaver River.
My memory as to what work I
did from this camp is rather faulty. There was, I know, a low pile bridge
across Quartz Creek; and there were doubtless other bridges of much the
When on this section of the
work, I met Mahood, one of the construction engineers. He had had a wide
and varied experience. In the early 1860's, he was on a survey or a
telegraph line across Siberia, to establish telegraphic communication
between Europe and America. This was before the Atlantic cable had been
laid. But when that cable was eventually laid, the company, or group of
financiers sponsoring the telegraph line via Siberia and Russia, abandoned
this project. Mahood had many interesting tales to tell of his Siberian
When the time came to move
camp from Quartz Creek, winter had definitely set in. Two teams with
sleighs arrived at camp one evening, and stayed the night to be ready to
move the camp in the morning. It was a very cold night, and the
temperature — according to current talk the next day — dropped to 40
degrees below zero. I had no thermometer, so cannot say whether that was,
or was not, the right temperature. At any rate, it was cold enough to
believe it was 40 below.
I offered to make room in
the camp, for the night, for the two teamsters. But they said there was no
need to do that; they were accustomed to sleeping out. So they passed the
night in their sleighs, rolled up in their blankets.
The taking down of the
cook's tent in the morning was no simple job. For the steam from the
cooking had frozen the canvas into stiff sheets of ice. However, we got
the tent packed up somehow; and we moved camp to a site on the left bank
of the Beaver River a few miles from its mouth, that is to say, from its
junction with the Columbia. This junction point later became known as
Before setting up the tents
at this new camping ground, we had first to clear from the site for each
tent some two feet of snow; like excavating the cellar for a house before
starting to build it. When the tents were set up, we packed this snow
round the sides. This was quite a help in keeping out the cold.
We were camped here,
however, only temporarily, pending the completion of a log house which was
being built for us as our winter quarters. After a week or two, the house
was completed, and we moved into it a short time before the end of the
In the interval I spent
considerable time checking measurements at the sites of two large bridges
— Mountain Creek, and Cedar Creek — and familiarizing myself with them, as
the laying out and superintending the building of these bridges was to be
my work for the winter.
At some time during the
winter, the community at Donald was considerably stirred by an escapade in
which some members of the headquarters staff located there had,
unwittingly, got themselves involved.
As the story goes,
paymaster Lukes and others of the different staffs, among whom was G. H.
Duggan, were tobogganing one moonlit evening on the banks of the Columbia,
which by that time was frozen over. When so disporting themselves, they
saw some men moving kegs across the river — whisky pedlars, evidently.
Lukes was wearing a buffalo overcoat, similar to the coats worn by the
North West Mounted Police; and the idea, it would seem, occurred to him to
play a joke on these men and give them a good scare, by pretending to be a
policeman. So he bore down on them, ordering them in the name of the law
to stop. They evidently did take him for a policeman, for they fled,
leaving their kegs on the ice.
What was done with these
kegs is not clear. But the joke turned out to be on Lukes and the other
members of the party. For, a few days later, a charge of stealing whisky
was laid against them, and they were summoned to appear at court at
Beavermouth, to answer to the charge.
I happened to be at Donald
on the day they were leaving by train for Beavermouth, and I was returning
by the same train. At the station, before the train left, I fell in with
Jack Little, who, as I have already noted, had his own original way of
expressing himself. He had an odd grin which spoke volumes as he remarked
to me, "It looks as if our worthy paymaster would sleep in a dungeon
to-night." He seemed to be highly tickled that he was not in that scrape.
It was just the sort of scrape it would have surprised no one to find him
On the train there was also
Bob Woods. He amused us by his sallies of good-natured banter of the
alleged law-breakers. They had, at the beginning of the journey, taken
their places in the caboose. But, as the day was fairly warm, for a winter
day, and the sun shone brightly, they came out and joined those of us who
were in the open on a flat car. "That's right, boys," said Woods as they
appeared, "take all the fresh air you can get now."
At the trial, which was by
jury, the charge of stealing whisky was not pressed. But the prosecuting
lawyer fought hard to get them convicted on the charge of
misrepresentation, in pretending to be officers of the law. The jury,
however, acquitted them, much to the delight of their friends.
At the time Armstrong
called on me to take charge of the bridges nothing was said about George
Ellison who — as I was to learn later — was my Chief on that work. So I
had gone ahead and assumed full charge.
I had moved camp at least
once, or possibly twice, before I met, or even knew of Ellison, and
learned that it was he that held the position of engineer in charge of
bridges, and that my position was just that of his assistant.
Naturally, I resented this,
for it was quite different from what I had been led to believe. But I got
over that feeling and carried on as I had begun — Ellison notwithstanding
— just as if I were actually in full charge. And to this, Ellison offered
He had been with Ross
before, on the Credit Valley Railway, or on other railway construction
work in Ontario, of which Ross had been in charge.
He was considerably older
than I was — old enough, in fact, to have been my father. He was staid,
and easygoing, but with a lively sense of humour. He generally kept
himself around Headquarters, and it was only occasionally that he appeared
at my camp. I do not remember ever getting instructions from him. It was
from Ross himself that I got my instructions; which would indicate that it
was I, not Ellison, whom he held responsible for the work.
In our camp, Ellison was
spoken of — with Youth's conception of a middle-aged person — as "Old Man
Ellison". He, on the other hand, when about to make some confidential
remark to me, would address me as "Bone, old man". This placing of the
qualifying words old man, after, instead of before the name, has an
altogether different significance.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.