Railroad personalities. Southern Alberta has its share, and they all have stories to tell, from the humorous to the inspiring.
Gus always worked with Red; when he and Red went to APST to work on the steam train they said, “You hire us as team or don’t hire us at all.” Red liked to go fast, but he was a very smooth engineer; passengers would never know the clip at which the train was going. Gus could get the most out of #41. One time, Gus and Red were having a really hard pull on the grade near Meeting Creek, with an unusually heavy train. The conductor radioed Gus to ask if he needed a diesel to get up the grade. Gus said, “Don’t need it. I got two positions on the reverser and three on the throttle. We’ll make it.” He wasn’t quite wide open, and #41 still had some power to give. He was right. They made it through without the diesel.
Walter Kitler, a senior conductor for APST for many years, always had a saying to the engine crew when the train was ready to go: “Let’s give her a pull.” Because of his many accomplishments, Central Western Railway named a siding on the rail line for him; it was given a station name, “Kitler”. He died, almost in the traces, about 4-5 months after he retired at age 86, and crews remember another of his sayings, “My work is done when I put her to bed.”
Ed was a station agent and an APST conductor for many years. He and Walter were a hilarious pair, running comedy patter and playing the harmonica in the Lone Star car. Ed was as not very tall. One time when finishing up at the end of the day, he needed to flip one of the switches on the D-rail and his High-Visibility vest got caught as he stepped off the pilot. The train was still going a pretty good pace. You should have seen him run! Thank goodness for break-away vests—he finally popped free, and he was okay.
Joe always had a knack for making a buck on the side. Once, after running backward with a switcher engine at high speed, filling the cab with coal dust, he said, “We were so black at the end of that run, all you could see of us was our eyes.” So, for extra cash, he began cleaning the coveralls of the crews using soda ash and steam.
Larry had a long career with the CPR, but once when he was a young whippersnapper, his conductor failed to warn him about a switch in a special switch tower. His job on this occasion was to run across the Northbound CN track, enter the tower and flip the switch. What he didn’t know was that this switch tower had a trap door in the wall and no lights. When the switch was aligned for the train to pass, the doors to the tower clanged shut and he was trapped in there until the train passed through the interlock. He couldn’t get out until the engineer stopped the train and one of the crew got off to let him out. Safety thing.
Harry has a long history with the railroad as a steam locomotive engineer. He was one of the last steam-qualified engineers to work on the CN. He had a special fondness in his heart for the #6060. Throughout the steamer’s career, he followed her progress and more than once rescued her from the scrap line, nursed her back to health, and ensured she could still be seen and work for the public, whether in static display in Jasper, trekking out to Vancouver for Steam Expo ’86, or pulling excursions from Stettler to Big Valley. “Bullet-Nosed Betty,” as her fans call her, is patiently convalescing in Warden right now, as the volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Rail Society tend to her needs, but, under Harry’s expert eye, she will one day be back on the rails, doing what she loves most: showing rail enthusiasts what steam locomotives can do.