FASCINATION FOR TRAINS
The thrill of trains! The sounds of engine bells and whistles, the thunderous exhausts of steam locomotives or roar of sleek diesel electric engines, the clickity-clack of wheels running over rail joints- these sounds cause everyone within viewing distance to stop and stare in awe. A wave to the engine and train crew always brings that wave back. Trains have always fascinated us and provided one of the safest and enjoyable means of travel. The story of passenger trains in Newfoundland is a rich and colorful story spanning more
than a century.
On the morning of 10 October 1881 section foremen Harry Kilpatrick drove the first spike on the end of the railway wharf at Maggoty Cove in St. John's. By the spring of 1898 two ribbons of steel had been secured across the colony of Newfoundland to Port aux Basques. We were ready for trans-island passenger train service! On 29 June 1898 the first "foreign express" with some 50 passengers left St. John's and arrived in Port aux Basques at 10:45 p.m. the next day, making the initial run in 27 hours and 45 minutes. A regular service was instituted which would be modified over the years and serve the people of Newfoundland for the next 71 years. The passenger equipment was the best available at the time, comparing favorably with coaches, diners and sleeping cars in the United States.
The railway in Newfoundland was narrow gauge, 42 inches between rails compared to the North American standard of 56 1/2 inches. The line crossed hills and barrens, rivers and valleys, woodland and marsh; traveling inland and following the coastline in places in its 547 mile course. Passengers had the opportunity to view magnificent scenes never before possible. Everybody came out to see the train as it approached stations. Branch lines were built connecting major towns and villages to the main line. There were virtually no roads and residents welcomed the new means of travel, other than by sea. The Newfoundland Railway had heavy curvature and steep grades which, combined with the narrow gauge and the many stations along the way, limited the time schedule. We didn't have the fastest passenger train in North America although in some sections passenger trains were permitted to increase speed to 50 miles per hour. We had the longest narrow gauge passenger service, offering dining and sleeping car facilities for the comfort and convenience of passengers.
Patrons who traveled on the trains in the 1920s to the 1960s still praise the workers who ran these trains. Service in the dining cars and sleepers was of the highest caliber. Especially significant was the exceptional performance during World War 11, 1939-1945. Demand on the system doubled and the railway was hard pushed to accommodate all the military personnel and transient workers. But it did and there are many stories told about the magnificent job done by the employees. By 1956 the sight of beautiful steam locomotives coming into stations with puffs of steam and smoke was replaced by the roar of sleek diesel electric units hauling the passenger trains. By 1965 we had a paved road, the trans-Canada highway, and Newfoundlanders took to this new means of travel, spelling the eminent death of passenger trains.
The story of the Newfie Bullet, a name adopted during World War 11, is a story of a life line stretching across the island of Newfoundland, providing a safe, comfortable means of travel to residents and visitors alike.
About the Author
Growing up near the railway yard in Bishop's Falls, Newfoundland, Mont Lingard was introduced to trains at an early age. He watched the switchers moving freight and passenger cars around the yard. He was soon hitching rides on the side of cars and became familiar with switching actions and the equipment. Bom 8 September 193 0, he attended a one room school until age ten and went on to graduate from a five-room all grade school in 1948. He remembers being the only graduate from the West Amalgamated School that year, and in fact was the only pupil in his class while studying grades TX and X. Following graduation he went to work with the Newfoundland Railway as a student fireman (engineman) on 5 July 1948. He worked on coal burning steam locomotives and after the locomotives were converted to oil, worked as fireman on the oil burning steamers. However, the days of steam were short as diesel electric locomotives were replacing the steamers all over North America and Newfoundland was no exception. As multiple diesel units required less enginemen Lingard transferred to the mechanical department office in 1951 where he worked until 1968.
From 1968 to 1989 he was employed as Business Manager with the Exploit's, Valley Integrated School Board. His interest in trains never waned and he often rode the trains and maintained a relationship with former co-workers. When the railway ceased operations in 1988 his delayed plans to write a book were reactivated. He wanted to tell about the railway, places like the Gaff Topsails and the people who devoted their lives to moving trains. His first book in the Next Stop series, Next Stop: Gaff Topsail, was published in 1996. Three more books completed this series which described all sections ofthe railway and included in-depth interviews with some fifty railroaders and historians.
Now, Lingard tells the story of train passenger service in Newfoundland. We learn about the first trains in 1882 up to the last regular passenger train on 2 July 1969, with first hand accounts from people who traveled on the trains from the 1920s on. Mont Lingard resides in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland.