While growing up in the Canadian National Railway town, Aylesbury, Saskatchewan, I spent a good deal of time at the railroad station. The northbound passenger train from Regina used to arrive at 12:10. I used to rush to the station from school to get in on the action. And, oh did that waiting room use to be wonderfully warm on those cold winter nights.
I was encouraged by several people to carry in the coal for the agent, Edwin J. Pallansche. Friends suggested that I could do errands for Mr. Pallansche and that in turn, he would teach me the code and some station procedures. The opportunity was there for me, but I never took advantage of it. Instead, when I graduated from high school, I joined the Navy, and guess what, I joined as a telegrapher. During my three years in the Navy, ten months were at the Navy school learning International Morse and radio procedures. The next two years were spent aboard ship sending and receiving the code. While at sea, I became a good operator. We worked 4 hour shifts, the code came fast and steady with no breaks in transmission.
After several years in the Navy, my father suffered a heart attack and was bedridden. He owned a pool room and barber shop, so he needed some help and I was eager to get out of the Navy. So I applied for and received a compassionate discharge, reducing my Navy time from five to three years.
I returned home and geared up to become a barber. But after spending about three months waiting around the pool room for people to play pool and get a haircut, I determined that was not for me. So I went over to the station and talked to the agent, Mr. Howard West. Mr. West suited me up with a practice sender, an empty Prince Albert tobacco can, and a list showing the railroad code. Then I spent hours in the pool room during the spring of 1951 just sending code on the practice KOB. Also, I spent a little time at the railroad station, but I did not OS a train, take any train orders, or do any station work. I just felt that I was a hot operator and that would do.
My father's health was improving to the extent that he could now get back to work, so I needed to get a real job. I went looking for work at the CNR dispatching office in Regina and I tried to see Chief Deering. He did not even glance up at me when he responded that he had no openings. Needless to say, I was pissed off. Then I borrowed my Dad's car and drove to Saskatoon to see the CPR chief there.
I didn't get to see the chief right away, but the day operator sat me down and said he wanted to try me on the code. (I haven't stated that all my telegraphy in the Navy was done on the typewriter using touch typing.) I don't recall what he sent me, but at the end of my first line he hollered into the chief's office saying, "He's OK chief." After a short interview with the chief, I was hired.
The chief states that I have to write up the rules. He gives me a rule book, and gives me a time and place to write up the exam. This I did, and when finished, reported to the chief. He says you can relieve Plumb at Insinger. So I got a pass to on train number 52 on 20 Aug 1951 to relieve a CPR Station agent when I hadn't been in any CPR station, with the exception of the one in which I was hired.
I arrived at Insinger about 20:00, the station was closed, but the agent Bob Plumb was there waiting for me. I don't know what happened in later years, but at that time there was a day transfer allowed, and both were to spend the day going over books, etc., and both would get paid for that day. Well, it didn't work that way that day or for the succeeding day either. Bob showed me around, got me to sign a transfer, showed me where he had set up a bunk for me in the express room, and off he went.
The next morning I did not know what had hit me. I had wire going for telegrams, bells ringing from dispatcher office for meet orders, track foreman at Wicket asking for lineup, and customers bringing in eggs and cream for shipment to Yorkton creamery, etc. I had NEVER copied a train order, though I knew what they were, and I had a real beast of a time getting through my first train order, then another beast of a time re-copying it so that it would be legible. I also had a difficult time copying Morse code (also called railroad code) after spending two years copying International code. Recall there are 23 numbers and letters different between the two codes.
After a train went by, usually at a lick of speed, I didn't know which direction it had gone, nor did I know how to properly report it to the dispatcher. After a couple of days of this, and me in a nervous state, it appears that the dispatcher must have told somebody that the guy down in Insinger was in trouble.
About the third day on the job, a guy comes in off a speeder and spends about have an hour with me. He was a terrific guy. He calmed me down, gave me encouragement, and just sat on the counter speaking softly to me. Even though I never learned any procedures from him, I felt I wasn't going to get fired, and that I could come through this thing. Well, I did get through it. I copied telegrams, sent telegrams, made out express tickets for express shipments, met the trains with the express truck, helped the drayman, copied orders, and even gave up orders on the hoop, all in the two weeks I was there. I also billed out cars of grain for Fort William.
I knew nothing about cash reconciliation, reporting daily, the daily grain report to the grain operator, nor had I ever pulled down, nor did I ever put back up the "block".
One day, this freight train rolled by and I noticed this guy dressed up sitting in the cupola. It seemed to me he was some kind of an official. I found out the next day that he was as assistant superintendent. He came back in a speeder and had a frank talk with me. It was just talk, no written report. In two weeks a rules instructor and an assistant superintendent came to see me. I had not taken down the block immediately after that freight train passed by. Somehow, I got also connected with the postmaster, whom spent time with me going over the books. He gave me a grounding in bookkeeping. Then I spent each evening and that weekend going over the books and attempting to do things right. (It's sort of ironic that 10 years later, I would be auditing books at Esso bulk stations within the Province of Saskatchewan.)
Boy was I ever relieved each day when closing time came. At last I did not have to cope with all the turmoil of bells ringing, Morse code calls for "NS" or reporting trains passing by. At the end of the two weeks, Plumb came back. I assisted him in making out a transfer, and to this day, I have never had repercussions of my training period at Insinger.
Immediately after my time at Insinger, I was sent to Prince Albert for a day as operator trick. That was a wire job only, no phones, etc. So this is my story and I'm sticking to it, my story about the training procedures of the CPR.
Learn more about Operators and Agents in this article.