Morning is breaking over the smoke stacks, water tanks and towers of the industrial roofline of Grand River, a rugged factory town in the heart of Ontario's manufacturing district. Soot-blackened brick and stone walls are coming into focus, and the points of yellow light glowing behind windows coated with grime are fading in the dawn. Already, the whir of machinery and rumble of engines is behind heard as the early delivery trucks begin arriving on their rounds to the awakening factories. From the tall chimneys, black smoke is drifting out, signifying the prosperity and production of postwar industrial Canada.
Tucked away in the south end of Grand River, the ancient stone Gooderham & Worts distillery stands. Constructed in 1857, it has since been dwarfed by a massive brick complex, to which it is connected by an overhead walkway. Availability of cheap water power and bountiful local grain supply brought the plant to the river town during the Industrial Revolution. Now the unmistakable aroma of a distillery arrests our nostrils as we peer up at the massive rooftop sign. Tucked into a hollow along the west wall of the plant is the Hogg retail coal trestle. Above the stone retaining walls enclosing the coal dealer, the sounds of thumping hammers and girding lathes are escaping forma the large windows of the Canada Iron & Machine Company. Over beyond the farthest siding, the Grand River Furniture factory is beginning another working day.
A small commercial district is nestled beneath the railway tracks, and from the sidewalks we have a lovely view of the railway embankment as it curves around from the south and crosses the roadway on a through girder bridge emblazoned with the distinctive "Canadian National Railways Courtesy & Service." As was the case in most Ontario industrial areas, railway and road traffic going head-to-head at level crossings forced the streets to burrow under the tracks. For coming generations, the bottlenecks at under passes will cause much fuming in rush hour commuters.
A whistle resounding through the brick and stone catacombs announces the arrival of the morning wayfreight from the junction. Grand River is located on a bracnhline that winds its way north through a hundred-mile progression from factories to agricultural districts and finally the sparkling waters of Georgian Bay. The daily CNR peddler carries the bulk of freight traffic on the line, and its consist sometimes swells to 20 cars. Today, H-6-c class Ten Wheeler 1303 has drawn the assignment, and she is stepping carefully around the tight curving mainline atop the limestone retaining walls.
We leave our coffee at the breakfast counter in the corner grocery store, and hop into our automobile, which we left parked near the Supertest station. Not a moment too soon, either: in the morning rush a parked car quickly causes a traffic snarl.
We drive under the steel girder bridge and up to the station, where the Ten-wheeler is just coming to a stop on the mainline. Like several of the early industrial buildings in the area, this original Grand Trunk Railway structure was constructed of durable limestone quarried from local pits. A schedule board, waiting room door, mailbox and platform wagons attest to the passenger trains that still serve this branchline. A couple of hours ago, the morning accommodation headed through on its daily run to the Georgian Bay terminus, where it will lay over and return southbound, calling here again at nightfall. In company with his colleagues in hundreds of branchline CNR stations, the agent/operator at Grand River is kept busy with passenger, express, telegraph and freight business. As he is booking in the arrival of the work extra, the conductor is making his way from his orange van to the office in search of a switchless for the morning's work.
Immediately behind the locomotive is a box car load of merchandise, acting as today's "way car." Beyond the station to the north, the shed man and his assistant have come on duty at seven o'clock. With half a carload of packages to handle before the peddler leaves, the freight shed staff will be busy. Customarily, a wayfreight spots the way car first, so the men have time to work the car while other switching duties are being performed. On the ground, the conductor has conferred with his brakemen about the work to be done. A coupler lever is pulled, the engineer and firemen are signalled to pull ahead, and with a bark from her stack the ten-wheeler rolls forward to the siding switch, then reverses and runs around her train. Leaving the caboose on the mainline, the remainder of the consist is switched to the service track. Working into the freight shed siding at the north end of the yard, the crew spot the box car adjacent to the platform. An orange CN Freight delivery truck coughs to life and backs alongside the car, to receive any piece for local delivery.
Two carloads of grain are backed down the narrow corridor between the Gooderham & Wort stone distillery building and the main complex onto a private siding at the south end of the yard. The cars pass beneath an overhead walkway and the brakeman signals the engineer to stop at the unloading platform. After the pin is yanked, the engine pulls ahead past the switch for the siding leading into the coal trestle. Built in the early 1920s, this retail facility also serves the heating needs of the distillery. Space restrictions necessitate a steep grade for loaded trucks to climb on their way out of the pit, and on occasion a tow chain is required to coax one of the venerable Mack trucks up the incline. Today there is a load of coal for the trestle from the CNR-Lackawanna interchange at Black Rock, New York. With the remainder of the train used as a handle, the ten-wheeler nudges the hopper car onto the timber structure. A grimy worker from the Hogg yard climbs onto the deck and releases a trap door at the bottom of the car. Under a cloud of coal dust, tons of black diamonds cascade into the bin below.
The Grand River station agent has advised the conductor that on his morning yard check he sealed a car for shipping from the Canada Iron & Machine Company. A shipper is allowed two days loading or unloading time before demurrage charges begin kicking in, but a bit of leniency is allowed on occasion. Backing into the company siding which is shared with the Grand River Furniture Company, the wayfreight locks couplers with the load of steel parts, and the brakeman fastens the "hose bags" and hops on the tail-end car. With the other brakeman flagging the roadcrossing, the wayfreight eases out of the private siding and sets the loaded car on the adjacent team track for the moment.
In today's way freight consist is a car load of lumber from the Northeastern U.S. picked up from the bond siding at the junction this morning, and destined for the Grand River Furniture Company. A couple of employees are waiting on the platform to receive the car as it is backed alongside. This plant receives about a carload of lumber each week, and ships out a large volume of hardwood furniture by less-than-carload (LCL) and occasionally express, which are both picked up by CN trucks. When an unusually large shipment to a distributor warrants a full car, it is handled directly from the unloading platform. Alongside the siding shared by the machine shop and the furniture factory is a second siding, which serves as both a railway team track and a tail track for switching a number of industries in the north end of the city. A box car load of bagged portland cement from a distributor in Toronto is spotted on the team track, and following a runaround move in the yard, the engine backs into the tail track and clear of the switch.
By now, the train crew has been on duty for almost five hours, and it is time for the customary lunch stop. It is the head end brakeman's turn to buy provisions, and he walks up the street a short way to the downtown district. A row of solid Victorian storefronts, including banks, grocery stores, hardware and dry goods merchants, extends off in the distance.
A favorite with train crews is Gerry's Grill on the corner, whose owner produces spicy German sausage. The life embracing proprietor typifies the attitude found in railway towns all over the division, where local merchants are fond of the train crews and their patronage. Armed with a freshly wrapped package, the brakeman returns to his hungry mates.
Half an hour later, we hear the fire man's shovel scraping the footplate as he stokes the ten-wheeler's firebox in preparation for the afternoon's work. Sprawling over the north end of the city are factories standing shoulder to shoulder, jammed in between streets, track and topography.
Crews are not fond of working this area, with its tight clearances, low visibility and curves. Flanges are squealing as the train snakes between the Scroggins Shoe works, yet another industry tied to the original local economy, and the silos of the Lill & Swain Coal Company, the largest fuel dealer in Grand River. With a brakeman walking ahead, the engine chugs beneath the massive red brick Rosenquist-Wilson piano and organ factory, a behemoth in its declining years. Finally arriving at the Wagner & Strang stove & furnace works, a carload of assembled appliances is picked up.
A couple of local children on bicycles are watching the locomotive as it chugs out from the cleft between the buildings. From the service track, there is work remaining at a couple more large mills. Both the Galt Flour Mills and Grand River Knitting Mills employ over 100 men working two shifts, and in the vicinity of the two plants, the air is dry with dust. With a bang, the engine locks couplers at the timber platform with a car load of export flour, which is then set on the freight shed siding. A box car load of wool is eased alongside the concrete platform of the knitting mill near the wheel stops, and a couple of dock employees break the seal. Over at the freight shed the way car is retrieved, then the consist is assembled in front of the station. Orders in hand, the engineer answers the conductor's signal with a couple of blasts on the whistle, the brakes are released, and the wayfreight is on its way up the branchline.
Beyond the industrial heart of Ontario, the landscape and economy becomes agricultural in nature. Typifying the hundreds of communities spread over the vast expanse of southwestern Ontario is Minessing. Its red frame combination station comes into view, with the quintessential grain elevator and coal dealer at trackside. A collection of wooden houses and s mall mills make up this quaint village. Train time is an event in the community, and a half-dozen people are always at the station to watch the activity surrounding the arrival of the daily wayfreight. A local contract trucker is waiting on the platform for the way car as the train brakes to a halt at the order board. While the conductor proceeds to the station, the brakeman coaxes open the large steel door on the box car and assists the trucker with the packages.
There is a hopper car of coal in the consist for the Dominion Coal bunker, which has taken advantage of summer prices in laying in a supply of anthracite for the autumn and winter. Through tall grass and beneath the dusty canopy of the Tamblyn Grain mill, the hopper car is rolled to the unloading bin. Grain, coal, and feed, with the occasional farm implement traffic, are staples for this community on the railway line, which ships and receives about 50 carloads per year. In 10 years, the highways will have taken most of this business, and in another decade hence these trackside buildings will be gone, along with the rails.
Back at the front of the station, the crew prepares for departure, as some children watch from the platform. The afternoon sun high overhead is blocked by a column of coal smoke as the 63-inch drivers begin to turn. Screaming a warn ing for a farm crossing, the little train gathers speed and begin s roll ing across the green Southern Ontario meadows.
The train slows as the town of Fergus comes into view. Brick smokestacks and rooftop water towers speak of the industrial flavor of this community, nestled on the banks of the Grand River. After the stop at the train order board, the conductor walks to the station and enters through the wooden screen door. Inside, the agent/operator is booking the train arrival time as he hands a switch list to the conductor. Back outside, the crew is directed to spot the way car alongside the station platform, where a contract delivery truck is waiting for lcl shipments.
A second box car, loaded with metal castings, is destined for the Beatty Foundry. Walking ahead of the train on the siding, a brakeman checks the spindly rail , which rarely sees a freight car any more. Alongside the weather beaten wood loading dock, the brakeman pulls the pin, and the locomotive retreats back along the weed-grown siding to the mainline.
In addition to the customary lumber, grain, and coal industries at this branch line point, there is a stock ramp. Tuesdays are cattle-loading days in Fergus, and an empty car is to be spotted at the chute. On the southbound run tomorrow, the crew will no doubt be waylaid, as the loading always seems to take longer than expected. But with business being constantly lost to Ontario's developing system of reliable highways, the crew do not grumble for long. On the chute siding, the car is left alongside the whitewashed ramp.
As the wayfreight crew reassemble their train in front of the station, the head end brakeman rolls the large steel door on the way car shut. We bid farewell to the train here, as it makes its way up the branch to other small communities. Many miles and hours from now, the locomotive will be taken off and serviced, the crew will head to the bunkhouse, and another working day for a CNR wayfreight will be finished, only to be repeated tomorrow in reverse, as the crew and train head back down the line toward the junction.