On the south end of Main Street stood the Canadian National Railway. The trans-Canada main line. In those days rail was king and every kind of thing was on the train as it chugged and whistled it's way through town.
Some trains flew right through town and barely slowed down, but most of them stopped to pick up freight or shunt off a few grain cars. This was when the hobos who's whose occupation was riding the rails would hop off their empty box car and head for the houses in town looking for a hand out.
Mother was a real soft touch for these guys who seeamed to home in on our place like bees to honey. We had one poor fellow who had his arm pulled out of its socket. He was sitting on top of a box car in the rail yards in Drumheller when the engineer started up with a bang. This guy fell off the roof between the cars and managed to grab a rung on the steel ladder to save himself. I'm not sure why he chose our place to search for help, but he chose well. Mother worked on his arm, bandaged him, and let him sleep in our garage (playhouse) while she fed him and nursed him back to health. Then one day he was gone.
Pennies on the Rails
The endless steel ribbon of tracks and whistle of the train was like a giant magnet to us young boys. Mother was so afraid we would meet our waterloo under one of those trains that she issued strict instructions not to go near the tracks. It was a warning that went unheeded. The wailing whistle, puff puff of the steam, and clanging of the big bell while the train was shunting beckoned our feet and took us back time after time for another look.
Canada had two sizes of pennies in those days, both worth one cent, but one was much bigger, about the size of today's quarter. Although money was a very scarce item in those days, a prized item we all coveted was a flattened penny that we had put on the track. We all had at least two, a large and small flattened variety.
There was one special coin however that even the adults were proud of, and that special flattened coin was produced in the fall of 1937 when the special Canadian National Railway train, I think it was called the Coronation Flyer, traveled from the east to west coast carrying Queen Elizabeth. Of course it didn't stop in Chinook, it didn't even slow down, but word got around as to when it was expected and the whole town was at the station to watch it roar through. The tracks were lined with pennies, and those flattened by the Royal Train were a coveted item. There were no guards along the route to clear the way. No one thought about sabotage. Who would ever want to hurt the Queen? What a far cry from the world we live in today. We have long since lost our innocence. Don't get me wrong though, I don't want to ever go back. Most of what we have today is superior in every way.
On the Engine
One summer day my friend Bill Lee and I were standing as close as we dared to a big throbbing steam locoamotive as it stood in the yard hissing out the odd shot of steam, when the engineer with his pin-striped bib overalls and red bandana helped us both up into the cab. What an experience that was. The fireman showed us the coal and opened the boiler door for us to look in. When we did he pulled a lever putting a shot of steam under the red hot coals. The flame shot out the door and we both thought we were goners, but after that the engineer pulled the whistle and rang the bell. What a day to remember.
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