The conductor of the last steam train through Lindsay and a train historian reflect on the last days of the rail in Lindsay Read the article
Last steam train through Lindsay
Tom Pasquino of Lindsay was the conductor on the last steam train into Lindsay on May 21, 1978. Here he stands in front of a similar steam engine at Memorial Park.Kawartha Lakes This WeekByBarbara-Ann MacEachern (LINDSAY) It was a Sunday afternoon 35 years ago that the last steam engine rolled through Lindsay.
On May 21, 1978, the CN steam locomotive 6060, nicknamed a “Bullet Nose Betty” for their cone-shape smokebox door cover, stopped in Lindsay on its way from Toronto to Belleville.
Lindsay conductor Tom Pasquino oversaw the trip, alongside Toronto engineer Bob Olson. The train had been hired out for the special trip by a group of Toronto Railway Clubs.
“They would like to have the steam locomotive to pull the train,” says Mr. Pasquino of the 300 or so enthusiasts on that final ride.
“The steam locomotive was almost a living, breathing thing as it stood in the station, snorting away at you.”
“Because they were pretty much extinct at that time, it was quite the attraction.”
And although he says there were very few trains still rolling through Lindsay at that stage, at the time of the trip, he wasn’t aware that his would be the last.
The first stop of the day was in Stouffville, remembers Mr. Pasquino, where the passengers all got off, so the train could be backed up about a mile and the engineer could speed up, puff out its steam, lay on the whistle and zip by the station.
“That was quite a thrill for the passengers – they call that a run-by,” he says.
“I think it’s the sounds – what they call the exhaust – when it makes that sound when they pull the throttle back and the whistle and the bell and the steam coming out of the top and both sides of the engine.”
Once the train stopped in Lindsay, passengers were again invited to disembark the train as the crew refilled the huge tender, that held between 11,000 and 11.700 gallons of water, by pulling down a massive trough with a rope.
“You had to stand there – it didn’t matter how cold it was – until the big tank was full. I did that a good many times,” says Mr. Pasquino with a smile.
The last steam locomotive to come through Lindsay now belongs to the Rocky Mountain Rail Society in Jasper, Alberta, and is one of only three mountain type locomotives in its class still in existence of the 20 that were originally made.
“The steam locomotive was almost a living, breathing thing as it stood in the station, snorting away at you,” says Charles Cooper, a local railway historian.
His own fascination began with his first toy train set at the age of six in Britain, when train travel was the main mode of transportation because most people couldn’t afford cars.
Later in life, once he moved to Canada, Mr. Cooper began taking pictures of old railway stations, which led to him researching and writing several books about the history of the rail system in Ontario.
“I think, in some respects, that’s when I really became a Canadian,” he says, adding that he believes that while trains have always connected places, train history connects people.
Lindsay in particular, has a rich history, he says, as a major divisional point in Ontario as well as a huge employer for a relatively small town. He added that the rail system was so important for a good century, its existence could literally make or break a town.
“If you were touched by the railway, you prospered; if you were passed by a railway, you died,” Mr. Cooper notes.
Speaking to This Week 25 years after his retirement, Mr. Pasquino remembers the pride he took in working for the railway for 20 years in Lindsay, after moving here in 1952 when he started on with the Canadian National Railway. And while many enthusiasts pour over the rich rail history in the area, Mr. Pasquino says he was just happy to have a steady job.
“At that time having a job with the railway was considered pretty safe,” he said, noting that he considered the working conditions and pay to be good and enjoyed the people he worked with.
He was paid $22 the first day he worked, being paid 9.75 cents per mile travelled, and when he retired 38 years later, he was paid $220 for his day at a rate of 75 cents per mile on a passenger train.
Most of all, he says he took pride in helping people where they were going comfortably and safely.
“When I started with the CNR in 1952, it was the biggest employer in the Town of Lindsay,” he says, adding that train stations were the busy hubs of small communities.
It was just a few years later in 1959, that began to slow down when the grain movement out of Midland stopped, Mr. Pasquino adds.
Mr. Cooper, notes that the fate of the railway system in Canada was effectively sealed during that decade when Canada Post switched from train to truck delivery. The success of the rails was always more hindered in Canada than European countries because of its relatively thin population compared to its expensive infrastructure, he says. As more vehicles took to local roads, the rails through the middle of town became unsafe and an irritation.
Mr. Pasquino had to begin working in Toronto in 1972, while still living locally, for the last 18 years of his career.
“It’s almost all vanished now,” Mr. Cooper says of the remnants of Lindsay’s rail history, except for a few hints like the Scugog bridge, the local Rail Trail and the boulevard up Victoria Avenue marking where the tracks used to be.
But he adds that, with the increasing concern over global warming, he wouldn’t rule out a revitalization of train culture at some point in the future.
“That’s an open question,” he says, noting that while many smaller branches are gone, many large arteries have survived.
“To my mind, the railway is still not dead, it’s just figuring out how to re-invent itself.”