do you remember

May 20, 2011

Here we go again folks. This time the topic is Railway ‘Speeders’ which was prompted by my question after seeing an interesting photo on the “Gander Our Town” website…The webmaster for that site is Jim Johnson .and he gave permission for us to use that photo here. Thank you Jim.

speeder turn around


Before we get started, I need   clear up the confusion that I created by incorrectly identifying Jim butler’s  sister re comments made by Jim   on the ‘Wee Bobby Clark’ mystery photo. My apologies to all…

“One thing I would like to point out, the sister I contacted about the photo was not the one you mentioned. Cora did attend school in Gander but did NOT work at CBG. My older sister, Margaret, is the one I contacted about whether she knew Bobby Clarke. She did not attend school in Gander.
 “Just to clear the record.”
         Jim Butler, GA Class of 1959

Back to the ‘Speeders’, and Eric Smith, GA Class of 1956, had this to say:

“My only knowledge of speeders came from my first job away from Gander.  I worked, as a cable splicer's helper, with the Canadian National Telegraphs in Grand Falls from January til August 1957. The CNT had a contract with the American military at Pepperell in St. John's to maintain a military communications system across the island.   
“A gas-filled lead cable had been installed on poles all along the railway line from St. John's to Port aux Basques.  Every sixty miles or so there was a repeater station, e.g. Gander, Grand Falls etc., etc). The cable splicer and his helper were responsible for maintaining the section of cable between Badger (just west of Grand Falls) to Notre Dame Junction (west of Glenwood).   

“My job every morning was to get the speeder ready while the cable splicer was checking on the schedules of train traffic in the area.  After I had removed the speeder from its shack, fueled it and loaded it with two 125-pound canisters of gas (nitrogen I think) we would head either east or west from Grand Falls for the day, looking for and repairing cable leaks.  The open speeder would move along the railway tracks at about 20-25 MPH. My face was beet red from the cold all winter long.   

“Lunch time we would stop at a section shack along the railway and eat our sandwiches while we chatted with a railway section crew. Their speeder was quite a bit larger.

“To the best of my knowledge these were the only two common types of open speeders along the railway in Newfoundland.  Gander would also have had a similar arrangement to Grand Falls.

“In late August, I quit and went to technical school in St. John's. In the eight months with the CNT I had gained ten pounds of muscle.”

Eric Smith, GA Class of 1956,


Hi Faye ...have been thinking about the subject and don't have much to add!

“I remember seeing these things but I saw then as being so light that no turntable would be required. However, I checked the average weight of a typical speeder to find they can run over 3000 lbs - so a turntable would certainly come in handy.
“I've attached a photo of the speeder from the Avondale museum which is the     type I saw around Gander.
“The only other thing that comes to mind was the hand operated ones, for example the one up by steam plant on the American side we used to play on as kids. The Jesse James game relived up on the "Coal Hill!”
         Robert Pelley, GA Class of 1962



Marion Pardy, thought that her brother Garfield and good friend Dee Dee Lannon might have something more to add:

“Gar and Dee Dee: You might want to comment on the ‘hand controlled’ car (in contrast to the ‘speeder’) that Dad frequently operated.  Was there a ‘turn around’ place?  I thought they just switched ‘gears’ to return to destination.  
“What was it used for?  I recall having a ride on it sometimes when I was walking home from school or library and Dad happened to come by. Maybe you could fill Faye in re the difference between the ‘speeder’ and the ‘hand pumped’ car.”
         Marion Pardy, GA Class of 1958

Hi Faye:     
“My Dad, CJ Lannon, was the Roadmaster (later called Track Supervisor) for CN in Gander covering Clarenville to the Gaff Topsails.  He had a speeder but I only remember him using it for CN business not for passengers (although, every now and then, us kids did get a ride on it).
“There was a newfangled one and an old fashioned one (I think, called a calliope).  He used to have the old one in our yard at 1 Bishop Street but later donated it to the Trinity Loop Museum. I don't remember the turnabout though.  Our family does have a picture of the old in our yard. 
“I remember my dad would tell the story, that if a train was coming and he had to get off the track with his speeder, he would lift it off the tracks himself and go fish with a piece of twig and a line while he waited for the train to go by.
         Patricia Deedee  Lannon, SP Class of  1967

1937 photo

“I don't know much about the speeders, except that they existed and were used by maintenance crews along the railway tracks. When I worked with the USAF Repeater Station in Gander for a year or so, I remember that we had at least two since the cable splicers used them to maintain the cables along the track. One of the guys had a habit of leaving the speeder on the main track while working on the cables and we did lose a few of them to a passing train.
“I was not fortunate enough to get a ride on one.”
         Jim Butler, GA Class of 1959

And here is a little ‘teaser’ about what you will read about next time, so stay tuned….
“I will send you a few comments on the Newfoundland railroad speeder, as a relative of mine was a fire fighter on the speeder between Gander and Gamdo in the 1940 through the 1950s. His name was Howard Pritchett, and he was so dedicated to the fire fighting in those days, he almost lost his life in the early 1950s, when he was trapped in an area about 12 miles from Gambo.
          Campbell Pritchett, GA Class of 1959

(Hey isn’t this a little like the serials at the movie theater that would keep us coming back for more)?

 We’ll have more on the topic next time as Patricia Hiscock, Clyde Burt, Campbell Pritchett, Dennis Pritchett and others share their memories and experiences right here….


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