Nov 6, 2010

Here it is folks, the second part of our NF railway memories…thanks to all who weighed in on the discussion


I’ll start with my scrapbook entry of a NFLD Railway placemat, glued permanently into the book with the date Sept. 26, 1958 as our arrival date in Gander. Why did I save such things? For occasions like this, I guess…I also have the TCA napkin in there from the plane trip out of NL the following year.



Canadian National Railways placemat from the “Newfie Bullet”. However, Bob Pelley has an even better ‘keepsake’ from the Newfie Bullet….read on…

Faye Lewis Raynard, GA Class of 1959


And here is a brief history of the railway in NL from Bob Pelley….


Many regret the loss of the Newfy Bullet and think that given what we know about climate change and energy  efficiency, the train would today be a much better proposition that road traffic.  But why did we lose it in the first place

Firstly it was narrow gage (3 ft 6in) with lower capacity than on the “mainland”. It was thought in business and government circles that such a small capacity would never be a paying proposition. And in fact, the railway chronically lost money.

As early as the mid 60s, when the Trans-Canada Highway  was completed across Newfoundland (remember the motto “Finish the drive in 65 “?) , trucks started to look good for long distance carrying and not just for service from the rail line to outlying areas. In those days, gas was still fairly cheap and therefore road traffic relatively inexpensive.

 Railway wagons coming from the mainland needed to go on a boat to get to the Rock, which was in itself a costly proposition in terms of time and money. As well, the distance between the train wheels had to be shortened to Nfld narrow gage - which meant even more time and money. This was done by exchanging “bogeys”.

Because the Nfld railway was not profitable, equipment was renewed only when strictly necessary. Both rolling stock and track were therefore old and expensive to maintain.

The terms of Confederation in 1949 transferred railways to CNR and therefore from that point decisions were made in Ottawa. Same say that decisions on the railway were something like those made later concerning the cod fishery :  some fellow from Alberta living in Ottawa telling people in St John’s what was best for Newfoundla

 In any case, in 1987 when Canada deregulated its railway industry and allowed railways to abandon money-losing lines, the CNR ( which had helped concoct  the legislation in the first place) was quite happy to let go the rail lines in Newfoundland.

 In 1988 there was a "Canada-Newfoundland Transportation Initiative" called by ordinary folk the "Roads for Rails Agreement", which gave Nfld 800m$.  In 1991 there was  another agreement (which had nothing to do with the railway) with another 235m$ for road construction. However both agreements ended in 2003.

 A fair amount of Nfld Railway equipment (along with the dishware and cutlery) ended up in narrow gage South America where it appears to be still  doing quite well.  But a few pieces stayed in the hands of Nfld folk – but sometimes only after long meanderings!!  A case in point – last year my wife  and I were on the Queen Mary 2 when we heard a woman speaking with what seemed to be a distinctly Newfy accent.  So we struck up a  conversation and discovered she was formerly from the Rock but now living in Saint John, NB.  While we did talk about travel, still nothing was really said about the Newfy Bullet.  We did however decide to maintain contact by email.  Some months later the subject of the Railway came up and lo and behold, she told me she had two spoons from the Bullet she wanted to give.  I must say that this was the best surprise gift I have ever gotten in my life!

These spoons are unique in that they are made to resemble the shovel that the fireman used on the old coal burning locomotives.  As you can see the attached photos, they have a wonderful style and are clearly marked Newfoundland Railway.  For those who like silverware, I have included a photo of the makers marks, which while they are hard to see, may be of interest to the experts in the gang.   Looking at these spoons tells us how much travel has evolved.  Compared to today’s plastic utensils and bags of over salted peanuts that we get while travelling nowadays, dining on the Newfy Bullet was close to elegance even for the poorest of travelers!



Bob Pelley, GA Class of 1962



“Bob Pelley was wondering what these spoons were actually used for. Given that they are made like a shovel, it would be hard to hold anything in it. Couldn’t be used for soup or similar liquids!  Any ideas?”  Submit answers to faye and we’ll include in an upcoming edition on Faye’s Place…thanks.


I do have good memories of living in our railway house right across from the station on Guthrie Street with the Pardy's living next door to us.  Our dad, CJ Lannon, was the roadmaster and when we knew he was coming home on his speeder,  we would walk down the tracks to meet him and if we were lucky, we might even catch a ride on the speeder (for anyone who doesn't know, the speeder was like a small 2-seater car on wheels that the railway used to check tracks, etc.). 

We always travelled by train in those days especially to see our grandparents in St. John's and in Corner Brook and we loved the adventure of being on the train especially at night when the seats were made into beds and the overhead compartment came down for another bed and the curtains came across.  For us children, it was so exciting.  Whenever I travel now and hear the whistle of a train coming down a track it takes me back to those wonderful days being so close to the railway station in Gander.

My brother, Paul, is really busy at the moment but I will ask him to try to relate some stories to you if he has the time.

Patricia ‘Deedee’ Lannon., SP Class of 1967


You asked if I had any memories of travelling in or on the Newfie Bullet. Whenever we were coming to St. John's to visit my mother's parents or to Carbonear to visit Dad's family, we had to travel on the train. We would go to Gambo and get on the train. The car would be put on a car car and we would get to sleep in the bunks. Mom would get on the bottom bunk with my brother and the two youngest girls and Dad would sleep on the top bunk with myself and my sister to make sure that we couldn't fall out. Those were the days.

Anne Goff Andrews SP Class of 1966


The railway played a big part in growing up in Gander. We walked it almost every day back and forth to school using the back road from the Army Side (that is, when we didn't take the short cut through the woods). We jumped off the boxcars into snowbanks along the track and must not forget waving to the train engineers as they passed by in their old steam engines and having them blow their whistle, covering us with a cloud of steam if we were standing to close to the tracks. We missed that when the diesel engines were brought in during the mid 1950s.

And we can't forget the many pennies (or nails) we placed on the tracks to have them flattened by the train. (I think I still have some of the pennies around here somewhere.)  And remember the competitions to see how many rails you could walk without falling off?

 As an aside to the flat penny story. I didn't think that the train crews would be aware of the items on the track until many years later I took a group of Cubs on a train ride (before the trains left Newfoundland forever) from the station in St. John's to Bowering Park just outside the city and return. Several of us were in the engine on the way to the park and some kids were along the track. The engineer, having done this trip many times said, "Let's see what happens here." They had put (I assume) pennies on the track and you could feel and hear a distinct "clank" as the train ran over them.

We walked the tracks to Union East several times during the summer to swim in Deadman's Pond and play on the sandy beach there. Even going to the terminal on Sunday afternoon meant a trip along the tracks, when we could not afford the cost of a trip on Newhook's bus.

 Once I remember getting into a freight shed along the track and cutting my finger while there. I was determined not to tell Mom where it happened, so I hid the damaged finger for a day or so until it looked like I might lose it due to infection. I finally broke down and showed her the finger which she cleaned and bandaged right away. I don't remember if she even asked how it happened!

I fondly remember the family visiting the railway station on evening when Dad knew that Joey Smallwood was passing through. Dad knew Joey from the days when Joey worked in Gander. He was then on a trip across the island to promote his campaign to bring Newfoundland into Confederation. Dad did talk with him and I got the political pat on the head from him. (Years later Joey shared an office with his son, Bill, in St. John's. Bill was a lawyer who did the legal work on my second house in Mount Pearl. I visited his office one day and took my youngest son along for the short visit. Joey happened to be in the office and my son walked up to him and started a conversation. By the end of the visit he was sitting on Joey's lap engrossed in conversation, and me with no camera!)

 I can't go into details of the many train rides to Clarenville to catch the Bonavista Branch train to Catalina for the summer vacation home; but they were equally memorable experiences. And I've bored you long enough with my ramblings.

Jim Butler, GA Class of 1959


 Thanks everyone for your input on the railway…so on to our next topic, again suggested by Bob Pelley…

I suggest trying to get something on the RC schools  (starting with the bldgs),  as we have little about that.  You could ask  people to dig out their  old  School albums and have them look for photos especially of the school on the airforce side in old Gander.  I already have two photos of St Joseph’s, one when it was standing and one as it was being torn down.   I won’t send them to webster for the moment, pending info on what you (all) think about a next topic.

NOTE: As with the railway topic, it is always open for more discussion, photos etc. We are interested in anything related to our growing up years in our hometown of Gander.  Keep the memories alive…