Oct 20, 2010

I was asking Dennis Pritchett recently about the train station in Gander. I couldn’t recall our family’s actual arrival in Gander by train. I only remember the long journey across NL countryside, from Port aux Basque, in September 1958. Somebody must have picked us up at the station when we arrived and driven us to our home on Elizabeth Drive, but that part of the memory has faded.

Anyway, I think it is time to ask others about their recollections of travel by rail in NL and any stories connected with it….(We’ve touched briefly on this railway topic before, but it bears repeating, I think). At our age, many of us have been known to repeat ourselves, so we can be forgiven…

Faye Lewis Raynard, GA Class of 1959


The only train station I remember would be situated near or on the Army Side, if you learned that in your tour (during the reunion in Aug. 2010).

In 1958 I was 13, and Campbell would have been about 17,  Dad worked on the building of the railway near Gander, and it was the only narrow-gauge railway in North America. I love trains, the old slow clickety-clack ones. One night Dad went down to the Railway Station to see a couple of friends off, and what with chatting, and a few beers, the train left Gander with him on it, and he was afraid to jump because he couldn't see the poles and signs coming up. He got off in Benton and walked back the tracks.

The Trade School in Gander used to make bookends out of the tracks when they tore up the railway; I was supposed to get a set, but it never arrived.

Last time I was in Gander, we drove out the railway bed, where the tracks had been, and did a bit of trout fishing.

I can remember a trip to St.  John's when I was very young, just my Mother and me, and this little old man with a black hat, a long white beard, and long black overcoat said something to me as we were walking in the city, and scared the living crap out of me. I'll never forget it. Do you remember Artie what's-his-name who used to play the part of the old man on Saturday Night Live? Well this fellow was a twin.

Dennis Pritchett, GA Class of 1963


Faye, the only thing I remember about the RR station in Gander is we caught the train there at about 3:00AM in the morning when we went to visit the grandparents in St John's. So us kids would be standing there on the platform, in the dark, rubbing our eyes, and waiting for the Newfie bullet which was often late.

What is now a three-hour drive to St John's seemed like an eternity on the train back then. We would stop at every place that had a building on site and sometimes right out in the middle of nowhere. Each time, the conductor would walk the length of the train calling out the name of the next stop.

We would pack a lunch to bring with us, rather that buy food on the train. With the old steam engine, the ride was rather rough. Our favorite thing to do was to stand out between the cars and check out the full length of the train by sticking our heads out over the door. I lost a few hats doing that.

Before the Trans Canada Highway was completed, a lot of stuff was transported around the gaps by train. So it was interesting to stand by the tracks when the train went by to see what was on the flatcars. And then there were the logging trains that contained miles of flatcars piled high with pulp wood. An awesome sight.

Bob McKinnon, SJ Class of 1961


I don't have any exciting stories regarding the Station itself. Obviously, it was more fun ON the train! Seeing friends, and sometimes, "necking" with girl friends!  

When I was much younger, my parents, my brother and I used to take the railway from Gander to Gambo to catch a boat to Pound Cove, Bonavista Bay.  This was always in the middle of the night. The other times I took the train was during the early 60's to and from MUN. It was always fun especially going back after Christmas. As a result, I have many fond memories of waiting in the station for the train.

The train was sooooo slow!

Reminds me of an old joke -

"A gentleman was taking the train across the island, whenhe noticed a lady, who was pregnant, and was now going into labour.

He said " You shouldn't have gotten on the train in yourcondition".

She said " I wasn't in this condition when I gotaboard".

Looking forward to any stories people may have!

 Norm Hounsell, GA Class of 1960


I attended MUN during the year 1959-60 So I would be looking for employment for the summer of 1960. (I hope that I am correct because those far off years begin to fade at this stage of the game)

I found summer work with the CN Express. It operated from a building addition to the east of the railway "Station". My good friend Bill Boland , a grad of the Gander school system, worked there. The Manager was Bill Kean, old time Anglicans may remember him as a church Warden.

As the newest, green in more ways than one, Boland and the boys would send me out in the car yard to close up all the doors on the vacant cars. They would give me a series of car numbers to look for. They were all flat cars!!!

What a laugh they would have when I returned much later.

One day there was an accident in Bowater's Gambo camp and the victim was brought to the Gander hospital. Just before closing time the RCMP brought a long wooden box to be shipped to HQ in St. John's. The word was spread around that this was the corpse from the Gambo accident going for an autopsy.

My next shift began at 2 the next morning in the meeting of the Eastbound train all by my lonesome!!!.

Don't say that I was at ease there in the dark.

I wasn’t!

Before the summer was over I was going through some waybills and discovered that the RCMP was transshipping a box of rifles. I let no one know that I had found them out in their hazing.

One late afternoon some USAF persons came to help their comrade ship out to stateside. Furniture and other household goods. Without a clue, I filled out the waybill. I have often wondered if the officer and the goods ever got together again.

Clarence Dewling, GA Teacher…


That’s it for this time folks…but there are more railway stories out there waiting to be told, so add yours to the mix by writing to me at brfr1@verizon.net and we’ll include the next time…check in then to see what Patricia ‘Deedee’ Lannon (another new voice on our site) has to say and what Jim Butler adds to the mix…We like pictures of the old days too…you can send as jpgs…and we’ll get them published.

Meanwhile, Happy Guy Fawkes Day…we enjoyed seeing where Jim Butler and Morley Smith remembered storing all the things they would stash away for the big bonfire night when they lived in Old town Gander. During our tour of the sites, they remembered that one year they  had an old airplane tire to add to the mix. Those fires would burn for days after the annual bonfire night. So much so, according to Morley, that the planes approaching the airport would notify the tower that there was a big fire underway near the airport..!!!

Help us recall the history of Gander in these ongoing column with your memories and pictures. Remember, you are the last generation alive to remember the days of living in Oldtown…Help record it on our website for posterity…thanks,

Faye Lewis Raynard.