Tuesday, 29 December 2015

By Car and Cowcatcher Part 2

By Car and Cowcatcher
Part II.
From Murray’s Magazine, 1 February 1887, VOL. I., NO. III. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Dec. 2015.
This is an interesting article, penned by the wife of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Miniter. It is often referred to but I believe this is the first time it is posted on the web!!! Just as a note, when she refers to 'cars', the reference is to a train car./drf

From Calgary to Laggan I had travelled in the car of the engine, accompanied by a victimized official. Perched on a little feather bench, well in front, and close to the small windows, I had enjoyed an excellent opportunity of seeing everything. Besides this, I had gained a great deal of useful information about engines, boilers, signals, &c., which may come in “handy” some day. During our stoppages the engineer and firemen had not failed to explain these things, and I had even ventured to whistle “caution” at a “crossing.” The signal went very well for an amateur, but the Chief’s quick ear had detected a falter and at the next halt he sent a peremptory message, desiring me “not to play tricks,” which, addressed to a discreet matron, was really quite insulting. I had even questioned the engineer as to the probable effect of a bad collision while I occupied this post. He promptly suggested, “most likely killed;” and added reflectively, as he carefully oiled an already dripping valve, “which would be a bad job”!
When I announced my desire to travel on the cowcatcher, Mr E—seemed to think that a very bad job indeed. To a sensible, level-headed man as he is, such an innovation on all general rules of travelling decorum was no doubt very startling. He used many ineffectual persuasions to induce me to abandon the idea and almost said I should not run so great a risk; but at last, being a man of few words, and seeing time was nearly up, he so far relented as to ask what I proposed using as a seat. Glancing round the station platform I beheld a small empty candle-box lying near, and at once declared that was “just the thing.” Before Mr. E—could expostulate further, I had asked a brakesman to place the candle-box on the buffer-beam, and was on my way to the “Jamaica” to ask the Chief’s permission. The Chief, seated on a low chair on the rear platform of the car, with a rug over his knees and a magazine in his hand, looked very comfortable and content. Hearing my request, after a moment’s thought, he pronounced the idea “rather ridiculous,” then remembered it was dangerous as well, and finally asked if I was sure I could hold on. Before the words were well out of his lips, and taking permission for granted by the question, I was again standing by the cow­catcher, admiring the position of the candle-box, and anxiously asking to be helped on.
Before I take my seat, let me try, briefly, to describe the “Cowcatcher.” Of course every one knows that the buffer-beam is that narrow, heavy iron platform, with the sides scooped out, as it were, on the very fore-front of the engine over which the headlight glares, and in the corner of which a little flag is generally placed. In English engines, I believe, the buffers proper project from the front of this beam. In Canadian engines another sort of attachment is arranged, immediately below the beam, by which the engine can draw trains backwards as well as forwards. The beam is about eight feet across, at the widest part, and about three feet deep. The description of a cowcatcher is less easy. To begin with, it is misnamed, for it catches no cows at all. Sometimes, I understand, it throws up on the buffer-beam whatever maimed or mangled animal it has struck, but in most cases it clears the line by shoving forward, or tossing aside, any removable obstruction. It is best described as a sort of barred iron beak, about six feet long, projecting close over the track in a V shape, and attached to the buffer-beam by very strong bolts. It is sometimes sheathed with thin iron plates in winter, and acts then as a small snow-plough.
Behold me now, enthroned on the candle-box, with a soft felt hat well over my eyes, and a linen carriage-cover tucked round me from waist to foot. Mr. E—had seated himself on the other side of the headlight. He had succumbed to the inevitable, ceased further expostulation, disclaimed all responsibility, and, like the jewel of a Superintendent he was, had decided on sharing my peril! I turn to him, peeping round the headlight, with my best smile. “This is lovely,” I triumphantly announce, seeing that a word of comfort is necessary, “quite lovely; I shall travel on this cowcatcher from summit to sea!”
Mr. Superintendent, in his turn, peeps round the headlight and surveys me with solemn and resigned surprise. “I—suppose—you—will,” he says slowly, and I see that he is hoping, at any rate, that I shall live to do it!
With a mighty snort, a terribly big throb, and a shrieking whistle, No. 374 moves slowly forward. The very small population of Laggan have all come out to see. They stand in the hot sunshine, and shade their eyes as the stately engine moves on. “It is an awful thing to do!” I hear a voice say, as the little group lean forward; and for a moment I feel a thrill that is very like fear; but it is gone at once, and I can think of nothing but the novelty, the excitement, and the fun of this mad ride in glorious sunshine and intoxicating air, with magnificent mountains before and around me, their lofty peaks smiling down on us, and never a frown on their grand faces!
The pace quickens gradually, surely, swiftly, and then we are rushing up to the summit. We soon stand on the “Great Divide” 5300 feet above sea-level—between the two great oceans. As we pass, Mr. E—by a gesture, points out a small river (called Bath Creek, I think) which, issuing from a lake on the narrow summit-level, winds near the track. I look, and lo! the water, flowing eastward towards the Atlantic side, turns in a moment as the Divide is passed, and pours westward down the Pacific slope!
Another moment and a strange silence has fallen round us. With steam shut off and brakes down, the 6o-ton engine, by its own weight and impetus alone, glides into the pass of the Kicking Horse River, and begins a descent of 2800 feet in twelve miles. We rush onward through the vast valley stretching before us, bristling with lofty forests, dark and deep, that, clinging to the mountain side, are reared up into the sky. The river, widening, grows white with dashing foam, and rushes downwards with tremendous force. Sun­light flashes on glaciers, into gorges, and athwart huge, towering masses of rock crowned with magnificent tree crests that rise all round us of every size and shape. Breathless—almost awe-stricken—but with a wild triumph in my heart, I look from farthest mountain peak, lifted high before me, to the shining pebbles at my feet! Warm wind rushes past; a thousand sunshine colours dance in the air. With a firm light hand grasping the iron stanchion, and my feet planted on the buffer beam, there was not a yard of that descent in which I faltered for a moment. If I had, then assuredly in the wild valley of the Kicking Horse River, on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, a life had gone out that day! I did not think of danger, or remember what a giddy post I had. I could only gaze at the glaciers that the mountains held so closely, 5000 feet above us, at the trace of snow avalanches which had left a space a hundred feet wide massed with torn and prostrate trees; on the shadows that played over the distant peaks; and on a hundred rainbows made by the foaming, dashing river, which swirls with tremendous rapidity down the gorge on its way to the Columbia in the valley below.
There is glory of brightness and beauty everywhere, and I laugh aloud on the cowcatcher, just because it is all so delightful!
We have left the North-West Territories, and are now in the Province of British Columbia. Field—Ottertail—Leanchoile flit past us. Steam has been up for ten miles now; we have left the Kicking Horse Pass behind us and are gliding into the wide Columbia Valley, full of rich, new beauty, of green tall waving grass and blue water. A lower range of the Rockies, streaked and capped with snow, stretches away on either side. The road­way is very level, and the rails gleam before us, narrowing in a distant point to a silver thread. I hear the engineer piling in fuel, and whistle with shrillest note. Then, with trebly quickened pace, we dart along in the sunshine. For a second only I feel a quickening of the heart-pulse, and a hot colour mounts to my face, but it is gone in a moment, and I am none the worse for that “spurt” at the rate of fifty miles an hour.
Halted at Palliser. The Chief and his friends walked up to the cowcatcher to make a morning call. I felt a little “superior” and was rather condescending. Somewhat flushed with excitement, but still anxious to be polite, I asked “would the Chief step up and take a drive?” To the horror of the bystanders he carelessly consented, and in another moment had taken the place of Mr. E—, the latter seating himself at our feet on the buffer-beam. There was a general consternation among our little group of friends and the few inhabitants of Palliser—the Chief rushing through the flats of the Columbia on a cowcatcher! and, worse still, possibly even among the wild Selkirk Mountains—those mountains of which scarcely three years before, in his charming book, From old Westminster to New,’ my friend Mr. Sandford Fleming had said, “no one has been through the western slope of the Selkirks”! Every one is horrified. It is a comfort to the other occupant of the buffer to find some one else wilful, and as we steamed away towards Donald, at the eastern base of the Selkirks, I felt not so bad after all!
The Columbia Valley is very charming, heavy clumps of trees breaking its cool, green surface. A quiet little paradise it looks, lying clasped between two mountain ranges. The Columbia River said to be 1200 miles long, rises in the Rockies, passes through the levels between the two mountain ranges, and finally flows southward into American territory. It is crossed by the C. P. R. nine or ten times.
Our days now begin to seem “always in the afternoon.” We have gained three hours since arriving at Port Arthur, on the eastern end of Lake Superior; and my travelling clock, which is still Ottawa time, is now three hours slow. It was set by eastern standard time, which extends to Port Arthur. Central standard time is then in use, with its added hour, for 694 miles to Broadview. There, by mountain standard time, we gain another hour, and enjoy it for 759 miles to Donald. At Donald we feel our lives are perceptibly lengthening by the arrival of Pacific standard time, which gives us a “last hour” until we reach the sea.
But still further liberties have been taken with old Father time, hitherto considered so inexorable. Discarding the old-fashioned A.M. and P.M. the officials and time-tables of the Canadian Pacific count their hours as numbers go, so that 1 P.M. is Thirteen o’clock, 2 P.M. Fourteen o’clock—reaching twenty-four o’clock at midnight. It is very convenient, and far more expressive than the old figures, which oblige one to stop and think—is it morning or evening? But I must confess the “Jamaica’s” cook, little John, looked decidedly astonished when I first ordered dinner at sharp 20 o’clock.
To secure for our party an uninterrupted view of the country through which the Canadian Pacific passes from Winnipeg to Vancouver, arrangements had been made by which our Special remained stationary at night. It was also kindly managed that a Superintendent always travelled with us, and though we had sorrowfully parted with Mr. E—at Donald, he had been well replaced, and his successor agreed to our plan of travelling from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. An early cup of tea left us good appetites for a very substantial breakfast at 11.30, during an hour’s halt, when the railway “hands” dined at some station to which their supplies had been telegraphed for, or from their own com­missariat arrangements in the baggage car. Between 5 and 6 o’clock we always managed to tarry for afternoon tea, and when comfortably settled on a siding for the night, dinner was announced about 8.30. Our small porter, who, though hardly five feet high, was full of energy and skill, kept the table very well provided. He foraged for supplies on every occasion, was always greatly distressed when anything lacked, and required consolation instead of reproof when matters went wrong in the cooking department.
To resume the journey. Our destination to-night is Revelstoke, at the western base of the Selkirks, 78 miles from Donald at the eastern base. Towards Revelstoke we are now travelling, and as the train nears the valley or pass by which the mountains are entered, we find their towering outlines in some degree obscured by the smoke of forest fires which, owing to the unusually dry season, have burned unchecked for some weeks past. The spark from a passing engine, a “Smudge” or small smoky fire, lit by railway labourers to keep off mosquitoes, or a neglected camp-fire, spreads so rapidly among the brushwood, twigs, and fallen leaves in these vast forests, that large tracts of magnificent woodland are destroyed in a short time, and the atmosphere becomes smoky and dull for miles and miles around.
Leaving the north branch of the Columbia we strike sharply westward, and enter the “Beaver” pass, which leads towards the summit of the Selkirk Range. A prospect wildly magnificent lies before us as we ascend. Impressions formed on a buffer-beam are difficult to convey; I almost despair of conveying mine. Imagine thundering along upon the front of a railway engine, in the heart of a stupendous mountain range! Hundreds of feet above us, forest-covered heights tower grandly; forest-filled valleys lie hundreds of feet below. Looking upwards and beyond these masses of darkly wooded mountains, I see near me glaciers glittering in sunlight, and ranges of cliffs, streaked, tipped or outlined with snow around them. Looking far away below and still onward, I see trackless valleys stretching to the sunset between gigantic mountains—the soft afternoon light crimsoning the mist that floats about them. In the sky, on every side rise tall serrated peaks, from which glaciers slope and pinnacles gleam with strange, unearthly beauty. As the train winds sharply round the mountain sides, always along a steep precipice, every possible sense of fear is lost in wonder and delight.
We are now 5000 feet above the sea-level, in Rogers’ Pass—so called from the discoverer, Major Rogers. His explorations, carried on only about five or six years ago amid incredible hardships, and with undaunted perseverance, proved that a practicable pass led from the valleys of the Beaver and a small stream called the Bear over the summit of the Selkirks, and down the western slope through the valley of the Ille-cille-waet River. Perhaps no part of the line is more extraordinary, as evincing daring engineering skill, than this Pass, where the road-bed curves in loops over trestle-bridges of immense height, at the same time rapidly descending. In six miles of actual travelling the train only advances two and half miles, so numerous are the windings necessary to get through this canyon.
As I sit looking forward down the Pass I can see long trestle-bridges below, and yet on a line with the one we are crossing at the moment! They show above the forest, sharply distinct, so far below, that for a moment my heart beats quickly as I feel the brakes tighten, and the engine bear on with a quiet, steady, slower rush round and down and over, while I look through the trestle-beams into the hurrying foam of waters 150 feet below.
Over Surprise Creek the trestle is 180 feet high, but I peeped down into it quite unconcernedly, not without a certain satisfaction to find I had such a “good head.” At Stoney Creek the trestle is 286 feet above a most glorious ravine. The effect was here much heightened by huge, vapoury smoke-clouds hanging in fantastic shapes about the immense valley, and a certain vagueness of distant misty outline which, in the warm tender evening light, was inexpressibly beautiful. At no spot did we find anything more magnificent than the view before us at Stoney Creek. Truth compels me to say I crossed this trestle on foot—from no nervous reluctance, however. A hundred feet or so make no difference after a little experience in looking through and over trestle-bridges from a cowcatcher? The Chief wanted to inspect this bit of work, and the train halting for the purpose, some of the party walked over, of whom I was one.
Our journey through these passes was full of pleasant little incidents, too numerous to mention here. “Construction” being hardly yet finally completed through the Selkirks, gangs of labourers were still at work. Some of their temporary homes, in stationary railway cars on sidings built for the purpose, were not so picturesque as the hamlets inhabited by others where log cabins nestled under tall cedars, and tents were pitched by rippling streams.
It was pleasant to see the warm welcome given to the Chief by these “dwellers in the wilderness.” As the Special passed, and the Chief was observed sitting on the end platform, the echoes rang with their lusty cheers. Expecting his arrival (the Special was of course telegraphed from station to station), they were generally found standing by twenties and thirties on their car roofs, in angles of rock, and even in overhanging trees, saluting him with loud huzzas. In some places the labour-gangs, busy on the road-bed, gave kindly welcome by standing in line, waving pick and shovel in default of flags, and in quieter spots two or three solitary workmen would run together on some high bank above us, and cheer vociferously.
A new feature in the landscape hereabouts were the camps of Chinese labourers—a certain air of neatness about them; their poor tents carefully pitched and closed; their tin cooking-vessels, sand-rubbed and shining, generally arranged on rustic tables just outside. We saw large numbers of these singular-looking people working in gangs under a white superintendent, not only on the road-bed, but in building snow-sheds, which are found necessary for winter travel. We were told that an ingenious railway superintendent had suggested taking the summer line outside the snow-sheds, so that the scenery might not be hidden from view, which bright idea is, I believe, to be carried out forthwith.
These Chinese navvies, all ridiculously alike in form and feature, wearing queer little blue-and-white gowns, baggy trousers, wooden shoes, and thick flat straw hats, give a foreign air to the scene. Standing mute, wide-eyed and expressionless, their shovels all held at the same angle, ready to begin on the gravel the instant we had passed, they had a curious effect, as of some mechanical apparatus with an awful semblance of humanity. And yet we know theirs is the oldest civilization in the known world! How fortunate it is that all nations do not express civilization in the same way!
As we go onward, smoke increases around us; the smell of burning wood grows disagreeable, and as evening falls we can see tall trees in the distance glowing with flame, and tracts of level ground hotly smoking. It was sad to behold what had been lofty cedars prostrate in charred masses, and fire steadily advancing among the bright blueberry patches, the tall bracken covers, and the tangled growth of wild flowers and fern.
Near one of these places we had a little adventure. As we swept into a narrow valley, almost overhung with trees, the smoke seemed to grow dense before us, and in the centre of the track appeared a little red flag. I knew enough of “flagging” signals to understand this meant “Danger,” and in an instant after I felt the brakes tighten. Clutching the friendly iron bar closely lest I should be “spun off” by the impetus of a halt, I peered forward as we “slowed,” and beheld distant flame reddening the. gloom beyond. A signalman appeared as we came to a standstill. He was one of a small gang told off to watch the fires and prevent them spreading to the sleepers, or in any way injuring the track. Telling the engineer that, a little farther on, fire had advanced quite near the line, he ran back to his post. Here was a delightful opportunity for a new sensation! One of our party was by my side on the cow­catcher, and agreed to face the rush. The engineer went on to inspect, and returned very dubious about the safety of our position at all events; but I succeeded so well in impressing him with an idea of our safety, that he made preparations to go forward. And a very new and very hot sensation it certainly was to fly through a bush-fire on a cowcatcher, as we did, with bent heads and closely gathered skirts, to avoid breathing the heated air or catching fire.
Since the time of our journey, however, the road has been entirely completed, and so large a space cleared on either side the line, that fallen trees or flames at close quarters are impossible.
The wild and magnificent canyon of the Ille-cille-waet is now leading us to Revelstoke, at the second crossing of the Columbia. This river, rising in Rogers’ Pass, pours through a grand defile in wild rapids, enclosed by majestic mountains, surging past rocky and gravelly shores, as it leaps and foams onward through a tangled mass of vegetation. We cross and recross the stream several times. Everywhere, as usual, lovely snowy peaks, crests, walls and slopes, tower above forest, river, and wild gorge, and rest against the sky. The evening shadows that shroud the canyon, darken the water, and creep up the mountain side, leave these delicious outlines untouched; they only seem to grow dim, as the stars come out and encircle each fading tip with gems.
The gloom is profound after nightfall; but we are very happy at Revelstoke “on the siding.” Little John, the porter, has provided a splendid dinner, spite of his dejection caused, I believe, from seeing no prospect of getting fresh eggs for breakfast!
I was glad when we moved out next morning, and left Revelstoke to her smoky solitude. The weather was clear and cool. Above the mist I could see the sky pearly blue, and the air was fragrant with the odour of pine and spruce.
Following the valley of the Eagle River, we wind gaily through the cedar forests of the Gold Range, gemmed with lakes blue and shining, its tall, darkly clothed summits often lit by small cascades gleaming through the trees. Crossing and recrossing the Eagle River seven or eight times, we reach the Sicamous Narrows, into which its dark hurrying waters are emptied. We presently sweep into an immense valley, through which, for many miles, the line skirts beautiful stretching lakes—grand sheets of blue water, glacier fed, lying in the folds of the Gold Range, These lakes close, as it were, into the. south branch of the Thompson River. Many tunnels lie in our way as we rush by them, and during a halt I am told one of the tunnels is “wet.” This being interpreted, means that the arching rock is full of springs, which pour on the train as it passes. An umbrella and waterproof are therefore necessary for me,—now sole occupant of the cowcatcher; and with praiseworthy economy I take off my hat, tuck it safely under my wraps, and prepare to encounter the “wet” tunnel thus equipped! We plunge into a few moments’ darkness,—water splashing and dripping on every side; and as we emerge into sunlight again, and stop just beyond the tunnel, I see a party of young English sportsmen standing near the roadside. They have evidently just climbed the bank, guns in hand, leaving a large canoe with two Indian paddlers on the lake below. Fine, tall young Saxons they are, in sporting attire somewhat the worse for long travel, but very conventional in style notwithstanding. Just imagine the feelings with which these well-regulated young men beheld a lady, bareheaded, and with an umbrella, seated in front of an engine, at the mouth of a tunnel in the Gold Range of British Columbia! I am sorely afraid I laughed outright at the blank amazement of their rosy faces, and longed to tell them what fun it was; but not being “introduced, you know,” I contented myself with acknowledging their presence by a solemn little bow—which was quite irresistible under the circumstances!
A somewhat similar incident occurred next day during our journey in the valley of the Fraser River. The Special stopped at a station where a mule train was just starting for some distant gold mines, laden with miners’ supplies. It was very interesting to see the sturdy animals all packed and ready, standing in regular order, waiting for the word of command from their driver, which they instantly obeyed, all filing along at equal distances with the air of quadrupeds of superior intelligence, who had made up their minds to avoid hurry or confusion. It chanced to be one of our halts at tea-time, and, as usual, my cup of tea and slice of bread-and-butter were brought to the buffer-beam. I had just been presented with two large bouquets which lay in my lap. While I leisurely sipped my tea, there suddenly appeared before me a very thin, tall, melancholy-looking American, having something to do with the pack train now slowly winding off through the mountains. Never shall I forget the expression in that man’s face as he steadily regarded me, seated com­posedly on the cowcatcher, surrounded with flowers, a plate of bread-and-butter on a candle-box near by, taking afternoon tea. To remain silent was impossible.
“Good evening,” I said.
The man nodded, and drew a long breath.
“Have you came far?” he asked, after a long pause.
“From other side of the Rockies,” I answered carelessly, as if speaking of a stroll round a village“three hundred miles or so.”
“Did you come that way down the Thompson?” he next asked, a little anxiously.
“O yes—and I am going to the sea.”
“You ain’t afraid likely?” he continued, looking more melan­choly than ever.
“Not at all.”
“Now, look here,” he said, pausing between each word, “it’s real dangerous. I would not do this thing for a lot of money!” then, thrusting his hands into his pockets with a civil, “Good evening, Missis,” he disappeared round the engine!
But I must now go back to the Special, which has by this time reached Kamloops, where the north branch of the Thompson joins the branch we have been travelling near, and they flow to­gether—one beautiful Thompson!—to join the Fraser at Lytton.
Ninety-four miles of the C. P. R. lie between Kamloops and Lytton. At Kamloops the scenery changes abruptly and entirely. From thence through the canyon of the Thompson to Lytton, where we strike the canyon of the Fraser, we seem in a different world. Huge sand-hills, almost devoid of grass, roll in uniform succession on either side the wide, rapidly flowing river. Some of these hills are thinly covered with short coarse bunches of greyish grass; a peculiar kind of red pine-tree clothes others from base to crown. These trees stand apart in curious rows, as if they had been set in line, and, mounting the steep hillsides, all leaning one way, have the effect of a large army toiling upward and around the mighty canyon’s fold as far as eye can see.
Remarkable contrasts of colour make these parts very striking. The country sloping away before me in billowy sandhills, which wear every tint of brown from pale to chocolate, is brightened only by the Thompson’s brilliant green waters, and arched over by a sort of dull China-blue sky. At some distance above Kamloops we had passed over green park-like flats ex­tending to the water on the right. Through these we had made good time, and pleasant it was to be flying across that new country in warm sunlight!
In this section of the canyon rain scarcely ever falls, which, accounts for the remarkable brown tint visible everywhere. There are indeed very green fields—large emerald patches—which are irrigated at great cost from the heights above. The diligent Chinamen own most of these bright spots, to which a new charm is added by their brown surroundings. We were told at a station near Kamloops that only two heavy showers of rain had fallen in nine years, which I felt to be another injustice to poor Ireland, who has so many more showers than are good for her!
Never to be forgotten is that ride, all alone, on the cowcatcher down the valley of the Thompson! Though strong of nerve and will, the sight of those slender rails—always on a heavy down grade—gleaming on the precipice brink as far as I could see ahead, was somewhat startling—not a bush or blade to break the edge of the stern declivities, or to soften the dull-coloured steeps that rose from the ledge we travelled on. How­ever, no failing of heart—no reeling of brain must be allowed. No human succour could come near—no cry could be heard, no sign seen—but then! how glorious was the feeling of daring risk, the thrill of shooting downwards with the flashing of sunlight and the glancing of water before me, and that immense shadowless expanse at my feet!
At Lytton we enter the Fraser canyon, and pass from green to dark-brown waters, rolling fiercely with tremendous impetus through mountains and gorges that in dim evening light look positively awful!
We stay an hour at Lytton, a small place where we are gazed at by many Chinese, and proceed to North Bend, at which being a divisional point, we stop for the night.
Having lingered, too long at Lytton, we soon find darkness closing around us in that tremendous canyon which for twenty-seven miles holds the Fraser in its depths, and along the side of which we now travel, mere specks in that vast solitude of mountain-precipice, black with wild rugged rocks, and awful with immense shadows. The train proceeds slowly. A lookout man sits with me on the buffer-beam, and the Comptroller, unmindful of his interesting young family at home in Ottawa with an admirable sense of duty, shares with us the risks of that night-ride along the Fraser!
Our present Superintendent, who joined us at Kamloops, exhausted a dictionary of entreaty that I would abandon the buffer-beam, and has now retired, in useless indignation, to the comforts of his private car. I am perfectly aware it is exceedingly dangerous, and that the smallest jar from a stone on the track, a too sudden curve, or the slightest giddiness or loss of strength, will almost certainly end my mortal career; but the wild spell of the moment is strong upon me, and I sit watching the stars gleam out over the mountain crests and the foam flash white 150 feet below, with a moved and swelling heart! How mysterious it all is—how awful in its silence as we stop midway, and I stand erect on the cowcatcher to look at the grand shadow-covered outlines that soar into the night sky!
“Just here,” says a voice at my elbow, “Bill Jones went clean over.”
This is very sepulchral, but I know the speaker is the look-out-man, and ask anxiously, “What happened?”
“Bill was running a gravel train,” the voice goes on,—“left the car at North Bend, and was bound for Lytton—full tilt with the engine right along here.” I see a hand point to the wooded precipice 100 feet down:—“She took a jump, and went down head first into the river—Bill and all. The brakesman, he jumped off; but Bill was awful shook.”
“Not killed?”
“Oh, no; he’s living down in Yale, serving out drugs—all right, only his broken leg ain’t so long as the other.”
Pondering on this remarkable story, and wondering at Bill’s good luck in escaping so well, I travel a mile or two further, enjoying the soft night wind as it rushes against my face, the odour of dewy leaves, the sound of rushing water, and the beauty of that starry strip of sky above, in contrast with the dark mountain’s edge—when suddenly, a series of sharp, pistol-like shots burst around us, and I feel the brakes clasping. Another instant and we are enveloped in a fog, as it seems to me, which rises all round us after a mysterious sound of rushing, that has hardly ceased when we stop. A signal man comes forward out of the gloom, holding his lamp aloft. The conductor is before us in an instant. “What is wrong?” he asks. Only a little landslip, bringing gravel and stones on the track, which have to be cleared before we can go on our way, but telling only too plainly of possible danger to passengers on the cowcatcher, should one of the larger stones, dislodged from the mountain side, throw our engine from the track.
Pleasant was the warm brightness of the “Jamaica,” as I entered it at North Bend, very hungry, somewhat tired, but triumphant. The Chief was much interested in my account of the “front view,” as we sat talking; but I grew drowsy in the middle of my story, and found myself wandering on about Bill Jones engine, and the stars above the mountain, in a confused sort of way that suggested it was time for tired travellers to go to bed.
Our last day’s journey, from North Bend to Port Moody, is most interesting as well as wild, varied, and very beautiful, 117 miles of canyon, valley, level meadow and soft, rolling wood­land,—all charming in bright sunlight, under a brilliant sky.
The constant succession of fine days and clear nights during our trip, which occupied exactly a fortnight, is nothing remarkable in these latitudes. The heartbreaking “wet summers” which are so common in Great Britain seem unknown here; and during my 600 miles on the cowcatcher, except occasionally when the sun shone hotly at midday, I never experienced any inconvenience from heat or cold.
From Lytton to Port Hammond we follow the Fraser. As I write here in my quiet room, those grand gorges unfold before me again as they did on the day I saw them, full of soft cloud-shadows moving over mountain sides, of massive cliffs rising a hundred feet from the road-bed, crowned with forest, of dashing wild waters hissing among huge boulders in depths below. A softer landscape now lies before me, as I dream of graceful hill­sides, sloping to green meadows, and woodland glorious with the magnificent foliage of British Columbia—of a great lake with park-like clumps of trees decking its green islands,—of deep bays set in sylvan beauty, where tranquil water reflects white cloudlets floating in the blue above, and toys with the delicate foliage that rests on its fair bosom!—Just at such a spot we killed a pig. This was how it happened. Having been told that one of my chief dangers on the buffer-beam was the possibly sudden arrival of an animal’s body killed by the cowcatcher and thrown into my lap, I was always on the look-out for such a catastrophe, and much consoled to find that when, as in the valley of the Thompson, cows persisted in crossing our way, the engineer slackened speed, and whistled until they disappeared. But this pig, evidently of a coy and shrinking nature, did not reveal himself until death was close at hand. With the “Secretary” on my “guest’s” candle-box, I was enjoying the beauty of the scene just described, when the roadway immediately before us swarmed with little black pigs, which had darted from bushes growing near the track. There was a squeak, a flash of something near, and away we went, leaving one poor little sacrificed beauty lying dead on the road behind us. The Secretary averred that the body had struck him in passing; but as I shut my eyes tightly almost as soon as the pigs appeared, I cannot bear testimony to the fact.
Yale beautifully situated on the Fraser. So near and precipitous are the mountains here, that in twenty-one miles after leaving Yale we pass through eighteen tunnels. Every turn was a picture, and every picture was new. The morning air was sweet and pure; dew sparkled everywhere, and my only grief was the prospect of ending our journey.
We passed many hamlets, chiefly composed of miners’ houses, and many Chinese camps, on the gravelly shores of the Fraser far below, where the Celestials were washing sand for gold, or drying salmon on queer racks made of branches and logs, thrust into the lock crevices. Some of these “curing” places were on a large scale, and hundreds of salmon, cut open and pressed flat, dangled over the water.
At Harrison Lake and Ruby Creek the scenery is especially beautiful. I think it was near the former that, as we rounded a curve, Mount Baker suddenly appeared on the horizon—14,000 feet of snowy shoulders, pink in sunlight, with peaks like frozen breath rising straight into the sky.
Now nearly 3000 miles from our starting-point, Ottawa, we are nearing Port Moody on Burrard Inlet, where, alas! I must bid good-bye to candle-box and cowcatcher, and content myself with an easy-chair on the deck of a steamer bound for Victoria.
The Canadian Pacific line was not completed beyond Port Moody at the time I write of. Now it has been carried forward fourteen miles further to its real terminus—and no fairer spot can be found anywhere, I think, than the site of the infant city of Vancouver.
On we go, speeding forward to the coast, meeting the sweet breath of ocean mingled with rich scent of pine boughs, then delicate tips waving welcome as we pass—on, on, steadily, swiftly down to the sea! More speed, and we fly forward, past rock and river, slope, grass-land, and lakelet; more speed, and the blending of forest colours grows bewildering in the summer air; still more, and it is all one line of mingled blues and greens as we sweep down to the sparkling beauty of that distant ocean, and see the flash of its bright waters on the red sands of a bay below!

Agnes Macdonald.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited