Original article by Gord Tolton. Additional information from Chris Doering. Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer
Narrow gauge lines like this were not terribly common in Canada and while they offered some perceived benefits (lower cost of construction being one), they had several major disadvantages too. An example being the exchange of freight between lines – the load or freight had to be physical transferred from narrow gauge to standard gauge cars at the interchange point. A laborious and costly undertaking!
“Probably nowhere else in Canada has a motive power roster of a compact railway operation been so elusive as that of the Galt Railway system. While much of the original data has been documented in builder’s records, the subsequent history of the engines (both the re-numbering and sales) has defied positive identification, since apparently no company records were preserved or at least none have come to light. Photographic and other research have partly filled this void, and the findings are documented in hope that additional research could continue.” — Omer Lavallee in ‘Narrow Gauge Railways of Canada’ 1972.
When the Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC) began upgrading their rail lines to standard gauge between 1893 to 1909, the majority of their narrow gauge rolling stock was sold off. One of the locomotives, #16 was present by AR&IC to the City of Lethbridge as a display at the current site of the Lethbridge Exhibition Grounds, in 1912. But the locomotive was neglected by the City and fell into disrepair – so much so, it was scrapped in 1916.
Other engines and rolling stock went west to the Kootenay region of Britsh Columbia, where the Kaslo & Slocan railway operated 53 kilometers of narrow gauge track between Kaslo to Sandon, and to the new silver mines in the region. Kaslo was located on the shores of Kootenay Lake, and was served by steam ships connecting to railways near Creston and Nelson, British Columbia. Construction on the railway started in 1895 after obtaining financial backing from the Great Northern Railway, which was seeking shortcuts against CPR for its mainline at Spokane. Great Northern had gained control of the neighboring Nelson & Fort Sheppard Railway in 1893 which gave it access to Kootenay Lake. Great Northern bought out the original investors in 1897 making the railway part of the Great Northern system under the Kootenay Railway and Navigation banner. Much of the silver ore from the K&S was shipped to US smelters, providing traffic for the GN. The Kaslo and Slocan faced stiff competition with the CPR’s Nakusp and Slocan for the ore from the mines. On December 16, 1895, crews from the Kaslo and Slocan attacked and demolished the station the CPR had just built on land disputed between the two railways. The CPR relocated the station to other land. Both railways competed with building spurs to service mines in order to obtain ore traffic destined for the other railway.
The K&S was very profitable in the later 1890s. The railway had high operating costs because of its location along the side of step hills, many of which had been burned in forest fires, which was also affected by frequent snow and mud slides. In 1900, when Sandon burned to the ground, and ongoing labor problems at the silver mines spelt an end to the boom years causing financial problems for the railway. By 1904, the line was losing money on each train it ran, and train service to Sandon was suspended by 1908. In 1910, an forest fire took out an majority of the remaining bridges and snow sheds along the line. In 1911, GN sold the railway to an consortium of business people from Kaslo to re-start the railway. Unfortunately, it was short lived, as CPR returned to Kaslo and made an agreement with the new owners of leasing the K&S for 999 years beginning on January 1st, 1912. The CPR rebuilt the narrow gauge line to standard gauge, and connected it to their own Nakusp & Slocan line. The CPR would continue to operate the line until abandoning it in the mid 1950s. Most of the narrow gauge rolling stock of the K&S was scrapped in Vancouver in 1917, probably for the First World War steel demand, although the rest were able to stay active well in the late 1920’s.
Another locomotive, #6, rests beside the grade of a narrow gauge spur line that originally was connected to the CPR main line, near Field, British Columbia. For decades, the rusting boiler, frame, and tenders were assumed by locals to be a wreck of a runaway pusher. However, railway historians knew that no runaway locomotive had been scrapped at the base of the ‘Big Hill’. In the 1950’s, the builder’s plate was found in the wreckage, identifying it as #7717, a 36″ gauge 2-6-0 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, in November 1885. It had been sold to NWC&NC, which numbered it #6. The locomotives identity was established, although the question why was it abandoned in the Canadian Rockies just off the CPR main line, far from its original home?
The Spiral Tunnels were an important and costly project and this allowed the CPR to finally abandon its famous Big Hill. Incredibly steep (by rail standards) the Big Hill line was a major bottleneck and trouble spot and construction of the tunnels alleviated a number of nagging problems. To a degree anyway and even today this is the steepest section of the CPR mainline. Trains here travel very slow which means the line is often at times very congested. Certainly it’s one of the more challenging sections on the entire railway!
One of the companies involved in the construction of the Spiral Tunnels, MacDonnell & Gzowski, purchased at least two, maybe three locomotives. At the end of the job in September 1909, #6 was then abandoned, and over time it somehow got pushed to the bottom of the grade with various bits removed. We are not sure where locomotive #15 ended up. Chris Doering mentioned that he had heard rumors the other locomotive, #7 ended up in one of the local lakes. Hard to say, but who knows? You can check out Chris’s earlier blog posts on the mysterious #6 locomotive here, and here, that feature some unique photographs of this almost lost artifact.
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