P.O. Box 54
K7L 4V6, CANADA
is of wipers and oilers and hostellers, firemen and engineers. It is a
story of a period that has just about vanished from all railroads
around the world. Those who wished to become steam locomotive engineers
probably started their career as wipers – individuals assigned to literally wipe the engine down and keep it looking spotless.
If the foreman thought the neophyte was good enough, he would be promoted to oiler which allowed him to oil and grease all of the necessary parts of the operating steam locomotive.
If one studied hard and took the necessary tests on both the steam
engine itself and the basic operating rules of the railway, one could
progress to hostler which allowed the individual to maintain the
fires in the steam engines, when they were stored in the yards off duty.
Some hostelers had the right to move the engines around the yard to
station them for the next day’s tasks.
To be a fireman required a strong back. Not only did they have
to pay attention to water and boiler gauges, but they were also required
to shovel the coal from the tender into the engine firebox. The
engines that you see in the pictures, class D4, were considered very
rough-riding locomotives and were all hand-fired. Only larger engines
were built with an automatic stoker or, in some rare cases in Canada
before the 1930s, were oil fired.
The engineer was the “crème de la crème” of the front-end crew.
He had obviously worked his way through all of the other ranks and had
managed to pass all of the necessary tests to be given his rank. In
theory, the more senior engineers were given the task of operating
Roundhouses were a particularly North American invention, not as
common in the rest of the railroad world. The term signifies that the
building had a central point around which it was constructed. In
particular, this is the story of a little four-stall roundhouse which
existed below the crest of the hill on Rideau Street near the water’s
edge at the foot of North Street on the great Cataraqui River. Because
it was beyond the end of Wellington Street, around a slight bend, and
the roofline was below the level of Rideau Street, probably, most
Kingstonians didn’t know of its existence.
The turntable stood in front of each roundhouse and pivoted on a central point and
was designed to reverse the direction of the engine. If the engine was
balanced correctly on the turntable most could be turned with the
efforts of two to six men. (See example in picture). Larger turntables
were driven by either steam or electric motors. The turntable allowed
the engine to be moved into a particular stall in the round house, the
number of stalls depended
upon the needs of the railroad at that location. An example of one
large round house remains near the CN Tower in Toronto.
Round houses were essentially used for servicing and basic maintenance
of steam locomotives such as the heavier oil and greasing that needed to
be done and some minor adjustments to the steam engine running-gear.
Where possible, steam engines were kept inside, particularly in the
winter months, to make it easier to keep up steam in the boilers. In
larger roundhouses there was actually a stationary steam boiler which
was attached through piping to the steam engine boiler so the fire could
be dropped from the locomotive firebox. Once the steam locomotive was fired up, steam was kept up continuously in the boiler until it needed a major
inspection and pressure-test as regulated by the federal government.
The heating and cooling of a boiler was considered something to be
avoided as the expansion and contraction of the boiler tubes weakened
all of the joints and seals. Each time the fire was drawn and the
boiler cooled was considered to be equivalent to one month’s continuous
photographs of the Canadian Pacific Railway trains (CPR took over
the Kingston & Pembroke Railway in 1913) at Kingston are dated July
1955. It is interesting to note that all four stalls of the round house
were in use and that there was enough business for the K&P
subdivision in the Kingston area (mainly the waterfront) to require the
services of four small 4-6-0 Ten-Wheelers. Within ten years, all of the
engines shown in this picture would be scrapped and the CP would begin
using diesels for local operation. By the l970s, the closure of the
locomotive works, the Kingston Shipyards, and the Davis Tannery would
spell the end for nearly all of the traffic along the waterfront. I
first became aware that there even was a round house in the location
when I bought a very small book published by Mel Easton, Men in My Memories of the K&P,
in which he had a picture of the roundhouse with the turntable had been
removed. Shortly after the publication of the book, the roundhouse was
demolished. If one looks carefully, one can still see the outlines of
the foundation and, in the southeast back corner, the date of its
construction was scratched, 1917.
The turntable still survives. It was removed by the CPR to Wakefield on
the Manawaki subdivision which is now used by the “Hull/Gatineau Steam
Tourist Train operation.
The CN never had a roundhouse in Kingston. All they had was a small
single-engine house which was located to the south and west of the outer
station. However, the CN did have large roundhouses in Brockville and
Belleville which were division points on the Montreal-Toronto route.
To say the least, railroading has changed. At the height of World War
Two over 100,000 individuals worked for Canadian railroads but the total
now is less than 30,000. The equivalent of one complete railroad from
Halifax to Vancouver has been torn up and most of the trackage
abandoned, as has been that of the branch lines such as the K&P.
By George Dillon
Photography courtesy of George Dillon