Cleaning switches

FTLComm - Tisdale - Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thursday morning I watched a two man crew for CP go about their business of clearing the switches near the crossing just north of the intersection of highways 3 and 35. No longer do maintenance crews rely upon switch brooms and snow shovels, the shovels are still part of the process, but now they have replaced the broom with a power blower.

The work is essentially the same as it has been since the laying of the tracks more than a century ago. Come winter and after each snow fall and storm you have to go out and clear up the points


and sliding mechanism of every switch on the line. My memory of Christmases past certainly involves concerts and celebrations but it also includes the mundaine process of switch cleaning.

In the 1950s and early 60s we had two passenger trains every night all year round and a series of freights each and every day. Canada relied upon the railways to keep our economy moving and maintaining the railway was a process that had to be done every day of the year, Christmas included.

It was just one of those things about being a railroad family Christmas morning, New Years morning were like any other day of the winter, if there had been snow or blowing snow, the switches in the yard would be out of service and would have to be


cleaned. The whole process involved father getting one other man to come out to the tool shed get their brooms and shovels and hike the length of the sidings to clean the two main sitches, one on the east side of town and the other on the west side of town. It took about forty-five minutes and with it being during the coldest part of the year, heavy work clothes had to be put on and the cold simple task had to be done.

I went out tagging along on these morning duties many times and it was just a matter of everyday life for a railway section forman. A few times I can remember carrying and using the broom and shovel myself in the bitter cold of a dark December morning. The work was not done carelessly as an improper cleaned switch will most certainly result in a train going off the tracks and that was never a good thing so the ice and snow had to be removed no matter how cold or miserable it was.

It is hard for us who have grown up in Canada to not associate the rigours of winter with Christmas. With the celebration occuring at the time when winter can be at its very worst the two things are almost merged in most of our minds. It is the harshness of winter and the adversity that we had to endure that made the traditions of the Christmas story so much a part of our lives. A young mother about to give birth having to travel a long distance in difficult circumstances, no place to stay, only a barn to spend the night and then delivering her baby there in the stable. The story is in keeping with the struggle of life, most good things are not easy and every living person must accept the difficult as part of what it means to be alive. The marvel of that new born child being the great leader of a whole religious movement that continues to this present day more that two thousand years later certainly makes us realise how very important his arrival was.

But for those of us who have cleaned switches we know that important things, often very difficult things to accomplish must be done, we who are to do those tasks have the responsiblity of making it safe for others and keeping up our part in the greater scheme of things.



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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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