Wednesday 29 February 2012


When I was growing up we lived pretty close to “the train tracks”. I don’t know if they were CN or CP, but I did know that they came from somewhere that I had never been and went to somewhere that I may get to someday. They carried the raw materials to factories and manufactured goods to market. The trains were used to move oil, coal, automobiles and even milk (I think).

People that came to visit us would comment on how loud the trains were and “My goodness, however do you get to sleep?” I can honestly say that I didn’t hear the trains unless I was listening for them. The trains and the tracks were an important part of my childhood.

When I was eight or nine, we would go to the tracks and walk along them like they were balance beams and we were acrobats practicing to be on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sometimes we would take pennies and put them on the tracks to see just how flat they would get. I can’t remember ever finding one of those pennies, but I did see a copperish smear on the tracks a couple of times. Years later I realized that the train was moving too fast at that section to crush the pennies and to do a good job you needed a slow moving train. We would put rocks on the tracks and while we were waiting for the train to come, the fear of derailing the train would grow by the minute. We were rewarded by a puff of dust when the train crushed the stones.

Those stones or perhaps ones just like them were used to hone our pitching ability. We would take target practice at the post by the side and as our aim improved we would target the glass insulators on the wires. I see similar insulators in the second hand store every now and then, which must have been on wires where there weren’t any kids. We would also take target practice on the new cars that were riding from the factories in Oshawa to points west. You never knew for sure if you managed to break or crack a windshield on a new car, but the chances were better than 50%.

In high school we would walk along the tracks as it was the shortest distance between two points. We were pretty good at walking on the rails by this time and could mostly make it the mile or so and only fall two or three times. Once we found a box of flares and had a ball playing with them. You know if you don’t hold a flare just the right way, hot sulphur will drip on your hands and it hurts like hell. In the fall we would use the tracks as a base of operations to stage a raid or two on people’s backyards for apples and berries. Night time raids of course. One night a fellow that had been raided set up an elaborate trip wire system and a stack of cans to warn him that we were there. Unfortunately for him we saw the string and did a mission impossible type, stealth raid on his garden. I am kind of sorry for that now, but you know, I can still taste those apples. They were delicious in name and taste.

You could generally hear the trains a goodly distance off and we would stand at the side of the tracks pumping our arms up and down in the hopes that the engineer would blast the whistle. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t. We would always wave at the guys in the caboose and they would wave back. I would dream that someday I would be able to have a cool job like that. Imagine, getting paid to sit in the window of the caboose and wave at kids as you pass them by.

I was only trapped on a bridge only once. We were walking along the tracks talking about the things that kids talk about, girls, school or smoking when a “Dayliner” blasted the whistle. I just ran! The two guys I was with calmly stepped off to the side and watched me run along the tracks. They say that I was actually pulling away from the train by the time I ran out of bridge, and the adrenaline had enough oomph left for me to clear a five foot fence. That is the kind of terror that sticks with a guy.

I was back in Scarborough a couple of years ago and I took my daughter to the tracks. It is a lot harder to get on them now, but I am sure the kids have their ways. We walked along the tracks and attempted to see how far we could walk on the rails while I told Maegan some of the stories about how important the tracks were to me. She already thinks I am a goof, so what is the harm?

I think that maybe tomorrow I will go out and find some tracks to see just how far I can walk without falling off and maybe take some pictures.

Sometimes, on a clear winters evening, if the city is quiet I can still hear the sounds of a train going from somewhere I have never been to somewhere I would like to go.


  1. Like you Ken trains hold a special place in my memories, mostly visiting gramma in small town Sask. B

  2. You should send this one to the Scarborough Mirror.