Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Locomotive Engineer: Bill Geddes

Canadian National Railways, Prince Rupert BC, August 26, 1959. I was just 16 years old when I took this photograph, with my 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 Zeiss-Icon twin lens reflex. This format had a large focus screen on top of the camera, great for composition and focus.

It took a while to get the hang of how to best co-exist with a square negative for railroad photography. Locomotives are horizontal, and most formats - 4x6, 5x7, 8x10 - end up with a lot of sky or foreground.

On the other-hand, working with the format instead of against it, when I got in the darkroom, I soon discovered I had choices! My subject is vertical, and easily cropped from the square negative.

The gentleman shown here is Engineer Bill Geddes. Capital "E" for Engineer. He shepherded me on the first of my many road trips over the CNR I made as a young lad of 14, from Prince Rupert to Terrace, BC.

But not without an initiation!

My first road trip was on this engine, CNR GMD GP-9L 4215. Mr. Geddes, his fireman and head end brakeman welcomed me aboard the Geep. Mr. Geddes asked me if I knew these engines, while rarely, did blow up? Of course I said "No" where upon he hit the brake valve and there was a loud "pop!" as the tissue paper they had stuffed into the exhaust valve opening burst!

That got the desired result!

The run was about 100 miles. The plan was for me to ride in the caboose to Kwinitsa Station, Mile Post 72.6, incorporating a CNR Plan 100-152 type station, 54 car siding, and Foreman's house, and a then ride the engine the remaining miles to Terrace, BC.

These men were not "super heroes" or "gods of the high iron" as writers are sometimes driven to portray them. They were just hard working men, proud to be railroaders, and during this time frame, working through a tough transition from steam to diesel.

Armed with only the company timetable, a set of train orders, and a regulated watch, they kept those trains running through the wilderness of northern BC, without positive train control or two-way radios, but with a whole lot of good old fashioned common sense.

And for more about the "cloth" these fellows were cut from, I encourage you to venture into Rolly Martin Country, one of my associated reads.

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