Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mile Post 116.5

Smithers Division, Skeena Subdivision, Mile Post 116.5 near Barret Rock, September 10, 1959. My days in Prince Rupert are numbered. The family is moving back to Seattle in November.

One of my buddies and I are hiking out of town to watch and photograph the McWilliams Multiple Tool Air Tampers. They’ve made about two and a half to three miles in a week, heading eastbound two ties at a time!

Anton Daily (on the left) and I both worked weekends at Three Boy’s Market as box boys. Since September 10th 1959 was a Thursday, and we were both 16, either school had not commenced, or we hiked out to the reballasting crew after school. Sorry, I can only recall so much detail!

At any rate, setting my camera on a tripod, and scrambling up to get into the frame, I save a frame of my history. Like tourists who always pose with their backs to some landmark, Anton and I are not looking at the ballasting gang, but out towards Barret Rock, at the entrance to Prince Rupert Harbor.

Barret Rock holds a fond memory for me – and Anton and our buddy Ron Dolphin! We determined to hike out to explore the World War II site of Fort Casey. Fort Casey was a harbor defense site, with big guns and a submarine net closing off the roadstead into Prince Rupert.

We had heard it was infested with ghosts of American Soldiers who were stationed there during WWII. But undaunted, and with my fierce Scotch terrier, Maggie, we struck off on Labour Day weekend to camp and explore.

Hiking down the CNR line in a steady down pour (Prince Rupert receives about 8 feet of rain a year) we made the site about three in the afternoon. There were two levels to the site. Water level on the railroad right of way, and the upper level on a bench about 100 feet above the rail line.

We located a bunker with a 1” thick steel door, in which to stash our camping gear and supplies, a door we could NOT close, no matter how hard the three of us tried.

In the gloomy relentless downpour, we spent a couple of hours exploring fort’s upper level grounds, now overgrown with trees and brush. We had heard that under certain circumstances, you could hear the crack of a bat and the cheer of the crowd on the long abandoned baseball diamond!

With flashlights, we explored the concrete gun emplacements (guns long gone), control and living bunkers, and climbed down long ladders deep into the ammunition magazines.

We were having a ball. It was really neat. And we had it all to ourselves. This was not on the list of tourist sites, known only to locals. We had just descended into a very dark and deep magazine when suddenly we heard a very loud and metallic slam of a thick steel door!

And Maggie, way up above us, began barking hysterically!

We scrambled up the ladder out of that dank dark magazine, and got Maggie calmed down. We decided since it was getting into late afternoon, we’d gather out equipment and food, and figure out were to spend the night.

We got back to the bunker where we had stashed our stuff, and found the door we could not budge – shut!

There was no wind, only rain. There was no explanation, and there was no doubt that we were “concerned.”

We descended down off the bench to the track level and found a large concrete structure next to the tracks and about 50 feet from the beach. We determined this must have been a powerhouse, because of the two foot steel risers, that must have been diesel engine bases. It had a double wide steel door, and an opening at the back wall, which must have been for the exhaust manifolds.

That hole was open, but we located steel panels and blocked it off. The double wide steel door had latches, which we could lock. So, we had a secure place to stay overnight.

We ventured over to the beach and scrounged enough dry driftwood under big logs, to cook our dinner and keep us warm through the night.

Things rapidly deteriorate. The initial fire for hot dogs and beans went well, but it soon became apparent that the damn structure was filling with smoke! So now we open the steel doors, and pull the sheet steel away from the hole in the wall, so we can breath!

Now there is an earthquake as 922, the east bound time freight passes by at 45 mph, about 20 feet from us! And now the damn dog starts barking!

We kill the fire, and wait for the air to clear enough to close the steel doors, and plug the hole in the wall with out steel sheet. And get the damn dog shut up.

It’s dark, cold, and now a new sound – occasional thumps on the ceiling! We finally decide that it must be gravel sloughing off the cliff behind us, landing on the roof. Now the three of us argue about the .22 rifle we have, and how not to accidentally shoot each other!

We finally fall off to sleep, each of us in between the concrete engine mounts.

“BANG!!!” the loudest frigging noise I’ve ever heard, as the 1” thick steel sheet we have covering the exhaust hole clangs to the floor!

Pandemonium! The damn dog barking her head off, flash lights darting here and there. Each of the three of us yelling, “What the f--- was that? What happened”?

Stuffing our gear into out sleeping bags, in a continuing downpour we strike out up the tracks toward Prince Rupert and safety, dragging our sleeping bags behind us, with Maggie romping around, barking her head off!

Just up the track, lights. It was the two story wooden structure we had past on our way to Fort Casey, and a haven from the ghosts we had narrowly escaped!

“Bang bang bang” on the door, and by and by, an elderly, kindly older woman cautious opens the door.

Over a cup of hot chocolate, we recount the day’s events. The woman explains to us that she and her husband are light keepers for Barret Rock Light, and another light I cannot recall now at the entrance to Prince Rupert harbor, managing the lights by radio signals.

She is home alone, but her husband is due any time now, coming from a doctor’s appointment up at Terrace. In time, the rumbling of a locomotive gets louder, and the westbound passenger train grinds to a halt. And very soon thereafter her husband appears in the door.

It takes a while for all of us to get to up speed, and my companions, Maggie and I, spread out our sleeping bags in their enclosed back porch. It takes a while for me to drift off to sleep, fighting off images of “Hansel and Gettel!” I am having visions of– that my buddies and I are out of the frying pan into the fire!!

In the morning, after a neat breakfast, and hearing stories of light keeping on the BC Coast, we head back to Fairview Terminal, where my Mom and Dad are waiting for us.

Wearily, we climb into the car with Maggie happily wagging her tail. My Dad turns around to us and asks, “Did you have a good time?”

1 Comments - Click here:

LinesWest said...

Great story, thanks for sharing this one and all of the others!

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