Monday, August 31, 2009

A Tribute to Johnny Bateman

Canadian National Railways 9082A, Prince Rupert, May 31, 1959. I was up in the cab of CNR 9082 showing my newfound friend Mike around, trying to take a picture of the engineer’s controls. Two fellows, one I recognized as Johnny Bateman, climbed into the cab. The older fellow I had seen around, but did not know his name.

They barely paid attention to us – some discussion going on about the traction motors. Mr. Bateman said they were going out for a few minutes, to close the fireman’s side door, and away we went. My new friend Mike was startled – having just told me “we really should not get caught up here.”

Mike was several years older me (I was 16) and a right-and-proper Englishman who was a process engineer out at the Columbia Cellulose plant at Port Edward. I was prowling around the yard with my camera and spotted him taking a photo of the 9082.

I introduced myself to him and asked him if he had even been up in the cab of one of these things, which he hadn’t, which is why we were now rumbling down the track.

While Mr. Bateman and this other fellow were fussing with this and that, I told Mike to go ahead, sit in the fireman’s seat, and fire off his 8mm camera, which he did.

Mike became a great friend of the family, my Mom bargaining him his Wednesday night dinners tutoring my younger sister and I in math. As the tides of life ebb and flow, Mike ended up back in England on a family emergency, and never returned to the Colonies.

But we have been great phone friends over these many years – and when a lady friend and I were in England in 1999, Mike and I went out for dinner, and finished a bottle of fine Australian wine.

A few months ago, I got an email from a reader asking me if I knew the engine numbers of a Canadian National Railways freight train that hit a rock slide, tumbling 100 feet or so down an embankment, killing the engineer and conductor. Two GP-9’s ended up blocking Highway 16 just east of Terrace, BC.

For years I carried the front page account, with photos of the engines, as printed in the Prince Rupert Daily News. As part of this ongoing downsizing campaign, I’ve been tossing stuff out, and that article went to the dump, mere weeks before I was contacted.

I had tried to make a .pdf file of the article, but the Prince Rupert Daily News had a screen dot resolution on their press numbering in the low 50’s it seemed. There was just no making a copy of it worth a damn.

I did contact the Terrace newspaper, but their files did not go back that far, and so the Internet search went into my cold files. And I was not able to help that fellow out. So much for downsizing.

A few weeks ago, I got the bug to Google “Canadian National train wrecks,” and determined to check each page from one end of the search file to the other. After a few dozen pages, I ran into an obscure entry “trainwreck of 78." Of course, it was not the train wreck I was searching for, but I thought the site might have links to other train wrecks.

This is what I found.

The site has a lot of CNR history in my time frame, and is dedicated to the memory of an engineer by the name of Bateman, killed when a slide hit his locomotive. As I was reading this site, the hairs on my arms literally began standing up. Bateman. Bateman. I knew a Bateman in Prince Rupert!

Mike (red sweater) and I after ride

Scrambling through my negatives, I found a series of photos taken the day Mike and I had been up in the cab of CNR 9082. With Johnny Bateman. I wondered “how many Bateman’s could there have possibly been in that small tight knit group in Prince Rupert.”

I scanned the negs and sent them off a few days ago, asking the site owner, Ken Bateman, if there was a connection between him and my photos taken in early 1959.

Soon enough, I got a reply “That’s my Uncle!”

And so one of my many adventures has come full circle. And more important, I’ve connected with Ken Bateman, and been able to provide him with pictures of his “Uncle John” which, I am certain, will enrich his experience. And Mike? Well, we have been chatting on the phone once or twice a month for years. I just talked to him the other day.

4 Comments - Click here:

LinesWest said...

Great story Robert. I've had a couple of moments where things come full circle (from a pile of old photos as it turns out), and had the hair on my arms stand up too. Quite a feeling.

My Dad has mentioned memories of that slide from his time in BC. As I recall he was doing some fishing with some friends and found 16 closed because of it.


Zoe Stewart said...

Your article gave me chills especially when I saw the photo of my Uncle John. He was my mom's brother.
Thank you so much for sharing this information.
Zoe Stewart

Diana said...

Nice to see pictures of my uncle. I never got the chance to know my dad or his side of the family so I really enjoyed seeing pictures of his brother.

Diana Wright

Cori Hunt said...

My grandfather John died when I was just a young girl - and so I only have a few photos of him. Thank you for posting this one.
Cori "Bateman" Hunt

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