Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Cruel and inhuman punishment

Mixing high speed with low drivers on the Canadian National

Low-drivered 2-8-0 No. 2174 struggles to keep up with 4-6-0 No. 1389 on CN train 48 for Winnipeg.
Hal Lewis
In the 1950s, Canadian National, as a government-owned railroad, was forced to operate many money-losing passenger trains because these trains were the only available mode of transportation in the areas they served. Such was the case with trains 47 and 48, which ran twice a week between Winnipeg and Russell, Manitoba, 175 miles.

On a July day in 1959, train 48 was in the Portage la Prairie station taking water and doing head-end work. The four-car train was doubleheaded by    H-6-g Ten-Wheeler 1389 and M-3-e Consolidation 2174. No. 1389’s fireman told me the 2174 was going to Winnipeg for monthly maintenance. He warned me that if I wanted any pictures on the main line between Portage and Winnipeg, I’d better get going, because his engineer was a real ballast-scorcher. He said that they rarely made the flag stops on Thursdays, so they would be doing track speed—60 mph—most of the way.

I asked about the crew on the 2174, which, as a freight engine, had 57-inch drivers. “That engine’s a rough-riding kidney-buster, and they’re in for a rough ride,” noted the fireman with a smile.

I did manage to get a photo of the train out on the line at speed, between Gervais and Fortier. My notes say they were doing about 50 or 60 mph. Ten-Wheeler 1389, with its 63-inch drivers, was rolling significantly. Consol 2174 looked like a bucking horse, with the fireman holding on for dear life. This was cruel and inhuman punishment, railroad-style.        

First published in Fall 2002 Classic Trains magazine.


Read and share your comments on this article

Want to leave a comment?

Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Free download

Free download

Passenger trains from the classic era.


Get the Classic Trains twice-monthly newsletter

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Classic Trains magazine. Please view our privacy policy