I Hear That Train A-Comin’

I told myself I wasn’t going to post anything for a while because I simply have too many things going on right now – but then Mary J Melange wrote about National Train Day on May 14th and I couldn’t resist.

You see, I really like trains.  I might not be a train geek who knows all the different types of locomotives and haunts train museums, but the mournful sound of a train whistle, regardless of the time of day, pulls at my heart strings.

Photo by Mike Robin 4

My nephew Clayton – a conductor with Ontario Northland – on the front rail of the locomotive

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I was born and raised in a small town in Northern Ontario.  Cochrane is actually a railway town – one where trains have always provided the heartbeat of the community.

snowplow 2

Snow plow on the train in the rail yard in Cochrane

Photo by Mike Robin 9

Snow plow in operation

It is from Cochrane that the trains head north to the James Bay and, until 2012, an overnight train called The Northlander provided passenger service south to Toronto 700 km away.  I rode that train back and forth from university for 4 years.

ontariomap

Image from moosecree.com

In fact, one of the best impromptu parties I ever attended was on The Northlander heading home for Christmas one year.  The mood on the fully booked train was outright festive that night and the club car quickly became party central.

I remember one guy pulled out his luggage and revealed he had nothing in his suitcase except booze.  Ah – good times.

Photo by Mike Robin10

Southbound freight train at Cobalt

My childhood memories are full of the sound of trains shuttling around the rail yard, and the blast of the Polar Bear’s whistle as it headed out early in the morning and returned late in the evening.

Yes, the train heading north from Cochrane to Moosonee really is called the Polar Bear.  Actually there are 2 Bears – a Little one and the Express.

I never knew why they were called the Polar Bear.  The last time I checked, there were no polar bears in Moosonee, although Cochrane does have a Polar Bear Habitat … but that’s a different story for a different day.

Polar Bear - summer

Platform of passengers await the northbound Polar Bear

My father had a small grocery store when I was growing up, and the end of the week was a busy time filling orders that had been called in for people living along the rail line.

There are no roads north of Cochrane to Moosonee, so the only way to move people or products was either by train or plane.

These grocery orders would be boxed up and loaded on the Little Bear train where they would be dropped off along the line.

Missinaibi River at Mattice

Crossing the Missinaibi River at Mattice

It is because of the railway my paternal grandfather emigrated from Southern Italy to Northern Ontario in 1912 – looking for a job and a future without poverty.  He was not yet 21 years old and had left behind a pregnant wife who would later follow him with his oldest son.

I guess I could say that trains are the reason I’m a Canadian today.

polar bear

Polar Bear crossing 

This post is dedicated to Dan at No Facilities who loves trains and was the one who planted the seed for train lovers to write about National Train Day.

All photos in this post are courtesy of Mike Robin – a photographer from Northern Ontario.  To view more of his really amazing photos of the Ontario Northland Railway, please visit his site at onrgallery.com

 

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
This entry was posted in Random Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

112 Responses to I Hear That Train A-Comin’

  1. Barrie @ railwayblogger says:

    Your post is so atmospheric and it’s very interesting to hear about trains in countries other than my own. The photos are very scenic with the snow!

    Like

  2. Mrs. P says:

    I love this story! As children, my sisters and I would take the train from Palo Alto to San Diego every year to spend the summer with my grandparents…fond memories indeed. I love the gut with a suitcase of booze. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. treerabold says:

    I love the sound of a train whistle off in the distance as I’m falling asleep.
    I really enjoyed this post….the trains, the snow, the memories…all makes for a wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love trains. That mournful sound you speak of haunts my dreams even now. I’ve gone cross country 4 times by train and, though much slower and more expensive than by air, I love it. Great post!

    Like

  5. I missed this post, Joanne. Thanks for getting me over here. I like the sound of the train whistles too though my train experiences are not as extensive or festive as yours. Sending groceries by train is unique. It’s easy to forget how isolated some communities are. Lovely post and Mike’s photos are wonderful. 🙂

    Like

  6. jesh stg says:

    Am glad you couldn’t resist the urge – so we could look at these awesome photos! (I was already wondering where you were lately – don’t forget to enjoy life, Joanne!)

    Like

  7. Chez Shea says:

    This is magic. So evocative. I want to be on a train-RIGHT NOW!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. LB says:

    What a fabulous post! I very much enjoyed hearing about your family connections and history. Thank you for sharing.
    I just cannot imagine anyone not loving a train. I live in a train town, too, and have posted before, but I need to go check out Dan’s blog.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Somehow I missed this comment, Laurie. Thanks so much! Trains have a little bit of magic about them and I don’t think anyone appreciates them quite the same way as those of us who come from train towns 🙂

      Like

  9. I’ve always found train journeys fascinating and that Christmas trip, party central, I was onboard for that one. One thing I must ask, though, is your ‘headline’ picture on your blog, is that some kind of weather monitoring station?

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      hahaha – so you’ve had your own version of party central on a train 🙂 Everyone should have a chance to have that much fun!

      The photo on my header was taken at the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii where the astronomical research facilities are located with their huge telescope observatories.
      Unfortunately, plebes like us don’t actually get to go inside the observatories, but there were telescopes set up outdoors with a *guided tour* of the stars. It was pretty amazing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cool. Call it ‘the days’, but official buildings of such import, always have a sinister nature, in my mind. Oh, if you want to check out my train adventure, try dermotthayes.com/roundtrip

        Like

  10. Peta Kaplan says:

    Huge train lover as well. Especially old trains. I love the sounds, the movement, the air of romance that goes with them.

    We recently stated at a hotel in Sri Lanka which was right on the train tracks. The owner apologized for the noise and was surprised that anyone would actually enjoy the close proximity to trains.

    Terrific photos.

    Peta

    Like

  11. stunning photos- especially like the snow plow! Wow!

    Like

  12. Pingback: Thanks to All who came Aboard! | No Facilities

  13. reocochran says:

    Gorgeous scenery in the “S track” photograph, Joanne! 🙂 I also enjoyed the nephew photo and the snow plow train photo. I think my favorite day dream has my two grandsons and me going across the U.S. on a train from Chicago to California. This may make the other grandies jealous, though. Someday, maybe I will travel with a friend! 🙂

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      A cross country trip by train has never been on my to-do list, but so many people have mentioned it.
      I think after a day and a night, I would be pretty restless to get off.
      Who knows? Maybe someday when I’m older and I’ve slowed down a bit 😉

      Like

  14. Sheryl says:

    I really enjoyed the pictures and story about the trains in northern Ontario. I hadn’t realized how important they were in the north country, or that there actually was a train called the Polar Bear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joannesisco says:

      I grew up with trains that had names so I thought that was a normal thing. Now I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not.
      Glad you enjoyed your *visit* to the north 🙂

      Like

  15. Pingback: This is My Train | No Facilities

  16. mickscogs says:

    As soon as I started reading your post, I was singing ‘Helpless’ by Neil Young. ‘There is a town in North Ontario…” Which apparently was Thunder Bay, not quite as north as Cochrane. Cochrane must have been a dramatic change for your grandfather.
    I grew up near trains too, and I travel on them when I can; I will be doing so, in Italy later this year. Population being so concentrated on the coast and trucks and freeways being so dominant, have not helped the further development of trains in Australia.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thunder Bay is pretty remote, being so far on the west end of the province. It is very sparsely populated in that direction and sitting on Lake Superior, it can get really cold and stormy.

      I think the generations before us were cut from a different cloth. The wars, the Depression, lack of social safety networks, they just did what they had to do to survive.
      Maybe that’s why I identify with refugees who flee their home country. Only a desperate person leaves everything behind and undertakes the risk and uncertainty in the hope of finding a better life somewhere else.
      I don’t remember him very well. I was only 10 when he passed away, but I remember a very quiet and kind man with a gentle smile.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mickscogs says:

        I just google mapped Cochrane and noticed it sits on the Trans Canada Highway. There goes another song 🙂
        I most certainly agree with you about the generations before us. My mother, who was born in 1923, had a multitude of photographs taken of her as a baby and toddler. Her sister, who was born in ’31, only one. I thought maybe it was the second child, not as much interest. “No” said my mum “Dad had to sell the camera so we could buy food”.

        Like

  17. Joanne, this is an interesting peek into your past, and I’m with you on your enjoyment of train travel. All of North America and its history would be very different without trains. Sadly, I have to go to Europe to have a decent experience, given the sad state of Amtrak. And I can also relate to being busy. You may have noticed that things have been quiet at Gallivance lately. Terri blew here knee out and had to have a total knee replacement surgery recently, so as you can imagine, her recovery and care have kept us both pretty busy. She’s progressing well, but it’s slow going. We haven’t forgotten about our friends and look forward to things getting back to normal. In the meantime, thanks for continuing to follow along. ~James

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Oh James – that’s terrible news about Terri’s knee! I’ll stop feeling sorry for myself now because I’ve caught a very bad cold.
      Recovering from knee replacement surgery will definitely be slowing you both down for a while.
      My very best wishes to Terri for a speedy recovery!
      PS- do the physio! It’s critical 😉

      Like

  18. Gorgeous post and photos. I love trains, too. When I was posting on my photo blog, I dedicated a whole week to trains! I even applied for the Amtrak writer’s residency. Kind of addicted.
    Thank you for adding a train whistle to my day. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It’s already May 14 in India so I thought before I dose off let me read your train post. I loved it. We do have such names for trains in India as well. For instance a train which is specially for low budget passengers is called Garib Rath which means Poor’s Chariot although it is a train, not a chariot. The pictures are awesome and they go hand in glove with the content. I’m celebrating trains for the entire month so every Saturday in May I will write about trains in India. I have already posted one on 7th, but I have saved the best one for the National Train Day, hope you’ll like it. Take care.

    Like

  20. Phil Taylor says:

    I’m not so much a train person as I am a train track person. I see train tracks and I want to follow them on foot like the kids in Stand By Me.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Barbed Words says:

    What a fabulous post and amazing pictures. I’m a sucker for trains, just love ’em. We rode across Canada by train years ago – one of my best holidays ever!

    Like

  22. Anonymous says:

    Lived in Cochrane for a while but moved south. Operated trains in and out of Cochrane. like your pics too. Retired engineman and a big fan of the ONR gallery too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks! I wish I could take credit for the great photos, but those belong to Mike Robin. My hardest job was deciding which ones to use from his impressive library!

      I’m one of those people who routinely waves to the crew on the engine as it passes by. Without exception, I always get a smile and wave back 🙂

      Like

  23. badfish says:

    Very cool post, Joanne! Love the photos, all very impressive. I grew up in a small town with two main railroads running through it. I learned early on as a child to be afraid of the power of trains. They still spark a bit of thunder in my head when I stand next to a fast-moving freight!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Standing near a fast-moving freight train is pretty terrifying in my opinion. The thunder and vibration seems to seep right into the bones and takes your breath away.
      I think all kids who grow up near trains and rail tracks learn a healthy respect for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. What a neat family history you have! I loved reading it. The images you gathered are fantastic visuals to go with your story. I love the horns and whistles of trains too. Trains are fascinating, and beautiful, and stir my imagination…dreaming of far away places and traveling there by train. A steam train! 🙂

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Trains do spark the imagination – especially for this kid in an isolated community. The trains were going somewhere, and I guess the old movies and *hopping a train* fueled that imagination.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Heyjude says:

    What a cool story! And fab photos, I love the snow plough! And it must have been quite a journey up to Moose Bay (why do Canadian names all sound so exciting?) I have used trains a lot as I didn’t learn to drive until I was 41 and always prefer them to buses as I get travel sick. On a train I can read or more often, just gaze at the landscape passing by. Except on the Virgin trains – the Pendolino goes so fast and sways so much it actually makes me quite ill. And trains in the UK are always so full and often dirty and do not mention the Tube! By far my favourite train journey was on the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver. What a trip! But the trains running through San Diego and hooting constantly almost drove me insane on a trip there!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      haha! I’ve never really given any thought to the names of Canadian towns and cities … although I admit I’ve scratched my head a few times on why the name Moose Jaw 😉

      Unfortunately there were huge cutbacks in 2012 that resulted in a major curtailment of rail service in the North. Travelling by bus is NOT the same and I think people still living in the north have suffered because of it.

      Toronto to Vancouver must have been quite the journey!! I did Calgary to Kelowna as a teenager and that was a HUGE adventure. I saw mountains for the first time and to this day, I can’t get enough of them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Lynn says:

    What great photos Joanne! I am picturing that suitcase coming out in the train & the volume of the passengers rising as cheers were made! I am certain that is a story in & of itself!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      hahaha! To be completely honest, I don’t remember a lot of details from that night on the train. The liquor was flowing and there was a LOT of laughing, but I do remember playing cards until the wee hours of the morning 🙂

      Like

  27. Joe says:

    Wonderful post Joanne and you have included some great images 🙂

    Like

  28. I love trains, they fascinate me. I wish they would be as popular here as they are in Europe. I will never forget my first train ride in a sleeping cabin. I love the sounds of trains in the night,

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Me too Bridget. Spending the night in a sleeper car is pretty special. I was a teenager and on a solo trip to Toronto to attend a conference for my summer job (boy – those days are gone, aren’t they?!!)

      Yes, trains bring up images of far away places in a way that’s quite different than driving.
      It’s a shame that North Americans don’t embrace trains quite the same way as Europeans.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Great photos, but most of all an epic suitcase! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I have learnt so much about Canada from reading your blog. I didn’t know about the different trains. I can’t get over all the snow and how they navigate through it all.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Annie 🙂
      The snow plow photo is my favourite. I admit I’ve never actually seen this plow in operation but it’s so cool with the phalanges that open on the sides to push the snow away from the track.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Corina says:

    One day I hope to take a train for a long trip, maybe cross country. I’ve only taken two train trips. The first was a fun short one from Los Angeles Union Station to Oceanside and back. It was to satisfy my son’s desire to go on a train when he was about four. Then about twelve years ago, my car broke down when I took my son to college so I had to take the train back home to Los Angeles. That was not a good trip. It was horrible. Mother Nature got in the way and the upshot was that I ended up having to get off the train (along with everyone else) and having my son go pick me up and drive me home. By the time I got home it was about seven hours later than I should have been home! But that was a freak thing….I think. I want to give the train another try. One day.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      In my university years, I traveled a lot by train since I didn’t have a car. The atmosphere on a train is so much nicer than a bus. Maybe someday trains will make a comeback and be really popular for travel again.

      Liked by 1 person

  32. Sue Slaght says:

    Joanne there is a town just outside of Calgary called Cochrane. A happy coincidence. I grew up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan but no where near a train route. I love your story of the impromptu party with the suitcase of booze. Makes me grin just thinking about the swaying of the train , or maybe that was the liquor talking.

    Like

  33. reocochran says:

    This was nicely dedicated to a very nice man, Dan. Joanne, I enjoyed the beauty and dynamics displayed in this. My favorite Christmas story with a train is also a movie called “The Polar Express.” Your explaining bout the two trains called Polar Bear informed me of something interesting to include in a train conversation with my grandson, Landen. He still loves Thomas the Train. 🙂

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Robin.
      Trains have played a huge part in the development of both the US and Canada. I guess that’s why they have popped up as heroic figures in children’s literature 🙂

      Like

  34. It’s a shame that train service has been cut in so many regions – like the North. I have ridden the GO train for close to 10 years now and thoroughly enjoy it. Great photos by your friend!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I think it’s a shame too that train service has been cut so drastically. Buses just aren’t the same!!
      I don’t get many chances to ride the GO, but I do like the service very much.
      When the boys were much younger, we spent an afternoon just riding the GO train so they could have a train experience 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Dan Antion says:

    I love this post. The trains are so cool. These are great photos and great stories. I would have loved taking trains like these back and forth to school, or work, or anywhere 🙂 Riding a train called the Polar Bear – I can’t even imagine.

    Thanks for taking the time to join us in celebration of Train Day! I really enjoyed this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. DailyMusings says:

    Those are some serious train photos- and beautiful all! I loved reading this post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Ally Bean says:

    I grew up in a small town that was called a train hub. Just about everyone in town had a relative who worked for the railroad or who was a geek about railroads. It’s a culture all its own. Where I live now I hear trains chug through about once a day, but as a child the sounds of trains put me to sleep at night, woke me up in the morning, and surrounded me during the day. Still love those sounds.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Yes, Ally … that pretty well sums up my childhood too. There was always the sound of trains.

      By coincidence, I still live near a railway yard a few kilometers away. On a summer night with the windows open, I can hear the shuttling of trains in the yard. It reminds me of being a child again.

      Like

  38. C.E.Robinson says:

    Joanne, a very interesting post. I rode the train from San Diego to Santa Barbara and it was fun, affordable and comfortable! Also the train from CT to NYC is the only way to go! Yep, beats driving! Loved the details & photos of your post! Will look for Dan’s coming up! Happy Wednesday! 💛 Elizabeth

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      It’s really a shame that trains in North America seem to have fallen out of *style*. I still like riding on trains – although now it is usually just the subway 😉

      Hope you are having a great week Elizabeth!

      Like

  39. I love trains too (I guess trains and bridges go together). We live high up on a hill and can sometimes hear the train off in the distance… it’s comforting somehow. Whenever I had to travel north to Los Angeles for business, I always took the train. First, no traffic, but I also enjoyed just setting comfortably while looking at the scenery going by. I always took work with me to do on the train but somehow never got around to it (oops). One of these days I’d like to take that train trip across western Canada. My parents did it years ago and loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joannesisco says:

      That’s exactly it Janis! Trains and bridges go together 🙂
      I would like to see trains make a resurgence in popularity again. Driving and flying eclipsed trains some time ago, but trains have a valuable place in transportation and I would like to see them come back in *style*!

      Liked by 1 person

  40. I’ll have to go back and read M-J’s and Dan’s posts (I’m well behind on my reading) but your post popped up on the Reader as I opened my browser this morning before I head off to work and I couldn’t resist a post about trains. Especially trains in snow. Not a sight we often see here. And you told such a wonderful story about your connection to trains, I’m glad I got distracted. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Dan will be publishing his train post on Saturday morning.
      I’m glad you popped in here, H, I was about to send out the search dogs.

      Liked by 1 person

    • joannesisco says:

      I thought of you as I was choosing which photos I wanted to use. The winter photos somehow seemed more dramatic 🙂
      I remember one trip on The Northlander when we were stopped in the middle of the bush in the dead of night because the brakes froze on the train. I have no idea how they resolved the problem, but by dawn we started to creep forward again. We finally arrived in Toronto several hours late.

      Liked by 1 person

  41. These are wonderful examples of trains. I enjoyed reading this post. The pictures are wonderful.
    I traveled from Europe by ship and then by train from Halifax to Larder Lake (that’s about 110+ miles from Cochrane). A few time afterwards but not for many years. The new passenger ones look pretty spiffy.
    I love the haunting whistle of a train whatever season, though they sound different in the cold.

    Like

  42. Tippy Gnu says:

    I can see why you like trains so much, with family being so closely tied to the railroads, and all those memories riding the rails. My best memories of trains is from when I was about 6 years old. We lived next to railroad tracks, and every day the engineer of the train would toss candy out for us kids as his train passed by. The deal was that he’d throw us candy if we stayed off the tracks.

    Like

  43. Great story! Yes, trains are pretty awesome!

    Like

  44. jan says:

    My husband is a train man too. I believe his favorite line was the Denver and Rio Grande. Happy train day!

    Liked by 1 person

  45. bikerchick57 says:

    This story made me smile Joanne because it’s obvious that trains have a very special meaning for you…from the travels to and from university, to the reason why you are Canadian. And I think it appropriate that all of the photos you chose are from winter due to the Polar Bear trains (even though we’ve both had our share of winter). I have questions, though: How come I’m not on a train, right this minute, with a guy and his suitcase full of booze? That sounds like a blast. How hung over was everyone at the end of the trip? Did anyone care?

    I was glad to be of service, prompting you into this post, but that was only because Dan prompted me. I’m glad you were able to join in with the train fun!

    Like

  46. Love your family stories because I love trains too. We are fortunate that we live in a town with a train depot that runs south to Boston or North to Portland. I get goosebumps every time I stand there waiting for the conductor to call ‘all aboard.’ 🙂

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Me too! There is something romantic about trains and it definitely instills a sense of adventure. I guess that’s a combination of influence from movies and being raised in a small isolated community.

      Liked by 1 person

  47. Ruth says:

    Great pics, loving all that snow! 🙂

    Like

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