Coming of the Railroad

The people of Elk Point and district were both happy and ex­cited when the Canadian National Railway announced that the rail­road was to be extended from St. Paul to Heinsburg. It had reached St. Paul in 1920, and for some reason it remained the end of the line until early in 1927, when con­struction was started eastward. My interest in the railway was suddenly aroused during the early summer of that year, when the work crews moved to the gravel pit site two and a half miles west of Elk Point. I was only seven years old at the time of my first visit to this camp. I found it extremely interesting, and after that, I made many trips there with boys much my own age. The site was a hive of activity. Special spur lines were built and lined with cars of every description, some were used as cook cars, some for hauling gravel, there were bunk cars for sleeping purposes, and flat cars for hauling in supplies.

There appeared to be hundreds of horses, and dump wagons visible everywhere, as well as a massive steam shovel used for loading gravel into dump wagons. We usually walked to the gravel pit site and we always worked up a good appetite. Our first stop was always at the cookhouse where we stood around looking half starved. The cook was a good hearted soul and always had a doughnut, a cookie or a piece of pie for us. The railroad contractor's name was Van Buskirk. The reason I remember his name was because he had a tame black bear on a chain, where they had their camp. I remember him feeding this bear with a bottle. Something like this you don't forget, especially at the age of seven.

On many occasions we watched the building of the railroad. Con­struction work was done mostly by horse drawn dump wagons and a large steam shovel which was used for loading gravel into the dump wagons. They were then driven to the railroad grade and by pulling a lever the belly of the wagon would open up and the load of gravel was deposited at the required spot. It was then spread and tamped. This was repeated hundreds of times each day. A train followed, backing up farther as the track was laid. It carried the ties and steel rails as well as other items required for lay­ing the track. The ties were then spaced the required distance apart and steel rails were laid out on top of the ties, end to end with a small space left between the rails for ex­pansion. The rails were then an­chored to the ties with large iron spikes driven in by sledge ham­mers. Progress was amazingly rapid and it was no time at all when the railroad had not only reached Elk Point but had passed it on its way to Heinsburg.

In the meantime the railway station had been completed as well as work on the three grain eleva­tors. I still remember when the first train arrived on September 22, 1927. A massive steam train with a loud shrill whistle approached the railway station and was greeted by many happy people. The first train had finally arrived. The first station agent was Matthew Hutter. He re­mained as agent until 1941 and then he was replaced by Frank Wright. The first section foreman was Henry Hannaford and his assistant was William Wysocki.

With the arrival of the railway, Elk Point grew at an alarming rate. The grain elevators were soon in operation accepting grain ship­ments. Eugene McDonell was in charge of the United Grain Growers elevator, Lawrence Sumpton han­dled the Victoria Elevator Company and Jack Fitzimmons was the oper­ator of the Alberta Wheat Pool ele­vator. Down the road, a half a mile south, the creamery was nearing operation under the ownership of Selmer Johnson. While the railroad was being constructed eastward toward Heinsburg, Elk Point was temporarily considered the end of the line. A Y was installed in what is now Scraba's farm and it enabled the train and passenger cars to be reversed so they faced the west on their return trip to Edmonton the following morning. After each run the passenger cars were cleaned and readied for their return trip by Mike Kowalchuk, who lived along­side of the railroad tracks.

The railway meant a lot to our district. Farmers were able to ship their grain and livestock by rail to Edmonton rather than haul it to some distant town. Mail was dispat­ched out of Edmonton and we also had passenger service to Edmonton as well as to other points along the way.