Ian Wilson's blog

Welcome to the blog of Ian Wilson, author of the award-winning books on 1950s Canadian steam railway operations.

The photo and caption that triggered a writing career

July 24, 2015

Way back in the summer of 1982, when I was slinging skunky cases of returned beer bottles onto line 2 at the Molson's plant in Barrie, Ontario, I happened upon a magazine my dad had bought. It was the August 1958 issue of Trains, and the only one he purchased over three decades of collecting model railway periodicals. I pored through all those magazines in search of scale model projects to build as my skills developed in childhood and early adulthood.

But that issue of Trains, the anomoly in the stacks, intrigued me. It spoke of the travels of American photographers Don Wood and John Rehor to the province of Ontario in the summer of 1957, to photograph branchline steam railway operations (they would return in 1958, 1959 and 1960 on the same quest). The article in that August 1958 issue was an eye-opener to me. And Wood's picture at Harriston Junction, coupled with the caption prose of David P. Morgan—in my opinion the greatest writer in the railroad field—ignited my imagination. Suddenly, someone was telling a story compelling enough to make me drop everything I was doing and journey to the spot where Wood exposed his negative.

David P. Morgan's caption information in that issue of Trains is inaccurate. He got the date wrong, which is no surprise, because when I made friends with Don Wood near the beginning of my writing career, I spent several days archiving his Canadian images with him and describing just what he'd seen, where, and on what particular days. No matter—the date I associate with the above image is today's, because that's the one that ran in the magazine. Morgan's prose, which I can recite it my sleep, reads thus:

Armstrong-levered semaphores keep a CNR work extra waiting as Canadian Pacific 4-6-0 1004 hits the diamond at Harriston Junction, Ont., on her way to Teeswater. It's July 24, 1957.

My own version, backed by the benefit of 15 years obsessing over Wood's and Rehor's journeys in forensic detail, and published in my Steam Over Palmerston, goes like this:

Approach signal on Southampton Subdivision holds Pacific 5563 on southbound ballast extra while CPR Ten Wheeler 1004 crosses Owen Sound main with the Teeswater Mixed on July 23, 1957.

Take your pick. And, rest in peace, Messrs. Wood, Rehor and Morgan. Someday I may create the definitive hardboard log of those photographic forays to Ontario in the summers of 1957 and 1958.

Read More:

Back to the Blog