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January 28th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 4
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Diesel Workhorse - Underground at Vicary Mine
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
John Kinnear Photo
Hudswell 100 Horsepower Diesel from Leeds
In Fernie, BC you will find two different types of diesel locomotives both of which were used at one time in the Coleman Collieries mine here in the Pass. A 100 horsepower Hudswell is parked out in front of the Fernie Chamber tourist information site on the east side of town and two 65 horsepower Hunslets are currently stored in their municipal yard.
The diesel at the chamber was known as the “outside diesel” at Vicary and used to haul 34 three ton cars of coal at once to the entry and outside rotary dump. It was made by Hudswell Clark & Co. in Leeds, England in 1948. That very same year it arrived here and went to work in the York Creek rock tunnel for the International Coke and Coal Company.
It took over the inside run for that tunnel from old #9 air locomotive, a compound loco now on display and known affectionately as the: “Biggest Piggy Bank in the World.” When York Creek closed in 1952 it was used outside at the International Tipple until 1954 when the Hudswell went to work in the Cheakamus Power Tunnel Project in Garibaldi, BC. There in 1956 it helped set a world record for the most footage driven in 24 hours. It returned to work in Vicary Mine in 1959 where it ran until replaced by conveyors in 1975.
Through all those 27 years of service here and at Garibaldi, John (Spike) Matkovcik from Coleman was one of its main operators. Imagine how well he must have come to know that engine and its quirks after that many years of running it. The scary thing about Spike and the Hudswell was that they used to tow those 34 cars to about a half mile from the entry and because there was a slight grade, uncouple them and give them a push so they would roll outside to the rotary dump. As a summer student almost fifty years ago I was one who got to meet that coal car train from hell as it rolled out into the light of day. Listening to those 34 cars of hard won coal rumble towards you from the darkness was enough to strike fear in the heart of even the toughest miner.
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The reason for that fear was there was only about 150 feet from the entry to the rotary dump outside so those cars had to be brought to a complete halt before they tore through the dumper. This involved spragging the first six cars as soon as possible, a trick I really struggled with. Sprags were two foot long, four inch in diameter green timber sharpened to a point at one end. The sleight-of-hand trick was to insert them into the fast rotating curved spokes of the mine cars as they went by you. The sprags would catch underneath the car and lock up the wheel and act like a brake. The unnerving part was that two or more missed sprags meant that train would carry on right into the rotary dump and probably wreck it. Fortunately my hand, driven by the fear of this consequence, remained true until I finally begged off the job in order to keep from becoming a complete basket case.
For a time back then I had occasion to run one of the smaller 65 horse Hunslet diesels in Vicary which were referred to as the “inside diesels”. There were two that worked in tandem, each one pulling and loading 17 cars of coal from various chutes. Their “trips” were combined and were picked up by Spike on the Hudswell who took them down the 2 ½ miles or so of entry to the outside, released them, and then picked up another 34 empties to bring back inside.
The Hunslet’s were 65 horsepower flame-proof locomotives that were purchased second hand from West Canadian Collieries in Blairmore. They were also originally from the British Isles and had exhaust conditioning systems that were relatively ineffective. (I still get high from the smell of diesel exhaust!) Instead of conventional air brakes like those of the Hudswell they had a large, ratcheted hand lever that you had to haul on for all your life to bring that train to a halt. There were two speeds forward or reverse and no clutch so to shift into and through gears was tricky and sent vibrations right through your whole body as those gears ground together.
The Hunslets were equipped with sanding devices for wet greasy track but they were always plugged. Instead I carried a pail of rock dust and would hop off the train with its wheels slowly spinning and spread rock dust under the drive wheels until they finally gripped. They were crank starts (like the old jalopies) and boy did it ever test your staying power and patience to try and get one of those cranky beasts going again.
Diesel locomotives like the Hudswell and the Hunslet were noisy, smelly and temperamental but they moved millions of tons of coal from Crowsnest Pass mines in their time. Some good news on the Hunslet front. The City of Fernie has agreed to donate one of the two original Vicary diesels they have to the Bellevue Underground Mine where it will eventually be on display attached to their coal and timber cars. That diesel weighs over ten tons so moving it is an issue that the mine sure could use some help with. Loading and unloading cranes, flatbed etc. Hint! Hint!
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January 28th ~ Vol. 85 No. 4
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