There were eight sets of rails between our house and the street that led to school. Sometimes , this was a dangerous journey for us as children . More than a few times , we came close to getting 'creamed' .
Starting at around seven in the morning from Monday to Friday , trains began gathering in our front yard . Trains from east , west and north started moving into sidings to keep the mainline open for through traffic . As well , there would be trains going through the line that led north to Temiscaming . That line also had to be left clear at the correct time . Then the process of shuffling cars from one place to the other began in earnest
. Lines of cars were broken away from a train and parked on the six sidings as three locomotives worked the yard to sort cars by destination in the efforts to build the train they would haul . There were two short periods of time when the yard locomotives idled for about ten minutes: the passenger train passed going west and when a freight came from the north non-stop to North Bay . These two periods of stillness were our windows of opportunity to cross the tracks . Between the through trains and the shuffling of yard trains .
If the tracks were clear in front of the house , we could quickly cover the 50 yards with little effort . But, it was a rare thing for our way not to be blocked . The only road access was a few hundred yards west .It added about a half mile walk to our school route . This was a hard walk in winter snow and cold . It always meant we were late for school . The pressure from teachers to be on time meant we would have to use the riskier direct route .
When the sidings were full from the station past our house to the coal chute or beyond , we had to risk passing underneath the boxcars . We would listen for bells , whistles and releases of steam to judge our timing , always keeping in mind that the two open lines were not freedom . When we came out from under the boxcar to an open track , a through train could come barreling by at speed making immediate mush of us .
The trick was to cross under the boxcars in the centre so that if a yard locomotive banged into the parked cars to lock the knuckle , the shunt that moved the cars still gave enough time to scurry out from under the car before the wheels reached you.
Some mornings , we would have to pass under as many as five boxcars . It was frightening and nerve-wracking to say the least . When the yardmen saw us , they would yell at us and complain to authorities about the danger... that we should not be allowed to cross the tracks . The engineers were especially angered by our presence .
Everything other than our house was across the tracks . We had no choice . Dad tried to reason with the engineers to break the sitting cars - leave the tracks open in front of the house from 8:20 to 8:30 each morning - to no effect . So , we were told to walk around , not to go under . Which we did. Back and forth. East and west on the narrow piece of ground between parked trains . Through the maze that took as much as a half hour to perform . Always late for school .
Mum invited one of the teachers over for supper one evening to fix the "school problem" . After a nice meal , the teacher prepared to leave . She only had a five minute walk down the street to get home . It took her two hours to accomplish the task . A train blocked the path across the tracks . She was too scared to pass under the boxcar and she could not see either end of the train to envision walking around . Instead , she decided to wait .
It was then that Mum raised the issue of lateness and school . If one train could stall her life as an adult , try being children faced with several trains to overcome . The school never complained again .
One morning , we had to walk about twenty cars west to get around a section of cars . We had done the return walk part way on the open north line when we were caught by the through train . Sis , BooBoo and I raced as fast as we could to the coal chute , where the space was a little wider . There we circled our arms around each other and pressed into the cement leg of the building just as the freight rushed passed .
The wind pulled at us and we could feel ourselves being sucked into its rush . We screamed in terror and squeezed our eyes tight to block our the blur of the train passing inches from us. The noise was unbearable but we daren't relinquish our grasp to cover our ears . If we moved it would snatch us into a horrible death .
When it passed , several trainmen and one engineer breathed a sigh of relief . They had seen the predicament we walked into and were helpless to stop it from happening . They had to wait the terrifying five minutes to see if we had survived . They didn't yell at us that morning. Most of the yelling was done by Mum and Dad when they were told what had happened .
After that incident , the engineer , who always did have control of where he would leave the breaks in the parked cars , left an opening most mornings in front of our house . It was a lot less stressful crossing the tracks .