A FINE OLD RAILROAD BOOK (May 7/99)

There’s no publication date in Will Clarke’s railway history but the text indicates the book was published around 1920. Clarke’s book is the first published history book of the railway in Nova Scotia, pre-dating Marguerite Woodworth’s Dominion Atlantic Railway history by well over a decade.

Woodworth’s book may be looked upon as the official history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway (D.A.R.); apparently Woodworth was commissioned by the railway to write this history. Clarke’s history book appears to have been written as a result of a life-long association with the railroad. Clarke was a railroad conductor and railroad history buff who upon retiring, apparently decided to use his leisure years to write a railroad account.

Both histories are invaluable contributions to railroad lore but they are as different as night is from day. Read Woodworth’s book for an in-depth, scholarly look at the D.A.R. and the political intrigues that lead to the eventual union of several railway companies. Read Clarke’s book if you want a chatty, casual look at railroading in the old days. Both books are factual, both are well-written; but of the two I prefer Clarke’s account because it has more in it about the day-to-day average workers who made the railway tick.

Here’s one example to emphasize this point: Woodworth’s book has 160 pages with 29 photographs. With one exception the photographs are tourist shots – hotels, scenery, ships, terminals, warehouses and so on. No railway personalities are depicted with the exception of an unidentified trainman who stands beside a locomotive.

In his 64-page account Will Clarke includes 21 photographs and 13 are of railroad people from the high and mighty to the ordinary trainman. With a couple of exceptions, all the railway men depicted in Clarke’s photographs are identified. In addition, Clarke also tells us what the going rate of pay was for railway workers in 1869. Engine drivers – $33.75 per half month; firemen $18.75 per half month. Lower down on the pay scale were woodcutters at $5.60 per half month. In comparison, station agents received from $200 to $400 per month.

Clarke calls his book a “History of the Earliest Railways in Nova Scotia,” and he says in a subtitle that it contains a list of “firsts and other interesting stage and railway facts.” One “stage fact” was mention that in 1816 a horse-drawn passenger coach with an inside capacity of six people ran between Halifax and Windsor twice a week. Clarke compared the stage coach schedule with the daily runs of the train between Windsor and Halifax when the railway was completed – the point being that the railroad revolutionized travel. To emphasize this Clarke described the terrible road conditions existing in the province before the railroad arrived.

Some trivia from Clarke’s fascinating account of the early railway in Nova Scotia: At one time there were covered bridges on the line – at Horton’s Landing, Hantsport and Bridgetown. And a footbridge (!) over the track at Doran’s Crossing, three miles east of Windsor; this bridge claimed the life of a brakeman who was riding on top of a car, one of the first railway fatalities. When the “missing link” between Digby and Annapolis was completed on July 27, 1891, Nova Scotia for the first time was connected from one end to the other by rail. The first “through train” from Yarmouth to Halifax ran on the same day the missing link was connected. In the early days of railway travel passengers could purchase “ale, porter and other intoxicants” in stations at Windsor, Kentville and Aylesford.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s