“GABRIEL’S HORN” – EARLY RAILWAY HUMOUR (September 2/08)

In the Kentville history she wrote in 1979 for the Board of Trade, Heather Davidson says that when the railway arrived in the town, a resident on hearing the shriek of the engine exclaimed, “O, Lord, have mercy! I hear Gabriel’s horn.”

Ms. Davidson gives her source for the quote as Clarke’s History of the Earliest Railway in Nova Scotia. Sure enough, this story is there and the author of the railway history, W. W. Clarke, tells it this way:

“An amusing incident is told concerning the appearance of the first engine on the D.A.R. which landed at Elderkin Creek (immediately east of Kentville). A …. citizen hearing the shriek of the engine whistle was seized with fear and fell into the culvert near the jail, shrieking “Oh Lord, have mercy! I hear Gabriel’s horn.”

Possibly one of the first history books on the Dominion Atlantic Railway (predating Marguerite Woodworth’s D.A.R. history by about a decade) Clarke’s book is a chatty work which along with railway history, includes various humorous events in the D.A.R.’s early days. My favorite story is the tale about how a railway manager dealt with the countless people who besieged him, seeking free passes on the train. Clarke says the manager made up a card he passed out to anyone mooching for a free ride. The card read: “Bible against Free Passes – Thou shalt not pass. – Num. 20:18; None shall ever pass. – Isaiah 34: 10; Suffer not a man to pass. – Judges 3 28; The wicked shall no more pass. – Nahum. 1:15; This generation shall not pass. – Mark 13; Though they roar they cannot pass. – Jer. 5: 22.”

Older Valley residents have heard of the “Blueberry Special,” a D.A.R. train said to move so slowly you could get out along the way, pick blueberries and hop back on again.

There may be a kernel of truth to this – if Clarke’s story about a passenger who had time to get off the train and milk a cow is true. The way Clarke tells it, a passenger was “moved to pity by the incessant wail of a baby” whose mother had forgotten a supply of milk. At a stop, the passenger hopped off the train and “vaulting a fence proceeded to milk a cow grazing in a neighboring pasture.” He returned to the train with a “generous drink” for the baby.

And finally, Clarke says the railway wasn’t strict on who or what boarded the train in the early days. He writes, “Oldtime travelers recall the days when the trains stopping at Windsor Junction would be boarded by the goats which provided milk for a number of the Junction homes. Walking through the cars, the goats would visit the passengers in the quest of something to eat.”

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