“I can always remember coming home from school on the train, the old locomotive they had on there,” Bill Kennedy said, talking about the Cornwallis Valley Railway that ran for decades between Kingsport and Kentville.
“Sometimes they’d have a bunch of boxcars along with the passenger car. They had to stop in Steam Mill on the return trip in the afternoon since there was a little grade there towards Centreville, maybe half way up. They’d get part way up the grade and there they’d be, stopped. So they’d have to take four or five boxcars up to Centreville first and then back down and pick the rest of the train up. Once they got to Centreville it was downgrade to Kingsport, pretty well downhill all the way.”
Bill Kennedy was reminiscing about the time in the early 1950s when he took the train to the high school in Kentville. Like many kids reaching grade 9 in schools along the corridor between Kingsport and Kentville, to take grades 10, 11 and 12 it was necessary to attend classes elsewhere. The closest high school for kids living along the CVR line in those days was Kings County Academy in Kentville, and the train’s morning schedule – they called it the “school run” – made it easy to attend KCA. Leaving Kingsport at 7:30, the train usually arrived in Kentville before classes started at the high school.
Kennedy took the train to school from Sheffield Mills for three years. “I still remember those days going up to Kentville on the train,” he says. “It was an interesting time.”
How many kids in Nova Scotia can say they took the train to school? I asked in a recent column on the Cornwallis Valley Railway. Not many, I bet. I speculated that the train’s school run likely was unique. Maybe it wasn’t but it was convenient at least. The ride to Kentville took from an hour or so to about 15 minutes depending on where you got on the train. But once the train arrived in Kentville it was a less than a kilometre walk from the station to Kings County Academy.
“Sometimes it was a long day,” says another former KCA student from Kingsport who like Bill Kennedy, rode the train to school every morning to Kentville for three years. “The train sometimes stopped at warehouses along the line to pick up apples and potatoes and the time it took to reach Kentville was affected by these stops.”
The former KCA student (name withheld on request) recalls that on the return trip from school she normally arrived in Kingsport around five o’clock. “In the fall, at harvest time, when there were stops at warehouses, it could be later,” she said.
“In the morning the train picked up kids at every stop and when we reached Kentville we had a train full. It was quite an experience, going to school on the train, and the kids today wouldn’t believe it.”
Another Kingsport resident who caught the CVR train to school in Kentville is Helen Burns. What stands out in her memory was the big rush to catch the train leaving Kingsport in the morning. “Everybody was always running late for it but the trainmen were good to us,” she says. “They always made sure everyone was there before they took off, looking back at the last minute to see if anyone was running to catch up as the train was moving out.
“I remember that and I remember everyone was always carrying on while we on the train to Kentville. Some of us would try to study on the way in.”
The return trips to Kingsport after school also stands out in Burns’ memory. “It seemed to take a long time. Sometimes, when it was apple harvest or whatever, they’d have to shunt all the freight cars off at the warehouses. When this was happening it would take a long time to get home. I don’t remember much about the morning trips taking a lot of time but I suppose they did at times. I can’t remember exactly.”
Now, what about the school run in the wintertime. Surely there were there problems getting to school during winter storms. I asked Bill Kennedy about this and he doesn’t recall winter storms stopping the train in the years he took it to school. “If there was any amount of snow they’d always run the plow, over here to Kingsport and back,” he said. “I can’t remember the train ever getting stopped in the wintertime.”