Joyriding on manifest 403 north of Toronto

While researching background for a new mini-eBook in my Canadian Branchline steam series, I came across a newspaper story from 1953. Two boys, aged 13 and 11, were on their way to school in Toronto on the morning of Friday, February 20, 1953. The temperature was around the freezing point, with a mix of snow and rain falling.

These two lads, on their way to St. Ann’s Catholic School, stopped by the CNR’s Don station. On the railway, that’s just north of the junction with the Oshawa Subdivision (I’m speaking in present tense for 1953). The Don station is on the Bala Subdivision, which leads to northern Ontario via Washago.

When thZephyr.1953-02-20.train_403e boys got to Don station, manifest freight train 403 was stopped for a terminal clearance. On the head end were a pair of relatively-new F7 diesels. They had been assigned to this hot freight, and its southbound counterpart 404, since mid-1951.

Playing tag with each other, the boys climbed on the stopped freight train and started leaping from car to car! Not quite as stupid as the recent group of marathon runners in Columbus, Indiana, but close.

So, naturally, number 403 starts up. Given that the train began standing still, and reached the station at Zephyr 45 minutes later, it reached speeds in the range of 70 m.p.h. And these two lads were still aboard, hopping from car to car!

Some 14 miles north of Don station, around Thornhill, someone spotted the boys and called the police. Understandably, the police were unable to catch the train. The next train order office, some five miles beyond at Richmond Hill, the agent noticed the boys on the train. He advised the operator at Zephyr, another 24 bone-chilling miles to the north, of the boys’ plight. The Zephyr operator “put the board on” and the manifest freight stopped. The grainy photograph shows the diesel-hauled train at Zephyr. The accompanying map (click on it for greater detail) shows the arrangement of buildings, including the small train order office in the picture. The 1961 view of Northern 6167 also shows the train order office.


As a writer and researcher, I have to admit that incidents such as the joyride taken by the two Toronto boys provide a lot of background information which otherwise might have been lost to the sands of time. In this case, it’s clear that number 403 was leaving Don station a couple of hours ahead of its normal time (10:30 to 11:15 a.m.). The newspaper story reveals the approximate speed of the train, and the fact that it didn’t normally stop until Washago (a register station some 89 miles north of Toronto). And, number 403, on this occasion, was carrying at least one empty gondola car–near the caboose–which was probably added to fill out the tonnage.


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