From Stratford Beacon Herald: Railway history runs through heart of Stratford
Before the big tent of the Festival was raised, Stratford was a
railway town. Albert Herman, 84, remembers those days well. As a boy
Herman watched the steam engines from his home on Guelph St., across
from the railyard.
It wasn't long before Herman stopped watching the trains and started
working on them. At age 15 the Canadian National Railway hired Herman as
"It was like working in hell - heat, fire and smoke," Herman said of
his work in Stratford's locomotive repair shop. But, "when you watched
(the engines) come out all brand new and ready to run, it made you feel
good," he said.
Herman's work with CNR is what brought him to the annual Railway
Heritage Show, held Sunday at the William Allman Memorial Arena. The
event, now in its 11th year, featured model trains, archival photos and,
to the interest of many, a model Herman built of the last locomotive
repaired in Stratford.
When the CNR shop closed in 1964 the steam-powered locomotives either
went to museums or the scrapyard. Stratford, Herman said, didn't keep
any. So he decided to build his own.
Herman's replica is about three feet long and built to scale. It took
him two years to make it. By comparison, the original engine was 95
feet in length and powered by 275 pounds of steam.
While Herman's model is made with impressive detail, he never worked
on that particular engine. Herman, like many in Stratford, was laid off
by CNR in 1958. At the time the company was shifting from steam to
diesel power and said Stratford didn't fit into its new production
plans. Before the change in technology the railway employed 850 people
in Stratford, or about a third of the city's workforce. The shop
officially closed on March 31, 1964.
Before being laid off Herman forged the train's side rods. When the
steel went into the furnace it was five feet long and weighed about two
tons. After about six hours a gang of men would pull the steel from the
furnace-now white hot-and pound the metal until it reached 12 feet in
length. When the men worked "all of Downie St. would shiver," Herman
Despite the city's long history with the railroad, prior to the
Railway Heritage Show "there was nothing in town celebrating the
railway's years in Stratford," said Eric Adams, one of the event's
founding organizers. With the help of the Perth County Historical
Foundation the event is now a regular attraction for both young and old.
Herman, however, doesn't need an annual show to remind him of the
railway. "The CNR gets in your blood," he said. "You've always got a bit
of it in you."