Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Canada: Railway history runs through heart of Stratford

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 a blacksmith.

"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 said.

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."


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