Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Elmer N. Ogden, Engineer 51, Belleville

Within a month of my lifelong journey documenting my trackside observations that began in February, 1976 I found myself at Kingston's new station on Saturday, March 27, 1976. One of the first times we'd gone there just to trainwatch. In later VIA years when a train would stop at Kingston, we would spend our time up around the head-end, after seeing the train come in and stop. In this way, we got to see the train 'all over again' as it departed. On the north platform, this put us immediately adjacent to the power. Most engineers remained in the cab with either a wave or benign indifference to 'buffs'. If the cab window got rolled down with its high gear-ration cranking mechanism, perhaps a 'hello' or few words of conservation would come the way of this half-pint railfan of a mere dozen years.

Rarely, an engineer would descend to the platform from the cab. On this highly impressionable day, the hogger of train 51 (not sure of whether it was officially a VIA train or still a CN train at this point. The units were still in CN colours) came down the steps and talked to us. Being incredibly shy, the engineer broke the ice by asking would I'd like his autograph in my notepad? I must have stammered a yes. Instead of seeing me merely standing beside the train, the engineers likely wondered what I was writing down. (I remember another asking me, "Are ya getting yer train numbers down in yer little green book??") Indeed I was:
My Dad actually transposed the train numbers he added (above). No matter. In creating this post, I returned to my original notes that I took that day, "Today we went to Kingston. Dad, Al and me. Saw 1 train at bus terminal, 3 at the station. Two more [passenger trains] came in. I got near the engines. One guy gave me a timetable, the other an extra flag, his autograph. A nice bunch!"
I still (of course) have that timetable and that flag (above). I looked at what he wrote, and didn't realize for a long time that Elmer Ogden, Engineer 51 did not make him the fifty-first engineer. Rather, that was his name and his job that day - the number of the train he was operating. This autograph bespoke in very few words the impressive importance and his running responsibility for that particular passenger train. And this encounter may very well have taken my lifelong love of being trackside to the next level! And taking notes...that turned into books!
Fast forward to today. That elder Elmer engineer emeritus, who retired in 1981, had a son named David who took up the same craft. David just retired last week, nearly 45 years later in 2020! Here's an overview of this generational social media sandwich upon which I was the pickle on a toothpick:

When I saw the name "Elmer Ogden" in Janie's Facebook post on her brother's last trip (and Elmer Ogden's son) David's retirement, I just about fell over. I immediately knew why that name was so familiar to me. Interestingly, David was fortunate to share his last run with his daughter as his Conductor. The family tradition continues!
(Video captures from video taken by Bill McDonald on the evening of November 6. 
Cab-door photo of Elmer Ogden at his retirement in 1981 kindly shared by Janie Marie Ogden.)

David's final train was CN M369, 9874 feet, on duty 0930, off duty 1920. I'm sure he thought of his father as he stepped down onto the station platform at Belleville that night. And I bet he wasn't dreaming about this rather obscure connection you're reading about! Janie Marie Ogden shared Elmer's CN engineer qualification certificate from 1952 (below) which gives his fireman service date in 1944:
In the early 1990's, a locally-produced periodical entitled Great Canadian Railway Stories included stories from various area railroaders. Seeing Elmer Ogden's name, I'd saved his stories from Volume Two. These stories show that the elder Ogden had a good sense of humour and a deep well of tales to tell! 
(Click for larger versions)

EPILOGUE -  to this multi-generational CN story from your humble blogger railfan - there's one more page. After meeting the engineer of train No 51, I penned a letter that October. My goal was to be his penpal. My letter was addressed to CN Rideau Area offices in Belleville. I sealed it. I never mailed it. It stayed in my files. I've been looking for it but I haven't quite found it yet! When I do, I plan to share it to Janie Ogden. She can have the potential enjoyment of reading it, whatever it says (and it might be pretty hokey!) and reflect on the careers of railroaders in the Ogden family and the connection to those of us who stand trackside!

JULY 2021 UPDATE: I found the letter in a box of...letters! Finally! It was written to CN Rideau Area offices in Belleville, but never mailed. You can read my 12 year-old cursive writing, see the original uncancelled stamp on the envelope and wonder whether meeting Elmer Ogden in March [not May!] would have led to he and I becoming penpals! 

Thanks to CN engineer Steve Lucas for assistance with this post. 
Other railroaders' stories you'll find here on Trackside Treasure:

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