Weekend in Toronto with Phil Hastings and CP 136

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Friday, September 06, 2019

Former Canadian Pacific 4-4-0 136 stands with its three-car Tourist Railroad Association, Inc. special before departing Toronto Union Station in November 1974. Philip R. Hastings
I wouldn’t necessarily want some of the work I’ve done over the years to be described as “nostalgia,” but I was OK with it last week when my friend Kurt Bell, archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives, said some nice things about a publication that takes me back 45 years.

In a post on the Facebook page Tourist Railroad Nostalgia, Kurt talked about Trainline, the erstwhile publication of the Tourist Railway Association, Inc., or TRAIN, a predecessor of today’s HeritageRail Alliance.

I edited Trainline in its early years and Kurt was generous in his assessment of what, for me, was very much a learning experience. Frankly, when I started up the publication in 1974 at age 23, I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I had fun anyway. 

Kurt posted a photo of three Trainline covers, and one especially caught my eye: the Fall 1974 issue, with my report on TRAIN’s national convention at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. The cover featured a fine Philip R. Hastings portrait of Canadian Pacific 4-4-0 No. 136, bathed in twilight at Toronto Union Station, CP’s majestic Royal York serving as a dramatic backdrop.

Back came a flood of great memories — two in particular. One was the privilege of getting to know Phil Hastings for the first time. The other was to witness the 136 in action, putting its superheaters and 63-inch drivers to good use hauling a three-car train — unassisted by any diesel — up the CP main line to Bolton, Ontario.

Phil was representing the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, an institution he dearly loved. I was there as the upstart ad copywriter for Kalmbach Publishing’s Sales Department, as well as for my duties as the moonlighting Trainline editor.

CP 136, one of three 4-4-0s the big road kept to work a branch in New Brunswick, was a celebrity before her 1974 turn on the TRAIN special. Here she's being prepared to front a tripleheader on a May 1, 1960, excursion out of Toronto. Don Wood
When I first got there, courtesy of a Canadian National train from Sarnia, I was probably in awe of Phil, given his long tenure as one of Trains magazine’s most famous photographers. But Phil would have none of that. An easygoing, almost avuncular presence in his tweed jacket and ivy cap, he had a knack for putting people at ease, in part a function, no doubt, of his profession as a psychiatrist. 

He and I also had business to discuss, for I was already working on promotional ideas for what would become the railroad book event of 1975, Kalmbach’s The Mohawk That Refused to Abdicate, and Other Tales, the hardcover anthology of the work Phil had done with David P. Morgan in the waning years of steam. I could scarcely believe my good fortune to be working on such a project, with guys I’d admired since eighth grade. 

Although a trade convention wasn’t exactly prime fodder for an artist of Phil’s vast talent, he made the most of his time in Toronto, shooting some excellent pictures of TRAIN events, including a memorable rainy afternoon aboard the Toronto Transit Commission’s preserved Peter Witt streetcar, sharing the city’s avenues with maroon-and-cream PCCs, and also that Saturday evening trip behind the 136.

The little 4-4-0 was something to fire Phil’s imagination. It was, after all, the star of his and Morgan’s second piece in their celebrated “In Search of Steam” series, entitled “Eureka!” in the May 1954 issue of Trains. In it, Phil and David caught up with the 136 and other small engines operating on a CP branch out of Chipman, New Brunswick.

The 136 was — and is — quite the antique. Built by Rogers Works in Paterson, N.J., in 1883, and rebuilt by CP in 1912, it had a long career with the railway, not leaving the roster until 1960. When we saw the 136, it was under the flag of the Credit Valley Railway, at the time an operation of the Ontario Rail Association (ORA). It survives today on Ontario’s South Simcoe Railway. 

The 1974 TRAIN convention included a ride on preserved Toronto Transit Commission streetcar 2894, pictured with two PCCs at the west end of TTC's Queen Street line. Philip R. Hastings
With its clean boiler and extended wheelbase, the 136 is elegant in an ungainly way, if that makes sense. Personally, I think it’s gorgeous. Former Smithsonian curator John H. White Jr. probably wasn’t thinking of a CP locomotive when he described the 4-4-0 as America’s “national engine, a machine without peer in this country, because it answered every need,” but his description fits what is very much a Canadian icon.

Phil certainly sensed the same thing. He loved little locomotives. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much to work with that November night in Toronto. The 136 left at sunset at 5:30 p.m., shortly after the 5:15 departure of CP’s Canadian, so most of the excursion was in darkness. But let me tell you, it was a thrill to witness that little engine from a vestibule, putting back the 26 miles to Bolton, cutting through the cold Ontario darkness at better than 60 mph — a performance utterly belying its age and wheel arrangement.

Another witness to the whole thing was James A. Brown, a longtime GO Transit executive who, at the time, was also involved in Ontario Rail, which hosted the convention. Jim recalls that our return from Bolton included a stop at the closed North Toronto station for a dinner at a Yonge Street hotel, then another fast run to Union Station. The crew, he reports, had a blast.

“Our hogger was CP engineer Frank Bunker, also a stalwart ORA member, along with cab rider Al Hill, then CP’s Eastern Region general manager,” Jim says. “We learned later that, not surprisingly, Al asked Frank on the way south from Bolton if he could take a hand at the throttle. Frank complied, saying later he’d had trouble keeping Hill in check. ‘We were flying!’ said Bunker. It was much fun, and we’ve often thought how difficult that whole undertaking would be if attempted today.”

Thanks, Kurt Bell and Jim Brown, for rekindling some fond recollections. For me, there would be other TRAIN conventions and other issues of Trainline. But none would compare with that once-in-a-lifetime privilege of seeing Phil Hastings hang out with one of his most beloved subjects. 

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