All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Accidents and the Weather

Previous Page Page 6 Next Page

The Human Weather Vane

Fierce winds blow over the Gaff Topsail all year long. The winds at Wreckhouse in railway days were mostly known for a man who sensed them - Lauchie McDougall.

Lauchie lived in a low, wooden clapboard house on the plain near the railway track, right in the path of the wind. He gauged its force by how his house trembled when it blew. When he thought trains would be in danger, he informed the railway agent at Port aux Basques. The agent, playing it safe, would hold departing trains and notify the dispatcher at Bishops Falls to hold an arriving train at St. Andrews station. In 1950 this system of dispatching trains on the opinion of a non-railroader in a house by the tracks miles away struck the professional railroaders of Canadian National Railway as anachronistic. They decided to ignore Lauchie's advice. The train left Port aux Basques despite the warnings. The strong winds blew three cars over as the train made its way through Wreckhouse. Later another, more scientific approach was attempted: an anemometer was installed on the plain between the base of the mountain and the track with a land line connection providing information to a gauge at Port aux Basques. However, when the south-east wind came across the plain it blew the anemometer away. Lauchie was definitely more resistant to the winds and so he held his job for some time.

Photograph of  Lauchie McDougall sitting on railway tracks.
Lauchie McDougall (1896-1964) Lauchie was contracted by the Railway to inform Port aux Basques when he had determined, by "smelling the wind," that it was unsafe for trains to proceed. C.N. Pensioners Collection.
Train derailment showing train on its side, 1940.
Derailment of Steam Locomotive #119 at wharf siding at Humbermouth, August 27, 1940. Corner Brook Museum and Archives.