All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway Workers

Railway Employees

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Unsung Heroes

The life on the railways and coastal boats was not an easy one. Each day presented a challenge to deliver passengers and freight safely to their respective destination in time. The safety of passengers and crew was taken very seriously. Stories of the bravery of the crew and camaraderie, where staff of the Newfoundland Railway went beyond their line of duty to keep fellow crew members or passengers from harm, are plentiful and easy to find. Larry Hickey, who has worked with the Coastal Boat Service for over 40 years, recalls several examples of "unsung heroes" who literally went "overboard" to save others.

In one such incident, Chief Engineer Ed Buckingham jumped overboard to rescue a lady who had fallen from the S.S. Burgeo when the vessel was docked at the Port aux Basques terminal. Alas, Mr. Buckingham was unable to swim and soon found himself in trouble as well. Assistant Steward Melvin Piercey, who witnessed the incident from the window of the saloon, rushed out on deck to see if he could be of assistance. Melvin also jumped overboard and succeeded in rescuing both victims. In another incident, Frank Breon, an Assistant Steward on the S.S. Bar Haven , jumped from the wharf in Grand Bank to rescue a passenger who had gone overboard. He had quite the struggle to save the person and ruined his best suit and his watch in the process. Both heroes felt this was all in a day's work!

The Railway Employee Database

The Railway Coastal Museum, in collaboration with the CN Pensioners Association, has created an offline database which contains information about almost 12,000 railway and coastal boat employees of Newfoundland and Labrador; and it continues to grow. The Employee Database was created in order to preserve a record of all employees of the railway and coastal boat service since their creation from the Reid Newfoundland Railway, to CN and the Dockyard. The idea was first proposed by the late pensioner Fred Chancey, who was concerned that the names and stories of the workers would disappear. It was immediately accepted by the Pensioners' Association, who started the database and filled it using archived service cards, the pensioners' own records, and the records of family members who had relatives related to the railway or coastal boat service.

The database's records date back to the late 1800s. The database is easy to use and runs much the same way as an internet search engine. Visitors to the Museum can search for information on particular employees, and even add anyone who may be missing from the records, or add other additional relevant information.

Three train crew members in uniform posing in beside a train , 1950s.
This crew handled a special train from Bishop's Falls to Corner Brook for the Governor General of Canada during the early 1950's. l-r Clayton Cook, conductor, John T. O'Reilly and Kevin Dwyer, trainmen. Clayton Cook Collection.
Photograph of retired CN worker Melvin Piercey at his home.
Melvin Piercey worked with the Newfoundland Railway and CN for over 40 years on trains and boats as cook, porter and assistant steward. 2009. Ute Simon.
Steam shovel crew posing, 1936.
A large steam shovel usually required two ballast trains to keep it operating, one running east, the other running west. Pictured are the engineers, conductor, the ballast crew, shovel operator, and the cook car crew. Clayton Cook Collection.
Railway Employee Database computer station, 2007.
The Railway Employee Database at the Railway Coastal Museum. Railway Coastal Museum.