The following is a story Bill tells about hopping freight from Halifax to Sioux Lookout on his way to join the Relief Camp Workers in BC. It is an excerpt from an interview Bill Williamson did with the London Imperial War Museum in the early 1990’s.
Anyways, the upshot was I was going west to join the camp strikers in BC because of course they were far better organized out there and I remember one sunny evening, we all piled into Alice’s uncles car and he drove us out to a well known stopping place on the Canadian National Railway where they changed engines. They always stopped there anyways and it was almost as if you were boarding a ship. We just got off and waved goodbye and then climbed on to the blind baggage behind the crew. There were one or two others who were already there. It was strange going by car to a hobo assignment sort of thing.
And then I hung in there. But I was finding I was tired of hanging on to the blind baggage behind the tender and the front connecting part of the baggage car so I climbed on to the tender and hooked my arm over a stauncher thing and the fireman came around to ease the coal and took a look at me and didn’t say anything. Sometimes they’re mean and sometimes their very accommodating. This was a very good crew.
Then when we came to end of the 150 miles. It was always in the back of my mind that I would like to be Jack London on one of his epic train hobo journeys.
When the trains were steam driven, they had to stop and the engine was taken out to the loco sheds and the fires were raked, recoaled and rewatered. The engine pulls way out in the front of the station and you slip off either beforehand or before it stops. Mostly when it starts to come into the yards and then you go around and meet it and catch it when it goes again.
By this time whether it is the same crew or not. And they said, “Oh you are still here!” Because for most hobos after one section, that’s enough. I hung in there again and it didn’t cause all that much interest. And then the same thing happens at the next section, and the next section. By this time they’d pass word along with new crews coming on that some crazy guy is hanging on there all the time.
Of course when they stopping at each section and recoaling and refueling with water in the tender and so, you have plenty of time to make a bit of grub or do other necessities and so on.
And by the end when it was coming to Montreal. It is 26 hours later and I was still hanging in there and by that time, I was sort of like a museum specimen. The first thing a new train crew did was come and look over the rear of the engine to see whether I was still hanging in there.
Of course all the other guys that I had started off with from Halifax had dropped off long ago. Other ones had come and left in the meantime but I was the only one who kept on.
I’d beaten Jack London’s record by a hundred percent and even when we got to Montreal which of course is a very big station, you got to drop well before hand. But then I caught the same overland express as it was leaving and went up quite a ways up. Seeing that it was the Canadian National Railway, it was taking the northern route. Northern Canada. I forget how long but I think I spent another half day on the train there. I think I was just trying to prove that I could be tough or tougher than Jack London, you know, there was no real necessity for that!
From Halifax to Montreal is 996 miles and then from Montreal to roughly about 1000 miles. And with the other two or three sections that I hung on to that would be about 400 miles or something.
And then I stopped. I finished with this particular Overland Express. Then I probably needed a rest and rested up a day or half a day, and then caught a freight still on the same line.