Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Boundless: Author With Train

Credit: Ian Crysler
I'd written a book about a train and I wanted a picture of myself with one. Fortunately for me, photographer extraordinaire Ian Crysler was perfect for the job.

(Ian himself, I've learned, has a fascinating history with trains -- and a much more exciting one than me! When he was a foolish youth, he and his friend would hop westbound trains and ride through the Rockies, gazing at the stars.)

On a chilly November morning we went down to the Toronto Roundhouse and looked longingly at the fenced off caboose and locomotive until the kindly staff of the Toronto Railway Museum took pity on us and said we were welcome to take photos of whatever we wanted. (Thank you, Bob Dickson, for your generosity!)

We started with the beatiful red caboose...

Credit: Ian Crysler

And then moved on to the locomotive....
Credit: Ian Crysler
To get an interesting shot of me inside the caboose cupola he decided he needed to climb on top of the locomotive. There he goes in his green jacket...

I was kind of worried because it was wet and icy and the ladder rungs were slippery, and he had all his camera equipment....

He made it up just fine. Because that's what a kickass professional photographer does.

And he ended up getting  some pretty cool shots...

Credit: Ian Crysler

Credit: Ian Crysler

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Boundless: The Caboose

Of all the spaces aboard a train, the caboose is one of my favourite. It's not as luxurious as first class, exciting as a saloon, or thrilling as the locomotive, but it has the cozy charm of a self-contained little world.

Traditionally the caboose is occupied by the guard and a brakeman, who spend the entire journey there. They are responsible for braking the train when needed, and for ensuring the train's safety as it enters and leaves a station. There is a special cupola at the rear of the caboose which gives the guard an elevated view across the top of the train, and the surrounding area.

The guard and brakeman have bunks, a stove and kitchen, a bathroom, a little office, and lots of windows.

One of my favourite scenes in The Boundless takes place in the caboose. At a station stop, Will almost misses the train and has to run to catch the caboose. The guard, a man nicknamed Sticks because he has a wooden leg, takes him in and sets him by the stove to warm up, and gives him a meal (a delicious stew). He gives Will a bed to spend the night, until the next station stop, when he can travel back to the passenger cars.

In Wind in the Willows there's a wonderful scene in which Rat and Mole get lost at night in the Wild Woods. It's deep winter, and they're cold and anxious -- and then they find the buried door to Badger's house. The kindly Badger admits them into his warm and cozy house. In the book there was a wonderful illustration that I loved to look at.

I think that scene inspired my caboose scene in The Boundless.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Aboard The Boundless: Zirkus Dante

Behind the miles of its freight and boxcars, The Boundless pulls eighty cars belonging to the world famous Zirkus Dante. One of the first circuses to take to the rails, it has eclipsed PT Barnum as the greatest show on earth.

The ringmaster is Mr. Dorian, a Metis with a vague past, who oversees an unrivalled collection of performers, acrobats, wonders (he abhors the word "freaks"), automatons, and wildlife. He is always on the lookout for new talent and marvels to add to his circus.

He is particularly interested in acquiring a certain painting reputed to have miraculous attributes.

He may or may not have caught and trained a sasquatch.

Among his star talent are the Zhang brothers, Siamese twins who are expert stilt walkers.

Mr Beaupre, the tallest man in the world.

In the Zirkus Dante's collection of oddities is the Feejee Mermaid, the only known skeleton of a real mermaid.

The Zirkus has many acrobats, but the Miraculous Maren is the best. An expert wire walker, she is also an accomplished escape artist.

She is a very useful friend to have.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Aboard The Boundless: The Funeral Car

It was Van Horne's dying wish that his body be carried within a special funeral car attached to The Boundless.
Crossing and re-crossing the continent on the rails he helped lay.

The funeral carriage is impregnable, welded together from plates of battleship steel, no windows, no doors. Inside is a mausoleum which contains the sarcophagus of Cornelius Van Horne -- and, rumour has it, other things of great value. When at rest in a station, a guard stands watch over the car. To make it even more inviolable, the exterior is electrified with a high voltage current. Anyone touching it would be electrocuted.
There is a key that turns the electricity on or off, and only the guard has one...
And one other person aboard The Boundless....


Friday, May 16, 2014

Aboard the Boundless: Cornelius Van Horne

The General Manager of the CPR, Cornelius Van Horne’s job was to make sure the railway got built, pushing it west to meet up with the tracks being built into the mountains from Vancouver.
Van Horne's energy and drive were legendary. He joined survey teams and hefted a sixty pound pack  through the wilds of the Rockies. No detail of the railway was too small for him to overlook. He had many and varied interests and hobbies, a restlessly curious mind; he slept very little.
Alas, he did not live to see his masterpiece, The Boundless, leave the station on its maiden voyage across the continent.
He died just months earlier.

But he's still on the train...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Aboard The Boundless: Owney, the Mail Dog

Owney used to be the mascot for the United States Railway Mail Service. He travelled aboard the  mail cars, through 48 states --

Before joining The Boundless.

While many view him simply as an adorable mascot, others know that Owney has an uncanny for sorting and bagging mail.

And there is a great deal of mail aboard The Boundless, being sorted day and night by a small army of postal workers. Even as the train is in motion, new bags are being picked up and dropped off at various posts.

Owney doesn't really play a big part in The Boundless. He's just cute.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Aboard The Boundless: The Brakemen

It is the most dangerous job on the railroad.

A brakeman's job is to apply the brakes to slow the train. Sometimes this is done from the safety of a caboose or guard car. Other times the brakemen must cross on top of a moving train, to turn the brake wheels of individual freight and boxcars.

Every day during the 1880's, somewhere on the continent, at least one brakeman is killed on the job. It is common for brakemen to be missing fingers, hands, arms, or legs.

The Boundless has over 900 cars. There are dozens of brakemen aboard.

Their pay is low, their chance of death or injury is high. Some of them, who risked life and limb for the CPR, are looking for payback. They think it might just be in that fancy funeral car of Cornelius Van Horne...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Aboard The Boundless: Sandford Fleming

Sandford Fleming is an engineer and a surveyor for the CPR, but he’s probably best known as the inventor of Standard Time.
Now that trains were crossing great expanses at great speeds, it became necessary to develop time zones. Before then, time was pretty much up for grabs, decided by every town or region as they saw fit. Fleming divided the entire world up into 24 zones.
What’s less well known about him is that he invented something called Cosmic Time, which is the same all over the world. He actually has a special clock which shows Standard Time and Cosmic Time.
Cosmic time never catches on -- but one of the interesting things about time zones in The Boundless, is that they’re a bit permeable.
Whenever the train passes through a time zone,  there’s a little, shall we say, shimmer. An adjustment. A moment of confusion, maybe just a few second, which makes sleight of hand all the easier.
Imagine the possibilities...


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Aboard The Boundless: Sam Steele

Sam Steele, the first Mountie
(Actually he was the third to be sworn in, but no one knows about the first two.)
An officer of the newly formed Northwest Mounted Police, he is asked to keep law and order on the maiden voyage of The Boundless, With so many people aboard, from all walks of life, this is no small feat. But Steele is more than up to the task. He's a mountain of a man, and conveys unassailable authority.
Steele may be the closest thing we have to a Canadian Action Hero. He marches across the country, parlays with Sitting Bull, battles Big Bear, keeps law and order in the Klondike during the Gold Rush, and fights in the Boer War.
But before any of that, he meets Will Everett on the maiden voyage of The Boundless.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Inside The Boundless: Part II

Second Class aboard a train like The Boundless is also very comfortable. The passengers are accommodated aboard Pullman cars that convert to upper and lower berths at night time.

Shooting at passing wildlife through open windows was a very popular pastime in the early days of train travel.

The Boundless made this all the easier by having a repurposed flat bed car for gentlemen and ladies to try their aim at the magnificent, though fast dwindling, herds of buffalo.

 Third Class becomes a little more cramped, and less well appointed.
Fortunately, the Saloon Car gives passengers a chance to stretch their legs, have a refreshing drink or three, gamble, dance, and possibly engage in a gunfight.
Thousands upon thousands of immigrants began rail journeys from Halifax and Montreal to begin new lives out west with their land grants from the Government of Canada.
The Colonist Cars offered rudimentary accommodation at best. At times it was little better than a livestock car. There were scant washroom facilities, a stove at either end of the car for heat and cooking.
Passengers were responsible for their own meals.
In the next post, we'll take a look at some of the fascinating people aboard the maiden voyage of The Boundless!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Inside The Boundless

If, like Will Everett, you were lucky enough to be a first class passenger aboard The Boundless, you could expect unparalleled luxury.
 Will boards a double decker palace car...

...where he and his father have a comfortable parlour on the ground floor, and then upstairs...
... each has his own private bedroom.

Behind the sleeping cars are carriages containing comfortable lounges...

.... and dining rooms.


First class aboard The Boundless also boasts an elegant shopping arcade...

 ...a cinema...

...twenty-four hour laundry services...

... a botanical garden...

...and naturally a swimming pool.

And this is just first class! The Boundless is enormous, and you'll get to see more of it in my next post!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Boundless: Sasquatch

There is no satisfactory photograph of a sasquatch. There are tricky animals to track down.

Certainly the sasquatch in The Boundless look nothing like this burly fellow to the left. They are much, much scarier. But they are certainly a fact in my world -- as much a part of the mountain fauna as a bear or cougar.

There are other names for this creature, namely Big Foot, or -- and maybe Yeti, his Himalayan cousin. The name Sasquatch itself is possible a derivation of a First Nations' word sask'ets, or stick man. I liked the notion of a stick man...

During the construction of the CPR, the sasquatch proved troublesome to the work crews. The young ones were merely curious, mischievous and disruptive. The adults were deadly. The work crews devised all sorts of methods for dealing with the sasquatch, many of them futile.

Will survives the avalanche -- but he finds himself between a young sasquatch and its mother...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Boundless featured in Macleans

In the May 5th edition of Macleans Magazine, Brian Bethune wrote a piece on The Boundless!

"Adventure, history -- even if Cornelius Van Horne never did shoot at an engineer-hunting sasquatch -- and moral nuance. The Boundless deserves its name."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Boundless: The Avalanche

Avalanches were a constant hazard in the mountains when they were building the CPR -- one of the many hardships the workers had to endure.

When Will drives the Last Spike, pistols are fired jubilantly in the air; cheers ring out; and the company locomotive blasts its whistle.

It's avalanche season, and the noise is enough to trigger one.

A lot happens during that avalanche.

Someone tries to steal the golden spike, Cornelius Van Horne is swept over the precipice, and the local wildlife stirs...

(We're almost at the sasquatch part.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Boundless: The Golden Spike

It was traditional for 19th century railroads to forge a ceremonial last spike out of gold. They were never left in the ground of course. It was merely for the photo op. After the ceremony it was hastily replaced with an ordinary spike.
But in 1885, up in Craigellachie, the last spike was not made of gold. Cornelius Van Horne grandly said that ordinary iron spikes had been good enough to make the railroad from coast to coast -- and an iron spike was good enough to finish it.
Which basically meant the CPR was nearly bankrupt and couldn't afford fancy things like gold spikes.
That’s not what happens in my world. In The Boundless, the spike is indeed gold, and encrusted with diamonds that spell "Craigallachie."

It is worth more than any worker could make in twenty lifetimes.

There’s no picture of Will driving the last spike. (The CPR keeps that photo quiet. That’s why you haven’t seen it, and never will.)

But up there in the mountains, it's Will who drives that spike.

Too bad about the avalanche...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Boundless: Will Everett

This is Will Everett. He's come up to Craigellachie to meet his father who’s been working on the railway for the better part of three years. (Will actually hooked a ride up into the mountains with Van Horne and the other CPR dignitaries in their private train.)
And here's a secret about the Last Spike.
It isn't Donald Smith who drives it. 
It’s Will.
You won't find it in any official photos. But after Smith bungles the first attempt, Van Horne offers the hammer to Will. The railway belongs to a new generation and a new century, says Van Horne, and Will should be the one  to drive the spike home. He does so.

The spike is solid gold.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Boundless: The Last Spike

If you’re Canadian you’ve probably seen this photo.
It's 1885 up in Craigellachie, BC. It’s not even a real town. (It’s near Revelstoke.)
This is where the tracks coming from the East met the tracks coming from the West, up in the mountains.
You can see the workers in the foreground.
The fellow driving the spike is Donald Smith, the President of the CPR. (He actually bent the first spike, and had to do it again. He had a desk job.)
Behind him to the left is William Cornelius Van Horne, the General Manager of the railroad and its driving force.

To the right of Van Horne, looking like his beard is about to explode is Sandford Fleming, surveyor and engineer.
And who is that kid, peeking out to the right of Donald Smith...


Well, I know who he is in real life... but in my next post, I'll tell you who he is in the world of The Boundless...

(The sasquatch? Look very closely. It's hard to see, but it's there...)