Newfoundland Railway Memories

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Dec 21, 2017 10:06 AM
A break in the line, circa 1917 (Courtesy of the Maritime History Archive)

Colin Pike was born in 1929 in Charleston, Bonavista Bay, and over the course of his life, he worked at a variety of different jobs. In addition to being a lumberman, a cook and a lineman with Newfoundland Power, Colin worked on a maintenance gang with the Newfoundland Railway. One of his tasks involved replacing worn rails with new ones, he recalls.

“Just exchanging the rails and putting in the heavier rails than what was there first. If I wasn’t at that I was at something else, with ballast or something, just places where the ballast was washing away from the track, replacing it, shovelling it in or something like that,” says Colin. He says there were 40 or 50 members of the crew working on a variety of tasks. 

“When we’re out, out in the daytime working, it’s covering almost half a mile. A couple of fellows at one thing, and a couple of fellows at something else. We had some machinery there, people operating, lifting the rails and stuff like that. The thing I did most was drove spikes. We used to have a machine for driving them, but you had to have someone to line them up for the machine to strike.”

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Colin Pike (right) and his son, Wayne Penney. (Terra Barrett photo)

Maintenance gangs didn’t always travel by regular train. Instead, they would hop aboard a smaller motorized trolley, called a Speeder,  to get from site to site. Colin describes the Speeder this way: 

“That was a small trolley, more or less, with four wheels on it that fit the rails of the track. There was a motor on it that used to drive the wheels same as a car would be, and a motor and a man sitting on her controlling the motor…the wheels was con-trolled with a belt. There’s a belt on a pulley on the engine and the belt used to go to another pulley on the road-wheel, so you push the lever ahead and tighten the belt and she moved ahead. Once he’d let go, he’d want to stop her, he’d just let go of the lever, the belt would go slack and put on a break, then it’d stop her. That’s all it was, just a four-wheel trolley with a motor on it. And the seats, you know, people used to sit on the seat. Sometimes you’d have a trailer. Now when we were working on the gangs, she used to have three or four trailers in tow, bringing a crowd back to the camp or the boarding car in the evening. She’d have two or three trailers behind her with the big Speeder pulling the three, four, five of them, eh, loaded full with men. They weren’t that heavy,” he explains. 

Once the Speeder had delivered the maintenance gang to their destination, they had to move it off the tracks and get to work. 

“When we’d get to the job site all the trailers were lifted off the track, all hands gather around both sides like this table, we’ll say, three or four on each side, and lift her up and get her off the track, because there’s going to be trains coming eventually. Now the Speeder itself, that would probably go to a siding somewhere to let the train by,” remembers Colin.

Eventually, a train would approach the construction crew. They would hear a warning as the train ran over the “torpedoes” that had been laid on the tracks, says Colin, and they would clear the rails to let the engine pass. - By Terra Barrett

Click here to listen to the full interview.

The Collective Memories Project is an initiative of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador to record the stories and memories of our province. If you have a memory of old-time Newfoundland and Labrador to share, contact Dale Jarvis at, call 1-888-739-1892 ext 2, or visit


Thank you Colin, good memories of days gone by . Doris Huxtable ( nee Pike)