The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 30, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Short Gatineau trip restrains any ideas of bundling after ogling
Foreword by Louise Schwartz
The Evening Citizen of August 25, 1945, featured this article, accompanied by a drawing with its self-explanatory caption. It is reprinted in its entirety
by Austin F. Cross
The Gatineau train is our most interesting railway exhibit hereabouts, largely because of the delightfully free and easy spirit which characterizes everything about it. True, there are no diners, but our passengers bring their own meals, and true there are no parlour cars, but some of the passengers act as if the rest were contaminated.
The first thing to remember about the train is to be sure you get on it. The last night I rode the Maniwaki Limited, the doorman had to wrestle a blonde young matron to keep her off the Montreal train. (Such nice work a doorman gets!)
The North Shore train, leaving late, and on the same track as the Gatineau, panicked the patrons till they realized their train wasn't going yet.
Other trains shoo the passengers in off the platforms. Not the Gatineau.
"Sometimes the passengers fall," said an old timer, "but they generally land on their heads and it doesn't seem to hurt them any."
The night I went up, three WD's were trying to help the brakeman by leaning as far as they could from the rear platform, without falling off. They were batching it, they said, up the line some place.
The ladies with shopping fatigue intrigued me. They get that way from brow-beating salesgirls all afternoon. They slump exhausted, in a double seat, amid their parcels, and when anybody wants to share the pew with them, they say it's taken.
Then there are the people who put their feet up on the seat and try to get away with it. The weak-willed quickly withdraw their legs and leave it empty, if you give them a nasty stare, but the hard-boiled hold their ground. Then all you have to do is turn the seat over quickly, and while you get dirty looks, you also get a seat.
The ordinary or garden variety of seat-chiseller merely takes a single seat, and sprawls over the other half, trying to keep it for himself. I ought to know - I've tried it often enough, but lose out often too. This business of trying to take two seats with one chassis is the triumph of hope over experience
There are interesting types. There is Pater Familias, taking the vestibule seat which runs the length of the train, sitting there so he can bring home intact the geranium Ma told him to get. People stand so that a lazy passenger can keep a basket of peaches beside him on the train. Then there are girls in red corduroy pants with lipstick to match who think they are plenty groovy.
There is ogling and such on the train, but generally speaking, the trip is too short to get down to real bundling. Anyway, the wives are waiting for the men at the station.
The worst menace of the trip is the little boy who runs the aisles, licking a sticky candy, and ready to share any part of his candy or his person with you on the slightest provocation. "Now, Clarence, I am afraid you are bothering that man," says Mummy, and doesn't do a thing about it. There's a lot to be said for infanticide.
There are priests trying to ignore it all, noses deep in missals, and there are wolves looking over the dames, and dames looking over the wolves. The boys smile a little and hope for a tumble; the girls inch their skirts up and hope for the best.
The conductor listens to 14-year-old boys who say they are 11, sells them half-fare tickets; the suburban passengers wish the time would go more quickly. The brakeman, asked what he does with his evenings in Maniwaki, says not much, because he has to get up at four in the morning.
So old 2509 and her wooden coaches remember the old Tennyson theme song: "Half-aleague, Half-a-league onward," as the old coal burner rolls the cash customers up the river toward a hot supper and cold kisses if they're married, cold supper and hot kisses if they're bachelors. The writer got off at Burnet, for which he paid the Canadian Pacific 45 cents. The railway omitted to charge amusement tax. Riding the Gatineau is more entertainment than transportation.
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