Monday, June 16, 2014

Sepia Saturday #232: Rubbernecking?

The prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday was trains, track, lines disappearing into infinity, things piled on other things etc. Anything you could relate to the scene. My photo box yielded "The Harvesters Dugald 2-9-47".

Famous response to gawkers. "Go ahead. Stare. Take a picture it'll last longer"

I set this photo aside along with several dozen others because of the white ink captions which my father added. He frequently wrote on his pictures and at the time I thought it was corny and that he was defacing them. I've changed my mind and realize what a good idea the notes were. Dad's been dead for 45 years and aside from one diary he wrote in sporadically I have little tangible evidence of his wit; these photo notations capture some of it so even though he's not actually in most of these photos, the notations make him a part of them. 

The white ink bottle and the pen he used were stored in the same dining room buffet drawer as the photo box and the negative box - both of which I sift through now looking for Sepia Saturday material. He wrote on the photos on the winter weekends when it was too wickedly cold to go outdoors, the jigsaw puzzle was complete and it was too early in the day for cocktails. 

The "Shadow of Frankenstein" note, referring to himself as the photographer, was both amusing and a bit macabre; I wondered what my Uncle Louis (on the left) and the other man (unknown) were doing out in the fields dressed in their office attire. The date turned out to be a big clue as to what was happening. It certainly explained the knot of people in the background.

Inspired by the sleuthing done by so many on Sepia Saturday and also by my friends Barbara and Nancy, great researchers who never miss a detail in a photo, I discovered that on September 1st, 1947, the day before this photo, thirty-one people died in a disastrous train wreck in Dugald, Manitoba. The Minaki Camper's Special loaded with students and families riding the rails back to Winnipeg after the long weekend, hit a standing train head on. It was one of the ten worst train accidents in Canada. 

From the Manitoba history website : 
"Fire spread at a frightening rate, as the old wooden coaches of the Minaki Special were lit by gas lamps. Only seven of the victims could be identified and the remaining 24 were buried in a mass grave at the Brookside Cemetery, Winnipeg."

From the Lethbridge Herald Alberta paper, Sept 3rd, 1947:

"While relatives and friends returned to the Transcona morgue again today, hoping that in a second visit they might recognize jewelry as belonging to the missing, work was resumed at Dugald of clearing away the maze of debris covering the tracks by the little red-walled flag station. Their overnight rest was the first the workmen had had since the collision took place late Monday. Even before they retired last night carloads of spectators thronged the area, anxious to get a first-hand glimpse of the wrecked train.

Twelve R.C.M.P. constables were needed to control the traffic, while others were constantly on the alert to prevent the almost 10,000 visitors from pushing their way through the ash-strewn wreckage. Today the number of visitors was down, only the odd automobile stopping at the small village. Workmen continued sifting through the ashes and police officials said that some of the dead would probably never be discovered, even if the sifting continued for a week, so devastating had been the flames which swept the train.

I'm assuming my Dad, my Uncle and their friend decided along with 9,997 others to rush over to Dugald (population in 2011 was 384) to take a look. The crash site must have been an incredible situation to keep under control - only 12 RCMP constables and 10,000 rubberneckers! My guess is that the two men are "playing" in response to having viewed the gruesome scene; A bit of comic relief perhaps. Dad must have taken the camera along with him thinking they'd record the event, but if he got any photos, they weren't in the photo box. Maybe he thought better about keeping disturbing photos of the wreckage at home.  Here's one from the scene on that horrible day after. 
Transcona Historical Museum


  1. Love the first pic. Two months older than me.

  2. That's a pretty weird picture! Especially after reading about the train wreck! Whatever were they thinking? What are they doing with the hay? I guess we'll never know. What we do know is that your father was quite funny. You did some great sleuthing to find out about the wreck.

    1. Yes, it's pretty weird. I can't understand why 10,000 people would go out to see this. In those days, not much else was happening I guess.

  3. Fascinating - all of it. I can see why you now appreciate the annotations made by your Dad; it certainly brings a different dimension to him.

    1. The three characters in the photo seem to have such different attitudes. My Uncle looking into the camera appears calm and indifferent to the other man, throwing hay around with the cigarette in his mouth and the dandy pocket handkerchief. And then my father's shadow, Frankenstein. No mention of the train wreck, somewhere behind this scene.

  4. The man on the right does look like he's trying to do a kind of Frankenstein walk. But your uncle looks very unconcerned. That's a really odd photo - when you think they just saw or were going to see the train wreck. It's kind of like the things you hear about fire and policemen and their senses of humor about the horrible things they see.