Memories of Carleton Place- Larry Clark
Early 40s to 1955, we lived at the intersection of Napoleon and Arthur St. which was just over a 1/4 mile from the railroad tracks. For more moments I can count, this was our playground-amongst and amid the numerous variety of trains that were parked adjacent to and a mile beyond the stockyards, sometimes stretching almost to the 11th line. Of course, there were cattle cars which themselves were pleasurable to be around but by far the most interesting were the troop trains which were sidelined there on occasion. When I saw the train arrive I would grab my comic book collection and head for the tracks to find many willing customers for my used comics. I would soon have sold out of comics and then would offer to run to the corner store (Woodward Ave) to purchase refreshments (bars and soft drinks) which I then sold to the troops. (I should be a millionaire by now?) Perhaps not, because they sometimes paid me with funny money (foreign)-I hardly knew the difference-until that first time I tried to use it to purchase something-when the store owner straightened me out.
On one such occasion, I very nearly managed to get myself in trouble because of one such coin (large foreign) with which I was somewhat intrigued. I was examining the coin as I headed for home and while turning it around in my fingers and dropped it in the deep grass between Lansdowne and the tracks. I searched the area fruitlessly, frustratedly; and cunningly, I decided I could easily resolve the situation! Marking the approximate location, I ran home to procure some matches and I lit a small fire in the grass. Up until that moment the only fires I had experienced were the one in our wood stove and I was soon aware that this was different. It was spreading rapidly and I was not able to put it out. Oh Oh, The trouble I’m in-I ran for home to get help (to hide)-we didn’t have a phone but in any event I was saved as a group of men (firefighters?) appearing almost out of nowhere, soon had the fire out. Later, I sneaked back to search again; never did find that coin but then I didn’t experience the displeasure that my actions should have created.
This other bit of exercise was not approved of by my mother, in fact, in no uncertain terms I would be expressly forbidden to play on/near the tracks. This admonition I would hear as I went out to play (on the tracks by a circuitous route). What she couldn’t see couldn’t hurt her-right (not like when I would be playing hockey across the road, with my jacket removed-she could see that). Boxcars provided the greatest entertainment as we could climb on top: run back and forth the length of the train, leaping across the spaces between the cars, looking through, skirting the windows of the cupola then down the ladder. Doing this, we had a great view and were usually aware of any railroaders in the vicinity, allowing us to scramble down and out of sight as the occasion required.
The greatest interest was in the railroad cars carrying the detritus of war. Broken and damaged aircraft, tanks and discharged artillery shells etc. The shiny brass shells were the greatest interest. There was variety of sizes- some at least 2-3 feet in length. I do believe that a couple of them (or more) fell off the train so we ended up having to dispose of them.
As we got older and perhaps even more daring we would abandon the train and enter the bush (cedar) where we knew that the hobos hung out. This would be the bush (mostly cedar) between Fraser’s swamp and Dibblee’s quarry. They were in a small clearing where they had constructed a circle of stones around a campfire. From them, I learned of an easy way to start a fire (not that I needed a lesson) which was to take some of the cotton (soaked with oil) from the axle bearing boxes. The idea was to take a little from several boxes so as to not create an overheating hazard to the axles. I later learned that all these actions were rather frowned upon.
We very much enjoyed this hideaway and quite often brought food to be cooked and in the case of beans-ate them cold; sometimes sharing with the odd hobo that came along-as time went on not very many. We spent a lot of time in the trees (Tarzan was popular then) and from time to time we had some mishaps but we were usually able to keep things covered up (well at least as much as Tarzan would have done).