These hours passed long and slow. I had clocked in just after midnight when this roaring monster departed from Calgary. Now I felt my eyes growing weary from the lullaby echo of train tracks click-clacking repeatedly. It would go on like this until sunrise when the waitresses would wake and tea service would resume. For now though it was just this steaming engine and me, and a passenger car full of sleeping strangers headed into the twilight of the alpine glow.
I heard the desperate cry of a coyote, then the waiting of a lingering forest. The treeline pounced forward for a moment and then disappeared entirely. Like the flash of a Boers’ grenade I was stunned briefly, but I had been trained for this. The weight of the world fell upon me and I sounded my own choo-chooing signal in a cry of defiance, leaping for the throttle to put it in high gear. The clickety clack of the tracks grew louder quickly until it was overtaken entirely – overtaken by something else all together. It was the alpine glow, now humming loudly and fierce, without warning or mourning, unleashing a vengeance pent up since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Windows rumbled and China mugs rattled.
I had heard these shale foundations weren’t the strongest, but never had a thought crossed my mind that it could crumble without a moments notice.
One dislodged rock, I suppose that was all it took, and now here was 100 million tonnes worth of rubble rushing towards me like a grey sea tsunami. At 100km/hour it was fast, but my own roaring monster clocked in at 120k and we parted the silver seas with ease as I caught my breathe. I just hoped the midnight miners had been as lucky.
*This piece is inspired by the story of the Frank Slide at Crowsnest Pass which occurred on April 29, 1903, at 4:10am. Killing nearly 100 people (almost 1/5th of the town), it was Canada’s deadliest ever rockslide. I can only imagine the fear of the train conductor who passed through it just as it began