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The Life of the Station Man

long the determined right-of-way surveyors placed stakes 100 feet apart. Each length was known as a station. A man or a group of men would, contract to take one or more stations and build the grade. They were paid in accordance with the nature of the material they excavated and used to build the grade.

These estimations were a cause of controversy between the men and the engineers. But the life was strenuous—unremitting and monotonous. As Frederick Talbot states in The Making of a Great Canadian Railway, these men “live a dog’s life, (and) work from fourteen to eighteen hours a day.” Talbot goes on to describe one such person he met.

His house was a small wooden shack barely eight feet square...his entire wardrobe consisted of a pair of tattered nether garments and a discoloured, mud-stained flannel vest, while his feet, from which socks were absent, were encased in a pair of heavy boots. He was up with the sun in the morning, and four o'clock saw him slaving away as if for dear life. It was a monotonous round; his shovel swung regularly to and fro until the wheelbarrow was loaded, and then there was a short run up a narrow plank, a dexterous tilt, and the vehicle was discharged; then he ran quickly back with it to the site of excavation, and the cycle of operations was repeated. He made no pause for meals, but hurridly swallowed some pork and beans, an ample supply of which he carried in a tin pail. They were devoured while cold...he kept himself glued to his task until the shades of evening had fallen and the gathering mantle of night prevented him from seeing more than a yard before him.

Source: Talbot, F.A. The Making of a Great Canadian Railway (Toronto: The Musson Book Co. Ltd., 1912), pp. 257–58.