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Working on the Railroad — in the Victorian Age

The women movement of the Victorian Age fought for women's right to vote and to stay home.  Men hacked tunnels through mountains.


....continued from previous page

Spiraling Tunnels

The exhibit at Kicking Horse Pass did say that the men building the spiral tunnels there earned $2.25/day doing the work, which was attractive pay at a time when some men worked for $1.00/week plus room and board.  However, another item that the exhibit didn't mention was that the men constructing the tunnels most likely had $1.50/day for boarding deducted from their pay, plus something like $4.00/week deducted for the fare for transporting them to the site – which was customary at the time.

Excerpt from Alberta Roadmap showing location of railroad tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass
Kicking Horse Pass (elevation 1627 meters)

Map showing "spiral" railroad tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass

It was not until 1909 that the tunnels were put into operation.  A quarter century of frequent losses of men's lives had to occur first.  The very first train that moved through the tunnels and on the reduced overall grade through the pass became a run-away, derailed, and killed three men. 

In general, the tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass proved to be a good solution to the problem of run-away trains, but did by no means eliminate them altogether.  The grade on this portion of the line is still so steep that the mile-long trains (100 cars with an average capacity of 120 tons each) that are being run there are equipped with six locomotives to pull them, three at the beginning of the train and three in the middle.  A derailment of a freight train happened last December (1997) right at the tunnels, with many cars piling up in the bottom of the gorge.  I don't know whether anyone was hurt or killed in that accident.

Two young women were conversing with each other as we stood in a slight drizzle reading the short description of some of the facts presented in the exhibit.  It appeared  that they wanted to make an impression about something.  We engaged them in a conversation and one related that the head office of the Canadian National Railroad had sent her to take photographs of the derailment.  She had copies of those photographs in her purse and showed them to us.  She said that the crew of the derailed freight train had uncoupled some of the cars and coasted on them to safety to Fields, British Columbia, just a few miles down the line.  There, one of the members of the crew – a trainee – promptly resigned.

I said:  "Well, you can't really blame him for that, or can you?"  She laughed a bit and agreed.  I then added:  "Well, look at it this way.  What you have in this case is equal rights for women in action.  Men operate the trains and risk their lives doing it.  Women get sent out to take pictures after a train gets wrecked."  

We thanked them for showing us the photographs and went on with our trip back home.

Continued....

Back to first page and index


For other views of the circumstances that affected the position of the sexes and the esteem in which they were held, see:

The Wife at His Side, by Karin Jäckel, The Beginnings of the Women's Movement, and

The Great Train Robbery (it happened in 1855), by Michael Crichton

The Industrial Revolution and the Plight of Men

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Updates:
2000 01 12
2001 02 10 (format changes)
2001 07 14 (added introduction)
2001 07 17 (broke up page into seven pages)
2001 07 22 (added link to The Industrial Revolution and the Plight of Men)
2002 10 13 (minor changes)