Railroad Town 1956

National Film Board of Canada

My regular readers know I enjoy reviewing B&W railroad films produced in the 1950’s by the NFB of Canada. In this documentary short, we take a look at the railroad town of Melville, Saskatchewan whose main raison d’etre is Canadian National Railways.

Melville is/was a division point with a two-story depot, a large rail yard with ample steam and diesel servicing facilities. The depot is still there as of 2022 and is being restored.

Steam was still plentiful, but early first generation diesels were on the scene and slowly taking over with full dieselization occurring just four years later. Also, this was pre-1960 “wet-noodle” C N logo and paint scheme.

Check out this gem with CBC host Fred Davis getting no less than 3 cab rides and an open air speeder trip!

This is the mystery locomotive from the documentary. CN #8553 does not appear to match up with any CNR roster I could find online.

It is an end cab switcher, possibly a GMD-built SW-900 that was quickly renumbered to the 7200 series. In one of my books (Rail Canada, Volume 1 by Donald C. Lewis), I have a picture of CN #8555 at Calgary, so this is a distinct possibility.

Our story opens in the cab of CN #6503 a GMD FP9A diesel passenger locomotive built in 1954 and trundling along CN’s rather bucolic mainline.

Engineer Boomer Cardwell (Age 65) is completing 50 years of railroading at the helm of CN’s crack passenger train, the Super Continental. That’s Fred Davis narrating from the fireman’s side of the cab.

Here they are pulling into the Melville, SK station. Wow, what a crowd on hand to greet Boomer! Why there’s even a brass band for a couple rousing verses of “I’ve been working on the railroad” and “For he’s a jolly, good fellow”.

Wait a minute. The locomotive has changed numbers to CN #6500! Maybe no one will notice.

This isn’t the Super, either. Note: The Melville station is on the north side of the tracks. From my August 1955 Official Guide, this is most likely the westbound Continental, Train #3 arriving at 5:10pm Central Time. Both east and westbound Supers #1 & #2 passed thru Melville at night.

It’s smiles and handshakes all around as co-workers (and Mrs. Cardwell) congratulate Boomer on his retirement. In the background, #3 slides west out of the depot.

Fred meets up with Bert Turner, General Car Foreman (responsible for inspection and repair of all rolling stock) in front of the station, who sends him down to the roundhouse for a look at some locomotives.

And WHAT a collection of locomotion pulchritude! Here we find CN #3539, an S-2-a class, 2-8-2 built by Montreal Locomotive Works in 1923, riding the turntable. Just as impressive is sister engine CN #3537.

Of course, Fred is invited up in the cab of 3537 for a look around. I like how CN used raised numerals on the cab side.

I defy ANYONE to blow the whistle of a hot steam locomotive and NOT break into an enormous grin!

3rd cab ride. Fred now finds himself near the controls of CN #9060, a GMD F7A freight unit built in 1951. The hostler shows him around. “This is the throttle”, “This is the Independent (engine) brake” and “This is the Automatic (train) brake”.

That classic F unit “bulldog” nose. The hostler points out the trailing “B” unit.

The next morning, Fred gets a ride down to the depot in a 1954 Studebaker Champion Thanks for the ID, Big Brother!

Inside the station, the agent is typing out train orders telephoned in from the dispatcher.

Later on, a steam-powered local is fixing to leave as the crew compares orders and railroad pocket watches.

In the first image, notice the string of new GMD GP9 freight units in the background. Mainline steam didn’t have much longer in Saskatchewan.

To top things off, Fred got himself a ride on a “putt-putt” speeder out to where a section gang was working on CN’s right-of-way. Not much ballast between those ties!

Finally, the sun sets (literally) on pipe-smoking Boomer down by the station, as the credits roll.

If you’d like to watch this movie short, it is here:

If YouTube still allows it, that is. Otherwise, it is on the NFB of Canada website.

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Railroad Town:

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at: Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!



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