TRANS CANADA HIGHWAY - DEER LAKE TO GANDER
So this is the Deer Lake Motel at ... errr ... where am I? Ohh yes - Deer Lake.
$70 plus taxes and I knew that this would happen - that I would start to become immune to this kind of high price, having paid what I paid up on the Trans-Labrador Highway for accommodation. But I suppose that I shall just have to grin and bear it, and get used to it.
Mind you, it wasn't supposed to be like that. There are two bed-and-breakfasts in Deer Lake that are ... err ... substantially cheaper than the motel. But the lady who lives in the sat-nav couldn't find one of them, and there was no reply when I knocked on the door of the second.
I'm beginning to regret not doing what I was planning to do when I first thought over this journey - and that was to buy a new 3-band mobile phone and then find a way of having a Canadian mobile phone card. It would all have paid for itself a long time before now, by fixing up my accommodation on the telephone using the accommodation leaflets that I've been picking up.
And so for food, I'm back on the economy package again. A large helping of chips and a salad with bread. That will have to do. If I put a stop to eating out I can bring my expenses down to a more reasonable level but there must be an easier way than this to do it. And I have a cunning plan.
Now I suppose that with Highway 138 along the north bank of the St Lawrence in Québec being incomplete, and never ever likely to be complete either during the lifetimes of anyone reading this article, the way to carry on the Trans-Labrador Highway is to cross the Strait of Belle Isle at Blanc Sablon over to St Barbe as I did and then follow the coast down to the south of Newfoundland to the ferry at Channel-Port aux Basques, and hence to Cape Breton Isle. From there up the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick coasts, across the Gaspé to Matane and then over the St Lawrence again to Baie Comeau.
That is indeed what I shall be doing, although there are several diversions thrown in, such as the one that I did to Vinland yesterday morning. I can't take the ferry to Cape Breton for a few more days due to the mechanical breakdown, and so I'm off across Newfoundland to the Avalon Peninsula for a day or two and then I'll come back to continue the route.
It's only about 600 kilometres by the way to the Avalon - a mere bagatelle, especially on these roads and especially as for the last week or so I have been doing about 550 kilometres per day on the sub-arctic farm track that is the Trans-Labrador Highway .
Just over the road from the motel is a fuel station - would it be an "Irving's" with that colour scheme? I forgot to note it - and at the front is another one of Strawberry Moose's cousins.
One of the prime reasons for being at this end of Canada is so that His Nibs can meet other members of his extended family, and he's been doing so well at that up to now, as the photographs that I have taken so far have shown. In this case there's call for another photo opportunity to add to his scrapbook.
As long as he is happy then so am I, although I would have been much happier if I had have been able to have found a suitable viewpoint out of the sun.
While we are on the subject of the sun, the weather is really beautiful this morning and the temperature is an astonishing 12°C. I wasn't expecting anything at all like this after the delights of the Upper Labrador Plateau, especially in what is the latter third of October.
It's a fact that everywhere looks so beautiful under the sun, and this part of Newfoundland is no exception. It's a shame that I'm going to be so rushed today. This is wonderful weather for exploring and I wish I had more time to enjoy it. I don't really have much time to atop, even to photograph anything.
There's absolutely no doubt about this - my next trip to anywhere important will be back to here, that's for sure. Maybe this time of the year or even a little earlier. This is gorgeous.
The temporary restriction on photographs doesn't restrict me from talking "shame" ...ed and I can do that quite happily. It's not for nothing that I have a dictaphone. And the first subject for today will be the yellow school buses that you see in North America.
I seem to recall that there's an age limit on them, in the sense that they only are allowed a limited working life as school buses. There are so many of them and I suppose that there's a limited market for a second-hand time-expired school bus. That's why all over North America, particulary in the more rural areas, there are thousands of them littering the countryside. No-one knows what to do with them.
Well, some people do. I've seen them being used as garden sheds, wood stores and the like, and I have in my mind a little competition for the best use of a redundant school bus. I have a cunning plan as to what to do with one and I sincerely wish that I had done it, with what I am being obliged to pay for accommodation.
As an aside, do you know what is the technical name for the colour of yellow that is used to paint North American school buses? Of course you do. It's "school bus yellow".
I said that I wasn't going to stop to take photographs on my way to the Avalon, but some things just compel me, don't they. Such as this weird semi-trailer rig set up arrangement. I've seen a few of these dotted around all over the country out here in the wilds ... errrr ... less-populated areas of Canada, but this is the first opportunity that I have had to photograph one.
It really must be something to have to manoeuvre one of these around on narrow roads and in confined spaces. It must take quite some getting used to. I'll have to find a friendly driver somwehere to chat to about it all.
I do know that the rear trailer is called a "pup", although I bet that novice drivers call it something along the lines of a pup's mother when they lose control of it whilst reversing. I bet you are glad that I told you that too. It cost me several dollars to buy a Commercial Drivers' handbook to find that out. I hope you appreciate the efforts that I take to keep my readers informed.
But while I was photographing the trailer just here some guy across the road came over to me and asked me if I could drive him to some town or other 10 miles or so in the direction from which I had just come. I don't know if that's normal procedure around here - it certainly sounded weird to me - but I explained that I was going east and I was in something of a hurry.
It's all happening to me, isn't it?
A few miles further on I encounter another one of these trailer arrangements, but this time the load is a couple of gas tankers - Air Liquide gas tankers in fact. So if they can move Hazardous Goods around in these then someone somewhere has an extraordinary amount of confidence in their handling capabilities. I can't wait to have a drive in one.
Now a while ago in Quebec I talked about Prévost coaches. Well, this road has a speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour and I'm doing ... errr ... something like that, but this Prévost coach is going past me like I'm standing still. How fast is he going?
In Europe he would have a speed limiter screwed down to 100 kilometres per hour and that would be his lot. I spent many years of my working life driving these kinds of things around Europe and I must admit that it was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. It would have been even more enjoyable had we been allowed to drive like that.
On my way across the island towards St John's, every now and again I crossed over some kind of trackway which seemed to be keeping roughly along the same river valleys as the highway upon which I was travelling.
At first I thought it was some kind of Trans-Canada Highway in a previous existence, but it looked far too narrow for that, the curves were too easy and the standard of grading was far in excess of what a 1920s highway would have been.
But eventually I found a spot where there was a good photo opportunity and from this viewpoint there is absolutely no doubt at all about it. This is a railway track bed.
And having been to St John's and tracked down the Transport Museum I can indeed tell you that there was a railway system that ran right across the island. So on the way back I decided to keep an eye open for some more substantial remains of the railway system, and go for a proper prowl around.
At Glenwood, just off the Trans-Canada Highway, I came up trumps. The only thing that this structure can ever be is a railway bridge.
My first "proper" glimpse of a bridge such as this was from up on a headland somewhere further along the route near Gambo , and you can see that I was right to rule out the possibility that this kind of bridge might be for a roadway. It's far too narrow for that.
But I also ruled out the possibility of it being a standard-gauge railway track for the same reason, and although I was right about the gauge - it is in fact a gauge of 42" rather than the standard 56.5" inches - the line did use some standard-gauge rolling stock that had been regauged. That must have been something of a squeeze going across this kind of bridge.
So while you are all looking at the railway bridge from a variety of different perspectives, then what can I tell you about the railway network of Newfoundland?
First thing that you might like to know is that the earliest idea for a railway line was for a line from St John's to Hall's Bay (nothing to do with me of course) not all that far away from here on the north coast of the island, and building started in 1880.
You might think it strange that they chose to go north-west and not to the south-west, but you need to bear in mind that Newfoundland did not become part of Canada until 1949 and so had little interest in conneceting with the North American mainland per se. Prior to 1949 Newfoundland was a British colony and its focal points were east to the mother country and north-west to its dependent territories on the Labrador coast.
Despite the construction of some branch lines around the Avalon, the main line was far from finished when in 1884 the company collapsed. The Government then took over operation of that part of the system that had been built and even constructed another branch line down to Placentia and Argentia.
In 1890, the unfinished railway system caught the eye of Robert Gillespie Reid, a railway engineer from Montreal, and he undertook to complete the line to Halls Bay for inter alia 5,000 acres of land per mile of track built. This was agreed and his company began the work.
In 1892 the Newfoundland Government decided that St George's Bay would make a better terminus that Hall's Bay. One can see the logic behind this decision, especially as people such as Wilfred Grenfell were now starting to open up the Southern Labrador coast. The Government made sure that Reid earned his land entitlement by routing the railway away from the northern coast and over a shorter line right through the mountains in the highest part of the islands and across to the west coast.
Reid of course was a "mainlander" and once he had brought the railway to St George's Bay it was but a mere cockstride to Channel-Port aux Basques, the closest point to Cape Breton Island and the trans-continental railway to Montreal, not to mention, of course, the coal from the mines at Sydney. By 1897 he had bought a suitable ship to use as a ferry and the first passenger train on "his" railway arrived at Channel-Port aux Basques in the summer of 1898.
One thing was clear though and that was that a variety of different railway lines on an island such as Newfoundland - three companies (one of which was in receivership) operating different parts of the main line - was never going to function efficiently.
And so at the end of 1898 and agreement was entered into with Reid for his company to operate the entire system. He drove a hard bargain and when the terms of the agreement became public, it stirred up quite a controversy. So much so in fact that in 1901 the terms and conditions were modified.
Whatever else might be said of Reid, it was his not-inconsiderable efforts that increased the pace of economic development of the island. To quote just one example of many, his company entered into a partnership with the Harmsowrths, proprietors of the Times and the Daily Mail newspapers in the UK, and built a huge paper mill at Grand Falls fed by timber from Newfoundland, all transported by the railway. A new deep-water port was built at Botwood, linked by a new branch-line to the main network, to export the finished product.
But even with all of this, the railway was financially unsuccessful and by the early 1920s Reid's company was in serious difficulties. In 1923 the railway network was nationalised.
It was of course the war that revitalised the railway. The building and operation of the American base at Stephenville as well as the huge new air facility at Gander, and also the need to avoid as much as possible the U-boat-infested waters around the island led to railway traffic increasing phenomenally, especially as there was nothing much in the way of roads across the island.
Absorption of the system by the Canadian National Railway on Confederation in 1949 gave another boost to the system and led to a major programme of modernisation but increased road traffic began to eat away at the railway trade. The passenger service was abandoned in 1969 leaving just the freight service, but the decision by the Canadian National in 1979 to rely on road transport for local operations led to the abandonment of all of the branch lines in 1984.
The final nail in the coffin was the decision in December 1987 to invest $800,000,000 in the roads in Newfoundland, and so November 1990 saw the final train on the network - a demolition train that had been lifting up the track in the mountains.
With a network length of 906 miles, it was the longest 42" gauge railway network in the world, but it may well have been the choice of gauge that contributed to its downfall.
Narrow gauge is a good choice for railway contruction in restricted terrain. The narrower the gauge, the cheaper the construction and the cheaper the works of engineering will be, and the curves can be made much tighter, a great advantage in mountainous regions.
But it comes with something of a downside because the loads and weights that can be carried are much less. With a narrower load bed you can only carry a proportionally-smaller and lighter load. If you have a larger overhang at the sides, the more unstable the wagons become and with the tighter curves you run a real risk of tilting the wagons over - hence the speed has to be so much slower.
Once Newfoundland was connected to the mainland where standard-gauge operation was the norm, the goods and passengers would have to be de-trained at the ferry and re-embarqued onto different wagons and carriages at the other side - quite an inconvenience. And seeing as they would have to be trans-shipped onto road-going vehicles anyway at their destination in Newfoundland, then once the road system was improved then they may as well be trans-shipped onto road-going vehicles at Sydney.
That isn't to say of course that the railway would have survived had it been built to standard gauge. You only have to look at the lines that Mulrooney's government did hack away to see that. Nevertheless, standard gauge would have given the railway company something to fight with if the trains had been allowed to run all the way through .
The specialised and hence expensive manufacture of 42" equipment would have given way to the adoption of more banal and commomplace standard gauge equipment that would have led to economies of scale as well as much cheaper repair, maintenance and replacement. This may well have reduced the horrendous deficits as well as providing a cheaper way of upgrading the locomotives and rolling stock, by the purchase of good second-hand equipment from closed lines elsewhere.
But then again Governments all over the world used any stick that they could to beat the railways into submission on behalf of the overwhelming road-transport lobby. In the UK some of the tricks that were used were nothing short of scandalous and are well-described in this book, and there's no reason to suppose that any other Government anywhere else was any much different.
There is at least one thing to be said, and that is that the track bed has been preserved and is now a walking trail. As the cost of fossil fuels soars ever-upwards and the amount of electrical energy that can be developed around here is phenomenal, what price the resurrection of an electric railway system before we are all much older?
There are warning signs all along this road telling drivers to look out for moose. And quite right too. I've talked at length about the dangers of colliding with a moose and one of the signs that I pass is telling me that last year along this highway there were 660 such collisions. That's almost 2 each day. I didn't realise that there were that many vehicles in Newfoundland - or that many moose either.
And as I'm digesting that information I drive past a golf course. Of course that sets me off, doesn't it?
Are there special rules for encountering moose on a golf course?
i.... What is the penalty for hitting a moose with a golf ball?
ii... What is the procedure to follow if a moose moves or steps on your ball?
iii.. And if your ball lodges in a pile of moose pooh, do you have a free ball?
I'm sure that you can think of your own rules too.