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Former CP conductor on the hunt for helpful strangers in 70s photo

John Cowan is looking for the group of strangers who helped clear the tracks east of Golden in 1978
This group of CP Rail passengers helped remove rock from the tracks on Oct. 29, 1978. This photo, along with many other recently digitized photos, can be found in former CP conductor John Cowan’s new book. He hopes the book will help him reconnect with those helpful passengers that day. (John Cowan photo)

A former CP train conductor who was based out of Revelstoke has put out a call to help find some helpful strangers with whom he lost contact with just over 40 years ago.

John Cowan, who spent 35 years with CP Rail, says that on Oct. 29, 1978, while he was working on the Canadian, a passenger train that travels across the country, his crew ran into some trouble a couple miles east of Golden, in the Kicking Horse Canyon.

A CP patrolman alerted the train to a significant rock blocking the tracks as the train continued on its east bound journey, which could have potentially derailed the train.

The train stopped, and Cowan said that a group of passengers on the train disembarked, helped clear the tracks, and the train was able to continue on its merry way.

“The conductor had gotten on the PA system and told the passengers our problem and that we needed some volunteers,” said Cowan.

“So some passengers came out and hoofed through the snow with us, we were really heaving to get the rock off the tracks and this farm girl from Saskatchewan said, ‘Let me do it.’

“She was so strong and powerful, with her help we got the rock off the tracks.

READ MORE: New book details Golden history

“If we had of hit that rock, I guarantee we would have ended up in the river.”

The story, along with the photos of the event, are in Cowan’s new book, Canadian Pacific Trackside 1977-2012 with Conductor John Cowan, which offers an in-depth look into his time on the tracks.

Now that the book has been published, after having been in the works since Cowan first started digitizing his old photos in 2019, Cowan says he would like to re-unite with the dozen people who helped get the rock off the tracks that fateful day.

“It would be wonderful, it would be fantastic to reconnect,” said Cowan.

“It was such an odd time, it would be so great to get a hold of them.”

While Cowan was based in Revelstoke, he has a soft spot for Golden, saying that it was always a nice town to pass through, although he says he’s sure it’s changed quite a bit since the late 1970s.

He believes the stories he tells in his book will still resonate with the town today.

“Golden is a railroad town and I’m sure there’s even more CP Employees, CP managers living in Golden now than when I worked there,” said Cowan.

“There’s still quite a lot of ties in the Golden community to the rail roads, and there’s so much history between Golden and CPR, it’s very interesting.”

The book features stories from across the province, and photos that span Canada from Quebec to Vancouver Island and offer views very few people get to see, along with interesting stories of his travels.

Claire Palmer
Editor for the Golden Star
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Claire Palmer

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