Longtime Brookmere resident, avid historian and prolific author Barrie Sanford recently published his seventh book, “Tales of the KVR, The Kettle Valley Railway Remembered”, a subject that could be considered his life’s work.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in trains, actually longer than that,” Sanford said.
“My mom said that every time the train passed our house, I would get up in my crib and hold on to the rail and jump for joy.”
Once out of his cradle, his fascination with trains and their operators only grew.
“I grew up in White Rock and in those days real estate was relatively cheap and there were a lot of retired railroad workers living in town, so I would go out and talk to them,” Sanford recalled. .
“When I was about six years old, my mother asked me where are you going? And I said, I’m going to Mr. Webster, who lived a few houses down, I’m going to listen to his train stories. And my mother said, well why do you take a pencil and paper, you can’t read or write.
Even then, young Sanford knew the historical significance of the stories he was hearing and wanted to record them for posterity. Undeterred by the fact that he couldn’t actually read or write as his mother had so clearly reminded him, he settled for the numbers one through ten, which he knew. He listened to the stories of the railroad workers and dutifully noted down the engine numbers they associated, for example, the engine number in Kamloops was 2141. He still has a notebook of these numbers, although the stories associated with each have been forgotten these many decades. later.
It was the content of many of these notebooks, and the COVID-19 pandemic, that inspired Sanford to take up his pen again.
“With the lockdown, I call it house arrest, I decided one day while going through my stuff that I had to sort out some of this, I thought I had to cut some things down,” Sanford explained.
“So I started going through some stuff and came across half a dozen scribbles where I had written stories that old railroad workers had told me 50 years ago. I told Nancy about it. Wise from Sandhill Books and she saw some of the stories and she said we had to make a book out of it, it’s absolutely fascinating, so I did.
Adding to the lexicon of historic railroad lore that captivated Sanford his entire life.
Indeed, Sanford’s interest in trains was so strong that he moved in 1999 from the Lower Mainland to Brookmere, which has the last water tower still standing on the KVR, and the old rail line running through the town. as part of the Trans Canada Trail.
At that time a house in Brookmere was not expensive, especially a repairman like Sanford had bought it. This was probably also due in part, as noted in “Tales of the KVR”, to the fact that Brookmere was often referred to as “Siberia” by railroad employees in a derogatory manner. It was known for its long, cold winters with lots of snow and its isolation; until 1925 it was only accessible by rail, until a rough road was cut to Aspen Grove. Brookmere was not connected to Kingsvale and what we now call Coldwater Rd. until 1953. Even this road remained unpaved until the 2000s.
Sadly, Sanford’s home was damaged in the November 2021 floods when Brook Creek raged through the tiny hamlet, but Sanford and his wife are cleaning up the damage and are in no rush to leave the area.
Reflecting on her favorite stories from the book, Sanford talks about the chapter about Lota Alice Foss, who may very well have been BC’s first female civil engineer and the first woman to enroll in the University’s civil engineering faculty. of Minnesota. In 1905, at the age of 25, Ross obtained a position to verify the design plans for the truss bridges built on the KVR line.
Another of his favorites is the chapter called “A Trestle is like Your Wife”.
“The bridge men would come out and stand under the tracks and wait for a train to pass,” Sanford explained.
“They would say they would listen to what the trestle had to say to them, and a trestle is like your wife. If she’s nagging and moaning and complaining, you know it’s okay. you should be worried.
On a wooden trestle, if the bridge was solid, the beams creaked and groaned under the weight and movement of a passing train. However, if the trestle was more or less silent as the train passed, it meant that there was rot around the bolts muffling the noise. If there was little or no sound, it meant it was time to make repairs or replace the bridge entirely.
“It’s the definition of high tech,” Sanford joked.
The story of Joseph Guichon’s Grand Hotel Qulichena is of particular interest to the residents of Merritton. Guichon built the elaborate hotel speculating on the railroad passing along the shores of Lake Nicola, just as Highway 5A does today, and providing stable and booming business. However, the route chosen instead bypassed Guichon’s ranch and hotel, crossing the Coldwater Valley – Coquihalla Pass.
Still, the KVR played an important role for the growing town of Merritt.
“There was initially a connection between the railroad and coal, of course coal was needed for old fashioned steam locomotives, so that was the motive that prompted CPR to build a rail line of Spences Bridge on the mainline in Merritt,” Sanford said.
Herders also depended on the railroad, which they used to transport their cattle to market in the days following the cattle transports. Cattle were shipped alive on wagons in the early 20th century because refrigeration was limited.
Cattle trains were then given absolute priority on the tracks as it was the responsibility of the railroad to feed and water the cattle while they were in its care. These costs could add up quickly, reducing the railway’s profits. Undoubtedly, the Nicola Valley would not have been as economically viable as a center of cattle ranching and production without the railroad.
All seven of Sanford’s books, including his railway classic McCulloch’s Wonder, published in 1977, are available for sale at the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives, which has also been invaluable and instrumental in research and providing the necessary resources. take a historical book from an idea to a finished product.
The museum is located at 1675 Tutill Ct.