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Seven or eight years ago, my wife and I took the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff. We rented a car there and drove to Jasper to catch the Skeena, a VIA Rail train that would take us to Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast. I had heard it’s a very nice ride.
The Skeena is a small train. The day we traveled, the consist was a locomotive, a baggage car, one coach and a Park car, which features a second level with a plexiglass dome. (See my January 10th post.) Because there is no sleeping car, the train stops in Prince George, a small city at the more-or-less halfway point. Everyone gets off the train, has dinner and spends the night at one of the local hotels, then reboards the train the next morning.
On our trip there were only a half dozen passengers riding in first class, so there was no real competition for the seats in the dome. I spent most of that second day sitting in the first row with a splendid view of the lovely countryside. Because it was such a short train, from our seats it was almost as though we were looking over the engineer’s shoulder at the track up ahead.
In the early afternoon, at one of the stops, a big, rugged man came up the steps into the dome. After a minute or two, I realized it was our engineer and he was schmoozing his passengers the same way airline pilots would leave the cockpit and chat briefly with passengers in first class.
I was enjoying the rare opportunity when I suddenly realized the train was moving.
“Hey,” I said, “Aren’t you supposed to be up in the head end?”
He laughed. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “There’s an extra man deadheading on this trip, so there are two guys up there.”
That’s when I noticed his shirt.
It was a knit gray polo shirt and on the left side above the pocket was the VIA Rail logo in three colors. And on the opposite side, in white script, was written . . .
Locomotive Engineer in English and Mécanicien de Locomotive in French!
Without thinking, I blurted “Where can I get a shirt like that?”
He looked at me incredulously. “You can’t have shirt like this,” he said. “You’re not a highly-trained locomotive engineer. You don’t work for the railroad. Why you’re not even Canadian!”
It was a funny moment and everyone was enjoying it. After several more minutes of banter, the engineer and I exchanged cards and he left the dome.
Two weeks later, after we had returned home to Maui, a package arrived in the afternoon mail.
It was the shirt.
This article first appeared on www.trainsandtravel.com
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