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Penhold man remembers day of the trains
Elmo Johnson's love for the rails never ends after an illustrious four decade career

reprinted from Innisfail Province (Sylvia Cole) December 3, 2013

Elmo Johnson - West photo

Elmo Johnson has worked as agent at more than 30 train stations in a career that has spanned more than 40 years.

Photo by Noel West, Innisfail Province


With more than 42 years of experience working at 30 different train stations, Elmo Johnson knows a thing or two about industry and has a passion to preserve the history.

Johnson, 86, lives in Penhold but still holds the memories of his childhood and early career near and dear to his heart.

Next year marks the centennial year for Benalto, a hamlet located west of Sylvan Lake and Johnson plans to be in attendance.

What interests Johnson the most is getting to see the Benalto train station, where he first started working at the age of 16.

"Us young guys used to be at the station but I was the only one (the engineer) they didn't have a problem with," said Johnson. He said he thinks he established a good relationship because he reminded the engineer of his own son, who had passed away.

Johnson's passion for trains though was sparked several years before his teen days where he would hang around and check out the steam engines.

It was his first ride on a train, in 1939 at the age of 11 when CP offered rides to Edmonton to see King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who were on a royal visit, that really got his attention.

"It was the Depression then and my parents really had to scrape money together to buy the ticket," he remembered.

Four years later, in the midst of a war, the only men left to look after the stations were older and needed help, explained Johnson.

So when he heard of an opening when he was just 16 years old, he knew he wanted to join.

That was in Benalto and Johnson acted as an assistant agent working directly from the train station that is now returning to the village after a 40-year hiatus. The station, built in 1928, was purchased and moved in 1980 to a location west of Red Deer, used by a family as a home.

The station was donated back by the family and moved to Benalto early this year. The village is now working to restore the station in time for the 100-year anniversary.

"I was thrilled," said Johnson of the news it was going back to Benalto. It brought back memories for Johnson who also went to school in Benalto as a child and ran into a former classmate.

He said moving the station into town was a "slow process" and noted traffic on Highway 11 was quite backed up and transmission lines had to be moved to accommodate the wide and high load.

Johnson himself donated $500 towards the restoration, noting the importance of preserving the history of Alberta when the use of trains was the main means of transporting things such as livestock, mail and passengers.

As an agent, Johnson was responsible for loading the train and selling tickets. He also had to telegraph and receive train orders and understand train rules.

Besides Benalto, Johnson also worked in Bowden, Exshaw and Rocky Mountain House, Banff and Lake Louise to name a few, before ending up in Penhold.

"We once held up a train for two hours to try and get all of the men on board," he said, remembering a particular Thanksgiving weekend in Penhold when 200 soldiers from the airport were heading home to see their families.

He said they worked hard to cram every last passenger into the train and said it was standing room only.

When in Penhold, Johnson lived inside the station with his wife, Alma, and five children for 16 years.

"My children still remember it. My son wrote a song that is about that experience," said Alma.

The couple moved to Penhold in 1952 and has continued to live there even though Johnson's work took him elsewhere. The Penhold station closed in 1968 and was torn down in 1969.

Johnson continued to work at stations throughout Alberta including Red Deer, Crossfield and Lacombe, where he eventually retired in 1985.

News articles related to Calgary & Edmonton Railway / Canadian Pacific in Central Alberta:
       News article: Wimborne comes alive again with new book
(Innisfail Province Nov.2013)
       News article: CP's heritage train rolls through region
(Mountain View Gazette Aug.2011)
       News article: A new face for the old station
(Red Deer Life July 1996)
News articles related to Alberta Central Railway heritage:
       News article: Benalto Train Station returned to hamlet after lengthy journey
(Sylvan Lake News May 2013)
       News article: Riders welcome train station home to Benalto
(Red Deer Advocate Apr.2013)
       News article: Benalto station move delayed (Red Deer Advocate Mar.2013)
       News article: Benalto train station to return home after 42-year absence
(Sylvan Lake News Feb.2013)
       News article: Former Benalto train station donated back to community (Red Deer Advocate Feb.2013)
       News article: Historic significance of concrete obelisk preserved in mural
(Red Deer Advocate Oct.2008)

Calgary and Edmonton Railway (CPR)
Calgary and Edmonton Railway at Red Deer (CPR)

Alberta Central Railway (CPR) - Red Deer to Rocky Mountain House
Railway Stations Were Once the Focal Point of Western Canadian Communities
Mackenzie and Mann influenced Central Alberta's first railway stations - C&ER Combination Stations
Most communities once had portable stations for a time
Canadian Pacific Railway Stations in Central Alberta

Michael Dawe articles related to Calgary & Edmonton Railway / CPR heritage:
       CPR Station Park once shining jewel of Red Deer (Red Deer Express June 2009)
Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge now 100 years old (Red Deer Advocate June 2009) 
       The history of Red Deer's CPR station
(Red Deer Express April 2007)
       Red Deer becomes a divisional point for CPR
(Red Deer Advocate Special March 2007)

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