VIDEO: CN engineer puts the brakes on 34-year railway career

CN Rail engineer Wes Oviatt took his last run Friday, May 22. He is retiring from a 34-year railway career. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photos - Williams Lake Tribune)
A view toward the tracks from one of the CN buildings in Williams Lake. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
CN Rail’s Russ MacGregor (left) and retiring engineer Wes Oviatt go over the days run notes for the line from Williams Lake to Quesnel, Friday, May 22. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Wes Oviatt, retiring engineer, walks out toward the train as he prepares to take his last run before retiring on May 22. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
When Wes Oviatt arrived at work for his last day he was surprised to see there was a banner letting everyone know he was retiring. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

A Canadian National Railway (CN) engineer stationed in Williams Lake made his last run Friday, May 22.

Before pulling out of the station to go pick up more cars in the yard, Wes Oviatt said his career began with Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) in Cranbrook, B.C. in 1986.

In 1993 he was hired by British Columbia Railway (BC Rail) to work in Chetwynd and moved to Williams Lake in 1999, still with BC Rail, before becoming a CN Rail employee when BC Rail was sold.

Up until 1994 he was a conductor and has been an engineer since then.

Originally from Marysville just outside of Kimberley, he recalled the train going right above the house growing up and said as a young man he actually worked for a little mining railway in Kimberley, driving a train.

Earlier this spring, CN suspended its line from Williams Lake south to Squamish, with the exception of the 100 Mile House run for West Fraser two times a week.

Oviatt said he hopes the line will be used more again in the future.

“It would be nice if they did re-open it. There’ve been a lot of changes.”

Read more: No jobs lost with CN Rail suspension of Williams Lake to Squamish Line: USW 2004

When he worked out of Williams Lake for BC Rail there were three times the amount of jobs as there are now, he added.

“We ran three trains a day, each way out of here. CN is sending a lot of tonnage through Jasper because it’s flat and it doesn’t have to go up hills and they can send bigger trains that way. With BC Rail it all had to come through here.”

Most recently he’s been doing the CN run from Williams Lake, stopping at the Gibraltar station at Macalister to pick up cars with mining concentrate, and then meeting the Prince George crew at Quesnel.

In his career he saw the discontinuation of cabooses at a time when an extra conductor rode inside them.

“Back then the engines were so cold in the winter in some of them that you had to duct tape over the doors to keep the draft out,” Oviatt said, chuckling.

Upon retirement he plans to stay in Williams Lake, spend more time fishing and enjoy being with his wife Donna, who is also retired from working for home support.

They have been married to since 1983.

They don’t have any children of their own, but fostered for a few years, and have lots of nephews and nieces.

To toast his retirement Oviatt said he will probably get together for a few beers with some of the guys, sitting six feet apart, of course.

“I was lucky that I had the same career. I couldn’t have had a better job,”he said. “You get to see lots of animals along the way and lots of things that most people get to see.”

He said he wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else.

Before starting his railway career, Oviatt actually worked at Pinette and Therrien sawmill in Williams Lake between 1978 and 1980 said he always planned to get back to Williams Lake.

Conductor Russ MacGregor, moved to Williams Lake recently from Lillooett when the CN line south was suspended.

He was on the shift Friday morning and voiced his admiration for Oviatt.

“He’s a professional at what he does and he’s trained a lot of guys through here,” MacGregor said. “A lot of responsibility is put on the engineer and Wes is really good at that.”

One time MacGregor heard Oviatt say he’d rather work with someone brand new that will listen rather than somebody that won’t listen.

“That’s true,” MacGregor added. “That’s how you learn here, it is from older guys. They keep you safe and out of trouble.”

Just before they headed out to get on the train, Oviatt held up the daily schedule for his run and pointed to the top bullet which read:

Engineer Oviatt run retirement extra

Toil to leisure

With right over all troubles

Run ahead of all worries

Pass sickness when overtaken and meet happiness at every turn

Need not register doubts as to the appreciation of all those who have worked with you.

Do not exceed an occasional slow perusal over thoughts and memories of past days with co-workers in your career.

May leave the service without obtaining final clearance to good health and a well deserved retirement.

Read more: New rail safety measures implemented in Canada

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