Kicking Horse Pass

The Kicking Horse Pass

James Hector was a surveyor. In 1858, his job was to seek safe passage through the Canadian Rockies for the upcoming Canadian Pacific Railroad.

While mapping the Kicking Horse Pass, he ran out of food, was kicked by his horse (thus the name, "Kicking Horse Pass") and nearly died of exhaustion while struggling to climb the final steep pitch of that "Big Hill" as the locals called it. Needless to say, he recommended that this particular pass was far too dangerous for a railroad. Instead, he suggested the Yellowhead Pass, two hundred kilometers to the north, which had a much gentler slope.

Despite his warnings, the railway decided in favor of the Kicking Horse Pass. Their reasons were simple:

- The Kicking Horse Pass was more adequately located in the South, enough to block any American competition (we had to be careful of those Yankees!)

- The Kicking Horse Pass was shorter than the Yellowhead Pass and would require 122 km less rail line.

Once build, it was discovered that in order for a fifteen-car train to climb the "Big Hill" (which was FAR from being a hill, believe me!), four extra pusher engines were needed. Even with those four extra engines, the ascent was slow and tedious. Once at the summit, the worst was not yet behind them. The train then had to descend a very steep slope. The first train to try this derailed, plunged into a nearby river, and killed three men.

Being aware that tourism would plunge (literally!) When they heard the news, the railway authorities quickly convened. They decided to build three spur lines to catch any runaway trains. The spur switches were left open, and the switchmen were instructed to not close them unless they were certain the train was not a "runaway".

This system was used for the next twenty-five years. I'm sure that if I had lived in that day and age, my kids would have seen this particular ride as a roller coaster and would have begged to take the train to British Columbia. I, on the other hand, would have avoided it at all costs! I can only hope that most of the people of that time were wise enough to ignore their kids and choose safety! But even when there weren't passengers on the trains, the train conductors hauling cargo to British Columbia were still putting their lives at risk.

Desiring to keep their passengers and train machinery safe, the Canadian Pacific Railway addressed this problem in 1909 by building the "Spiral Tunnels". Trains would now pass through a series of tunnels, with each tunnel making a complete spiraling turn under the original pass as the railway gradually ascended and descended the "Big Hill" of Kicking Horse Pass. As the tunnels spiraled upward, trains actually crossed over and under themselves!

Though the addition of the tunnels doubled the length of the pass, the grade was cut in half. Now only two engines were needed to haul the cargo of 15 wagons, and they were able to make the ascent at five times the speed. Traveling from the Canadian east coast to the west was finally safe.

This reminds me that we as humans are far from always (if ever!) Making good and wise decisions. I could cry out with David: "You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you." (Ps 69:5 NIV)

So often I make foolish decisions that negatively affect myself and those around me. Only by depending completely on God for all of my decisions can I be assured of wisdom beyond my abilities. Remember God's words: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Isa 55:8-9 NIV). Therefore "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." (Isa 55:7 NIV)

Oops, gotta run! I have a train to catch! Would you like to join me?

Rob Chaffart

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