This website is dedicated to the ongoing search for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) locomotive No. 508. The 4-4-0 standard type locomotive was built in 1885 in Manchester, New Hampshire for the New Brunswick Railway (NBR) as their locomotive No. 34. After CPR took over the NBR in a 990 year lease, July 1, 1890, they renumbered the locomotive to No. 508 in September 1890.
Locomotive 508 operated in Northwestern New Brunswick at the beginning of the last century and on June 21, 1900 the engine suffered quite a spill into the Saint John River at Grand Falls. A span of the bridge collapsed under the weight of the train and all but the passenger car and the caboose were spared from the waters below . The passenger car fell almost vertically on top of the debris pile created by the other cars ahead of it.
Miraculously no one died in the accident but there were some very serious injuries, to the point that some newspapers of the day reported casualties at press time. Wrecking crews were dispatched, clean up was done and the bridge was rebuilt but no one seems to know for sure if the engine was ever recovered.
A century later the search begins!!!
The search for locomotive 508 began in 2003 but Eric Ouellette was first made aware of the event back in the fall of 2000. Ouellette remained intrigued by the rumors that the engine was never retrieved and asked a lot of questions to locals to find out more.
In 2003 the nearby highway bridge was to be rebuilt and this triggered the search. The plan was the try and find the engine before the crane and barge were done working on the DOT structure only several hundred meters away.
Since the beginning of the search efforts, many stories and opinions have been heard but no one has yet to show up with some information that would put to rest the mystery for good. Some think it was recovered, others say it wasn't. Some even reported it was only recovered many years later by locals and cut up into pieces for scrap metal.
Early inquiries concerning any information on 508 through CPR, Ouellette was told the following via e-mail:
"CPR must have fished the locomotive out of the river, because it continued to serve us until being disposed (likely scrapped) in February 1910. But this only after it was modified and renumbered as CPR locomotive No. 62 in November 1908. We have the locomotive assignments for July 31, 1904. Locomotive No. 508 was assigned to and maintained out of Edmundston, N.B.”.
Needless to say that "must have" did not put the mystery to rest so more investigative work was done by searching different archives and talking to local people about the accident. The archives drummed up plenty of interesting stories about the accident but even they proved to have many discrepancies mainly when it came to names, measurements and which bridge span actually did collapse.
Very few locals even knew about the accident because it was over a century ago but for those who did recollect, none of them could say if the locomotive was recovered or not.
Information gathered were mainly second hand accounts of relatives that recounted the accident many years later along with all the drama that ensued.
After a few months of interviews and research it was clear that the mystery wasn't going to get solved by talking. Eric managed to convince a team of volunteers and divers to go looking for it. The best way to solve the mystery was to literally get to the bottom of the river, find the accident site and possibly even locate the locomotive.
Search efforts proved to be more difficult than originally anticipated because of very poor visibility. The search area was dramatically reduced with the help of the University of New Brunswick and their offer to conduct a detailed magnetic survey of the river in the area of the accident.
Magnetic survey done by UNB in 2003
The survey revealed some very interesting magnetic anomalies which were located interestingly enough directly between two piers of the old bridge. The divers concentrated on those magnetic areas but were unsuccessful in locating the locomotive before the nearby crane and barge left.
A few very interesting pieces were found during one of the dives within the magnetic debris field. East Dive from Fredericton New Brunswick managed to recover what was later identified to be part of the braking system and possibly even from the locomotive itself.
Brake pieces found by East Dive in 2003 Brake pieces compared to brake specification found in 1904 book.
Ouellette never gave up that summer and with the brake pieces in hand as encouragement, he pursued another route of scientific exploration. Nick Burchill from Kongsberg Maritime, located in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, agreed to donate his time and equipment and conduct a detailed sonar survey over the magnetic debris field. The survey was done on the ice and for this reason it was actually very easy to locate the area of interest.
Again very interesting results showing the two underwater bridge piers with a long object directly between them. The long object was confirmed by divers to be a large sand mound. The divers also reported this to be a little odd considering the remainder of the riverbed bottom was mainly gravelly in nature. Laying on the ground next to the sand mound were two of the retrieved brake pieces and extruding from the mound was the third piece. All 3 pieces were found very close to one another but piece #3 actually broke off from a much bigger buried piece. The divers dug into the mound to try and see if the bigger buried piece could be removed but it proved to be too large to pull with the boat. Ouellette applied for all the necessary permits to go dig up the sand mound in 2006 but the opportunity to actually go dig the riverbed never managed to materialize mainly because of Ouellette's busy work schedule.
Sonar image of hole 3 done in 2004 by Kongsberg Maritime
The search has come a long way since 2000 and locomotive 508 has been read and heard of by a lot of people all around the world. Eric has been trying to solve the mystery for years and does so at his own pace and on his free time. The search to date has cost nothing and all who have participated have done so on a volunteer basis.
The BLOG section is a great place to stay current with the search. You can also opt to read all blog entries in chronological order from 2000 to present day. In the beginning, Ouellette reported mainly on the locomotive search efforts but over the years he took on other projects and took the time to share them with the reader. Find out how Trains, Igloos and Zip lines all have a part to play along the way.....