When the railway came to Stephenville Crossing in 1896 less than 100 people were living here. The first settlers included the Benoits, Lucas’, Alexanders and Youngs. The main employment other than farming, was logging, the cutting of railway ties, and railroad construction for the Reid Company.
In the fall of 1896 the bridging of the Gut was completed, when an elaborate new Lift bridge, which could open to allow the passage of ships, was finished. Early in 1898 the bridge was washed out and had to be repaired to allow for the first crossing of Newfoundland by a train in 1898. Locals recount that the lift was only used once and in 1901 use of the lift was discontinued. When the rail line was completed to Port au Basques, Stephenville Crossing became a regional headquarters for sectionmen.
A mill opened in Corner Brook in 1925 and the railway became closely tied to the logging activity in the Crossing area. Thousands of logs were floated down through the bay area, bundled, then loaded on flat cars for shipping to various points in Newfoundland including Stephenville to help in the construction of Harmon Air Base in 1941.
The building of the railway encouraged growth and the community had increased in size to a population of 156 by 1911 and to 512 by 1935. A general business, owned by Charles McFatridge of Sandy Point, a lumber mill owned by Antonio Nardini, and a large dairy farm owned by Charles White, were built around this time. The farm was expaned during the first World War and began to manufacture butter and oleo margarine. Mr. White’s name is commemorated at nearby White’s Road, which was the head of the spur to Stephenville.
A new steel bridge was constructed in 1940 with a side piece built on to accommodate vehicles. There was only one lane traffic on the bridge and cars had to take turns crossing.
A Canadian National Railway Station was built around 1945. The first station agent in Stephenville Crossing was Joseph O’Keefe who came from Placentia, to help put the railway through to Port au Basques. The Crossing became the regional camp for sectionmen, and the railhead for nearby Stephenville and the Port au Port Peninsula. The community was very busy during the war years and for some time after due to the handling of freight for Harmon Field. There were several spurs, a siding for passing trains and some freight sheds.
The demand for materials and equipment was great and a rail line was built around Indian Head to connect Stephenville with the Newfoundland Railway at White’s Road. The line was named the Gull Lake Railway but locals referred to it as the “Loose Moose Line”. Harmon Base ran its own trains to and from White’s Road using its own small diesel locomotives. Beginning in the late 40′s and extending beyond the 50′s the daily routine of the Gull Line was to drop off loads and pick up empties at the White’s Road spur.
Use of the steel bridge stopped in the late 1980′s, when a new two lane bridge constructed of concrete and steel was built at the Gut, which is in use today. The old bridge and the new, stand side by side, as reminders of what the railway meant to Stephenville Crossing.
Newfoundland’s 547-mile railway was the longest narrow gauge railway in North America, providing regular trans-island passenger service for 71 years. Beginning in 1898 and ending in 1988 it will forever remain an intrinsic part of the history of Stephenville Crossing.
Information for this article was gathered from many sources, including the following books that are available to you if you would like to learn more about the Newfoundland Railway years.
“Centennial Railway” by R.G. Messenger
“Next Stop Wreckhouse” by Mont Linguard
“The Newfie Bullet” by Mont Linguard
“Tails of the Rails Volume 11 and 111″
by Clayton D. Cook
“All Aboard by Bill Baggs”
Some of the photos and information in this article were courtesy of Delores and Max Morris (Max was a member of the railway for many years as was Delores’s father)