Usually, Richard Butler, aka the Old Muser, confined his writings in the Hamilton Spectator to his weekly column, Saturday Musings.
However, on October 29, 1918, a review of recently-published booklet appeared. The review was not credited to anyone, but the style and reminiscences were completely in the Old Muser style.
Richard Butler had lived in Hamilton in the 1850s, and worked as a printer, before leaving the city soon after the beginning of the American War between the States in 1861. Butler served in the Union Army, and after the war entered in the newspaper publishing field, first as an editor, later as an owner. After his retirement, Butler returned to Hamilton as the American Consul. In the 1890s, not long after returning to the city of his youth, Butler started writing the Saturday Musings column which dealt with aspects of the City of Hamilton’s history, including a number of personal reminiscences.
The booklet review which appeared in October 1918 contained references to the first arrival of a Great Western Railway train to Hamilton (an occasion which Butler surely witnessed), plus a look at a photograph taken in 1864, and finally memories of a Hamiltonian, Jack Quirk.
The Review follows :
“The Trail of the Swinging Lantern is the title of a bright booklet of 150 pages, the author of which is J. Copeland, traveling agent of the Chicago and Northwestern railway, 45 Yonge street, Toronto. Mr. Copeland is one of those Canadian boys who took to railroading with the Grand Trunk company, and whose fund of railroad history and humor makes a charming chapter that one can take up at any time and put in a pleasant hour reading over the names of Canadian boys who have made their mark in the railway world. The names of well-known Hamilton men take one back beyond two generations, when the Great Western was built from the Niagara river to the Detroit river.
“In 1853, Hamilton heard the joyful scream of the locomotive that hauled the first passenger train into the Stuart street depot, loaded with passengers from across the Niagara river and from the towns that intervened between the river and this blessed city, which causes every native-born Hamiltonian proudly to lift his head and throw out his chest when he hears its name mentioned. Those strangers from the outside world wanted to see the town and the people where the first important railway had its inspiration. Every man, woman and child in Hamilton was down at the Stuart street depot that forenoon to cheer themselves hoarse when the signal was given and the smoke of the coming locomotive was to be seen climbing the hill in the east and then descending like a frisky young colt for the home run into the depot. It was a wonder that half the population was not maimed and slaughtered, for they crowded the track and could hardly be entreated to give the locomotive a chance. That was a history-making day for Hamilton and for Mr. Copeland, in the Trail of the Swinging Lanterns, has caught the spirit of it and revives for his readers a delightful picture of an almost forgotten past.
“There are not many of the ancients of the Great Western walking the streets of Hamilton today: probably only two who are prominent in the photograph reproduced of the first mogul built in D. C. Gunn’s railway engine shops. When Sir Thomas Dakin, English chairman of the Great Western, and whose name appears on the mogul, made an official visit to this city in 1864. It was made a gala day down at the shops, and the photograph in question was taken. As a matter of ancient history, we will call the roll of them who proudly stood on and in front of the locomotive that their happy faces might be handed down to prosperity fifty-four years later in Mr. Copeland’s booklet : W. A. Robinson, assistant mechanical superintendent; George Forsyth, general foreman of the shops; Wm. McMillan, fuel purchasing agent; Samuel Sharp, mechanical superintendent; William Paine, locomotive foreman; Dick Furness, conductor; Aaron Penny, messenger official car; Geo. L. Reid, civil engineer; William Wallace, traffic agent; G. Harry Howard, booking agent; William Orr, district freight agent; George B. Spriggs, through freight agent; John Howard, general purchasing agent; Thomas Swinyard, general manager; Brackstone Baker, English secretary; Thomas Bell, treasurer; John Hall, foreman running department; John Weatherston, track superintendent; John A. Ward, mechanical accountant; Peter Neilson, station agent; William Wilson, track foreman, James Fawcett, call boy. They were a proud lot as they stood before the camera, to be handed down with that Gunn engine to posterity as being part of Canada’s first great railway
“Of the above list of officials who were alive and active, only two are left – W. A. Robinson and John Hall. Mr. Copeland, the author of the booklet, must have a warm heart for John Quirk, an old Hamilton boy, who was a shoemaker by trade, and who was in partnership with George Steele. They had a shop on York street sixty years ago. Added to his ability to pull a wax end, George Steele was Hamilton’s fiddler in those days, and as there were balls and parties two or three nights a week. George did the fiddling while Jack Quirk took care of the shop. Jack was a stuttering Irish lad, and one of the most genial cobblers that ever hammered a sole of a shoe, and left the pegs sticking up to torment the feet of the unfortunate customer. But we are not writing a history of Jack Quirk; this is only an introduction to the days when he began as a baggage smasher on the Erie and Niagara railway, running from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake. That was in 1867. After Jack had smashed up about half the trunks on that line, the managers said, ‘Well done, good and faithful baggage master, we will make a conductor of you before you bankrupt the company in paying damages for broken trumps.’ Well, to shorten the story, Jack punched tickets on the Great Western and the Grand Trunk roads till it was time for him to quit, and now he is living a life of leisure at Wingham.
“The book is a good history of railroading in Canada.”1
1 “Swinging Lanterns : When Hamilton First Heard the Shriek of a Locomotive”
Spectator October 29, 1918.