NARROW ESCAPE FROM FRANK SLIDE – Mis-Carried Railway Order Saved Construction Outfit From Death. Lethbridge Herald.
Recently the Lethbridge Herald carried a news story which brought to mind vividly the disaster which occurred in the Crow’s Nest Pass in 1903, now familiarly known as the Frank Slide. One of the Herald’s readers in the city, Peter Lund, took an active part in pass life long before that date and he has some exciting and harrowing stories to tell of mountain [sic] in the early days. During construction of the Crows Nest Railway back in the 80’s and early 90’s, the firm of Breckenridge and Lund, railway contractors, were engaged in grading contracts at several points between Crow’s Nest and Kootenay Landing. After the preparation of the main railway grade had been completed, the grading firm with their equipment and men were engaged for several years in the improvement of the line, such as reduction of curvature and grades, stream diversion, etc. Early in 1903 this firm had just completed a contract near Morrissey, B.C. and had been awarded a contract for change and improvement in the line at Frank. Owing to the rapid development of the Frank coal mine, this town had become a very busy place. John Breckenridge, member of the firm, after looking over the proposed work at Frank had selected a campsite for the construction outfit, about one-half a mile below the railway station, on the bank of the stream at or near the centre of the proposed work. He then proceeded to Morrissey where the men were busy loading the outfit. Nine cars were loaded with horses and railway equipment and about 60 men composed the crew. The cars were standing loaded on a blind siding ready to be picked up by an eastbound freight train out of Cranbrook. For some reason the order to pick up the outfit had miscarried and the men and the equipment were left standing on the blind siding. Shortly a passenger train came along and this was stopped. Mr. Breckenridge boarded it and proceeded to Frank to await the arrival of the crew. He arrived at Frank late in the afternoon and put up at the Imperial Hotel. He retired early expecting his cars of men and equipment to arrive sometime during the night.
About three o’clock the following morning the occupants of the hotel were awakened by the slide. Millions of tons of rock from the almost perpendicular Turtle mountain had broken loose and now covered the entire valley. Great heaps of rock had been forced many hundreds of feet up the opposite mountain side. The hotel in which Mr. Breckenridge was a guest was one of the few remaining buildings in town, the slide missing the hotel by about 200 feet. Had the freight train which was expected to pick up the nine cars of men and horses done so, all including Mr. Breckenridge would have been buried under the slide along with the 84 others who are known to have perished. By a strange coincidence, the construction outfit came along a few hours after the slide had occurred.
The railway now lay buried under hundreds of thousands tons of rock for a distance of a mile or more. As soon as the true state of affairs became known to the officials of the railway, a wire was received by Breckenridge and Lund asking them to organize immediately to rebuild the railway and to transfer express and passengers across the slide.
There were many rocks as large or larger than the Lethbridge post office building to be demolished and the debris removed. Roads had to be built around the slide for the transfer of traffic while the reconstruction of the railway line was in progress. More than 1,100 men were employed in this work and over two carloads of powder were used in reducing the rocks to size where they could be handled. It required 23 days and nights with this large force before normal traffic was restored on the railway. Such were the days of railroading thirty years ago.