In The Hawking Sequence, Skypilot and Alim escape from the work camp via a “speeder” (railway motorcar). My love of speeders runs deep. When I was 10 or 11, my parents took me to see the National Film Board of Canada’s “The Railrodder” (1965), starring Buster Keaton. Keaton plays an elderly Englishman who, after reading an ad in the London Times about touring Canada, decides to do just that.
He swims across the Atlantic (I guess, as he is seen emerging from the water, fully clothed and with enough energy to walk up the beach) then steals a conveniently parked and vacant speeder. The short film is an homage to his previous work as he travels in the speeder along the tracks performing goofy stunts reminiscent of those in his younger days, but miraculously never coming face-to-face with an opposing train. An enjoyable, but not particularly funny, movie that captured the attention of at least one young Canadian at the time.
The concept of the speeder stayed with me. Imagine flying along the tracks, bouncing around corners and over level crossings, while constantly thinking that a train will soon appear around that next corner coming straight at you!
While attending university, I got a job as a Trainman with the Canadian Pacific Railway unapologetically through my uncle, E.N.A. (Ted) Sewell, who was running the show at the CPR. From there, I went to the British Columbia Railway, working on the track maintenance crew. Most of the crew were swarthy Portuguese and I was the tall, gangly kid who kept breaking hammers by not hitting the rail spike at the correct angle.
I guess the railway was tired of repairing hammers as, one day, a supervisor drove up to the crew and asked the foreman, “Where’s Van Alstyne?” Bending down, I heard my name and stood straight up. The foreman saw me immediately, as I was head and shoulders above my colleagues.
The foreman offered me a job as Track Patrolman, operating a speeder! This one was the classic yellow and even had a regulation red emergency light on top; like on the top of police cars of the time.
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, saying Adeus to my Portuguese workmates and thereby starting the best job I ever had.
Stories about my train patrol experience to follow…