Rangers were hired to detect and put out fires caused by sparks from the stack and the ash pans of steam locomotives.

Track ranger on patrol

The first track ranger was Bill Lunan, who was stationed at Schreiber, and patrolled to Nipigon, a distance of 64 miles. About the turn of the century, these rangers were stationed at intervals of some eight miles along the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks.

Their equipment consisted of a canoe, shovel, canvas pail and axe. Most of the patrolling was done on foot along the tracks by the railroad, but they could ride any train when necessary. As a rule, they would ride one way and walk back. The canoe was used for trips inland to detect, investigate, or report on fires and determine the size.

In addition to detecting and putting out fire, rangers worked to prevent fires through posters and public education. This sometimes backfired.

In 1920 the rangers received bright, red fire prevention posters, which they nailed on telephone poles along the track. The following day they were ordered to take them down as train crews were mistaking them for red flags [note: Red Flags meant DANGER! Stop operations.]


McGoey, A.J. “Lone Track Ranger.” Sylva, Your Lands and Forests Review. Vol. 16, No. 4 (1960)
Photo Credits:
National Archives of Canada [Track ranger on patrol]
Online Exhibits