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Photograph of silk bales, in a large net, on the dock beside a ship


Unloading silk bales at Vancouver dock to be transferred to a waiting train. A whole train could be loaded in less than ten minutes. Bales weighed between 150 and 200 pounds each

ARCHIVED - The Kid's Site of Canadian Trains

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Special Trains

Silk Trains

From the 1890s to around 1940, special trains took raw silk from the Vancouver docks to silk mills in New York and New Jersey. A trainload of silk was worth as much as 2.5 million dollars, so these trains carried armed guards. To discourage train robbers, silk trains traveled at very high speeds and rarely stopped at public stations. The less time a trip took, the lower the insurance cost. Another reason for speed was that the silk cocoons had to be kept from spoiling. When a silk train was en-route, it was the dispatcher's job to know where the train was at all times in order to clear the track of any other trains. Silk trains had the right of way over all others, including passenger trains. The coming of the Second World War, the invention of nylon (a silk substitute), and cheaper transportation through the Panama Canal all brought about the end of silk trains.

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