Return Ticket, True North
“How the blissful years have fled;
Just a memory instead!
Dimmed eyes watch the gleaming rail;
Sentiment will o’er prevail;
Echoes wake a stone marked hill.
“Wonder if she hears me still?”
From The Brotherhood of Locomotive
Engineers Journal, February 1933
The best stories always end where they began. The protagonist remains constant to a vision of themselves developed in childhood which then becomes distant or lost as they mature. The hard lessons learned in adulthood through tough decision making and living with the consequences requires the protagonist, sometimes in a moment of crisis, to reassess their compass, and then re-embrace that original childhood vision.
Scott Ivay’s “True North” has always been the railroad. At five years of age, he watched a CBC program about CN train crews and the nature of their work. He was “absolutely mesmerized and enchanted.” His “earliest memories of trains” are of falling asleep to the sounds of Canadian National passenger trains accelerating out of Ottawa close to his family home. Today, at 38, he is a qualified locomotive engineer, and a key member of Canadian Pacific’s flagship Heritage Programs team where he works with a historic steam train. The train is CP’s public relations ambassador that visits communities across its network and relays safety messages to children and adults alike.
But Scott’s track to joining CP’s “Steam Team” fronted by locomotive CP2816 – an H1b Class Hudson-type built in 1930 – has not been a straight one. He has made a few stops on the way, taken a few sidings, but in the end, found his way back to the mainline, found his way home.
I met Scott while he was a youth worker in Kanata. He did not intentionally pursue a role as such: a family friend invited him to attend a workshop weekend to investigate an organization that worked with youth at clubs and camps. However, he was at a point where he was experiencing great career angst and sought my help.
We went through a short career assessment and Scott wrote a short journal of his enjoyable experiences. It was obvious to me that he had a natural predisposition for the railway industry. His father and grandfather had worked on the railroad and his great-grandfather worked 56 years with the Canadian National Railroad and federal government as a Locomotive Engineer. He operated locomotive CN6400, now on static display at the Museum of Science and Technology, served as Union Chairman, Safety Officer and retired as a Commissionaire on the Railway Board of Transport.
After reading his journal, I pointed out to him that working with trains and youth/children was not mutually exclusive. I tried to show him that none of his previous experience was wasted but that he needed to turn his compass back to his true north.
“At the time, I was angry with George,” says Scott. “I was in career pain. And I wanted it to end – immediately. I wanted a quick fix. I felt like a junkie walking into doctor’s office looking for a pain-killer prescription. Instead what George did was to quietly and forcefully explain what he saw. It was up to me to act on it.”
Scott needed to retrace his steps to the source of his crisis in order realize its resolution.
By his own admission, he struggled in school. He did excel in subjects that provided opportunity for exploration, creativity and self- learning but he did not want to sit and learn in an oratory environment: he wanted to be out “doing and accomplishing things.”
Scott graduated from high school and attended college, enrolling in courses that provided him with either a creative outlet or practical application. He maintained his fulltime studies despite working three jobs. He graduated at 23, $1500 in debt, “burned out and in need of time to regroup, recharge and redefine.”
With his father’s blessings and prayers, Scott moved to British Columbia and lived with a friend, finding employment as a construction labourer. He “hated” the work and consequently submitted an application to Canadian Pacific Railway.
Less than two months later, he was hired by CP as a switchman trainee. He spent four months training and learning the fundamentals of railroading. He was “thrust into a crash course” of procedures, policies, rules, mechanical tests and exams and physicals. He was also on call; required to work at any time of the day or night when a train was ready to run. Although unfamiliar with this type of random schedule and far from family and friends, Scott was having the “time of his life.”
What he did not bargain for was the loneliness and isolation he felt operating trains; a function of the work itself and the “on-call” lifestyle.
Over the next three years, the railroad became Scott’s life, but the lifestyle began to have a negative impact on him physically and socially. He gained weight and was not spending as much time as he wanted with friends. He intuitively knew that he “wanted something more,” doing something that he perceived as having real “lasting value.”
Scott made the decision to resign from CP in late 1997 in favour of “looking for other opportunities”. During the next three years he “accomplished much” and found the work with his colleagues and young people very rewarding. However, the grind of administration that inevitably fell on him and the responsibility that solo leadership role demanded took its toll. Scott ultimately found himself “isolated, unchallenged, frustrated and disengaged from my work.”
The career pain had become so bad that it was affecting “all levels” of his life. Scott realized he was in a “circular and cyclical pattern” that kept bringing him back to the same conclusion: he was in the wrong career, but he needed affirmation and professional diagnosis to confirm it. And that’s when he came to me for help.
“You must take a long hard look at yourself and decide what is of true and real value to you,” says Scott. “You must weigh the options and ideas of what is out there and decide what you are made of, and determine how you are going to participate and contribute, or withdraw and redeploy.”
In the fall of 2002, Scott returned to CP and worked as a conductor. Back working on trains, he had a new found appreciation for the work, but there was still something missing.
Scott was driving to work in early 2007 when “a light bulb suddenly blinked on”: he needed to contact CP’s Manager of Steam Operations. His friend Jon had been working with the Steam Program for the past two years and had encouraged him to contact the Manager about “volunteering” with the train for a couple of weeks in the summer.
With a positive response to his phone call, he spent several weeks traveling with the steam train in June and July and another two that fall. Scott returned to work with the program again in 2008.
Though a fully qualified locomotive engineer, Scott’s initial experience with the program was spent in mechanical and operational support: slinging water hoses, tapping fire hydrants, greasing rods and running gear, cleaning the engine, ferrying supplies and provisions to the train, picking up passengers with special needs, baggage handling, getting coffee and procuring what the crew needed for the train and trip.
A rainy, autumn day in 2008 at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station brought it home to Scott that he had found his place. An Easter Seals Benefit trip was coordinated between CP and VIA Rail. CP’s 2816 steam engine pulled 22 VIA coaches filled with 500 children and adults. At the end of the day, one of the crew members snapped a seemingly subtle and casual photograph of excited children, caregivers, parents and volunteers as they crowded around the locomotive. It was later that night when the pictures were uploaded that the impact of the moment hit home: working with trains and children where not mutually exclusive.
“George’s prediction and perception had become manifest,” says Scott. “He has a gift and knack for being able to assemble the pieces of a person’s career life and identify the significant landmarks and boundaries. He uses the tools of autobiography and journaling to draw them out. He mined out what was already occurring internally and put his finger on the pressure points of career triumphs and challenges.”
And recently, the director of the program asked Scott to consider a move to Calgary to assist with future heritage and steam train projects Staying true to his “north”, Scott is finding that his childhood vision is becoming reality.