By Joan Chaisson
Port aux Basques , N.L. – Many have heard of the "human wind gauge."
Lauchie MacDougall lived approximately 20 kilometres northwest of Port aux Basques, in a place called the Wreckhouse noted for the high winds in the area. It fell to MacDougall to warn trains of the dangers of those high winds.
Some years ago, a group of people wanted to build a replica of MacDougall's house in the same place he lived. They received enough government grants to develop a paved parking lot and to correct access to the highway. However, the funding stopped and so did the project.
Shauna Strickland, economic development strategist for the Town of Port aux Basques, was motivated to renew this dream but she knew it had to be done on a much smaller financial scale. She decided to incorporate MacDougall's memory in a room at the Port aux Basques Railway Heritage Centre.
“A part of my job is to preserve culture and heritage," Strickland said. "Lauchie MacDougall’s story is so well known and it is not captured."
The museum, located in Port aux Basques, already features a replica of the original 1898 passenger station and a restored nine-car train.
It seemed an appropriate place for a permanent display for MacDougall, Strickland said, because he had been hired by the Newfoundland Railway - renamed CNR in 1949 - to telephone railway officials about impending dangers to trains due to high winds.
Local artist Aubrey Wells has completed two murals and the room will also include four large informational plaques telling MacDougall's story. Strickland explained the next step is to remove a wall in the museum so people will be able to walk into the Lauchie MacDougall Room from the main museum.
Strickland would like to display personal artifacts from MacDougall’s life in the room and has asked, through social media, if anyone has items to donate to this room. To date, she hasn't received any.
Strickland is asking again that if any of MacDougall’s family or friends have such items to donate, that they contact her at the town hall. Strickland feels these personal items would put a meaningful touch to the room.
She also hopes a wind machine will be purchased for the room in the future, giving people the opportunity to step inside the machine and feel the Wreckhouse winds.
It's hoped the room will be completed by the fall.
Who is Lauchie MacDougall?
Wreckhouse winds have been recorded in excess of 200 kilometres per hour, making it treacherous to travel through the area.
In the days when trains still travelled from Port aux Basques to the rest of the island, the Wreckhouse was a dangerous stretch for engineers. Trains would often be blown off the narrow gauge tracks, proving both treacherous and expensive for the railway.
Lauchie MacDougall was a farmer who lived in the area and claimed he was able to sense coming wind gales.
His low, wooden clapboard house was located close to the train tracks and was the only dwelling in the area.
The railway hired him for $20 and provided him with a telephone. He became a wind dowser, warning the railway of approaching southeastern gales.
Not long after CN Railway took over in 1950, this system of relying on a non-railroader to dispatch trains was deemed unreliable.
They opted to ignore MacDougall’s advice.
As a result, several cars on a train leaving Port aux Basques blew over as the train made its way through the Wreckhouse.
He was rehired.
Later, the railway attempted to install instruments to measure wind speeds. Wreckhouse winds blew the equipment away.
MacDougall held his position with the railway until his death in 1965. His wife continued on until she moved to Port aux Basques in 1972.
Sources: EncounterNewfoundland.com and virtualmuseum.com
If you go: The Railway Heritage Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and
Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, 12 and under free, and includes a tour.
Go online: Learn more about the museum at http://www.portauxbasques.ca/tourism/railway_heritage_center.php