Hands-On Canadian History: The Canadian Railroad

One of the main things that Prime Minister John A. MacDonald wanted to accomplish during his time in office was to create the Canadian Railroad, stretching from one side of the country to the other. It was a very hard task – with surveying and building and blasting and horrific working conditions. Sadly, many of the workers were very badly treated Chinese people who suffered the most and were way underpaid their worth. One of the biggest challenges while building the railroad was figuring out how to get over the Rocky Mountains.

Hands-On Canadian History: The Canadian Railroad

The Canadian Railroad over the Mountains – Straight or Spiral Test

There are two basic options for how to get a train down a mountain. The first is to just make a straight track down. Unfortunately, this can lead to some serious challenges because the incline makes for one speedy descent. The second is to lower the grade of the incline by creating a spiralled track which slows everything down.

Our goal with this activity was trying to figure out if it really was better to use a spiral method to slow the speed down for trains. So, we dug out our train track set and gave it a go.

We made a model with one side being a steep incline and the other with a spiral and then we run our little trains on each to see which one did better. Of course, the inclined side was very fast – the train whizzed off the table! The spiral one was much slower and needed encouragement under the mountain to make it all the way through. This was a great visual.

If you don’t have a wooden train set, don’t panic. You can create ramps from cardboard and use a marble instead. Just create a narrow trough kind of path, and one with a curve (pull out the scissors and glue and raid that recycling bin!) Then do a similar test – which one is faster?

Kicking Horse Pass is one of the best examples of these spiral tunnels. Here’s a video of how it looks from a viewer.

See all 31 Days of  Hands-on Canadian History.

My Canadian Time Capsule

Lisa Marie Fletcher
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