Military Ops




The Bug

By Frank Tibbo

It seems an odd name, but that's what they called it - the Bug. It's almost impossible to tell the story of the Bug without delving a little in the history of its operator.

First of all, it's a fair assumption that very few have the least clue about the Bug or how it derived its appellation. I haven't been able to determine why they named it thus, but even the photos from the National Archives refer to it as The Bug. It was called such because it was orange in colour. Fred Smeaton painted it. His father built a device for turning it around in the "Round House". It was brought here by Civil Aviation in late 1938 or early 1939 and used at Botwood initially. It was built in Montreal and had a Buda gas 4-cylinder engine.

round house

Remnants of mini round house

The photo accompanying this column is a classic. Not only because it is a super picture of the Bug, but because Newfoundland Airport is clearly painted on the side of the Bug and Gander is clearly visible on the railway station sign. The signs are evidence of two most commonplace names used at the time. RCAF can be seen on the side of the Bug.

The photo of the bug was taken Feb. 23, 1945, and has the following caption:


Having received authority from the Gander station agent to use the railway tracks, Sgt. Hammond is now ready to set out on a routine trip. Shown here behind the wheel of The Bug, he is on call 24 hours a day and must be prepared, on a moment's notice, to speed over the rails at 40 to 50 mp/h, returning with crash or sickness victims. His emergency trips often involve civilians, such things as maternity and appendicitis cases occurring so often that he now considers them routine.

Which bring us to Tom Hammond. Mr. Hammond, who was born in Bell Island in 1910, was employed by the Newfoundland Railway as a telegraphy operator in Spaniard's Bay and was sent to Hattie's Camp (Gander) in 1936. He performed various duties for the railway such as switching tracks, inspecting the rails and as such had use of a vehicle referred to as a railway speeder. He lived in a railway shack at Benton and sometimes in a building near Cobb's Pond called Cobb's Camp. The railway speeder, which was used for various purposes, was vastly different from the Bug and was open to the elements.

On April 1, 1941, Canada accepted the responsibility of defending the airport. Large contingents of the RCAF and Canadian Army units swelled the population and the airport became a military base - the largest of all Canadian bases - and the airport was the largest in the world.

The only land transportation to and from Gander was via train, and there was a need for such a vehicle as the Bug to provide transportation along the tracks between train visits. The RCAF needed an operator for their unique railway vehicle, and Mr. Hammond, probably because of his experience operating a railway speeder, was drafted into the RCAF and given the rank of Sergeant for the specific purpose of operating the Bug.

Quite often Sgt. Hammond's passenger was the late Dr. James Paton, for whom the James Paton Memorial Hospital is named. He would be answering the call of a patient in some remote village within reach of the railway tracks.

Not only was Sgt. Hammond on call 24 hours a day, but he had to integrate his "speeding over the rails at 40 to 50 miles an hour" with the train schedule in order not be end up crashing headfirst into the Bullet - a euphemism for the Newfoundland Railway train. Getting to and returning from his missions must have been an interesting and sometimes harrowing experience considering the fact that he had to estimate the distance of the next railway siding, especially when he, his passengers and the Bug were on a collision course.

Tom Hammond married Mary Timmons of Glenwood in 1941, and together they raised their four children, Betty, Thelma, Pat and Colleen, first in the residential section of the airport and later in the Town of Gander.

After the war, Mr. Hammond was employed with the Department of Transport, and later went into private business.

Mr. Hammond, one of Gander's pioneers, retired in 1975 and died in Gander in 1985 at the age of 74.

I would like to thank Pat Hammond, retired RCMP officer, son of the late Tom Hammond, for his assistance with this column.




A special thank you to Peter Hanlon of Winnipeg for sending us along a copy of the above post card and for bringing this item in Gander Airport's history to our attention

As published in the Gander Beacon and written by Frank Tibbo



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