Motorcycle Accident

This is a photo of the members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment at Banff, Alberta in the spring of 1955. We were in the Judges court, located in the basement of the detachment, waiting for court to start. I had my camera handy so it was a good opportunity to get a group photo of my fellow members. Jim, with the cast on his arm, had just returned to light duties, after experiencing a serious motorcycle accident on a mountain highway.

Recently, I was reviewing old photographs from those days long ago and the photo of Jim and his cast reminded me how he had almost lost his life after sliding off the road and down the side of a mountain.

Jim regularly rode a R.C.M.P. motorcycle during the summer months at the Banff Detachment, as it was very handy in heavy traffic during the busy touist season. Jim had taken the motorcycle out of winter storage in Banff and driven it into the city of Calgary, Alberta (75 miles away) to have it serviced. Spring was in the air and the roads and highways were free of snow and ice so it seemed a good time to make the trip. Lots of snow remained in the mountains but the road conditions were much improved.

On the drive back to Banff, Jim was traveling alone and saw no other traffic. It was getting dark as he left the Calgary foot hills and started his climb into the mountains. When he was near the cement plant at Exshaw, Alberta he saw what he thought was limestone/cement dust on the road. Unknown to him, the melting snow from the warm spring sun earlier in the day had melted snow which had flowed across the road and coated it with ice alongside the factory.

In the headlight of the motorcycle, what he thought was the usual factory dust was in fact black ice. At this moment the bike went out of control and skidded between two highway guard rail posts. He became airborne down the steep mountain side and disappeared.

(During Jim’s long recovery we had many opportunities to discuss the accident in detail so I had a very good idea what had occurred.)

After the bike came to rest far down the slope, Jim awoke but had trouble determining what had happened. He became aware of the horn on the motorcycle wailing nearby, then remembered skidding off the road. He managed to sit up but could not feel or see his right arm. He struggled around in a circle trying to find his arm but it was not there. He thought he had lost it in the accident.

Unknown to Jim, an employee of the factory had stepped outside the building for a smoke and heard the long wail of the motorcycle horn as it sounded down below and across the valley. It was not till later that he learned what was causing the sound. Out of curiosity he crossed the road to the drop-off and rellized the sound was coming from down the mountain side.

He could see tire tracks in the snow, just before the bike went airborne. He quickly ran back to the cement plant and called for and ambulance and rescue crew.

Eventually the rescuers arrived and followed the sound of the horn down the dark steep slope and found the smashed motorcycyle and Jim lying nearby. The rescue was difficult in getting the injured man up the side of the mountain and into the ambulance. During his motorcycle ride Jim had been wearing his uniform and it consisted of a thick, warm, heavy pea jacket and it had protected him from more serious injuries. His arm had been broken just inches below the shoulder and the arm was wrapped around his back. The uniform buttons on the sleeve were hooked into his opposite pocket. Each time he squirmed around, looking for his arm, it turned with him and remained out of sight,

Because the arm was broken so close to the shoulder, many plates and screws were inserted to hold the bone in place while it healed. Recovery was slow but after some time he was allowed to come back to work at the detachment, but only on, light duties.

The remains of the police motorcycle were recovered but it was damaged beyond repair. Had the horn not shorted in the “on” position, there was little doubt that the rider would never been found before he died from his injuries and the cold mountain air.