By Vivian Moreau
When Val Drayton was a little girl growing up in the 1930s she and her family would travel by train from New Westminster to White Rock for an afternoon’s outing at the beach that included fish and chips for lunch.
Last Sunday Drayton did much the same thing, but this time she travelled with her railway buff nephew Rick Bennett on a train pulled by the refurbished 67-year-old steam locomotive Royal Hudson. Bennett had bought the tickets three months earlier after he heard through the West Coast Railway Association that the Royal Hudson would be making its first run in eight years.
Drayton and Bennett were just two of 812 people who purchased a $50 one-way or $99 return ticket for the Vancouver to White Rock trip organized to celebrate the seaside city’s 50 th birthday and to show off the engine.
Although invited dignitaries like provincial Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon and Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo were no-shows for the locomotive’s 10 a.m. start from Vancouver, White Rock Mayor Judy Forster was on hand. Forster said as the daughter of a railway engineer the return of the Royal Hudson, that has visited White Rock three times before, had special meaning.
“White Rock has a very intimate relationship with the railway. It was the train that brought people to White Rock in the first place,” she said, adding that the Royal Hudson embodies a sense of that history.
Maureen McMillan understands that sentiment. McMillan’s father, Sid Beales, was White Rock station’s telegraph operator in the 1940s. McMillan was on board one of the nine coaches the Royal Hudson pulled on Sunday’s two-hour trip that took passengers through Burnaby and over the Fraser River railway bridge from New Westminster to Surrey, along the Fraser River, over Mud Bay flats and around Crescent Beach to White Rock. McMillan said as children she and her siblings rode a train with her parents every Christmas from White Rock to Vancouver to see Santa Claus at the Woodward’s department store. Riding the train with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren McMillan teared up, noting that Sunday was the first time she’d ridden a train without her father.
“He’s here in spirit,” she said.
The Royal Hudson 2860 was built in 1940 as a sister locomotive to the engine that pulled a train carrying King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, on a 1939 cross-country tour. Built in Montreal, the Royal Hudson ran for 15 years from Revelstoke to Vancouver before being retired in 1956. Rescued by a steam society in the mid-1960s, the locomotive was a fixture on the West Coast leading a tourist train from North Vancouver to Squamish for 25 years. Facing a pricey boiler replacement the engine was again retired in 1999. But a two-year boiler refit in Squamish by the West Coast Railway Association, made possible with donations and government grants, has given the locomotive another life.