By Vivian Moreau
Although the Lieutenant Governor and provincial Minister of Transportation were on hand for the restored Royal Hudson’s official unveiling in Squamish last week it was 85-year-old volunteer Don McAllister who zeroed in on the vintage locomotive’s charm.
“She reminds me of when I was a kid,” McAllister said. “Reminds me of the days when life wasn’t as complicated as it is now.”
McAllister, along with dozens of volunteers and contractors, has spent the last 14 months restoring the 1940 steam locomotive that was retired in 1999 after running for 25 years as a tourist train in the Sea to Sky corridor. The former electrician was in charge of keeping all the steel on the train, including side, drive and connecting rods, shiny and free of rust. An onerous task that proved to be an ongoing one after the locomotive was steamed up to a crowd of several hundred last Thursday.
“I cleaned every single solid piece of rust on it and there’s rust all over the confounded thing already,” McAllister said after the Hudson rolled up into place at West Coast Railway Association’s heritage park. “I’ll have to come in tomorrow morning and clean it off again. Or at least start,” he said.
Built in Montreal in 1940, the Royal Hudson 2860 was a sister locomotive to the 2850 that carried King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth on their 1939 cross-Canada tour. The locomotive worked for 16 years on the Vancouver to Revelstoke run with a top speed of 193 km/h before a first retirement in 1956. Refitted and put back into service by the Royal Hudson Steam Society in 1974, the locomotive travelled between North Vancouver and Squamish as a tourist train for 25 years. Facing a $2.5 million boiler replacement in 1999 she was again retired. Over $627,000 has been spent restoring the Royal Hudson 2860, an effort that included restoring the boiler and passing provincial steam certification.
With one long single blast and several gentle whoo-whoos the locomotive was launched last week on its third life — “more than the average cat” said Don Evans, the WCRA’s executive director to the crowd of well wishers.
Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo noted the Hudson’s special place in B.C. history, adding that the locomotive may have a further life in contributing to the 2010 Winter Games. Campagnolo recalled once taking a train ride to Whistler during a snowfall and thinks the Hudson, with its B.C. roots should be included in the Games.
Gordon Goodman agrees. As head of Canadian Tourism Commission’s business development arm and on hand for the steam up, Goodman said he’d like to see the Royal Hudson be part of the Games’ torch relay, or at the very least make some runs from Vancouver to Whistler during the Games.
“It was an icon for so many years that we thought from an Olympic point of view we would like to see it have a role somewhere along the way,” Goodman said. “If we could get it front and centre it’s really going to appeal to our visitors and some of the markets that will be coming.”
Judy Forster, mayor of White Rock, said her community is first in line to book the Royal Hudson to make a special run to celebrate White Rock’s 50 th anniversary in April. The fourth trip for the Hudson to White Rock, Forster said the locomotive has an enduring appeal.
“She is magical and makes people feel good.”
McAllister put it another way.
“There’s something about steam locomotives, it’s not something you can really explain, but she’s history, where did we come from, where are we now and all that,” he said.