Last month, on April 3rd, the Province of British Columbia announced that steam locomotive #2860 would go to Squamish for preservation at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
The story didn't exactly grab front page headlines, but one of the people who noticed was Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth.
In a letter written shortly before she died, the Queen Mom recalled her memories of the 1939 train trip across Canada with her husband King George VI, and offered her encouragement to those undertaking the restoration. The Royal Train was actually powered by engine #2850, sister engine of #2860. It performed so flawlessly that the CPR was granted the honor of adding the "Royal" designation to all its Hudson Class locomotives. And so it was that engine #2860 became known as the "Royal Hudson".
News that the Royal Hudson was returning to Squamish brought back my own memories of the 1939 Royal Tour. I was just a kid that year, a lanky backwoods cowpoke living on a large cattle ranch in the remote foothills of Alberta.
Each evening the family fired up the coal-oil lamps and gathered around the battery-powered radio to follow the progress of the Royal Tour, our excitement mounting with each account of how "our" King and Queen had stopped to visit and chat with crowds of well-wishers. On the day the train was scheduled to head west from Calgary my sister and I saddled our horses before dawn and rode the 12 miles to Morley over the Bow River bridge, past the residential school and the RCMP house, and up the hill to the corral behind the general store where we tied up our horses, and joined the waiting crowd.
The town of Morley has perhaps a dozen houses. It's on the Stony Indian Reserve and most of the folks waiting expectantly to greet their King and Queen were natives and other ranchers like ourselves who had come some distance for the event. Most of us had on our best GWG denims and big hats but one group of natives, in full feather regalia, were ready to put on a show.
Pat, the RCMP constable, was resplendent in scarlet serge and shiny spurs. The kids from the residential school, looking shy and uncomfortable in
their Sunday best, had been coached on how to bow and curtsy.
Then we heard her. The unmistakable "chh-CHH-chh-chh chh-CHH-chh-chh" of a steam locomotive at full throttle.
Why was she going so fast? She rounded the bend, whistle screaming, and thundered past.
All eyes turned to watch the empty observation platform on the last car disappear against the distant mountains.