by Kyle Wells firstname.lastname@example.org A chapter of local history will be celebrated with the inaugural runnings of a miniature railway track Powell River Forestry Museum Society has built in time for use at the Fall Fair.
Riders will experience a 230-foot loop of one-eighth-scale track at Paradise Valley Exhibition Grounds, transported by society member Dan Parsons’ steam locomotive.
Parsons, a miniature railway enthusiast who has his own track set up at his home, came up with the idea to have the society build a miniature railway. Since then, members have put together the loop to see how the public reacts to the project.
At first the society considered setting up the railway on Willingdon Beach trail, where a short railway track had previously been operated in the 1940s and 1950s, to great popularity according to society president Dave Florence. However, after deciding the trail is too busy for the project the society set its sights on the exhibition grounds.
Once started the project fell together quickly. Members first considered the project on August 9, thinking they would just host an informational table at the fair. The idea to build a loop of track, and take over for the train that’s usually at the fair, came soon after and membership went to work.
About half the society’s members jumped aboard for the project and another 10 to 15 have since joined the society specifically out of interest in the miniature railway. The society spent around $800 on the track and volunteers put it all together.
There is a long history of railways in Powell River that goes hand in hand with the area’s history of forestry. Of particular interest to the society is the history of one railway that extended from a barge loading area at Myrtle Rocks, the remains of which are still there, up to the exhibition grounds, around 180 metres from where the new miniature railway sits. Logging companies used this railway from 1911 to 1918 until a large fire in the area halted operations.
Trains were used to move fallen trees out from the bush to the ocean to be barged away for processing. Once logging had been completed in an area the track would be disassembled and moved to another location for more logging. For this reason tracks never stayed in the same place for long and once forestry companies stopped using railways altogether the tracks were removed. This is why not much evidence of Powell River’s railroading history remains.
“So it’s an interesting history; we don’t have the locomotives and that’s really why we’re into this,” said Florence. “Our objective is to have the scale model steam locomotives pulling people around so they get to see what was there. We see a part of our core mandate as preserving the logging railway history of the forestry operations.”
Parsons designed and built a hand-powered pedal car to use on the track as a test vehicle, to make sure the track is level and safe and will not derail a car, before using his own expensive and finely crafted locomotive. As Parsons and others used the pedal car they began to realize how much fun people were having using it, including children. The society now plans to build a couple more pedal cars to be used on the loop.
If the project proves to be popular, the society also plans to purchase a battery-powered locomotive that operates on a golf cart battery and a small electric motor.
“This whole exercise is about testing public interest and whether they’d like to see us expand to be more like other popular ones,” said Florence.
If the track is expanded and made more of a permanent fixture of the exhibition grounds, the society will go to Powell River Regional District as well as stakeholders in the grounds to make sure they have permission. A secure shed with power for charging will have to be built to house the railcars, with track leading up to it, along with some footings for an expanded track system.
The railway will run from noon to 5 pm during the Fall Fair on both Saturday, September 24 and Sunday, September 25. Rides are by donation with a suggested donation of $2.