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Antique train cars all aboard Nelson’s Railtown plan

CP 4104 and CP 7009 are representative of the FM passenger and freight locomotives that were assigned to the Nelson Diesel Shop. Once restored, these cars will be on display in Railtown. – Kirsten Hildebrand photo - Kirsten Hildebrand photo
CP 4104 and CP 7009 are representative of the FM passenger and freight locomotives that were assigned to the Nelson Diesel Shop. Once restored, these cars will be on display in Railtown. – Kirsten Hildebrand photo
— image credit: Kirsten Hildebrand photo

The Queen City’s newly dubbed Railtown is taking their nostalgic theme to new heights with the return of two antique Fairbanks Morse locomotives — CP 4104 and CP 7009.

Executive Director of Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce Tom Thompson says this is a boon for an area that enjoys a longstanding railway heritage.

In 1953, Canadian Pacific built a new diesel shop in Nelson. Fairbanks Morse (FM) locomotives were used on Canadian Pacific’s Southern Mainline and by 1957, all FM diesel electric locomotives were sent to the Nelson shop for maintenance.

Despite a demanding mountainous environment, the talented Nelson Diesel Shop staff and train crews kept the FM locomotives running longer than most other Class I North American railroads, “a testimonial to the high levels of dedication and expertise they were accorded at Nelson,” Thompson says.

It has been 37 years since locomotives of this design have worked the Kootenays.

“All of these locomotives had a certainly had a connection to our area because of the fact they were serviced in the diesel shop,” he says. “Now they’re back and they’re the last of a couple of remaining models of Fairbanks Morse in North America. There is some great heritage and history to these units.”

The locomotives are privately owned by John Burbridge of Ottawa, and were being stored in a Calgary rail yard that was being cleared out. The Chamber had approached Burbridge last year but CP housecleaning motivated Burbridge to move the machines he otherwise would have let lie.

“John didn’t have a place to store them anymore,” says Thompson.

The trains left Calgary Nov. 16 and travelled to Golden and then to Cranbrook attached to trains that were moving west. Through a Memorandum of Understanding they will be on permanent loan to the Chamber of Commerce.

Following the completion of their restoration in 2014, the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce will have the units on display as part of the regional visitor gateway – business opportunity centre initiative. Their eventual display will serve to complement, from a railway heritage and technology viewpoint, the current and extensive redevelopment of the Nelson Station.

“We’ve worked really hard to acquire the CP station, to develop the regional visitor gateway opportunity centre and this is all part of a vision we see,” says Thompson. “These units that have a connection to Nelson will be on display in Nelson for years to come. I think it’s really fun.”

Local octogenarian Gus Balahura is one of a very few engineers still in town that used to run the newly arrived train. Retired 24 years from CP, at 82, he remembers the FM years at Nelson.

“I used to run that engine over to Trail, up to Grand Forks, Midway,” he says.

During his career, he covered the Region: Slocan, Midway, Penticton, Castlegar, Trail, Warfield, Rossland etc. He remembers the eight to ten hours it could take a heavy train to climb the 20-mile grade up Farron Hill, all while in #8 notch.

The engines are just the same as he remembers them when they served the busy Nelson terminal.

“It’s nice to see these engines down there. It will be quite a tourist attraction,” says Balahura.

 

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