By Marina Sacht
It’s Saturday morning and already members of the Ladysmith & District Historical Society are hard at work digging up the rotting ties in front of the Comox Logging Company Steam Locomotive No. 11, (Loci. 11) at Ladysmith’s Heritage Park.
The group is working with shovels and picks – this is hard back-breaking work – but the volunteers are in good spirits, united in their passion to save Loci 11. The Industrial Heritage Preservation Committee was set up under LDHS to take action to save not only the steam train but the other artifacts from our industrial past in front of the old Comox and Logging buildings. These artifacts represent an important part of local history.
The volunteers are replacing every third tie in order to bolster the tracks. The plan is to move the loci 11 down its existing track to the switch then push it over to the inside track that leads into the old Train Workshop. There they will be able to restore the locomotive and protect it from the elements while turning the shop into a display museum says Shirley Blackstaff.”
Heritage is a major part of tourism, says volunteer Tom Parkin. “We are serious about bringing this locomotive back to life and sharing the history with the town and the visitors that come here. We are focusing on turning this into a proper Heritage Park. There are school groups coming already.”
Recently the group renovated of the old First Aid Shed into a Visitor Interpretive Centre that will feature the history of the railroad and Ladysmith.
The group has its challenges. With the Loci. sitting in the weather for years it was in danger of rusting out as well it has been stripped by vandals and well-meaning rail fans who took pieces sometimes to protect them from getting lost to vandals.
With the restoration now underway the group is appealing to the community to return any of the pieces of locomotive.
“We know parts are still here in town, in people’s basements and we need them back. If you have anything from this train or you’re not sure, please return it so they can put it back together again.” says Parkin. “Gauges, brass handles, whatever, it’s more useful back on the locomotive than in somebody’s basement.” This will save the group having to re-manufacture those parts and result in a more authentic restoration.
Bill Drysdale agrees. “Some people took things off the train because they knew that it was likely to be stolen as a way of preserving them. We are ready to take them back.”
The group could also use some financial help in terms of material and funds.
Locomotive 11 was made in 1923 by Baldwin, it worked in Washington State until Comox Logging bought it, spending the remainder of its career working from Nanaimo Lakes to Ladysmith until it was retired in 1961 and put on display a year later.
“So many people love steam locomotives,” says Parkin, who describes steam as the breath of life. “…you take this vaporous substance and you make that into power. It’s clunky and huge but it’s phenomenally powerful. You have to be in tune with the machine.”
The train engineer didn’t have speedometers and gauges but had to rely on his senses.
“You listened to how it sounded, and smelled. You looked at the colour of the smoke coming out the stack — and you could tell if you had an efficient burn…. It was an amalgam of all the senses,” says Parkin who hopes someday the steam engine can run again.
Efforts are also underway restoring the Humdirgen, used to push logs off the rail cars.
Once restored the group the loci 11 could be brought out of the shop for special events and festivals.
“Ladysmith’s theme is “Heritage by the Sea” so we are just continuing the good works, says Parkin. “This is actually going to be a great benefit not just to save history but also economic befits in the future.”
“It’s a community project and Ladysmith is all about community,” says Drysdale. “We invite those interested in rails to step forward.
You can help with your time, donation, materials, tools, or if you know of anyone who may have some of the missing parts of Locomotive No. 11, asking them to return the artifacts and help get Loci 11 back on track.
Contact the Ladysmith & District Historical Society at 250-245-0100 or visit the weekly work parties at the Heritage Park on Saturdays from 9:30 am to 1 pm.