What does it really take to restore railway equipment?

‘Dirty Hands Club’ works away – Members of the Bytown Railway Society’s ‘Dirty Hands Club’ work away on former Canadian National Railways coach 4977 in their workshop behind the National Science and Technology Musuem in Ottawa. Pictured above (l-r): Ian Stewart, John Bryant, Bill Weiler, and Andrew Cameron. (BRS/Jago photo)

MORRISBURG – Should the local ‘Save the Train 2.0’ group be successful in their efforts this fall to keep the Grand Trunk Railway display at Aultsville station in South Dundas, the group will have only climbed the first of many mountains in preserving the artifacts.

“There’s a lot involved with any restoration project,” said Phil Jago with the Bytown Railway Society. “It’s a lot of fun, but there is a lot of work to be done.”

The BRS, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019, works with the National Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, preserving rail transportation history.

Over the years, the volunteer group has worked on numerous restoration projects involving their own railroad equipment, and that of the NSTM.

Some of the projects involved cosmetic work for items no longer operational, like Canadian National engine #6200, which sits on the front lawn of the museum in Ottawa, to fully-functioning rail car restorations. The group is currently restoring a passenger car, #4977, and a van (Canadian word for a caboose).

In addition, the group is assisting the NSTM parent organization, Ingenium, with moving rail car artifacts from other storage locations into its new collection storage facility built next to the NSTM.

“Any restoration is doable given the time, and appropriate facilities,” Jago told The Leader.

Any restoration, whether it is a railroad car or an old home, can have pitfalls. Jago said they have run into those with projects that the BRS have tackled.

“We set out to fix the roof of #4977, we ended up completely renewing every window opening on the car,” he said.

That work involved new sheet metal to fix the rough window openings, 41 openings per side. Jago said that a volunteer, Ross Robinson, then built new windows in mahogany, for all 82 openings.

“The roof required replacing the purlins (cross supports) and a new roof deck,” Jago added. “A lot of it can be done through assembly line work when building common items like window frames.”

Throughout the project, volunteers known as “The Dirty Hands Club” have met for twice a week work sessions of about 3-4 hours.

“Volunteers milled BC Fir brought in to replicate the tongue and groove siding. They have done a lot of work.”

Jago has been a part of that work group for 41 years, mostly helping with carpentry and finishes.

He said that many of the projects that the BRS has worked on have taken about four-to-six years each.

“There’s a core group involved, a lot of skilled and semi-skilled people,” Jago said. “The idea with any project is to lay out a plan start to finish, with all the work required.”

He said it is best to have a dedicated and enclosed space to work on the display.

“If you look at the CPR 1095 project in Kingston, the group that restored that engine disassembled the project into pieces to work on in a shop.”

CPR 1095, also known as the ‘Spirit of Sir John A. Macdonald, is displayed next to the restored train station on Kingston’s waterfront.

He said any efforts to save the Aultsville station display will need to follow the same sort of plan, with an enclosed workspace. Preferably some sort of temporary shelter to house all three pieces of equipment while work is underway.

“There’s a lot of logistics to it to do it right,” Jago said. He added that working on the project entirely outdoors would not be successful.

When asked about how much a typical restoration cost, Jago couldn’t put an exact figure on how much was spent saying for their group its a “labour of love”.

Jago said that the GTR 1008 display is special to the Morrisburg area.

“It makes me sad to see what has gone on there,” he said. “Seeing the train, for me, was the highlight of every trip east growing up in Brockville. Even now going to hockey games in the area, it still is.”

Jago is hopeful that the local ‘Save the Train’ group is successful in keeping the train in South Dundas.

“It would be great to keep it there. It’s been a bit of an orphan to the village, but it’s an important part of the community.”

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