A hobby that really picks up steam

The train rides at Heritage Acres started with years and years of hard work

Rudy Walter sits atop a one-eighth scale three-truck Shay locomotive at Heritage Acres in Central Saanich on Sunday. The engine is a working model of the full-size locomotive at the Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan.

A quick ride around the grounds on a model locomotive at Heritage Acres in Central Saanich belies the years of dedication shown by the members of the Vancouver Island Model Engineers (VIME).

On the weekend, members of VIME brought their locomotives out of the roundhouse and offered by-donation rides during the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society’s Summer Fair. Hundreds of families took advantage of the rides on Sunday, when the PNR stopped by.

Cliff Plumpton of Saanichton is one of the engineers and says his steam locomotive — based on a Canadian Pacific Railroad engine that ran in Montreal — was built over eight years. It was a chance, he said, for his father-in-law Arthur Pennance to pass on his skills and knowledge after years as a machinist.

“He’s 96 and he’ll be here today,” Plumpton said.”Building this locomotive gave him the chance to pass on his skills, which gave him a lot of satisfaction.”

Plumpton himself worked for the CPR’s signal gang when he was 15.

“We shovelled for a summer,” he said.

Phil Harrison from Hornby Island and Rudy Walter of Courtenay partnered up to build their one-eighth scale locomotive — a smaller three-truck Shay like the one on display at Duncan’s Forest Discovery Centre. Harrison said he had the plans and Walter had the skills as a machinist. Like Plumpton and his father-in-law, it was a chance to teach and to learn.

And like their counterparts, it was a hobby that took them eight years to complete. All agree that it’s a labour of love and a hobby that requires a certain amount of dedication.

With a twist of a few knobs on a propane tank, the click of a lighter and blast of hot air and flame, the locomotives started heating up for a busy day on the small tracks, as families from all over the Island lined up at the gate for their chance to take a ride on a little piece of history.