Alberni Pacific Railway was back in business Saturday for a new season.
Pulled by a 1954 Arco diesel electric — a backup for the Baldwin steam engine still undergoing repairs — the train eased into McLean Mill Station about half full, 48 passengers on board, including a group of 30 from Parksville.
Neither steady rain nor the absence of vintage steam seemed to dampen their experience.
“It’s a nice thing for the community to do,” said Sharon Brocklesby, who’s new to the Island. “We’re going to bring our grandchildren back.”
McLean Mill Society, which assumed management two years ago, has been gradually enhancing the national historic site with efforts that include upgrades to the railway.
The Baldwin engine was supposed to start the visitor season over the weekend, but a final inspection revealed a crack in one of the main engine components, said society director Dewayne Parfitt. They plan to have the steam locomotive running for the May long weekend.
“We’ve taken a cautious approach to make sure,” he added. “Safety is the first thing out of our mouths.”
A five-year plan adopted in 2017 is intended “to take the site to a greater, higher level.” The railway is on a 10-year plan of track replacement and trestle redecking.
Visitors will see visible improvements to the sprawling site, including new site signs and a new deck to accommodate Music in the Park, free noon-hour concerts held Sundays through the season. Next Saturday, May 5, the Infamous Oldtime J.J. Logging Show livens up the site, old time being 1953 in a west coast logging camp.
Together with a small group of volunteers — “we always need more volunteers” — Parfitt led groups of passengers on hour-long tours of the mill site. With the 1926 steam-driven sawmill not operational, they were able to go inside for a closer look at the “bones.”
“The inside tour people are just loving,” said Don Jones, a chamber of commerce ambassador.
Rachelle Collette, event co-ordinator at the site, said Saturday was an early but strong start to the season.
“We’re just putting all the little pieces back together,” she said. “This is a good start for us.”
For more information, check out http://mcleanmill.ca.