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B.C. man builds a new train from old parts in a 4-year labour of love

BC Forest Disccovery Centre visitors will now have a new vintage static display train to admire

All aboard! Visitors to the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre near Duncan will now have a new train to board, and admire.

After four years of being the little engine that could, Ron Jeskey’s six-car train static display including the locomotive is now complete.

“I was just looking for something to do, I like to find old junk and see what I can make out of it,” said Jeskey. “It’s great to see it come together. When I first started this project, I wasn’t thinking about a train, I just wanted to make something out of the junk I’d found.”

Jeskey, who is now retired, is originally from Oregon and moved to Canada in 1975. Between both sides of the border he spent 33 years as a music teacher in the public school system. Upon becoming a volunteer with the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre just over 14 years ago, he became a different kind of conductor for special events and occasions on the trains, which he has loved doing for the past 10 years.

Jeskey said when he first got on track with this project he started in reverse with the back little red metal dump car that came from Mount Sicker, followed by the three wooden mine cars that came from Tsable River mine. The little red ore car used to be pushed out of the mine to a hopper where the ore fell down into a larger wooden car.

“I started to gather up some of the iron, and built the back coal car first, and then the next three wooden cars, followed by the little crew car which was caved in when I first came across it,” said Jeskey. “I used to go around on a train as a conductor, and I’d see all that junk laying along the tracks — it was mostly the iron; the wood was gone and rotted out but I was able to make use of the rusted iron, and axles. I knew where all the pieces were, I would just go and gather up enough to make a car, build it, then I’d go back and gather up enough to make another one.”

Jeskey says that he did nearly 95 per cent of this project on his own, but when time came for a few others to lend a hand with lifting heavy axles, or placing plexiglass windows in the crew car they were happy to oblige. Volunteers included Arnold Alksne from Penelakut Island who did the fine painting on the plates on the engine by hand. The locomotive, which originally came from James Island in 1937, was acquired by the BC Forest Museum in 1980.

“As the project developed, I figured I had almost everything, all I needed was a locomotive, so this one, which was already here on the property, was a rusty mess, so when we had a crane on site a while back, I had them pick it up and put it on the tracks so that I could work on it,” said Jeskey. “We have a decal coming that says CIL which was the name of the company on James Island which manufactured dynamite until September 1998.”

Jeskey says that the locomotive used to be down at the Forest Discovery Centre playground until the authorities made the decision that for safety reasons that might not be the best fit. Jeskey, who gets a kick out of seeing kids playing around, laughs that they must have been looking for something to do because the gas tank, mufflers, and motor were full of gravel when he first got his hands on it.

“We had the motor out of it to get it all cleaned up, but it’s frozen,” said Jeskey. ”We could always get another motor for it, some of the guys are thinking about it.”

Jeskey noted that the Forest Discovery Centre was closed after Sept. 23 while they get set up for Halloween, and their night train rides in October. While his new creation won’t be in loco-motion anytime soon, it will join the other trains on site giving visitors the opportunity to walk around and admire them, and their history.

READ MORE: Families pack Forest Discovery Centre for Halloween Train

“After three days, I’ll push the whole thing back under the covering and we’ll keep it there over the winter,” said Jeskey.

“I’m not completely done with this yet; we’d would like to put more windows in the crew car and so on, but we got it this far and the CIL decal will be added to it later this week. It’s been a real sense of accomplishment for me; it all came from a pile of junk which was either being ignored or hauled off, and I thought shoot, maybe we can make something out of it.”

About the Author: Chadd Cawson

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