After two years of silence, Port Alberni’s No. 7 steam train fired up and passed a boiler inspection at the end of October.
The 1929 Baldwin locomotive quit in July 2018 after 17 years of reliable service transporting tourists between Port Alberni’s train station and McLean Mill National Historic Site. The No. 7 was also used for the annual Santa Train, giving hundreds of children from around central Vancouver Island the chance to talk to the jolly old elf himself while taking a ride aboard the steam train.
Volunteers have spent the past two years fixing the locomotive’s boiler—retubing it, replacing the tubing sheets and reconfiguring the locie’s firebox, according to an Alberni Pacific Railway social media post.
Active and retired boilermakers from Local 359 began the challenge of re-tubing the boiler in October 2018, after the boiler quit earlier that year. Barry Dobrenksy, Michael Roxbrough, Sarah Smith and Brent Pennington all donated their time for the project. Only Dobrensky lives in the Alberni Valley: the other three travelled here from the east side of the Island.
“This No. 7 boiler rebuild is their biggest gift to the city,” Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS) volunteer David Hooper said in March 2020. “Boilermakers’ time is valuable and they have donated more than $150,000 worth of their time and skills.”
The boiler inspector travelled to Port Alberni to inspect the No. 7, and it was successfully steamed up to 200 pounds—its regular operating pressure.
While this is a major milestone in repairing the locomotive, the APR and Hooper both noted a lot of work remains before the train will be rail-worthy again.
Hooper said the boiler still has to be insulated, the saddle tank put back in place and all the valves, levers and gauges in the engine cab need to be re-installed. The City of Port Alberni also needs to decide whether it wants to operate the train again: a lot of work still remains to be done on the train tracks.