McLean Mill pulled out all the stops for a steam-era logging show without the steam.
Hosting a busload of Swedish visitors on Aug. 29, site volunteers with the JJ Logging Crew used the occasion to mark two 90th birthdays, those of longtime volunteer Sven Josefson and the mill’s vintage steam donkey.
The donkey hadn’t been fired up for a regular show for a year; the last show in 2018 was coincidentally for the Swedish visitors.
The steam donkey was fired up in March 2019 for a British film crew visiting Port Alberni to film steam technology at McLean Mill National Historic Site.
The Industrial Heritage Society, which operates the steam donkey, requires an engineer with a steam ticket to oversee operation of the boiler. Unfortunately the boiler’s certificate had run out so volunteers weren’t allowed to fire it up for the Swedes’ visit.
Instead of relying on steam, the logging show crew hooked up an air compressor to power the “air donkey,” using the rig to demonstrate high lead logging the old-fashioned way.
“It’s the only operating donkey rigged to a standing spar tree,” said Dave Hooper. “That’s what makes it unique.”
“We’ve all done this before,” Hooper said, wrapping up a safety meeting before the show.
Skogsresor, a Swedish company that runs forestry tours around the world, has visited the historic site on each of its B.C. excursions in the last four years.
“You need to understand the history to understand how it looks today and how it will look in the future,” said tour leader Jan Hedberg said.
“We really value the Swedes,” Hooper explained. “There were so many Swedes in the logging industry on the coast.”
A cake-cutting with Mayor Sharie Minions kicked off the show, which went off without a hitch.
“This is something that, as a community, really represents our heritage and history, and we’re really proud to show it off to visitors,” Minions said.
If you missed this event, McLean Mill will be hosting another logging show on Sunday, Sept. 29 from noon to 5 p.m. There will be activities for the whole family, including music from the Old Time Fiddlers, a blacksmith demonstration, a guided tour, an axe throwing demonstration and more.
— With files from Susie Quinn, Alberni Valley News