Port Alberni will be without the whistle of the steam train for the rest of the year.
McLean Mill Society executive director Deanna Beaudoin announced during a city council meeting on Monday, Aug. 13 that the 1929 Baldwim Steam Locomotive (“No. 7”) will be out of service for the rest of the year, due to a significant failure with the boiler tubes that will require a full retube.
“It’s cost-prohibitive for us this year,” she said on Monday.
The society fought “tooth and nail” to bring the steam engine back this year, said Beaudoin, and plans to come together in the fall to look at numbers and decide what the best course of action will be for the locomotive.
“We’re not saying there’s no steam train,” said Beaudoin. “But we have to look at what the process will be.”
Beaudoin said the society plans to hold conversations with the local community, taking into account what Alberni Valley residents want.
“This is going to be a wide decision, not just one that we make quietly,” she added.
Beaudoin said she hasn’t experienced “too much pushback” from guests at the McLean Mill site who were expecting the steam train. Two weddings were rebooked from the steam train to the diesel locomotive, and the site is experiencing more foot traffic. Campsites opened in July and the national historic site was booked full during last weekend’s Five Acre Shaker. The Steam Pot Cafe is now open seven days a week and a train runs to and from the site four days per week. Along with the steam engine, the train is also pulled by the 1954 Alco Diesel Locomotive and a 1942 Diesel Electric Locomotive (“No. 11”).
“We have three engines in our fleet here,” said Beaudoin. “People really love the [steam] engine, but what they love more is the experience of riding the train.
“There’s so much love because it’s a very unique locomotive. But so is the Alco.”
Councillor Chris Alemany commended Beaudoin on Monday for making the steam engine a community decision.
“I think if you were to put it out there as a community-funded process, I bet there would be a lot of interest,” he said.
The McLean Mill Society recently worked with the Alberni Valley Museum to study the property’s assets and determine which ones require the most work and in which order. As a result, the mill will be holding the kick-off to a “Raise the Roof” fundraiser on Thursday, Oct. 11. This will be the McLean Mill Society’s first large-scale fundraiser.
“We’re looking at bringing in some community funding,” Beaudoin confirmed.
Additionally, the McLean Mill Society will be holding a public information session at the mill this Thursday, Aug. 16 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
“Anybody can come out to the mill and ask any questions of the board or staff out there,” said acting society president Sheena Falconer on Monday.