Mother turns in kids found vandalizing steam train

Kevin Hunter, WVIIHS president, said flares were seen inside one of the cars around 8 p.m. where it was parked in the rail yard.

When volunteers of the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society heard of vandalism to one of their prized possessions, they were shocked and saddened by the news. The passenger cars that take people to and from McLean Mill from May to December each year were extensively damaged by two young brothers on the evening of Jan. 14.

Kevin Hunter, WVIIHS president, said flares were seen inside one of the cars around 8 p.m. where it was parked in the rail yard. On Saturday morning, Bert Simpson went to inspect the damage.

“He called me, horrified,” said Hunter. “All the guys are at a complete loss. We looked around just dumbfounded. Those are the locomotives that keep us going back and forth to the mill and are used for training the BCIT engineer students.”

Footprints show the two boys, aged 12 and 14 at the time, went in through a smashed window. They started at one end and went through, burning chairs and letting off all 10 fire extinguishers.

“They went back and forth a few times, dropping flares and burning the floor,” Hunter said. “In the conductor’s coach they tore the seat covers off and threw them on the floor. They burnt the cover and emptied all the items from the tote.”

At first, Hunter said he thought it was just senseless vandalism, but it was felt deeper knowing thousands of volunteer hours went to waste.

“We are a completely volunteer-run group and it was a huge volunteer effort,” Hunter said. “I feel for all of our volunteers.”

Hunter said the group does not have the funds to cover the approximate $2,000-$3,000 damage and may have to put other projects on hold.

“We have no funds for general maintenance of those cars,” he said. “We had some money earmarked for restoration of the No. 7 and our big Diesel 8427.”

Volunteers had put effort into taking the walls off the cars and putting on new ones. The inside was refurbished and repurposed seats from a BC Transit bus were installed. The damage, including smashed windows, burned sections and items thrown on the floor, took place in four of the five cars.

When Hunter and Simpson met with RCMP early Saturday evening, the vandals had already been caught.

“I started to explain what happened to the RCMP and he told me to stop,” Hunter said. “He said, ‘We already got the kids.’”

When the two boys came home with a first aid kit and emergency flares, their mother questioned them and brought them to the police.

Hunter met the family at the police station on Sunday morning where he proposed disciplinary action through community service.

“I could have vented and ranted and raved,” he said. “But I knew if I did, there would be no way of getting anything out of the kids. I wanted to know the details. They were very embarrassed and nervous. I told them the first thing was that they were going to come clean up the mess.”

On Saturday, they cleaned one car at a time, getting approval from Hunter before moving on to the next. He took them, along with their mother on a tour of the roundhouse and the IHS Centre to show much volunteer work goes into the trains and heritage vehicles.

“They were stunned and I think they started to understand how much it affects the volunteers,” Hunter said. “The mom did an excellent job because now we are hearing about others being personally vandalized and have witnesses and the parents are vehemently denying it.”

Hunter said one blessing in disguise was that the incident took place during the train’s off-season.  He hopes, too, that the boys learned a lesson.

The next step for the brothers is to attend restorative justice with a trainer, the RCMP, Hunter and McLean Mill’s manager, Neil Malbon.

In the spring, the boys will continue working to replace rail ties in the yard.

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