There will be no steam at McLean Mill National Historic Site this summer, and that has the staff who used to operate the vintage mill steamed.
Ron Young, who worked at the mill as a mechanic alongside his brother Keith, a ticketed steam engineer, for 17 years, erected an “RIP” sign atop a McLean Mill directional sign on Beaver Creek Road at Smith Road last week. “We consider that the mill is dead now,” Ron Young said. “The impression we get is they are not going to run it through the summer.”
Bill Collette, president of the McLean Mill Society, confirmed that the steam mill will not operate this year. The jury is still out on whether Jack James’ oldtime logging show will be permitted to operate.
“We inherited some safety concerns,” Collette said. “Essentially we’re roadblocked by WorksafeBC. We don’t have the funds for that right now. Our plans are to put the mill to bed for 2017, establish ourselves to migrate to more of a key events [facility] and hopefully revisit the mill operation next year,” Collette said. He added that he didn’t have specifics on what the safety issues are with the mill.
“We’re not saying never; we’re saying unlikely for 2017.”
Young, critical of the new management board and the direction they’re taking with the mill, says he’s quit, and so has his brother.
“My brother and I have been out there for 17 years looking after it, fixing it, rebuilding it to keep it running. You don’t just flick a switch and everything runs,” Young said.
The Young brothers were two of four employees paid to run the mill. Keith Young was required to pay to keep his steam ticket valid.
McLean Mill received a $48,000 Parks Canada cost-sharing grant in December 2011 to fund repairs to the steam mill and keep it operating, but Young said there is more work that needs to be done.
“We’re sad to see it go, because if [the mill] sits it will disintegrate into what it was before they started fixing it.”
Collette said the new society asked mill staff to come up with a business case for running the mill. “Nobody came back to us with a business case that makes it not necessarily profitable, but viable.”
Hugh Grist, the IHS’ liaison with the McLean Mill Society, said all staff members were given their notice six months before the new society took over, and were told they might be hired back. He said the IHS has been working with the new society board during this transition.
“We didn’t know they weren’t going to run the mill,” he said.
Grist disputed Collette’s assertion that the stoppage was over safety issues, saying it was likely over money. “We’ve always met WCB requirements,” Grist said.
Gristis hopeful the steam-powered mill will operate again next season. “If they do make money and the society is successful, they will run it in the future,” he said.
In the meantime, IHS members have been busy marking railway ties for replacement before the No. 7 steam train can begin its runs to the mill. Grist said he was out last week and marked nearly 450 ties; the IHS has 150 ties ready for replacement, and will be receiving more.