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Trip to British Columbia to the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway 6/24/2011

by Chris Guenzler

After breakfast, Bob, Elizabeth and I left the house and drove north on Interstate 5 towards the Canadian border. We had no wait and soon we were heading north into Canada. After stopping at a store for some items that are only available in Canada, we headed into the Surrey suburb of Sullivan we pulled into the parking lot for the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway at their car barn.

The sign of the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway. There we were met by John Sprung, Chairman of Fraser Valley Heritage Railway and Allen Aubert, Secretary.

The car barn of the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway. This was built with the dream of having their British Columbia Electric Railway equipment housed inside. This dream has come true but the group would be moving to a new site next year in Cloverdale, just east of here.

British Columbia Electric Railway Brief History

The BC Electric Railway was incorporated on April 3, 1897, under English laws, with head office at Threadneedle Street in London, England, according to BCER Historian Henry W. Ewert.

It was not just an amalgamation of existing street car lines, but of an interurban line from Vancouver to New Westminster developed by the Westminster & Vancouver Tramway Co. on October 8, 1891, Ewert shows on pages 20-21 of his excellent book, "The Story of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company Limited" (Whitecap Books, July, 1986) Although the idea of servicing the Fraser Valley had been considered in the 1890s, it was not until the Fraser River Bridge was built and in operation until June 1904, that the BCER could attend to developing its Fraser Valley Line.

Fraser Valley Line was completed in 1910 and that passenger service was inaugurated on October 3, 1910. When completed, the BCER ran from downtown Vancouver out to Chilliwack. There were up to four complete round-trip runs each day. Carrying not only passengers, it also provided a fast method for moving freight, the mail and gossip.Another goal of completing the rail line was to electrify the valley. Modern conveniences, such as electric light and telephones, came to the valley as the rail line spread up from the Fraser river and through settlements. Over time these settlements grew into the town centers and cities we find today: Whalley (Surrey City Center), Newton, Sullivan, Cloverdale, Langley, Abbotsford, Sumas, Yarrow and Chilliwack.

The original Fraser Valley rail line still exists in the valley from New Westminster as far east as Chilliwack.

The British Columbia Electric Railway's reconstructed Sullivan Station as it was in its prime. An icon of the British Columbia Electric Railway's Fraser Valley line, the original Sullivan Station was built in 1909, and provided shelter for passengers for over 40 years until the passenger system was terminated in 1950.

FVHRS plans to restore the original station, and has built a replicated station to be used as a functional building once the Fraser Valley line is operational with heritage interurbans.

Sullivan Station was a 10 foot by 12 foot wooden shed that was the second grandest BCER station along the 13 mile-long Surrey section of the interurban railway line that stretched 63.8 miles to Chilliwack from its starting point in downtown Vancouver, and provided an important link for those east of Cloverdale to the markets of New Westminster and Vancouver.

Passenger service ceased on the BCER Fraser Valley line in 1950, however Sullivan Station remained on its site until late 1968 when it was moved to Clow Farm on 156th Street. It was returned to Sullivan in September 2003 to the yards of the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society’s Sullivan Station Car Barn. The Society will be restoring the station in conjunction with the Sullivan Community Association.

They have a Woodings speeder and trailer on which rides are given over the 200 feet of track.

The little station was constructed and used previously by the now-defunct Steveston Interurban Society in conjunction with their speeder rides and was donated by the Fraser Valley Railway Historical Society to West Coast Railway Association in Squamish.

More views of the replica Sullivan station.

Two maps showing the railways of the Lower Mainland and the British Columbia Electric Railway, in colour, extending out to the Fraser River Valley.

Pictures of British Columbia Electric Railway interurban 1304 over the years.

British Columbia Electric Railway interurban car 1304 built by the railway at their New Westminster shops in 1911, as part of the three car Fraser Valley order.

Just a year later, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught who was Canada's Governnor General, visited the area and the BCER chose the fifteen-month old 1304, sent it back into the car shops for an extraordinary transformation and when it reappeared, it had been freshly painted; it also bore the royal coat of arms, twice on each side, the name "Connaught" and the company's name in full, both delicately, but boldly, lettered in gold on each side."

Its interior, with seats and partitions removed, resembled a well-appointed living room, with carpet, curtains, and upholstered chairs, mostly in cream and green. The orange glass of the upper arches of the windows was masked by the curtains, and red light bulbs were strategically installed elsewhere to resemble an open fire in a grate.

Car 1304 soon reverted to normal life and service, its transformation having been quite magical and certainly short-lived. In 1945, “…interurban 1304, the former ‘Connaught car,’ caught fire near Cloverdale while making its way west from Chilliwack, the last car of an empty three-car train. Only a virtually destroyed shell was left by the time the train’s crew realized what was happening behind them and a brave, though futile, attempt was made to extinguish the blaze. It was not to languish long as a bizarre floor on wheels outside the company’s Kitsilano complex; since passenger vehicles were still in great demand, the shops, busy with street car refurbishing and rebuilding, got to work, constructing a beautiful, new interurban car, its exterior patterned after the 1309 – 1311 series. Dark leather, foam-filled, flip-over seats were installed; walls of dark varnished mahogany and a cream painted ceiling clinched its unique handsomeness. For the second time in its career, car 1304 was an attention-getter. Its return to action on December 29 was an unqualified triumph, denizens of Carrall Street viewing with some amazement and pleasure a prime example of the car builders’ art at its best, something the company’s shops might have turned out in 1910, and could still do thirty-five years later later. ‘Built at Kits. Shops Jan. 1946’ proudly lettered over a vestibule door, 1304 quite possibly was the last wooden interurban car built in North America.”

On September 20, 1950, “… much special activity was occurring, adroitly stage-managed by interurban superintendent Mouat and chief dispatcher D. W. Stearman.” Car 1311 left from Chilliwack in the morning heading west. Cars 1310 and 1307 departed New Westminster with a full load of officials, seniors and retired Chilliwack line employees. These trains met at Langley Prairie at noon, touched cowcatchers and then the passenger service on the Fraser Valley line ended. At the conclusion of these ceremonies the three cars of the two trains were joined together and deadheaded to the New Westminster yards; all officials and guests completed their journeys on the buses. “Within a week … with a view to the possibility of their giving longer-term service on the Central Park line, should that be necessary, the two ‘newest’ interurban cars, 1304 and 1321, had their toilets removed in favour of seating space.”

At 1:30 a.m. on July 16, 1954 the last interurban train operated from the Carrall Street Station on the Central Park line. Reaching Park Avenue at 2:10 a.m. it then proceeded to the New Westminster barn. Closing down sixty-three years of passenger service on the Central Park line was an interurban train consisting of cars 1316 and 1304. Car 1304 was saved from the scrap yard being declared the system’s official standby coach. This decision enabled the car to survive until to today.

1955 – One Last Run! "Interurban car 1304 had not been out on the Chilliwack line for almost five years, but when Yarrow teacher Miss J.E. Fowlie wondered in a letter to president Grauer if her grade three students might not have a train ride to round off a study unit on transportation, it was as good as done. One of the diesels hauling a freight train brought 1304 to Chilliwack, where the thirty-eight students, with their teacher, boarded it for a forty-five minute ride to Yarrow. After the students had inspected the train’s caboose, the freight train continued on its way to New Westminster, leaving behind a class of bubbly, still side-eyed children".

Car 1304 left Canada in 1955 and moved to Glenwood, Oregon to reside at the “Trolley Park” of the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society. It was returned to Canada, to the FVHRS in 2009.

The above information from Henry Ewert, Historian-in-Residence, Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society.

Front end view of interurban 1304.

The interior of 1304 which was under restoration.

From Car 1304 we now will look at Car 1225.

British Columbia Electric Railway interurban 1225 built by St. Louis Car Company in 1913 which worked in Vancouver, Steveston and Burnaby from 1913 until February 28, 1958.

In early 1950's, as the BCER was being wound down, many of the cars were decommissioned. Most ended up being burnt at the rail yard under the Burrard St. bridge. Some were purchased and moved to museums south of the border. BCER 1225 found its way to the Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) in Perris, California.

BCER 1225 was part of the rolling stock at OREM, we have heard that it was also one of the fastest cars to run on their private track. In August 2005, Interurban car BCER 1225 returned home to Canada. After a 50 year absence, the car came back on two flat bed transports from PCC. The trucks came on the other flatbed trailer.

There was some excitement when loading the car at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris California. In an email from Perris on August 7th, Bob Ashton told us that: "BCER 1225 left Perris at noon today. We suffered through a small tornado yesterday, which caused havoc here. Tore the roof off one building that housed all OREM old blueprints and other paper goods. This might have been OK but the rains were something I have never experienced. Then the hail. At the end trees were down and major flooding. What about 1225: Stood up well got a good soaking. Length of time we sat out of harm’s way was about 2 hours. Amazingly, after it was all over the sun was back out and the temp back to 104 degrees".

The car arrived at the border and was helped through the formalities with the assistance of Dave Bucholtz from Pacific Custom Brokers. With the paperwork out of the way, the car crossed the border and officially returned home.

Front end view of BCER 1225.

Interior of the car.

All of us in this car, which took thousands of volunteer hours to bring back to operating condition.

Smoking was allowed in one end of these cars.

The Steveston Interurban Restoration Society sign, the former owner of 1304.

Pictures on the end wall of the 3,000 square foot car barn. After that we were presented with a few gifts to remember our visit then we went outside and after several attempts to start their speeder, it finally kicked over and I received the first ride on their 200 feet of track.

Views from my four speeder trips around their loop of track.

Elizabeth boarded for my fourth lap. After that we decarred and Bob boarded for a single trip around the loop, with Elizabeth and I photographing it.

The speeder runbys. After that John and Allen invited us to lunch so we walked across the street to the Java Hut then drove to the Burnaby Central Railway {See the next story above this one for that trip.} and finally, visited the Burnaby Museum where we found British Columbia Electric Railway 1223.

In 1912, the British Columbia Electric Railway placed their largest order for tram cars, purchasing thirty-two 1200 series cars from the St. Louis Car Company, including BCER 1223. The car entered service in 1913, and ran throughout the Lower Mainland for 45 years. In the 1950's, electric railway service was replaced by buses so the 1223 was retired from service in 1958. It was one of only seven BC Electric interurbans that was saved from destruction.

The car became the property of the Burnaby Historical Society. The Society put it on display at Edmonds Loop, at Kingsway and Edmonds. During the 1960's the car was vandalized. The decision was made to donate it to what is now the Burnaby Village Museum. The car was put on display, but its continued exposure to the elements led to a proposal by the Burnaby Historical Society for its restoration. In 2000, the Friends of the 1223 was formed to undertake the restoration project. The Society was responsible for the work of the restoration, as well as raising the money to complete the restoration project. The Burnaby Museum's conservator provided technical advice and support for the five-year project.

In September 2001, the deteriorating car was moved from the Burnaby Village Museum, where it had been stored outdoors since 1971, to a warehouse on Royal Oak Avenue. Once it had been given some time for drying out, the tram was taken apart, with each piece inventoried. The sides of the tram were removed, leaving only the floor and roof, with the roof held up by metal scaffolding. The Friends persevered with the project, recruiting volunteers, raising money, and finding suppliers to donate materials and services.

A few of the projects they undertook as part of the restoration include: Removing 90 years of paint layers from the original cherry and oak interior and refinishing and varnishing the wood to its original beauty. Drafting patterns and repairs of the original steel side beams and structural posts to support the wooden side structure of the tram. After years of exposure to the elements, much of the wood was rotten. The new beams and posts ensure the structural integrity of the tram. Entirely reconstructing the seats, including having casts made for the 18 iron seat frames in the tram, working with a foundry to recreate the seat frames, and finding a supplier that could replicate the original twill weave rattan upholstery. Each individual seat had to be machined and adjusted to ensure smooth movement of their reversing mechanism. Rewiring the tram's electrical system, including the interior system that lights the interior, and the wiring to the switches, controllers, and motors that operate the tram. Missing brass hardware was recast and produced, including luggage racks, window hardware, and handles. Working with other tram restoration groups to locate pieces that had been collected from sister cars of BCER 1223. Some of these items were donated to the Friends, including the controllers. Others pieces were loaned to them so they could use them to make patterns, including the trolley pole base. Countless other tasks were completed by the volunteers and their supporters.

End views of the BCER 1223.

The control stands.

Interior views.

The British Columbia Electric Railway Vorce station, the last remaining interurban station in Burnaby and one of the few extant structures left in the Greater Vancouver region that were once part of the extensive BCER system. It was designed and built by the BCER at the foot of Nursery Street on the Burnaby Lake line and is typical of the small local passenger stations on the Burnaby Lake and Chilliwack interurban lines. The wood frame structure has a rectangular plan and hipped roof. It is enclosed on three sides, with an open side for access to the train platform and a single long built in bench across the back of the station. It was named after C. B. Vorce, the Chief Engineer for the company. In 1953, it was moved to a local farm by the Lubbock family and in 1977, was relocated to the grounds of the Burnaby Village Museum.

The home of British Columbia Electric Railway 1223. I looked at the guide to the grounds and discovered that there was a steam engine located here at the museum so went in search of it and were successful.

Canadian Pacific 0-4-4T 3 built by Marshutz & Kantrell in 1879 for construction of the San Francisco Sea Wall After that it went to the Canadian Pacific which named it "Curly" for the building of their railroad. It was sold to D.O. Mills and Company then it went to BC Mills Timber and Trading in 1888. After that it became Hastings Saw Mill Company 3 in 1926. In 1973 the engine was displayed at the Pacific National Exhibition. Years later it became a part of the Burnaby Museum, thus Number 3 is the oldest existing Canadian Pacific steam engine on earth.

After a most enjoyable day, the three of us drove back to Lynnwood, Washington, spending only 30 minutes at the border to return to the United States. It had been a great trip to Canada and a place I want to come back to soon. I finished the story then called it a night.