I am in high school at Howe Sound Secondary almost falling asleep in a very boring class waiting for lunch time to come when I hear it.
The lonely echo of a steam whistle bouncing off the mountains of the Squamish valley.
My heart skips a beat and I know instantly that it must be 10 minutes to 12 because that was when the Royal Hudson arrived every day in the summer to downtown Squamish with throngs of tourists.
Back in 1974 the dream was that the Royal Hudson would be tourist destination trip that no one else offered in Canada. It was a day trip that saw the train go the 40 miles from North Vancouver to Squamish and return with a two hour stopover in downtown Squamish where everyone could get off the train and explore the town. The dream became a reality and the train ran for 27 years.
Every day the train followed the same routine.
It arrived on the mainline with eager tourists hanging out the vestibules and out the windows of the open air observation car. Then would back downtown along loggers lane. When it stopped the doors opened and the train staff put down the step boxes and hundreds of eager travellers stepped off the train.
If the train was full 800 people of all ages from tiny children to their grandparents were part of the excitement.
There were several parks to enjoy a picnic lunch or go to one of the many restaurants that served everything from burgers and ice cream to a full steak dinner. There was a great book shop and many gift shops where you could buy treasures to remember your trip.
The 2860 would leave the train downtown and go up to the yard to turn around. When it came back it would couple up to the other end of the train and prepare for the return trip.
If you were lucky the crew would let people up in the cab of the locomotive where you could see the big roaring fire in the firebox and all the shiny polished brass gauges. Adults would talk with the crew and ask how everything worked. Some of the kids would cry because it was a little noisy and others would look around, their eyes as big as saucers. I bet there were many kids went home wanting to be engineers.
Many of the local businesses offered tours of places of interest in the valley. There were bus trips to the Railway Heritage Park, River Rafting or a quick plane ride up over the local glaciers. You could also take the MV Britannia in one direction or the other to have a train-boat day trip.
The excitement was not to last forever as the Liberal government of the day in the late 1990s was working on a plan to sell the railway and running a tourist train with a steam locomotive was not a good selling point for a possible buyer.
The Royal Hudson’s last year was 20 years ago this summer. The Royal Hudson Locomotive is still owned by the province of British Columbia and is kept at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park where everyone can see it today.
Trevor Mills is a local railway historian