Steam engine train rides with the Richmond Hill Live Steamers. The smell of coal, steam, oil, the whistle!
Two weekends a year the Richmond Hill Live Steamers, Toronto, Canada, has an open house, where they show off their scale model steam trains. It is a fascinating world of the mechanical and hand built. There are train rides for the kids and adults, while the old timers work and test their engines. The feeling of the club is very relaxed, leaving their work to speak for itself. We had a great time and was glad we went early. Donations to the club are welcome.
Train travel here in Canada is as or more expensive than air travel, so it is not very popular. An advantage of train travel is that you can see the countryside as you click clack to your destination. A friend took the train across Canada, from Toronto to Vancouver and thoroughly enjoyed it. It took a week.
In China most people travel by train because it is less expensive than air travel and safer than bus travel. Though most trains in China are now electric, train travel reminds me of a different and adventurous time in my life. I do recall seeing steam coming out of the trains. I had fun taking trains in China, though the experience can be quite hard on the body. The Beijing Guangzhou train route takes you 3 days, during which you meet other travelers and learn about them as you while the time away. There are mid night stops at small and isolated train stations. Who lives there? I bought the published Chinese train schedule in book format and learned to read the schedule. I could track the progress of the train by time and by station. It was a learning experience. On one trip my cabin mates took out a long black object, so I asked what it was. It was an electric cattle prod, and all my cabin mates were undercover police, on board to ensure safety on the train. They all looked quite young and easily blended into the fabric of Chinese society.
Richmond Hill Live Steamers electric train getting ready to go into service.
The Richmond Hill Live Steamers site has two main tracks, a large and a small gauge. The large gauge track had a steam and a couple of electric trains running. The steam engine is fed with coal and topped up with water. You can see the steam billowing out of these scale models, just like the real ones. Sitting behind the conductor you can smell the oil burning and the coal particulate in the air, just like a real steam train. The steam engine was pulling 4 cars, and can handle 2 adults and 2 kids per car. That’s the equivalent of about 12 adults in weight. These engines are pretty powerful. The two electric trains were not as powerful but were cleaner burning.
The main track is quite long, taking 10 minutes to loop through their wooded area. They have over a half a kilometer of track. The track traverses 2 trestle bridges, and passes the maintenance yard, a church, a store, and a couple of other scale model buildings. The tracks are steel, screwed down to 4 x 4 lumber that is imbedded into a compacted dirt and gravel base. There are rail switches that allow the trains access to the various maintenance yards in the compound. The ride is surprisingly smooth.
Richmond Hill Live Steamers engineer working on a locomotive
What was most interesting to me was the decidedly low tech of these impressive mechanical vehicles, their drivers and mechanics. In this age of high technology, these trains are hand built from stock materials, each piece crafted to specifications from drawings of real trains. There’s no running off to a store to buy a part, no instant gratification of tv or texting. It’s all in the hand skills, preparation and lots of hard work.
I would hope that some of this “old world charm” would rub off on the kids. It did seem like the slightly older kids (older than 5) were more patient when waiting for a train ride. Each time a train passed they would gawk as the machines passed noisily by. Most were speechless, but threw in a soundless wave to those riding in the trains. Maybe they were in shock that they could have so much fun and not need to stick their nose into a computer monitor, grubby hands on a keyboard or joystick.
We arrived at 10:30am, the posted start time, and had very little wait. Another family said they were there even earlier. Our first ride was on the electric train. After a short wait we then rode on the steam train. Our third ride was on the smaller gauge trains that can only take one adult and one child. The train had a propane powered boiler but was steam driven. Propane, instead of coal, is cleaner burning, resulting in less engine buildup, less particulate matter in the air, an overall cleaner but less authentic experience. For the conductor it was his preference. He said that some train clubs do not allow coal to be burned as it was a fire hazard.
Overall we had a great experience and a good time. I highly recommend a visit if you are a train enthusiast or have a small boy. Train paraphernalia, train hats and food was also available.
Richmond Hill Live Steamers steam locomotive no. 6883 and Whitchurch Highland Railway caboose no. 89567. Unlike trains of today, these retain the tradition of having a caboose.
Richmond Hill Live Steamers locomotive no. 6883 (left), Whitchurch Highland Railway caboose no. 89567 and LMS locomotive no. 6245
Richmond Hill Live Steamers locomotive no. 5211
Richmond Hill Live Steamers let off steam: Smaller gauge track, propane powered boiler but still steam powered, for a cleaner running engine. That little girl's attention is fully occupied.
Richmond Hill Live Steamers, unnumbered locomotive
Richmond Hill Live Steamers, Victoria Lumber & Manufacturing Company locomotive no. 7, in for repairs
Richmond Hill Live Steamers, New York Central locomotive no. 5211
Richmond Hill Live Steamers, Canadian Pacific locomotive no. 5356
Richmond Hill Live Steamers, Canadian Pacific locomotive no. 3742 in the maintenance yard just before being put into service.
Richmond Hill Live Steamers, Canadian Pacific locomotive no. 3742 just pulled into the station