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Old train formally arrives at museum

ALL ABOARD – Alberta Railway Museum president Stephen Yakimets shows off Northern Alberta Railways engine No. 73 at the railway museum east of Namao. Visitors will be able to check out the engine

It’s been more than 50 years since Engine No. 73 rode the rails past what is now the Campbell Industrial Park. Ever since the 1970s, this big black steam locomotive has sat rusting away at the Alberta Railway Museum in Sturgeon County.

But with any luck, this 90-year-old engine will be restored to showroom shine by this time next year, said Stephen Yakimets, president of the Alberta Railway Museum.

“We’ve had it here for 40 years and we can finally start work on it.”

Yakimets is inviting everyone to come to the rail museum east of Namao this Monday to witness the formal handover of Northern Alberta Railways No. 73 to the museum.

“We’re celebrating the first and the last,” Yakimets said.

Visitors will get to ride behind Diesel Locomotive 9000, which is the first mainline diesel engine used by CN in Alberta, and see the handover of No. 73, which is the last Northern Alberta Railways steam engine in existence.

“This (engine) was key in the development of farms in the Peace River country,” he said, as well as in the early growth of the oilsands.

“It’s been part of Alberta’s history.”

Storied engine

Built in 1927 in Kingston, Ont., No. 73 was a Consolidation-class locomotive that was originally part of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Colombia Railway, Yakimets said. That company became Northern Alberta Railways in 1929, which was in turn taken over by CN in 1981.

Yakimets said these engines were the Ford F-150s of the time, able to haul 20 to 30 cars of people or cargo at a time across the province.

Chugging down the track that still runs along Veness Road in St. Albert today, this motor would have hauled up to 17,754 tonnes of grain, people and equipment from Edmonton to Peace River and Fort McMurray until the 1960s. Originally fuelled by coal, it was converted to oil in 1952.

But steam was hot, loud, and complicated, he continued. You needed three people per engine, and poor insulation meant those poor sods would boil in the summer and freeze and boil during the winter. Diesel motors, which caught on in the 1940s-1950s, needed just two operators per train and moved farther for less fuel.

Northern Alberta Railways ordered its steam engines scrapped in 1960, Yakimets said. The Canadian Railroad Historical Association saved one of them, No. 73, from the scrap-yard in 1964 and stored it with the Alberta Railway Museum.

While it’s been with the museum ever since, staffers haven’t been able to work on it as it was technically still owned by the national association, Yakimets said. But after four years of talks, the association has agreed to officially sell the engine to the museum for a dollar – a far cry from the $49,342.29 it was worth in 1929.

On Monday, association representative Colin Hatcher will complete the transaction by presenting John Fraser, the former master mechanic of Northern Alberta Railways, with the engine’s number plate.

Yakimets said the museum hopes to restore the engine to “as delivered” condition within a year for about $30,000, which will mean putting new paint, valves, windows, and boiler cladding on it. They’d need another million if they wanted to make it actually run.

The museum is open weekends all summer, with Monday’s ceremony scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Visitors can learn about its many train cars and locomotives and see St. Albert’s original train station.

Admission is $3.50 to $7. Visit albertarailwaymuseum.com for details.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.