Calgary - Until a few weeks ago, it seemed inevitable a century-old piece of railway history was destined for that big main line in the sky.
But, thanks to the efforts of a number of CP Rail employees and the dedication of a group of Alberta Pioneer Railway Association volunteers, CPR Coach Number 54 was rescued from destruction, just in the nick of time.
The passenger coach, acquired by the railway in September 1882, is believed to be the oldest existing coach built for the railway. Number 54 was one of two identical first-class day coaches specially built for Canadian Pacific by Harlan & Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Delaware, at a cost of about $5,500 each.
Number 54 served loyally for 31 years carrying settlers across the prairies. On 28 Apr 1913 it was purchased by the Alberta government and refurbished for use as a mine rescue car.
In 1935 (or 1938, depending on whose records you believe) Number 54 was pensioned off and sold for scrap. However, instead of being demolished, the coach was converted into a mine assay office near Blair-more in the Crowsnest Pass. The mine was closed in 1957, Coach 54 was locked up and, essentially, forgotten.
Forgotten, that is, until Alberta South Assistant Superintendent Don Heron, of Lethbridge, "caught wind there was an antique railway car just wasting away in the Crowsnest Pass."
He, and Engineering Assistant Doug Phillips, made several trips to old 54's resting place and, after "a little exploring and a little research, we realized the car was worth saving," Mr. Heron said.
"It was in pretty rough shape. The whole outside of the car was covered in stucco, which, after a number of weekend field trips, we removed," Mr. Phillips said.
Not long after initial work had been done, the death knell again sounded for Coach 54. Construction crews were in the midst of building a new highway and, unless 54 was moved, it would have been bulldozed into kindling.
"That's when we really had to move into high gear," Mr. Heron said, "It was really a group effort... there's no one person who can take the credit for saving her. Everything just seemed to come into place. The Cranbrook museum was instrumental in the early stages and we enlisted the help of the Alberta Pioneer Railway Association.
"Dozens of people helped out and local contractors volunteered their time and equipment. Bill Baldwin from Ogden Shops lent a hand. John Sutherland from special projects, it was a real community effort."
The major problem facing the group of volunteers was finding a home for the old coach. Finally, with just days to go before Coach 54 was to be demolished, Calgary's Heritage Park offered a temporary resting place.
Alberta Pionner Railway Association Vice-President Jim Scott, said the car will remain at the park until negotiations are completed for a spot where restoration work can be done.
Mr. Scott said between $5,000 and $7,000 has already been spent arranging to have the car re-located. Another $50,000 to $60,000 will be required to fully restore the car, he said.
Mr. Scott's association is currently seeking funding for the restoration work and a permanent home.
The car is in presently in storage at the Cranbrook History Centre. (Formerly known as The Canadian Museum of Rail Travel). After the CP
Rail News article was published in 1983 it was discovered that the car was actually CP car number 52, not 54 -
11 Apr 2017 Don Herron.
The two photos above come from the Canadian Railroad Historical Association's magazine named "Canadian Rail" number 384 dated January-February 1985. An article there named "A Poultry Matter" by Mike South provides more information, photos, and a schematic drawing of car 52. You can download a .pdf file of Canadian Rail Number 384 from their website.