British Columbia Electric Railway car 1304

VIDEO: Rebuilding railway royalty

Fraser Valley Heritage Railway society volunteers on track to bring BCER interurban car 1304 back to life in September.

Colour photos and video by Boaz Joseph

Born in 1937, Henry Ewert grew up at 10 Avenue and Quebec Street in central Mount Pleasant in Vancouver.

It was “one block off Broadway and Main, and Broadway and Main was streetcar central,” he recalls.

“My parents weren’t flush enough then yet to have a car, so we’d walk to Broadway and Main and take off… downtown in 10 minutes, shop at Woodward’s and bring the groceries at home.”

Streetcars became part of his life.

“(And) here’s the kicker,” he proclaims: “At 13th and Main, which is now a big shopping centre built on the platform of what was there, was a huge streetcar barn. That was the whole block. It was double decked of all things.”

As kids, he and his friends would go there to explore and play only be kicked out and sworn at.

“Street cars were, for many of us, were the ultimate source of fascination,” says the South Surrey resident.

For years, tickets in Vancouver were five cents.

The now long-retired teacher is the historian-in-residence at the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society (FVHRS).

He’s written four books about the subject, starting with his biggest, The Story of the B.C. Electric Railway Company, published in 1986.

“It’s the story of railcars and interurbans – in other words, transit – in Vancouver, The Lower Mainland, North Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster since 1890.”

A portion of the narrative is focused on one BCER interurban in particular, car 1304, known as Connaught.

Weighing 81,720 lbs. (37,000 kg) when it was built in New Westminster in 1911, the Chilliwack-class car got its name a year later when it was overhauled and decorated for a visit by the Governor General of Canada, The Duke of Connaught, on Sept. 21, 1912.

The visit by Queen Victoria’s third son only lasted for a day, but the name on the car stayed forever (with the exception of a fire in 1945.)

For most of its life in, car 1304 made the 76-mile (122-kilometre) run from Vancouver to Chilliwack and back.

It was built, like other cars in its class, for cargo as well, and transported vast volumes of valley Milk to the Lower Mainland.

“It was a long-distance, big-motored, heavy-duty car,” says Ewert (photo at left).

Due to the length of the ride – three hours one way – it was equipped with his-and-hers toilets on either side of the car.

Ewert remembers a few rides as a kid on hot summer days heading to the Fraser Valley with all of the windows wide open passengers with their heads and arms out with abandon.

There was one major mishap in the car’s history. It caught fire Sept. 16, 1945 near Cloverdale while making its way back to Chilliwack.

There were no passengers on board when car 1304, the last car of an empty three-car train, began to burn.

By the time the fire was out, only a shell remained above the floorboards.

It was restored within several months and continued on with its run.

Rides to the valley cost $2.15 until 1950, says Ewert. When passenger service ended that year, the car was still used for a few more years hauling cargo.

Volunteers at the FVHRS believe car 1304 has the distinction of being the last wood interurban to be built (based on its 1945-46 rebuild) in North America.

Those volunteers, like Ewert himself, are taking the opportunity to rebuild history as they restore car 1304 to its former glory.

The car was brought back to B.C. in 2009 after spending decades in Oregon.

Car 1304 has already gone through more than 16,000 volunteer hours during its restoration – the FVHRS’ earlier project, car 1225, took about 25,000 hours.

Eight to 18 volunteers are at Cloverdale Station a few days a week toiling on its metal, wood, faux-leather and electrical components – including its four 115 horsepower electric motors.

Ewert recalls as a 20-year-old taking part in the last BCER interurban ride in Steveston on Feb. 28, 1958.

He says it was a celebratory, raucous trip – a morbid party.

“It was a mask for the loss that was going on,” he concludes.

Starting a new era, Ewert will take part in the first running of car 1304 at Cloverdale Station on Sept. 9. The public is invited.

Director Ray Hudson hopes it’s the tentative start of interurban service to Newton, perhaps five years in the future.

The public event, at 176 Street just south of Highway 10, begins at noon.

For more information, visit fvhrs.org

Below: Ray Crowther, vice chair and director of buildings and grounds at the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, steps up towards car 1304.

 

Just Posted

Delta Police Department joins integrated forensics team

Forensics-trained DPD officers will investigate scenes in other cities as well as in Delta

COLUMN: Scott Road density will help affordability and livability

‘It’s not just good for the environment, it’s good for people,’ writes Delta Coun. Dylan Kruger

Delta police searching for Ladner robbery suspect

The incident took place in the 5400-block Ladner Trunk Road shortly before noon on Saturday, Dec. 7

Madchild headlines ‘Hip Hop For Hunger’ at Surrey’s Strumms ‘n Drums club

Venue at Turf Hotel has hosted a variety of music events in recent months

Ten of 11 people taken into custody after shooting in Surrey have been released

Police say four guns, two Tasers, drugs and other weapons were seized after home shot at in Whalley

SkyTrain strike averted after ‘eleventh-hour deal’ reached

CUPE 7000 says ‘marathon bargaining session’ led to tentative agreement with BC Rapid Transit

China hints at national security trials for 2 Canadians detained for one year

The two Canadians’ detention is largely seen as retaliation for the arrest of a Huawei exec

B.C. seaplane company set to test the first commercial electronic plane

The plane is powered by a 750 horsepower electric motor

Fireballs to fill the sky Friday for brightest meteor shower of the year

Geminid meteor shower features colourful, brighter, longer shooting stars

Province sues over sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after marine lift failed

Hope’s illicit drug death rate rivals Vancouver

Small Fraser Valley district listed among top five per capita in B.C.

First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

Leadership calling for urgent action and resources to remove obstruction on the Fraser

Assessed value of Lower Mainland homes expected to decrease in 2020

Other areas of province may see modest increases over last year’s values

Most Read