It seems the Kamloops Railway Heritage Society can’t catch a break.
The group is no sooner on top of one challenge when another one rears its head.
Over the past few years, the group has dealt with a treasurer accused of misusing funds, loss of revenue after Transport Canada ordered the stop of the 2141 steam engine and internal strife among board members.
Now, a neighbouring rail preservation society is slamming the group for scrapping collectible train wheels.
On Wednesday, the society finally got rid of a rusted-out hulk of a train car that’s been sitting on CN Rail tracks on its property near Pioneer Park for too long.
But the move was criticized by another train preservation society from the Lower Mainland.
“These guys just made a colossal blunder,” said Terry Fergusson of the National Railway Heritage Society (NRHS) B.C. chapter.
The Westcoast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish donated the old coach to Kamloops many years ago in exchange for an expensive rebuild of a steam engine, according to Art Styles, Kamloops Railway Heritage Society board member.
Rust eventually took over and it became unsafe to operate.
CN had been pressuring the society to remove it and nearby tenants were complaining of the eyesore, said Styles.
“It was a headache,” he said. “You should have seen the pigeons in there, it was unhealthy. And homeless people used it, too.”
It took many phone calls and some cajoling, but a scrap metal company from Heffley Creek finally offered to take it away for free on Wednesday.
It was a good development for the society until Fergusson made his displeasure known.
He said that a year ago he reached out to retrieve the train car’s wheels, which he calls “rarer than hen’s teeth.”
He was under the impression he could have them until Styles notified Fergusson of his refusal by phone last week. Fergusson said he was even willing to pay thousands of dollars for them.
Styles said that Fergusson’s refusal to take the entire car rather than just the wheels led to that decision.
“He’s just in it for himself,” he said.
That conversation led Fergusson to drive to Kamloops. When he was unable to reach society members, he contacted the police, the mayor, the media — even the City of Kamloops emergency services.
If it isn’t clear already, there’s a history of bad blood between the local group and Fergusson.
Many years ago, Styles said, local members agreed to buy a coach from Fergusson. When they arrived in New Westminster, he had doubled the price, said Styles.
Fergusson readily admits that he’s had a fair number of run-ins throughout his five decades of involvement with trains.
In this case, he said, his society asked $76,000 for the coach 18 years ago and the deal went bad when the local group arrived with “an attitude.” He denied the price was doubled.
The societies have had no dealings with each other since.
“They can go on and say what a bad guy I am, but they’re just scrapping and pillaging and wrecking,” said Fergusson.
Despite the years of tension, last spring, Fergusson offered to let Kamloops use his group’s F9 diesel engine when he heard of the Kamloops society’s problems with the 2141 steam engine.
He was told the City of Kamloops declined. Styles said he also heard through the society membership that the City had declined the offer for liability reasons.
However, Barbara Berger, the City’s arts, culture and heritage manager, said the City never heard of the offer.
The issue is now over for Fergusson since the wheels are in the scrapyard, but said he believes the Kamloops society will lose credibility with the City over it.
“The NRHS wishes (the Kamloops society) every piece of success possible to enhance their community. That’s the No. 1 item in all of this,” he said.
The City, meanwhile, is funding the 2141 engine’s inspection at a cost of $54,000 in the wake of a Transport Canada order to remove the train from service.
Stripping down the steam engine for inspection is a tremendous amount of work but it’s nearing completion. The group will present its findings to the City in the fall with Berger’s help, she said.