Feature articles

25th anniversary of operations at the South Simcoe Railway

June 22, 2016   ·   0 Comments

The Tottenham Beeton & District Chamber of Commerce​ celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Operations at the South Simcoe Railway​ in Tottenham on June 11. The anniversary was observed by past and present TBDCC board members, including the visionaries who brought the steam train to Tottenham 30 years ago, Ruth Mabee, Bob Jackson and Pat Russell. The event was hosted by Mary Bachlow​ and Tracy Mason, with Shira Harrison McIntyre​ representing the Town of New Tecumseth, and Jim Wilson, MPP for Simcoe-Grey, representing the province​. The train was brought to Tottenham in August 1986, with paid excursions beginning in May 1992. The official opening ceremony was held in June 1993.

By Wendy Gabrek

 
The South Simcoe Railway (SSR) has been operating for 25 years, and members of the Tottenham Beeton & District Chamber of Commerce (TBDCC) know that’s something to celebrate.
On June 11, past and present board members with the TBDCC gathered at the Tottenham Station with Eric Smith (Smitty), SSR president, operations manager and chief mechanical officer, to recognise the milestone anniversary, and bring awareness to the crown jewel in New Tecumseth’s tourism crown and the people who volunteer their efforts to keep it that way.
Greetings were brought by the Town of New Tecumseth by Ward 7 Councillor, Shira Harrison McIntyre, and from the province through Simcoe–Grey MPP, Jim Wilson.
The current president of the Chamber, Wendy Gabrek, offered greetings on behalf of the businesses represented by the organization, by a mural of volunteers at the site, thanking the visionaries who had the foresight to bring the train to Tottenham some 30 years ago, including the only other female president in the Chamber’s history, Ruth Mabee. Bob Jackson and Pat Russell, early Chamber board members were also on hand for the special event.
Following a presentation of a certificate by MPP Wilson to Smitty, and words of thanks by Gabrek, light refreshments were served courtesy of: cake by Tottenham Foodland, sandwiches by Subway, Cedar Kitchen fruit and veggie trays, flowers by Tottenham Flower & Gifts, and Tim Hortons coffee – assisted by Mary Bachlow of Love’s Breath Event Planning.
August 1, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the train’s arrival in Tottenham (1986), and organizers at the Tottenham Beeton & District Chamber of Commerce have seen the historical documents, including the notes that lead up to the decision to purchase the steam train, documents that are kept in safe keeping.
“I truly believe this items need to be preserved, catalogued, and shown,” said Tracy Mason, TBDCC administrator. “These documents and pictures, are more than just cool. It shows the train in its infancy as well as what the chamber did – not moving mountains, but trains!”
The delivery of the train to Tottenham took a reported 17 hours at 8 km/hour from Toronto, including one derailment. From its arrival, it took years to get the project up and running, with the steam engine rolling out on its inaugural trip on Sept. 6, 1992 (Labour Day). Thus 2016 is the 25th year of operation.
“The purpose (the) event was to celebrate the South Simcoe Railway and say thank you to all of the volunteers and visionaries,” said Mason. “The pictures taken will help to preserve a moment in history.”
“I joined the Chamber in the summer of 1969. The club that had become the Chamber had existed long before that. Clifford Rogers, the developer who built all the Alcan subdivisions was the one who got the Chamber charter. Cliff nominated me for president. I was president in the ‘70s and my term ended just after the Canada Ball. This was the fanciest event ever to come to Tottenham. Paulene McGibbon, lieutenant governor from 1974 to 1980 was present. Unfortunately an irresponsible former president apparently destroyed all the early records that I turned over to him. The Chamber was always looking for ways to rejuvenate the downtown so when CN announced the Beeton Subdivision Abandonment (there are two articles about this in the Tottenham paper archives 1979/06/17 and 1980/09/29) I wrote a letter to the editor saying not to tear up the tracks we could possibly start something. (I  have been meaning to go back to the Simcoe County museum to look for this letter). Al Mcguiness, the accountant was president and appointed me as a committee of one to do a feasibility study. In talking to a co-worker at the University of Toronto, by the name of Don Petch he put me on to the Ontario Rail Association who had equipment but nowhere to run it. Their president at that time was a fellow by the name of John Micheal. He lived in Forest Hill in Toronto.
“This is when Ruth Mabee became President of the Chamber. She really became the driving force for the train. Her and I travelled southern Ontario trying to sell the idea of a tourist train. Most people thought we were nuts. Both Cookstown and Alliston didn’t want anything to do with it. If it hadn’t been for Ruth and Royce Mabee that put up the security to allow the Chamber to buy the property the train would not have been here. If you go on www.mabee.ca/ssr/ (an article by Royce it will tell you pretty accurately what happened from here on). It has been nothing short of a miracle that the Railway has lasted this long.” – Excerpt from a letter from Bob Young, C.E.T., Vice-President and Bus. Mgr., South Simcoe Railway Heritage Corporation to the TBDCC May, 2016.
According to Wikipedia: “The South Simcoe Railway is a steam heritage railway in Tottenham, north of Toronto. Operating excursions since 1993, it is the oldest operating steam heritage railway in Ontario and features the second oldest operating steam locomotive in Canada.
Excursions last about 50 minutes over 4 miles (6.4 km) of track from Tottenham through the scenic Beeton Creek valley to Beeton and back. Although the trains stop in Beeton, passengers cannot disembark, as there is not a station there. The railway has plans to add a Beeton station, but as is common with many heritage railways, this sort of project is highly dependent on fundraising.
The railway has two ex-Canadian Pacific steam locomotives, the best known being an 1883 4-4-0 A2m #136 (which many Canadians have seen, as it was used in the 1970s CBC Television series The National Dream). #136 helped build the transcontinental railroad, the Canadian Pacific, across Canada in the 1880s. The railway also owns a 1912 4-6-0 D10h, ex-CPR #1057, and two road-capable diesel locomotives, (ex-Canadian Pacific D-T-C #22 and ex-Norfolk Southern GE 70-ton diesel-electric #703). Rounding out the collection is a diesel-electric yard switcher, Ruston-Hornsby 165DE #10.
The excursion train is made up of restored 1920s era coaches, previously owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railway, Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The railway’s equipment collection also includes rolling stock not used on the excursions, including a former Ontario Northland Railway business car #200, a combination passenger/baggage coach used as a museum, two wooden cabooses, one steel wide-vision ex-CPR caboose, a ballast car, various boxcars, flat cars, and steam generator cars.
Regular excursions operate from the May long weekend through to the weekend after Thanksgiving. Excursions feature the Conductor’s friendly commentary on the scenery, the history of the line, and the historical place of the railways in Canadian history. Special events during the year include the Easter Express, Halloween Adventure and the Santa Claus Express at Christmas time, which have a holiday focus. The PBS series Shining Time Station was shot here and at Union Station.
The driving force behind the South Simcoe Railway is Eric Smith, who is the organization’s President, Operations Manager and Chief Mechanical Officer. He oversees all aspects of the operation of the railway and its volunteer members.
The excursion trains are operated by volunteers who have taken their training regarding all aspects of railway operation, and qualified as flagmen, trainmen, conductors, firemen or locomotive engineers. All volunteers with operational qualifications haven written their Canadian Rail Operating Rules examination and GOI examination, and are required to regularly requalify.
Maintenance and restoration activities are also carried out by volunteers. This includes track, right-of-way, site and property maintenance, locomotive maintenance and repair, and coach maintenance, cleaning and repair.
Operational and restoration activities are managed and supervised by volunteer foremen, department managers and the Board of Directors; in all cases, these managers and directors are also active volunteers who take on roles in the day-to-day operation of the Railway.
Engine #136 was returned to service in August 2011 after extensive restoration work by the organization’s volunteers. As of August 2011, the South Simcoe Railway operates excursion trains behind either diesel locomotive #703 or steam locomotive #136. Engine #1057, which had hauled excursion trains since the start of the 2004 season, is currently sidelined awaiting maintenance.
For more information about the South Simcoe Railway, or to book your excursion, visit www.southsimcoerailway.ca, or ‘Like’ them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SouthSimcoeRailway

         


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