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Scale replica trains starting a new journey under North Pacific Cannery operations

Grand Trunk Model Railroad Club reaches the end of the track after 35 years
Heather Hadland-Dudoward, manager of the North Pacific Cannery receives on Nov. 25, from Dave Walker, president and longtime member of the Grand Trunk Pacific Model Railroad Club, the lifetime collection of scale replica model trains and yard that have been built and developed by the club. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

It’s the end of the line for the Grand Trunk Pacific Model Railroad Club (GTPMRC). Still, it is a new track is to be embarked upon for the North Pacific Cannery with the transfer of all cars, tracks, and finances on Nov. 25 when the club officially closed and handed all operations to the coastal museum site.

If you’ve ever been out to the national historic site in Port Edward, you may have put a loonie in the coin box to see the miniature railroad road chug around the model of the cannery site. You may even have been lucky enough to enter the sacred room where the trains run along the track, which is more than quadruplicated around the edge of the room and down the center.

For more than 35 years, a group of avid afficionado’s met weekly to build and share their love of locomotives, cars, tracks and everything train related.

But don’t go calling them toy trains. A stickler for proper model train terminology, Dave Walker, president and member of the club since the beginning, said they are “scale replicas.” This means everything is accurately and proportionately downsized to mirror the lifesize engines and cars. These are definitely not toys, he said.

Heather Hadland-Dudoward, general manager of North Pacific Cannery, said it is a jewel for the cannery, which draws tourist crowds and cruise ship passengers to the site each year, to receive such a gift.

The railroad track setup was originally built in club member Martin Kessler’s basement but was later moved to the cannery. It has been added to and developed over the years to reflect an operational and life-sized train yard with thousands of pieces of track and electrically run trains.

The collection is immense and indescribable. So much work and effort has gone into it by the 10 to 15 regular club members over the years — the hours invested by each of them on a weekly basis are immeasurable. Walker said he did the math a couple of years ago and totalled that he had invested more than 3,000 hours into the collection individually.

“I would say it’s irreplaceable,” Hadland-Dudoward told The Northern View. “If anything were to happen to it, it could not be recouped or restored.”

On the day The Northern View visited the site and met with Walker and the cannery manager, a group of five volunteers painstakingly but gently wrapped and tucked away each rail car one by one for winter hibernation to avoid dust build-up over the months the cannery is closed. The stock is stored off-site for security reasons and will be unpacked again in the spring.

Walker said it is with the feeling of loss in his heart that he handed over the trains and closed the model railroad organization.

“We started off with about 15 guys when we built this race. We had lots of guys, but they have either all moved away or passed away,” the 84-year-old conductor of the GTPMRC said, adding that the club has decreased to just two members over the past few years.

After a couple of falls looking after the trains, one in which Walker suffered a head injury with after effects of vertigo, he decided it was time to hang up his conductor’s cap.

“I’m getting to the point now where I can’t come out and climb over this thing. I need somebody a lot younger than me,” he said, and younger people are just not stepping up.

“So, we are turning the whole thing over to North Pacific - the operations, the maintenance, the finances, everything.”

He added Hadley-Dudoward knows where to find him if there is any problem and he will continue to visit the scale replica as long as his health allows him to. He is happy for the knowledgeable support that comes with the cannery enabling them to look after his cherished avocation after all the years he has infused genuine love and dedication.

“Dave’s got a lifetime pass with us,” Hadley-Dudoward said. “He is definitely a VIP in all our hearts … We’ll come and get him any time he’s lonesome and wants to play or tinker …”

“Operate - it’s ‘operate’ not tinker or play,” Walker corrected, continuing to pass on his inexhaustible knowledge of scale replica train systems.