Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Of Bridges and Engines


Many railway buffs will be familiar with Engine 86, an old locomotive currently on display at the Western Fair Grounds. Manufactured by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1910, Engine 86 was used by the Grand Trunk and CNR before being donated to the City of London in 1958.

Unfortunately, donating an antique to the City of London is a mistake. That is, if you actually want it to be looked after. Despite being restored, mainly by GM Diesel in 1996-99, the Engine is rusting and animals are building a nest inside. The water tank was left uncovered for years so that rain and snow entered and rusted away the bottom of the tender. Although it was painted just a few years ago, rust is once again showing through.

Now maybe it's just me but I can't really see the point in spending money to restore an antique locomotive and leaving it outside to rust in a Canadian winter. A humble opinion: the Engine should not have been moved to its current site without providing it with a shelter. The result has been wasted time, misspent money and a lack of respect for our railway heritage.

But hold on - the folks at LACH (London Advisory Committee on Heritage) have proposed a solution. One that also concerns the Sarnia Road Bridge. (It's like hitting two heritage birds with one stone - kind of.) And wait til you hear it: all we have to do is tear down that silly old 1909 steel-truss bridge, store its bits and pieces for a while, and someday in the future use the pieces to make some kind of cover for Engine 86. This is a fabulous idea, except that:

a) no one's really clear how you adapt bridge bits to make a shelter for a locomotive, and
b) the bridge will no longer exist as a bridge.

Better solutions for both these heritage puzzles?

a) build a real shelter around Engine 86, complete with interpretive plaques so passers-by will understand this is a cool old locomotive, and
b) move the Sarnia Road Bridge over a bit and continue to use it for pedestrian and bicycle use.

Unfortunately, neither of these things will happen because:

a) the current Mayor and Council would never agree to spending the money, and
b) come to think of it, that's the only reason.

So here's what will really happen to these two artifacts in the future:

a) The Sarnia Road Bridge will be demolished.
b) The City will store its parts.
c) Some of the parts will disappear into the basement of Museum London and never be seen again (along with most of the other artifacts donated to them over the years, but that's another blog post).
d) Some of the parts will rust away in the City Hall parking garage.
e) Most of the parts will be lost.
f) Engine 86 will continue to rust.

Note: Many thanks to local historian and railway buff Stephen Harding for his commentary on the current state of Engine 86. The opinions expressed here, of course, are strictly mine.