A Historic Train Travel Experience on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train

In Tenaga, a native word for “water tank”, trains used to fill up their water tanks while in Kirk’s Ferry, Thomas Kirk, an American businessman had created a horse-drawn ferry in the 1850s with horses walking on both sides of the river, pulling the boats across the river with a pulley system. Once the dam was built, this became too dangerous and the ferry operation stopped.

Maxime also explained that the train today is propelled by heating oil, not coal. This was one of the safety requirements imposed by the Canadian government when they issued the permit for the tourist train. Heating oil is not only less expensive than coal, it is also less polluting. We chugged by the Morrison Quarry, a now abandoned gravel pit featuring a variety of run-down, yet almost picturesque industrial equipment. On the other side of the quarry is actually the highest bungee jumping tower in Canada.

Wakefield is very scenic, even in the rain…

Two young musicians, one with a guitar and one with a fiddle, came into our railway car and played some folk music which the crowd greatly appreciated. Every outing on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train features an element of live entertainment. In addition to daytime excursions, the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train also offers evening excursions featuring a 4-course dinner.

After an hour and a half we finally arrived in the quaint town of Wakefield, location of many restaurants, tea rooms and souvenir shops. The big spectacle was yet to come: the operation of the manual turntable! Once the train reaches its final destination the 93 ton steam locomotive needs to be turned around for the drive back to its original location. The engineers slowly drive the train onto a swiveling circular platform. Then the musicians get to manually push the platform using lever arms and this turns the locomotive around in the opposite direction. This is one of only two manual turntables left in North America.

The conductor overseas the turntable operation

A lunch at the Trois Erables Bed and Breakfast was included in the Riviera Club package, however, I had already made plans earlier to explore one of the most historic properties in town: the Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa, a historic gristmill just a 10 minute walk outside of downtown Wakefield.

Following my discovery of the Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa it was time to get back on the train at 1:30. There are several sound signals using the steam whistle to announce the departure of the train back to Hull and there are 2 departure points inside the town of Wakefield. People were coming back on the train, somewhat soaked from the rainy weather, and quite a few of them had obviously been to some of the crafts shops or chocolate stores around Wakefield.

These controls are nearly 100 years old!

It was time for our leisurely hour and a half ride back to Hull, and the mood in the car was noticeably quieter. The chairs in the Riviera Car are so comfortable that a few passengers took a little nap, myself included. The rhythmic chugging of the train is an extremely relaxing experience and made me doze off a couple of times on the way back.

Once we had reached our final destination, I experienced a real treat: the two engineers, Vic and Nikolas, invited me into the cab of the steam locomotive for a few minutes just before they were going to turn around the train around for the dinner excursion at the railway yard. I had missed my turn to climb aboard the engine in Wakefield, but now I got to catch up and see this mechanical beauty up close.

Vic himself is a retired RCMP officer who has found the perfect part-time job. Nikolas, a recent immigrant from Croatia who is very experienced with steam engines, works on refurbishing and maintaining the locomotives during the winter time and drives them in the summer. Both of these gentlemen visibly love their job, they enjoy working with this close to 100 year old steam engine and take good care of it to make sure it has many more years of life left.

Vic and Nikolas supervise the operation of the train

The Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Trainis a great example of how a historic travel experience has been revived and become a major local tourist attraction. It was the perfect way to spend a rainy day.

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