By Don Evans, West Coast Railway Association
Perhaps nothing is more difficult for a heritage preservation organization than to make a review and remove pieces from a collection. Yet such a review is something that preservation organizations should do every once in a while, to ensure that the collection remains sustainable and that it tells the story that needs to be told. Are items that we are saving relevant? Do we need those duplicates or should we just keep a best example? Have pieces that we cannot get at deteriorated to the point that they just cannot be saved? Would an artifact be better off preserved and presented by another organization?
These are all very good questions and worth just such a review as WCRA’s Collections Committee has recently undertaken. Following a thorough review and lots of debate and discussion, the committee brought forward recommendations to de-accession seven pieces from the collection—and to also dispose of four other pieces that have never been part of the collection, (but were delivered unsolicited to our site). The museum’s Board has approved the de-accession.
Most railway museums have collections that were simply established through a collector phase—just grab pieces and “save” them—as the railways went through massive disposals in the 1970s and 1980’s. Indeed, that is how much of WCRA’s collection started—and while we did do our best to have a collection plan and criteria, not everything we collected was thoroughly thought through for the long term. Suddenly, in the 1980’s, with pieces of rolling stock all over the Metro Vancouver area, and not cared for at all in most cases, we woke up and finally started to build the collection a home.
But just a home was not enough. Sure, we had our own track and the collection now had a place to stay, but it was all outside in the weather and subject to continuing deterioration. We also had to tackle creating some cover……and as we have worked over the past 25 years we now have cover for 27 pieces in our various shops and buildings. But, of course, while we did this some of the pieces we restored 25 years ago as we got started now needed another round of work. Thus the challenge and the balance needed to do the best we can to both preserve and protect our collection. PGE steam locomotive #2 is a perfect case in point—and thankfully, now that a great restoration has been completed, the historic locomotive is placed on display in our CN Roundhouse where it is well protected and will be so for the long term.
Collection rationalization presented
WCRA’s Collections Committee met at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park on June 12, 2016 and did a physical review of collection pieces being considered for removal from the WCRA collection. Duplication and condition for future restoration were considered. Would a particular piece be better preserved elsewhere? What is the relevance of the piece to the story we are presenting? Is the piece even restorable at all? How far down in the restoration plans is it? Many pieces we have today were never, in fact, ever accessioned into our collection at all—some just showed up on our siding over the years.
On June 28, recommendations were made to the membership at the monthly general meeting. Approval was given to de-accession seven pieces from the collection, and to dispose of four others which were never in the collection officially—as follows:
De-accession from Collection:
Alco RS-1 locomotive (Alco 1951) Although painted as Great Northern #182, unit is actually Minneapolis & St Louis #951 / then #234 then Lake Erie, Franklin & Clarion #22 in 1973, then Proctor & Gamble #1 in 1990. It never actually ran in British Columbia.
Canadian Pacific coach 2271 Quesnel (Canadian Car & Foundry 1950) In poor condition, we have four other 22xx series cars.
Canadian National heavyweight combine 7186 (Pullman 1919) Built as Canadian Northern #7230 / CN Colonist Sleeper #2780 / converted to CN Combine #7186 in 1950. In poor condition, unlikely to restore.
CN heavyweight diner 60605 (Pullman 19187) Built as Canadian Government Railways diner Dunraven/CN Diner #1246 in 1920 /CN work service cafeteria in 1958 – work service diner #60605 in 1991. In poor condition, unlikely to restore.
GN heavyweight Observation 1090. In poor condition, to private individual, will remain. Being retained by private individual.
PGE Snow plow 6002 (National Steel car 1957), then Pacific Great Eastern and British Columbia 6002. Duplicate—retain and restore CN 55365 plow (National Steel Car 1957).
PGE flat car X402, circa 1914 Duplicate—retain X 401
Disposal (non accessioned items)
CPR Tender from CPR Pacific 2366 (Canadian Locomotive Company 1940) No use to WCRA, try to find new home.
BCEX 894 tank car, built 1958. No particular local heritage. No builder history.
PGE 1910 tank car. Duplicate—will retain PGE 1926
Museum train tank car. Duplicate
Next steps—now that these pieces have been freed for disposal, WCRA will shop them around to other railway preservation organizations in North America in an effort to see if there can be another home that will see them preserved. That is always our first goal, however should we not be able to find them a new home, then at the end of the day they may ultimately be scrapped.