Dave Andrew first heard about the Halton County Radial Railway Museum in a 1962 newspaper article that told how a group of streetcar enthusiasts had rescued a large Peter Witt streetcar from the scrapyard. He's been hooked ever since. In a way it was inevitable - his grandfather worked for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and operated the streetcars Andrew now works to preserve.
The collection of electric railway equipment at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum is the largest in Canada. Located near Rockwood, Ontario, west of Toronto, it includes two Peter Witt centre-door cars that ran in Toronto from the early 1920s until the introduction of the subway in 1954. Volunteers restore and operate a variety of streetcars and interurbans (electric trolleys that ran between cities and towns) over five kilometres of track, making history come alive.
Over the years, Andrew, a former Toronto police officer, held various jobs at the museum, but it wasn't until 2003 that he became project manager of his first restoration job, restoring car 416, built in 1925 for the TTC. The car ran between Toronto and Port Credit and, later, between Toronto and Richmond Hill. After service ended in 1948, car 416 was bought and moved to Hillsburg, Ontario, where it was transformed into a private residence complete with sitting room, bedroom, and a hot plate. The original leaves of the streetcar doors were fastened together and used as the entrance. The owner was aware of the museum's interest in acquiring car 416, and in 1972, offered it to them.
Some restoration work was done over the years, but never completed. So Andrew, with the help of three others, took over to finish the job. Andrew estimates that he and his team members each spend about forty days a year working on it at the museum.
Andrew learned the skills he needed as he went along. "In the beginning, I didn't know what the heck I was doing," he says. While working on 416, he has picked up some basic plumbing and electrical skills and learned how to restore and replace woodwork, including how to steam and bend wood. Since replacement parts are no longer being made, Andrew and his team have had to craft everything themselves. "You measure everything in terms of years, not days or months," he says, commenting on the rate of progress in the first two years. Now that it's finally coming together, Andrew can see the fruits of his labour.
The roof is finished, the restoration of the windows nearly done, and electrical work and lighting are going ahead. However, it will be another year before it's complete, as doors and seats need to be installed.
HIs next project? "Probably restoring Hamilton Street Railway car 521, as it's similar to car 416."
If you wish to volunteer, visit, or make a donation to the museum to help restore car 416, check out the Halton County Radial Railway's website at C2006 Peter D.A. Warwick
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C2006 Peter D.A. Warwick
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