When the West Coast Heritage Railway Park reopens next spring, visitors can expect a whole new variety of options.
"We're looking forward to a big, grand reopening in May 2021 and we're feeling excited about that," general manager Gord Bell said, noting there will be no Halloween or Christmas events in 2020.
Among the new additions are: a working blacksmith shop with two forges and a power hammer; a fire hall with fire equipment and antique fire engines; and a general store. As well, there will be new rail equipment from Western Forest Products on display.
The new setup has the makings of a little village, though it will be spread out over the park's eight acres (3.24 hectares), allowing for physical distancing.
In addition to the new content, Bell added that there will also be renovations to existing infrastructure.
One of the centrepieces of the upgrades is a printing press that was recently restored by volunteers and Steve Hutton of Garibaldi Graphics.
Bell picked up the machinery a couple of years ago from donors who were friends of longtime supporters Lynn and Ernie Ledgerwood.
"It was in a shed and it was completely rusted out. Like most things that we restore, it looks pretty sad when you pick it up," Bell said with a chuckle.
Hutton became involved after the restoration process was underway, first started mentoring a volunteer, who subsequently left.
Hutton estimates that the machine, a Gordon Franklin old-style hand-fed press operated by a foot pedal, dates back to sometime in the 1870s or 1880s.
"You can't find parts for it," Hutton chuckled. "Trying to find pictures of it and some of the data for it is pretty well impossible. I've tried really hard."
As such, Hutton and volunteers had to come up with creative solutions, such as fastening pieces together without proper screws. Other work included tweaking the rollers and adjusting the press itself.
Hutton had just started work when the park closed due to COVID, but was able to resume operations, getting the press up and running to do a demonstration at the park's final opening of the year on Sept. 19.
Hutton has long been familiar with hand-fed press, as he's a third-generation printer and grew up around similar machinery.
However, the one his dad had was newer, from the late 1920s, and it had a motor.
All told, he enjoyed the process of getting the machine up and running.
"I don't think there's too many of them left around in the world," he said. "It's kind of neat to get it going again."
The Sept. 19 opening marked the end of a relatively successful summer season, all things considered, Bell said.
The park opened only on Saturdays and featured an all-inclusive ticket price, so visitors could explore the whole park and all of its rides without any extra fees.
Bell said the park welcomed roughly 2,000 guests over 13 Saturdays that it opened.
"We're calling it a big success," he said. "As far at the museum goes itself, we were open 14% of the time and we drove 80% of last year's visitation, so the numbers were outstandingly good for the museum."
However, the park took a hit without its flagship events, ranging from the Polar Express at Christmas to regular visits from Thomas the Tank Engine to weddings and anniversaries.
"You don't recover from something like that. We lost 100% of our event business and revenue, and that is a giant hit," Bell said, while declining to share specifics. "We moved all of our business from 2020 into 2021, but frankly, 2021 was going to be busy anyway, so it's really just a straight loss for us on the events side of things.
"We're not ringing any alarm bells at this point in time, but it's a big hit to take."
Looking ahead, Bell said traditions like high tea will resume when it's safe to do so.
"We'll definitely bring high tea back," he said. "I just had a local couple come down this afternoon and donate a whole bunch of stuff for the tea room, a beautiful china set and everything."
Bell closed by praising the park's volunteers for a job well done under challenging circumstances.
"They just did an amazing job. A massive shoutout to our volunteers at the park. Without them, we would really be in trouble," he said. "They're so passionate and skilled at what they do."
For more on the park, visit wcra.org.