OUT ON A LIMB: Mechanical ingenuity of bygone ages on display

There’s something about steam engines that gets people all misty-eyed and nostalgic

It was a weekend for celebrating bygone ages.

On Saturday and Sunday, downtown streets were crawling with old classic cars and on Monday, the museum fired up its old Steam Donkey.

Museum publicist Ken Blackburn wonders if people will ever get tired of coming to see the Steam Donkey get turned over for what’s become a Labour Day tradition in Campbell River. but it doesn’t seem they are yet.

The museum has to let the donkey run for a while about three times a year in order to keep its steam licence current. The donkey was built in 1913 to be used hauling logs out of clearcuts in logging operations on the coast. It was eventually replaced by larger, more modern long-line hauling equipment powered by diesel engines. Later, helicopters even came into to play.

There’s something about steam engines that gets people all misty-eyed and nostalgic. Goodness knows, steam trains never seem to lose their appeal.

The Steam Donkey seems to have some of that magic too. Maybe because it’s a process that’s less mysterious than modern equipment. It’s pretty straightforward: you boil water and force the steam that comes off it into narrow pipes and it pushes wheels, gears and cogs into motion. Once those wheels start turning, you can pretty well push, pull or haul nearly anything.

On the Steam Donkey – and I just love that name, by the way – a pulley winds up a cable which is strung from tall trees or spars cleared of branches. Attached to the cable is a log, freshly cut down and cleared of branches. The donkey hauls away and does the work of tens of men.

Maybe they have a mystique because steam engines were the first engines to operate as standalone workhorse – non animal-powered machinery.

The steam engine was followed by the gas engine (although, if memory serves me right, electric engines might have come at the same time or even before). And they worked the same way except it was gasoline-fired explosions that forced cogs, wheels and pistons to move.

And the classic cars we saw on the weekend bridged the age of steam to the modern engines we see today that are so complicated you need a computer to diagnose them. A lot of the cars in the North Island Cruisers’ Show ‘n’ Shine on the weekend were vehicles the amateur could still work on. I was never much of a mechanic but when I was young I had friends who liked to take apart engines. Do young people still do that any more? Car engines are so electronic and complicated now.

But there’s nothing like polished chrome and shiny metal bodies. My favourite cars were the old ‘55 chevy Bel Air and that kind of car, although I’m also partial to the ‘59 corvette.

One of the cooler vehicles at the Show ‘n’ Shine for me was the 1931 BC Forest Service truck. I don’t know why, it’s just something about old classics.