A member of the Motorcar Operators West tour flags traffic on Highway 4 as the speeder rail cars cross near Coombs Junction on their way to Port Alberni Saturday.

Speeders ride the rails to Port Alberni

The next leg of this tour starts near Tacoma, Washington



Seventeen members of Motorcar Operators West (MOW), a California-based group of railroad “speeder” car enthusiasts, wrapped up their annual pilgrimage to the Island Saturday with a round-trip jaunt by rail from Parksville to Port Alberni and back.

“We’re visiting McLean mill, a national historic site which is a steam-operated sawmill and what they call a steam donkey,” said Kevin Hunter, president of the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society. “So our American friends — and our Canadian friends —are going to have a great day and they’re going to see our steam locomotive. So, steam, steam, steam.”

The trip wrapped up a week-long stay on the Island for the speeder club, which trucks the small, gas or diesel-powered cars throughout North America to tour historic railways.

It began with a run from Western Forest Products’ Englewood log sort at Beaver Cove, on North Vancouver Island, to Woss, on what is believed to be the last active logging rail line in North America. Then the group of 17 speeder car drivers, some travelling with spouses or other guests, shifted to Parksville, where the travel was centred for the remainder of the week.

“Forest Bus Service here has allowed us to use their parking lot to park our trailers and things, so we’re using this road crossing to load our cars on and off the track,” MOW president Dave Ballestri said from the crossing at Fairdowne Road, between Highway 19 and the Alberni Highway in Parksville.

The speeders toured to Courtenay and back Monday, then travelled to Victoria Tuesday and spent three days on the South Island, visiting the Forestry Museum in Duncan and taking in the dinner theatre in Chemainus, before returning to Parksville Friday to prepare for the final run to Port Alberni.

“This is the end of our trip on the Island, then we’ll be loading up the cars and heading to near Tacoma, Washington, for another leg of our trip,” said Ballestri.

In many cases, like Saturday’s 30-mile trip over the Alberni Valley sub line, the tours are on railways which are otherwise no longer in use.

“One of the mandates of the Island Corridor Foundation is to keep the Port sub open and active, and what you see today is a perfect example of that,” said Hunter, who traveled with three other heritage society members as escorts to the speeders in trucks specially equipped with rail wheels.

Saturday’s trip included a crossing of Highway 4 near Coombs junction, where motorists were stopped by the unusual sight and sound of the crossing’s flashing lights and clanging bells as the 17 little cars rumbled past, many of them streaming American flags from their roofs or door posts.

“This is my first time here,” said Johnna Borden of Redding, Calif., who joined her husband in his speeder. “It’s just been wonderful. The only problem is, there’s so many trees you can’t see the scenery,” she added with a laugh.

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