A treasure in the woods… can the Railway Museum rescue it?

By David F. Rooney

Railway Museum Executive Director Jennifer Dunkerson’s first thought before she saw the ancient logging railway trestle bridge hidden away in the forest near Trout Lake was that maybe she could retrieve an old spike from it. On seeing it, though, she thought “maybe we can survey it.”

After exploring the structure she said she’ll consider pursuing grant money that would enable the museum to at least survey and photograph the site, thereby recording what information can be gleaned from it.

Dunkerson was one of 15 people guided by Greg Brule to the site on Saturday. The keenly interested members of the party hiked for 20 minutes through the forset along the original rail bed for the Arrow Lakes Logging Company’s railway logging operation.

“This was the cadillac of railway logging operations,” said Brule, who, along with fellow rail buff Jordy Hunter, found the bridge after hearing about it for years.

Built in 1906, the railway was intended to exploit the rich stands of white pine and other valuable trees in the area. Trees were cut and loaded on a locomotive operating with perhaps three cars, Brule said. Loggers would load cut timber onto the cars, which hauled them down the mountain to Galena Bay where they ended up in the water and were floated to Arrowhead for milling or loading onto the CPR spur. However, a forest fire in 1910 cut operations short. The company attempted to re-start timber cutting in the area in 1920 but failed. The company then stripped out all of the rails, spikes and other metal materials and transferred the logging operation to Vancouver island.

The ties in the old railbed and the trestle bridge were left behind and forgotten. Occasionally hunters and hikers would stumble on the structure but for the most part it faded from memory until Brule and Hunter found it again.

“There’s not a lot of information about this,” said Brule. “Frankly, I was flabbergasted to see it still intact after last winter’s snow. That center span looked like it wasn’t going to last and it’s still up there. I wouldn’t give it more than a couple of more years before it (the center span) comes down.”

That mattered to some of the people on the hike.

Talva Jacobson, an archaeologist from Medicine Hat, Alta., said the structure should at least be be studied and surveyed — something Dunkerson agreed with. Both of them agreed that the site’s location should remain secret lest it be wrecked by vandals and looters.

Here is a series of photos from this event:

Tour guide Greg Brule, right, talks to members of the bus tour who wanted to hike a kilometre through the woods near Trout Lake in search of a century-old logging railway trestle. David F. Rooney photo
So off they went, down the embankment from a little-used logging road in search of the ancient structure. David F. Rooney photo
Within minutes they stepped onto the old railbed. The railway and trestle were completely abandoned in 1920 after a forest fire consumed the timber those long-ago loggers wanted. They stripped out the rails and spikes — in fact anything metal — and left the ties and trestle behind. The ties have now rotted away but you can still see the depressions they left behind. David F. Rooney photo


The intrepid explorers enter a cut in the surface made by the men who built the railway to ensure a smooth grade. David F. Rooney photo
This gives you a sense of the scale of the cut. The men who built this logging railway likely dug it out by hand and, perhaps, with a team of horses. David F. Rooney photo
Our first view of the trestle. David F. Rooney photo
As you can see, trees have, over the last century, grown up through the trestle. In fact they are helping it stay aloft. But the center span, which you can see dangling somewhat, is in real danger of collapsing in to the gorge the bridge spans. David F. Rooney photo
Here's another view of this structure. David F. Rooney photo
This is a clearer view of the center span. Guide Greg Brule said he "was flabbergasted to see it still intact after last winter's snow." David F. Rooney photo


Here's a view from beneath the trestle. David F. Rooney photo


Here's a view from beneath the trestle. David F. Rooney photo
After 40 minutes spent exploring he trestle bridge and its surroundings, the explorers posed for a photo before heading for lunch on the shores of Galena Bay and the trip across the water to Revelstoke. Sue Leach photo