Volunteers find secret hidden in old steam engine

With the remediation of Centennial Park under way, volunteers restoring Steam Engine 6069 are also back at it following a two-year hiatus. Seen here standing on the massive locomotive are, from left, Paul Whitfield, volunteer project manager Peter Whitfield, and welder Brad Trowbridge, of Shelly Machine and Marine. Not pictured is Jim Rade, of Rade Construction, who donated a crane to lift heavy steel plates into place last week. Glenn Ogilvie

George Mathewson

Volunteers restoring the steam engine in Centennial Park have made a surprising discovery about its past.

The massive locomotive has welding marks – like scars from major surgery – that confirm it was once involved in a violent collision.

“We don’t know what it hit, or where it happened, but it took the whole front end of the engine off, and at some point it rolled over onto its left side,” said Peter Whitfield, the volunteer project manager.

“They welded a new frame to the front. We know it happened in the early ‘50s but it’s a bit of a mystery we have yet to solve.”

Built in 1944 at the Montreal Locomotive Works, Engine 6069 was in active service for many years, including in the Sarnia area.

Train2After decommissioning it joined a railway display in Bayview Park, but was moved again when the new Highway 402 bisected the park.

Whitfield said the “amazing” collision repairs done more than 60 years ago are comparable in precision to modern computerized welding.

“I don’t know how they did welding that is almost invisible. It’s a masterpiece of workmanship,” he said.

The project began 2008 when Whitfield and his father Paul just happened to walk past the locomotive.

“It just looked so sad. Paint was hanging off in chunks, and I guess a homeless guy had been living in it. This historical piece of engineering that Sarnia has was going downhill,” he said.

Last week, the team worked to close in the coal tender, which has been open to the elements for three decades.

If all goes well, they hope to have Engine 6069 open to the public for special events next summer, Whitfield said.

“It’s a piece of local history, and if we don’t preserve it it will disappear.”

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