BCER 1304 is finally back to work after years of restoration by the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society (FVHR).
On Saturday, Sept. 9, the community, dignitaries and, of course, FVHR volunteers stood in the rain outside Cloverdale station to watch the car make its first journey back to the station since the 1950s.
Built in 1911, 1304 was a B.C. Electric Rail car that took passengers from Vancouver to Chilliwack, stopping along the way in Cloverdale, Langley and Abbotsford.
In 1912, 1304 was chosen to take the Duke of Connaught on part of his royal tour of Canada. Refitted in sumptuous splendor — the ordinary passenger seats taken out and replaced with plush upholstery. Although the plebeian furnishings returned after the Duke of Connaught’s visit, the car has continued to be known as the “Connaught car.”
Volunteers at the FVHR spent thousands of hours restoring the car, stripping paint, replacing windows, refurbishing the wheels and reupholstering the seats.
“It’s very important that we acknowledge and are aware of the fact that we have craftsmen that have restored this car to basically its original condition,” said Surrey councillor Dave Woods, who spoke at the official launch.
“Having people that have the ability to work on the mechanics of that car, to work on the woodwork, are a dying art.”
The Connaught car ran from 1911 to 1950 on the Fraser Valley line. But in 1955, the car got one last ride: taking a Grade 3 Yarrow Elementary class from Chilliwack to Yarrow.
“It was fun, it was exciting,” said Ben Neufeld, one of the passengers from that last run. “We were in Grade 3, so it was one of our very few little outings.”
In its official relaunch on Sept. 9, those Grade 3 students — now 60 years older — were the first passengers on the refurbished car.
“It’s kind of weird to be on the same train car 60 years later,” Neufeld said.
The car is not officially in service for FVHR weekend train rides yet. The society still needs to get an electric generator for the car — a diesel generator was borrowed for the launch.
But the Connaught is back on the tracks — and hoping to stay for good.
“You know when you watch that train come into the station, I was thinking, how is that that different from the railways today,” Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims said. “Not that much so.
“That technology of that day and that era informs what we have today.”