GALLERY: After 20,000 hours of restoration, ‘Connaught Car’ reunited with its wheels

The Connaught car was reunited with its wheels on Friday morning, after more than 20,000 hours of restoration work.

The Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society purchased BCER 1304, also known as the Connaught car, back in 2009. Since then, the society has been working to restore the electric car: stripping paint, replacing windows and refurbishing the wheels.

Larry Perkins has volunteered with the heritage society for 10 years, and has worked on two of its cars: 1225, which was finished in 2012, and 1304.

“It’s been interesting,” the 85-year-old volunteer said about working on the restoration.

“I had to come down and see it get lowered on,” said Perkins.

On the morning of Aug. 11, the local house moving company Nickel Bros arrived to lower the car onto the trucks (the combination of the motors and wheels) using a hydraulic lift. But they had to be careful.

When accounting for volunteer hours and in-kind donations from companies, the refurbished car cost a whopping $1.5 million. Not to mention that it weighs more than 75,000 pounds. That’s not the sort of thing that can be just dropped down.

First, Nickel Bros had to set up hydraulic lifts under the four wooden structures that were holding the car up. The lifts raise the car slightly, so one level of wood could be removed, and the car can be lowered towards the trucks.

The car and the trucks are connected by a piece of metal called a king pin — it allows the car to swivel around tight corners while still remaining connected to its wheels. The king pin had to be lined up exactly with the truck in order for the car to work.

This caused some consternation during the lowering, when one of the king pins was nearly two inches off from the centre of the truck. Between pushing the trucks backwards or forwards on the track, and slightly raising one side of the car using the hydraulic lifts, the pin was able to fit into the truck.

There’s still some work left to do on the car, according to executive member Allen Aubert. It still needs to be tested and certified — the society uses rail owned and used by the Southern Railway of British Columbia, and needs to have wheels that will work with the automatic signal system used by modern trains.

But it’s close enough to done that the Connaught will be able to receive its official unveiling on Sept. 9, with a speech by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.

On Sept. 9, the car will be available for the public to ride for the first time. But the very first riders will be rather special.

In 1955, the car’s last official passengers were a group of Grade 3 students, who rode the train from Chilliwack to Yarrow. In September, those same students will be the first ones to ride the newly refurbished car.

The official unveiling begins at 10:45 a.m. on Sept. 9 at the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society car barn on 176 St. The event is expected to go until 2 p.m.

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The Connaught (1304) was raised above the trucks during the restoration process. It was lowered back on using hydraulic lifts. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Larry Perkins (left) does a last minute tightening on one of the cars bolts. (Grace Kennedy photo)

The Nickel Brother’s hydraulic lift truck arrives. (Grace Kennedy photo)

The workers examine the king pin, which will need to be lined up exactly with the hole in the truck. (Grace Kennedy photo)

One of the workers prepares the hydraulic truck. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Terry Nichols nudges the truck into position under the king pin. (Grace Kennedy photo)

One of the workers repositions the hydraulic lift. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Terry Nichols and two of the workers make some final adjustments to the truck and king pin alignment. (Grace Kennedy photo)

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