Comox Logging & Railway Co. Machine Shop/Expo Building
By Kit Willmot
In 1934, a violent windstorm blew down thousands of trees on the hills behind Ladysmith; in 1936, the Comox Logging & Railway Co. moved equipment into the area to harvest them while still marketable, building truck roads and a railway from the Nanaimo Lakes area to Ladysmith where the logs were dumped into the harbour using a humdirgen (just outside this building alongside No 11 loco) to tip the logs off the wagons.
The logs were then boomed and towed to the Fraser River to Canadian Western Lumber Co.’s sawmill. The whole organization was capable of handling a million feet of logs daily.
To maintain the large fleet of locos, railcars and ancillary equipment Comox build a large machine ship which was carefully planned; in an interview, Comox Vice President and General Manager Robert Filberg said “We just took our Time. We knew that someday we would want to put a real plant at Ladysmith to take care of our growing business there, but we didn’t hurry; where ever we hit a new idea we put it down; where ever we made a mistake, we took note of it. And we finally got around to building our new layout to handle under one roof, all the complicated terminal operations of our Company at Ladysmith; we consulted the record and drew our plans according to past experience, incorporating the new ideas we had gathered on the way and avoiding the mistakes we’d previously encountered”.
“The structure was 203 feet long by 84 feet wide with a height of 36 feet, of solid mill construction, with galvanized iron reinforcing the walls, The repair shop was big enough to accommodate seven large logging trucks simultaneously, and a double set of railroad tracks, led into the north end of the building so that two locomotives or cars could be repaired or overhauled at once. The locomotive pit was 70 feet long, and the roundhouse 24 feet by 70 feet. Overhead a 7.5 ton crane made by the company’s own crew, operates on a 40 foot-wide craneway.
Machines throughout the building were all individually driven. The welding shop piped juice all over the building so that individual jobs didn’t have to be taken to the shop but could be handled almost anywhere in the machine shop. There was also a fully equipped engine repair shop and tire plant. Air compression was provided by a 315 c.f. Schramm motor.
The machine shop extended to the roof, and occupied the western half of the building. The eastern portion was in two stories and was subdivided among the various departments such as the store room where about everything needed in a logging camp or railroad operation was not only stored but catalogued, so that the attendant could tell simply by turning up a card index system the extent of the company’s stocks’.
Comox left about 1986 and the grant from the Expo l986 Legacy was used to refurbish the building and subsequently the Ladysmith Railway Historical Society used the shop to restore locos, and wagons and also established a museum of railway artifacts on the top floor; due to financing and expansion problems, the shop and museum were closed.
The building has been occupied by several businesses, notably Seaward Kayaks, who build kayaks, and sundry small businesses e.g. Island Wood Pelleters, O’Hurley’s Wooden Boats, Island Signs, Island Outdoor Centre and Southwood Products and Atlantis Kayak. It currently houses the offices of the Ladysmith Maritime Society and The Arts Council of Ladysmith and District and the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery since 2006.
Thanks to Bruce G. Flanagan for these wonderful pictures.