by Brendan Oliver
For many Hamiltonians one of their best childhood memories is playing on the old train in Gage Park. For years the locomotive sat neglected and unwanted but now it’s on display in restored condition at the Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton.
In June of 1954 the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo (TH&B) Railway gave the City of Hamilton an old steam locomotive to be used as a museum piece. For more than a year the Parks Board debated where locomotive 103 should be placed but eventually they agreed on a spot at the south end of Gage Park just east of the Roselawn Lawn Bowling Club.
In its working days the train, which was built by the Montreal Locomotive Works in 1910, travelled between Hamilton, Welland, and Montrose hauling steel and other goods to points on the New York Central and Canadian Pacific lines. In its 44 years on the job the train had no accidents and maintained a fine safety record.
In early October 1956 the train was moved across Lawrence Road and into Gage Park using two sections of temporary track. On October 18, 1956 at a formal ceremony the locomotive was officially handed over to the City. Present at the ceremony were Mayor Lloyd D. Jackson and Fire Chief Reg Swanborough who once worked aboard the train as a stoker.
At the ceremony TH&B General Manager Percy Hankinson proclaimed, “We give her to the citizens of Hamilton and to their children who have for so many years watched our trains from this very spot and to the generations of Hamiltonians yet unborn.” The train would remain in the great park for the next 20 years.
By 1976 the train that was loved by so many children was in a state of disrepair having suffered the effects of weather and vandalism. In September of the same year it was decided to transport the old iron horse to the Wentworth Pioneer Village, now known as the Westfield Heritage Village.
On January 16, 1977 the two pieces were loaded onto trailers and hauled up the Claremont access on route to its new home. The trip up the access alone took over two hours.
In May of that year a ceremony was held at the Pioneer Village to celebrate the new addition. Herb March, an 87-year-old former engineer on the 103, and Ancaster Mayor Ann Sloat each took turns driving in the ceremonial spike.
In 1987 the train was in the news again when the Wentworth Pioneer Village fell on hard times and closed. A group of railway enthusiasts suggested the train should be moved to the Museum of Steam and Technology on Woodward Avenue. Working every Sunday to prepare the train for transport, the group put more than 1500 hours into the project.
Plans to move the train came to a halt when Alderman Bill McCulloch opposed the move due to its high cost. The disheartened railway group ceased their work and one member wrote in The Spectator, “Goodbye Engine 103, may you rust in peace.”
In 1997 a group led by Charles Doubrough began restoring the 103 as a millennium project. The group found extensive damage and it wasn’t until 2005 that the project was completed. Now on display in restored condition inside the village, the train is being enjoyed by a new generation of area children.
For more information about the TH&B 103 and the 1997 restoration project, please visit http://www.facebook.com/CrownPointHamiltonHistory/
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