August 13-16, 2015 – Port Alberni, BC

Thursday morning the sun was shining and it promises to be a hot day.  We left Campbell River and drove southwest to Port Alberni.  We are staying at the Timber Lodge and RV Campground just outside of Port Alberni.  When we got to Port Alberni and opened the 5th wheel door we were hit with a strong ammonia smell – we think it is from the refrigerator and that we are leaking coolant.  After getting set up and opening windows the smell went away.   We went to an RV repair shop and spoke with a technician who confirmed that it is the refrigerator.   The refrigerator is holding temperature so we are going to watch it for now - we are hoping it will keep cooling until we get back to Washington in a couple of weeks.  After talking to the RV technician we went to the Visitor Information Center and got information about the area.

Friday we went into Port Alberni and stopped at the Harbor Quay, a waterfront park and marina.  We walked around looking at the park and waterfront – we found this tugboat that has been refurbished and is now a bed and breakfast.  We think it would be great fun to spend the night on the MV Songhee.

Port Alberni is on the west coast of Vancouver Island and sits on the Alberni Inlet.  It was windy today and the inlet was very choppy.

We drove around town and then stopped at Walmart to look at small refrigerators that we could use if (or more likely “when”) our refrigerator goes out.  This would help us until we can get a new refrigerator in the 5th wheel.  Walmart has a number of their small refrigerators on sale which will be a great help if we decide to buy one.  When we got home the refrigerator in the 5th wheel was still doing fine – maybe we won’t need to buy a back-up refrigerator.

Saturday morning was overcast and looked like it might rain.  We decided to go to MacMillan Provincial Park and hike in Cathedral Grove.  We were here last month with David and Colleen and wanted to hike the loop trail that goes to a beautiful small lake.

The trail winds through an old growth forest of cedar and Douglas fir trees.  The roots of this huge fallen tree make Rex look small!

After our short hike we drove into Coombs and stopped at the Goats on the Roof Old Country Market to get a loaf of their wonderful cheese bread.  This is the same market that David and Colleen took us to last month - the goats were on the roof again. 

After buying cheese bread, whole grain bread and some chips from Scotland, we headed to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park.  We hiked the loop trail that started at the lower falls - these small falls are very nice.

On the way to the upper falls we found this cute little owl sitting in a tree beside the trail.

The upper falls were spectacular – it was really hard to get both levels of the upper falls in one picture.

The gorge below the upper falls is narrow and deep and the water is a beautiful turquoise.

At the end of the loop we ate a picnic lunch on a bench beside the river.  The chips from Scotland we bought at the market in Coombs were great.  This was a great hike and the falls were beautiful.  We stopped at a candy store and bought some peanut clusters and ice cream.  We had a great day and only got sprinkled on while we were in Coombs.

On the way home we decided to stop by Walmart again and buy the 4.4 cu ft refrigerator we had looked at yesterday.  We know it is just a matter of time before the refrigerator in the 5th wheel quits and we want to be prepared.  This refrigerator is a lot smaller than the one in the 5th wheel but it will be fine for a few weeks.  We will be able to use it in Arizona to keep beer and wine cool.

Sunday was another nice sunny day and we rode the Alberni Pacific Railroad to the McLean Mill National Historic Site.  While waiting for the train we toured the attached museum which housed a lot of the town’s old firefighting equipment.  There was also an interesting exhibit about the 2 tsunamis that hit Port Alberni.  The tsunamis were a result of the earthquake that hit Alaska on Good Friday in 1964.  Because of the long narrow inlet the second wave was much larger than in other areas and destroyed 55 homes and damaged 375 more homes - a lot of destruction for a small town.   

 Our train was supposed to be pulled by No. 7, a 1929 Baldwin steam locomotive that was originally used to haul logs to the McLean Mill, but it had a broken spring and was in the shop for repairs.  We were disappointed but the old 1950’s era diesel was still fun.  When we purchased our tickets on Friday we talked to the lady at the counter about the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad and that Rex volunteered on it.  Well she told the conductor. Ken, and after the train left the depot he came looking for us.  Ken had ridden the Cumbres and Toltec and he and Rex talked about the railroad and he told us more about the Alberni Pacific Railroad.

The trip to the mill was short, about 30 minutes, but was a beautiful climb into the mountains.  Our conductor pointed out this prime retirement property if anyone was thinking of retiring in Port Alberni – quite a place!

After our enjoyable ride we arrived at the McLean Mill National Historic Site.  The site is located on 12.8 hectares and contains 35 buildings and structures.  They form a self-contained community of residences, offices and service buildings centered around the steam-driven sawmill and mill pond.  The RB McLean Lumber Company was a family-run business that operated from 1926 to 1965.   Much of the original machinery and buildings have survived making it a rare example of a sawmill complex from the first half of the 20th century.  For these reasons the McLean Mill was designated as a national historic site in 1989.   The saw mill has been completely restored and is operational.

Some of the other buildings, like this family cabin, have also been restored.  There are displays inside the buildings telling about life when the saw mill was operating.


We walked through the site to the steam donkey where we watched a demonstration of it in operation.

The crew used the steam donkey to power the heel boom to haul logs up the hill in preparation to loading them onto a logging truck.  The crew also used the steam donkey to brew their coffe for the day.

A gas donkey was used to power the heel boom as it loaded the logs onto a very old logging truck that has been restored and still runs great.

After the truck was loaded with the six logs, they demonstrated how they used the steam donkey to power the cable that unloaded all the logs at one time.  Cables were wrapped around the load and the steam donkey powered up and pulled the cables which caused the logs to roll off the truck.

This was a great demonstration and you could tell the guys who helped loved what they were doing.  Some are former lumbermen who enjoy donating their time to the mill.  We then had a break for lunch and time to look around the mill site some more.  There was a small café selling sandwiches, hot dogs, soup, and some great homemade desserts.  During our lunch break Ken, our conductor, visited some more with Rex about steam trains.  He invited us to stay on the train when we get to Port Alberni and ride to the round house to see engine No. 7 and the other engines and equipment they have.

We then met at the saw mill for another demonstration.  We walked under the mill to see the steam engine and all the belts that run the saws and the other machinery.  They started the demonstration by hauling a log up from the mill pond and cutting the bark off forming a square 4 sided log.   The head saws, a 50 inch and a 54 inch circular saw, then cut the log into timbers.   The transfer chains move the log slabs onto belts that feed the edger that makes timbers into boards.  Then the boards move to the trim saw for cutting to the proper length.  This was another great demonstration by guys who love playing with this old machinery.

We headed back to the train and started our trip to Port Alberni.  Along the way we saw the “Flag Lady” who waves flags at every train – today she is in a pink tutu!

When we got back to Port Alberni, Ken gave us a short tour of the round house and talked about the engines and operations of the Alberni Pacific Railway.  We had a great time today and really enjoyed the train ride, touring the mill and learning all about life at a saw mill.


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