Campbell River, British Columbia
Museum at Campbell River

We welcome Thelma Silkens as one of our columnists, she will be writing about Campbell River's past and present,
as she works for the local museum and will be entertaining us with stories of days gone by and current offerings by the museum.

Getting up steam

Gimme a boiler with lots of fog
And I'll show you guys just how to log.

Robert Swanson


During the early 1900s, as many as 4,000 steam donkeys were at work in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Their boilers fired by wood, blowing a head of steam, the machines yarded logs in operations big and small throughout the coast.

A 10 x 12 Empire steam donkey, manufactured in Vancouver in 1916, has been situated on the Museum at Campbell River grounds since 1994. It is currently being restored, repositioned and, it is hoped, brought to running order for special events. The work is part of the Museum's millennium project, the development of an outdoor historical interpretation park.

During its working years the Museum's steam donkey had a typically itinerant lifestyle. Mounted on log skids for portability, donkeys were frequently moved from location to location; they were often pulled onto floats and towed with an entire camp to work a new stand of timber.

The Museum's donkey, owned by logger P.B. Anderson while at Knox Bay, was purchased from him by Clarence Boardman in 1932. Clarence and his son Douglas used the donkey in operations at Hardwicke Island, West Thurlow Island, Boughey Bay, Chatham Channel, Lull Bay and Glendale Cove.

The steam donkey met retirement at the head of Knight Inlet in 1948. "We pulled it out by the edge of the road and left it when we started buying diesel machinery," says Doug Boardman, who had acquired his steam operator's ticket at the age of 18.

Eventually the claim was sold to B.C. Forest Products (now part of TimberWest). During the 1980s, when the company was moving other equipment, BCFP general manager Bud Iverson arranged to have the donkey brought to Campbell River. Fellow members of the Rotary Club of Campbell River held several work bees to clean up the machine at its temporary location, the Haida Freight yard.

Donated to the Museum by the Rotary Club, the donkey was placed on site shortly after the new museum building opened. Several individuals contributed machinery and services to effect the move, and a similar spirit of cooperation is aiding the current work.

Restoring the donkey to operational condition is no small task, and exhibits construction manager George Murdoch says donations of time and material have made a huge difference in getting the project underway. He lists many contributors: Canspec, Discovery Crane, TimberWest, General Hill Lumber, Hennessy Equipment, Russel Metals, York Machine Shop, Engine Art Restoration, Discovery Forest Products, Seaway Marine Service, Gordon Roberts, Buford Haines.

The donkey's steam boiler (weight 9 tons) was dismantled, removed, cleaned, and tested by ultrasound to ensure its viability. With the encouraging report that it was basically sound, procedure for the boiler's restoration was assessed by the provincial boiler inspector and a group of steam engineer consultants. Repairs will begin once copies of the original engineering records, containing such information as the grade of steel used, are received from the boiler inspection archives.

The winch mechanism was also dismantled and cleaned, and once repainted will be placed on a new sled recently constructed of donated 38 ft. Douglas fir logs.

Located near the Museum's front entrance, the steam donkey will be open to view at all times, a prominent reminder of the early logging industry's important place in area history. And on occasion, its boiler will be fired and getting up a head of steam - showing everyone "just how to log."

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