Steam donkey gets TLC at McLean Mill

The steam donkey from McLean Mill National Historic Site is getting an overhaul at the Industrial Heritage Society’s facility on Dunbar Street in Port Alberni.

Boilermakers from the east coast of Vancouver Island have been in the Alberni Valley for more than a week, replacing the tubes that create the steam to drive the donkey—a heritage piece of logging equipment.

Boilermakers Mike (Rocky) Roxburgh, Barry Pyne, Barry Dobrenksy, Bill Rogers, Jorge Vidal and apprentice Matt Wallace donated their time to mill, roll and bead over the 206 tubes.

The boiler was originally built in 1929, said project manager Les Stevens. The Washington Iron Works steam donkey was originally used by the R.B. McLean Lumber Co. in their logging operations in the Beaufort Mountains surrounding Port Alberni.

The 206 steel tubes contained in the boiler have to be replaced approximately every 30 years; the last time they were changed was when the steam donkey was restored for Steam Expo in Vancouver in 1986, although they are inspected every year.

“They will be good for another 30-40 years now,” he said.

Steam donkeys were the “work horses” in the B.C. woods until after the Second World War and there were thousands of them working in the logging camps from Alaska to Northern California, IHS volunteer David Hooper said.

“Now, there is only one left and the boilermakers want to ensure that there will still be ‘steam in the woods’ in the next generation and it will be here in the Alberni Valley.”

The steam donkey demonstration site is also undergoing a facelift. Because Kitsuksis Creek will be rerouted through the McLean Mill site, the spar tree and steam donkey had to be moved back.

Some of the trees at the far end of the site will be felled this week to make room for the spar tree, Hooper said.

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