Volunteers wear wounds of railway restoration proudly

When Carlton Lagusz finished working on the roof of Cape Race, he probably couldn’t feel anything. He’d bumped his head too many times to count around the workshop while working on it.

“There was literally blood. There was sweat and there were probably tears,” he said. “It was a very physical work, very tiring.”

Bumps on his head aside, Lagusz had a bittersweet feeling saying goodbye to the 85-year-old CPR passenger car.

“I was happy to have the job done, but … we also wanted to continue to work on the whole carriage because it had been so much fun,” he said.

Inside a railway roundhouse at the foot of Toronto’s John Street, volunteers try to preserve history by saving old train cars. The Toronto Railway Museum is dedicated to commemorating trains and railways in the city. The volunteers maintain its exhibits and keep the museum running. Bob Dickson, the museum manager for two years, said the volunteers are very dedicated.

“We have probably 60 or 70 volunteers in our pool, but typically you get maybe at the most 14 showing at any given day,” Dickson said. “It’s usually the same 14 all the time.”

Almost all of the volunteers have contributed to the restoration of Cape Race. Dickson said most volunteers feel a real sense of accomplishment.

“They don’t want to sit there and make, let’s say, a wooden duck,” he said. “They want to see something historical that they have restored.”

Lin Smith, born in Britain, joined the team of volunteers four months ago. He felt drawn to help because of his fascination with trains.

“Like a lot of kids, I was a train spotter,” he said. “I used to go down one of the main stations in London to see and write down the engines you saw and all that, but I never had the opportunity to get involved in heavy equipment at all like I do here.”

Smith helped with the woodwork for Cape Race. He said the restoration work has helped him discover the ingenuity of the carriage’s original builders.

“It’s interesting to see the great degree of innovation and invention that was around in the 1920s when these where built,” he said.

Lagusz got to know that innovation first-hand; he worked to restore the train car for almost seven months. Now Cape Race is almost ready to be displayed along with other pieces of railway history at the John Street Roundhouse.

“Now we just need to do some bodywork, finish that up,” he said. “It could be going outside in a few weeks.”

For Lagusz and the restoration team, that’s all that matters – for museum visitors to see their work and maybe learn about trains in the process.