For the first time in decades, a steam locomotive engine came barrelling through the Annapolis Valley — on an oversized flatbed truck.
It brought joy to train enthusiasts in Nova Scotia who received the gift of an iconic piece of history just in time for the holidays.
The last time a steam engine puffed and hissed down the tracks in the Annapolis Valley was in 1959, when the Dominion Atlantic Railway was still running.
On Friday morning, around 50 people turned out to watch a three-day transport mission successfully wrap up at the Middleton Railway Museum.
In one fell swoop, a large crane lowered the 115-year-old, 61-tonne locomotive onto a brand-new track at its new home.
"It's amazing. It just looks so proud, as if it had always been there," said Lawrence Powell, a volunteer at the museum.
Two days earlier, the locomotive had been plucked from the former Upper Clements Park, where it delighted families since 1989.
The delicate manoeuvre at the museum brought oodles of wonder.
"It was just an astonishing sight to see, if you can picture something as big as that being lifted into the air a dozen feet, swung around, and put on a giant truck," said Powell.
Bill Linley and his wife, Marilynn, enjoyed train-spotting as the train-on-a-truck weaved its way through the historic town of Annapolis Royal, down the old highway, and onto Highway 101.
"It's a wonderful Christmas present for the town of Middleton," said Linley, chair of the Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society.
Acquiring the engine, built in Montreal in 1905, had long been a dream for the folks at the museum who wanted to preserve it.
But without funding, they feared saving it might involve altering it.
"We had no prospects, and there was talk of if we moved it, we'd have to cut it in pieces and then put it back together again," said Powell, recalling his earlier days as a member of the board.
The goal of obtaining the locomotive became a possibility after the theme park closed last year. The asset was considered surplus, and was donated by the Municipality of the County of Annapolis.
But getting it to its new home required a specialized operation.
A.W. Leil worked with train aficionados on the logistics and did the transport. To stop the train from careening off the truck, a track was welded onto the flatbed.
To stay on track, transportation assistance from the province was needed, and the schedule was suddenly moved up when a snowstorm blanketed the province on Thursday.
The smokestack, bell and steam dome — Linley calls them jewelry — were removed for clearance during the move and later reattached.
The precious cargo was moved without a hitch. "It doesn't get any better than that," said Powell.
CN footed the bill to rebuild a track for the locomotive at its new home; the museum is in the old Middleton railway station. It was the third station in that spot, and dates back to 1917, said Linley who's written four history books on trains in Canada.
Back in the days of steam trains, they hauled apples, coal and other commodities for use within the province and export.
Most steam engines were retired and scrapped in the early 1960s, when diesel and electric took over, said Linley. He estimates there are only 300-400 left in Canada.
Linley said the new museum piece is the fourth oldest steam locomotive once owned by CN, and the only one of the four in the Maritimes.
It's expected the engine will attract more visitors to the museum. Fundraising is underway to upgrade the old railway station.
There are also plans for "labours of love" to restore the locomotive to its former glory.
A pattern to rebuild the original wooden cab was created from the old rotting structure.
Linley, who's almost 75, says the air whistle and chugging that could be heard miles away were a thrill that's stuck with him for a lifetime, and drives him on this preservation mission.
"When you get the railway bug, it's very hard to shake," he said.
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