A local train enthusiast got his start on the rails, lending a hand to the volunteers of Port Alberni’s own steam train.
He is now the youngest certified steam locomotive engineer in the province.
Rod Gledhill acquired his early interest and skills honestly. Born into a mechanical family, his father, Dan, was the head mechanic at the Alberni Pacific Railway.
By the time he was 14 years old, the younger Gledhill was getting his hands dirty on-site helping his father with repairs during the winter of 2004.
He was always tinkering around in the roundhouse and his passion for steam locomotives grew from being surrounded by experienced volunteers with the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society.
“Guys like Rollie Hurst and George Williamson took me under their wings and taught me everything they know about locomotives to be able to pass the torch to the younger generation,” Gledhill said.
Through job shadowing and oneon-one training, Gledhill worked his way up as a certified fireman on the Number 7 and eventually to engineer.
“I job shadowed to train as engineer and was eventually able to run the engine for three or four summers,” he said. “I got the go-ahead to write my (steam locomotive engineer) exam and as a result, I am certified and can run the locomotive by myself without supervision.”
By the fall of 2011, Gledhill was inspired to pursue the Railway Conductor training program at BCIT and was hired by the Canadian Pacific Railway six months after completion.
“I took the course to get my foot in the door for a career and (working on the steam locomotive) gave me the fundamentals, drive and desire to pursue it,” Gledhill said. “Then things changed along the way.”
After 10 months on the job, new management with the CPR came in and drastically cut costs, including the lay off of 20,000 people in Canada.
Gledhill was one of those workers. He decided to take a job at the pulp mill in Port Alice, but feels he has the best of both worlds.
He said he might reconsider the industry in the future, now that a recent hiring freeze has ended.
“Someday down the road I might, but as it stands now I am making good money and working indoors,” he said.
“I can still run a locomotive that I grew up on in the summers and the pulp mill keeps me on the Island so I can give my time to the guys on my days off. So the change was in a good, positive way.”
He said the volunteers of the WVIIHS taught him not only the technical skills, but commitment and patience.
“They are willing and capable of sharing their craft with any of the younger generation who wants to learn because it is a labour of love,” Gledhill said.