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The History of The AVR.

About 25 years ago Bill Taylor had a dream. He wanted to build an outdoor live steam railway in the woods around his home in Charleswood. Bill was an avid model railroader and had a 750 sq. ft 1000 foot HO model railroad in his basement that started in 1969. Bill also liked going to the N.M.R.A. "National" conventions and each year a side tour to a live steam railway would be featured. He would always sign up and go. Most often he was accompanied by Peter Abel, who was also a model railroader who had the same dream.

In 1983, after hosting 1000 people in his basement railroad, Bill began adding an addition on to his home. During construction every piece of scrap lumber measuring at least 14 inches was stashed away to be cut up into future ties. Peter noticing this project, put two and two together and realized what was being planned. House construction occupied the balance of the 80’s and a recession kicked off the 90’s. The dream remained just that.

During the summer of 1995, Bill started clearing the first part of the future line.  Peter soon saw the need for his engineering input, and started mounting a proper survey of the proposed route. Bill felled trees with his axe and was from time to time joined by others including Len La Rue. After clearing the brush and avoiding major trees, Bill would use his garden mower to clear the debris in readiness to lay a load of crushed ¾ inch limestone sub-roadbed. We hired Jeff Houle to move most of this rock. During that summer, our first 2500 feet of rail was ordered and stored in what would become our maintenance building. By winter we had cleared 1200 feet of main line and put sub-roadbed on 1000 feet. During the winter we commenced building our first car which was a Cannonball ballast hopper car. Bill, Peter and Len spent about two months on this project. During this winter we also commissioned Cannonball to build our GP-9 locomotive, one flat car and four gondolas. We decided to follow the old C.N.R. paint scheme of green and gold for the GP-9. The cars were to be box car red and all were to be lettered for the AVR. We chose our slogan "Route of the Hazel Nuts" for two reasons. First we have hazel nut bushes along the track, and second, you have to be nuts to build a 1/8 scale railroad.

Once the snow melted in 1996, our little band commenced clearing the balance of the main line  and placed the remainder of the sub-roadbed. Peter and Bill shook hands across the finished roadbed. During the spring we also amassed a large pile of supplies for the summer building program. Ties were cut and creosoted at our makeshift creosote plant.  Bill started to make up tie panels on the work table and Peter went wild surveying  so we could get the future track at a controlled grade. We laid our first track at what we call mile 4 and Peter built our first switch to tie the main line into our loading spur that runs 93 feet to the parking area. About the end of August, Peter and Bill drove to Cannonball in Oklahoma City to take delivery of our new equipment.  It was all loaded into Bill’s van for the trip home. Once at home, we needed a place to store the train so a temporary dog house consisting of a 48 foot long building, 2 foot wide by 2 foot tall, was constructed and the train spent two winters in this structure. It was on top of what would become the north station track. During the remainder of the summer and fall, the crew continued building track. We eventually got 800 feet of track on the ground and in October had our first Open House  for the members of the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club.

Winter soon followed ending construction on the AVR for the year. During that December, we tried out our first winter run with an out and back procedure. We gave rides to about 500 passengers. The first 600 feet of track was illuminated with arches covered with coloured lights. That first winter was cold and had deep snow. We ran in snow as deep as our GP-9.

Spring of 1997 came quickly with melting snow causing some flooding. Once the water went down we started to re-ballast the damaged area and lay track on the roadbed. We also built our maintenance building during that summer. We were joined by Ken Simm who was great on construction. Bill and Ken installed the trusses on the new building. It was discovered early in the summer that the train could be put to work hauling tie panels and other supplies to the end of track project. The initial six helped by several others from time to time worked very hard that summer, and by mid August we knew that by fall the main line would be open. It was decided that to mark the occasion, we would invite the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Manitoba to put in the last "Golden Screw"

The grand opening was a festive occasion with about 40 invited guests. Most were involved with the railway in some way and the balance were family members. The site was cleared and white garden chairs arranged. Bill did the opening speech once the Lt. Gov. arrived. We asked the Lt. Gov. to unveil the dedication plaques and then put in the last "spike".  We toasted the Queen with real Champagne. Our GP-9 # 3001 was ready to cross the new finished trackage. The first trip out consisted of Bill as engineer, the Lt. Gov., his Aide-de-Camp, Peter Abel, Len La Rue, Darren Zawislak and Ken Simm. The rest of the afternoon was spent in eating, visiting and taking train rides. Donna Simm prepared a superb luncheon.  The next day we were open to the public and had 600 visitors. We managed to give 550 rides before our batteries gave out.

The remainder of the summer saw us complete the "Y" and do some preparation for the Christmas season. That first Christmas with the ability to travel our complete main line saw 7,900 riders. We also had about 60,000 people to see the light display on our site.

The summer of 1998 was spent doing infrastructure and featuring our monthly open house weekends. Our main project was the start of construction of the Charleswood station located on the site of an old greenhouse. The first task was the razing of the existing building and the clearing and preparation of the site. As it was impossible to get a cement truck to the site, we decided to mix our own concrete for the foundation and floor. Forms were made and concrete mixed and placed in three separate pours. Peter Abel drew up computer plans from Bill’s original hand sketched ideas. It was to be a scaled down version of the existing CNR St. James Station. Next came the walls followed by the trusses and roofing. The last task was nailing the cedar drop siding on the studs. Unfortunately, winter came early and we only managed to get a big blue tarp over the roof. During the fall we got the wiring and insulating done. By Christmas the shell was up, but the inside was not finished. The permanent storage area for the trains inside the station was finished enough to be used by December and the temporary dog house was removed. The winter was very cold and riders were down to 4,500 during the Christmas run. The visitors were more generous during this cold winter and our funds stayed equal with the previous year.

During the summer of 1998, we also completed construction of our trailer to carry equipment so the AVR could go on the road. We purchased a flat deck tandem trailer and built a storage trailer box that could carry up to 12 pieces of equipment. We had decided to attend the N.M.R.A. convention in Kansas City and operate on both Gail Gish’s and Pat McCarthy’s railways. During this trip we heard about some equipment for sale in the Oklahoma City area. On our way home, we took a side trip to St. Croix and worked a Saturday hauling ballast with our GP-9 and carried 300 passengers the next day. Upon returning home, we negotiated the purchase of the Oklahoma City equipment and in September headed back with two trucks and two trailers to transport back our purchases. The equipment had been manufactured in 1995 but never used. It consisted of a Cannonball F-7 in Santa-Fe colours along with two flat cars, two gondolas, one hopper, 5,000 feet of rail and 7,500 pressure treated Douglas fir ties plus hardware, almost enough to finish phase two of the railway.

During the winter of 1999, we started work on the inside of the station. By summer we had all drywall installed and while not painted, the station was usable. Over the balance of the summer we painted the outside and completed all of the shingles for the roof. The dormers were fabricated and mounted as part of the roof completion. We then turned our attention to clearing the area of our new car barn that could hold up to another 20 pieces of equipment. The trackage was built and by October the car barn was compete. Other track work consisted of putting in the sub roadbed for two future passing tracks at Amur Glen and Ash Grove. Before snow we had the passing track in at Amur Glen.

During the summer of 99 four of our members took both trains to St. Croix for the July N.M.R.A. convention in St.Paul. We worked a Saturday hauling fill with the GP-9,  hauled 400 passengers on Sunday,  then participated in the two run days for the N.M.R.A and then again worked the Saturday and ran for the public on Sunday.

During the fall we became an incorporated group and held our first Annual General Meeting. The Christmas season was quite mild, and we were very busy giving almost 10,000 passengers rides during the month of December. Seventeen of our members took turns keeping the trains running. While not complete, the heated station was used every night as a waiting room for the public and we sold 1500 cups of hot chocolate. 

After a rest in January, the members turned their attention to completing the inside of the station as we wanted it to be a showcase for the upcoming MILLENNIUM EXPRESS 2000 convention to be held in Winnipeg at the end of May 2000. We worked like little beavers completing all of the painting, wood wainscoting and oak trim. It is now a station with a lot of class both inside and out. The guys worked on the trackage as soon as the winter snows left. To complete the station area we laid 1000 paving stones  in front at the loading area. During the convention we had 250 delegates both riding the trains and participating in an outdoor barbecue.

Summer projects were the completion of the passing track at Ashgrove and adding a spur track to the siding at Amur Glen. One of our members, Dwight started the construction and installation of a signal system for our following operation at Christmas. This was operational by the end of November. As soon as the passing track at Ash Grove was complete, we started running dual direction trains at our open houses each month. We found that the public really liked this extra bit of operation. The weather was not co-operative and during one three hour period in July we had a whole months worth of rain. It was enough to close our local highway for two days. The AVR did get some flooding. Two days later, we held our July open house. During June and July we started construction on our second phase of track work that will add 1900 feet to the main line, plus four more passing sidings and six more spur tracks. As luck would have it, the new trackage out of the station passed through a wood pile and an old farm disc and harrow. These were moved and Bill with his axe cleared almost 600 feet of right of way. Peter, Bill, Ed, David, Richard and Dwight worked on the clearing and putting in stakes on the new centre line.

We had our first visiting locomotive in July  with Pat MaCarthy from Kansas City and some friends along with two from Illinois. One afternoon several of the members and Pat took all three trains out and made good use of our three passing sidings. The second two locomotives that came did not get unloaded due to rain the next day. Pat and crew were on their way to Alaska and then on to the I.B.L.S. 2000 Ramble in Burnaby. Six of our own members along with family, would eventually meet up with them on the Ramble at Burnaby. We took our trailer with two complete trains and made it to nine different railways from Burnaby to Train Mountain. See the page on AVR travel.

Once back home in September, the push was on to get some trackage down before first snow. We hauled rock for about 225 feet and laid almost 200 feet of rail along with two switches before winter set in. In October Bill started putting up Christmas lights and by December 1st had 42,000 put up. The AVR ran trains every night from Dec 1 to Jan 7th but, due to the third coldest December since records were kept, our numbers were down to 4,500 riders. Cold weather makes them more generous and we finished the year balancing our books. Some nights we carried passengers at 29 below zero. On January 7th we shut down operations until spring. A small band of dedicated members come out each Saturday afternoon and we have torn our GP-9 down for heavy maintenance and have pre fabricated 720 feet of tie panel.  By spring we will have built two new steel gondolas plus some other projects. The Assiniboine Valley Railway is getting its first steam engine, a CPR heavy Pacific that should be steaming around by October of 2002.  Spring in Winnipeg was very wet with lots of standing water in the bush but this did not stop us from placing sub-roadbed on the new line and adding to the length of our new track. Each Saturday between six and eight members would come out and work on such projects. The next picture shows one of those work parties at the tunnel cut off. Due to possible inclement weather we put up a 20 foot by 10 foot canopy to protect our switch making area so construction could continue on wet days. With all this new building energy the AVR continues to entertain the people of Winnipeg with train rides as indicated in the picture of Richard at the controls of 3001. 

The expansion project for 2001 continues and as of July 15th, 2001 the crew had reached the diamond near mile post 5. The following week saw clearing, grading and installation of sub-roadbed from the diamond to 30 feet from the future tunnel. The next picture shows the AVR's first attempt at continuous ribbon rail. The AVR uses the train in as many building steps as possible and in the next picture shows how we move rail panels to the site of rail construction.  The crew of the AVR had never built a diamond crossing but Dwight tried his hand at it and next is a picture of that diamond. Other members continued with construction of the timber frames for our first tunnel. Another first for the AVR was the Breakfast Train which we ran in late July. We were all pleased with the morning event.  By late August of 2001 the diamond was installed and tracks run past to the end of roadbed. During this time we continued with open houses and painting and lettering four of our cars. In August our locomotive 3001 with 6 cars visited St. Croix and the Live Steamers at the Dells in Wisconsin. 

The big project in September 2001 was digging the two tunnel cuts and working on the tunnel framing. A small Cat Excavator was rented for the digging and Bill spent part of two days on the project. While the equipment was available a new 18 inch culvert was installed under the road to help solve some of our drainage problems in the spring and during heavy rains. The tunnel was backfilled and soon trains started to run through the tunnel and over a 20 foot bridge located just to the south. The tangent following the bridge and tunnel was laid prior to the end of 2001 outdoor construction.  After the Christmas run work will move indoors but just before Christmas our new station desk was finished along with the installation of new lights on both our GP-9 and F-7. Dwight did a great job on these lights as indicated by the picture.

The Christmas of 2001-2002 became our best ever with over 12,000 passengers being carried and very good donations during the run. We took a picture of our 12,000 guest. This year while the lights were still up we took a series of pictures that show some of the 48,967 lights that drew in over 30,000 people to enjoy their colour and sparkle. 18 members and guests helped keep the railway running during Christmas. During December the AVR again went on the road and visited and ran on railroads in California, Arizona, Oklahoma and Missouri. See the pictures under the section "Railways we have visited". By the end of January 2002 several members of the club were again actively building for the next season. Our first task was to pe-fabricate 66 sections of track panel and one Saturday afternoon the crew posed for a picture. Once that project was complete the crew started to build our three new gondolas and get a start on the new box cab locomotive. With any club, discussion always proceeds action and in the next picture we discuss the gondolas.

Before long the crew was hard at work building the three new gondolas. In the next picture Peter is at work grinding and Bill is busy welding Gondolas together. As that project came to an end Peter turned his attention to building the new flat car and replacing stake pockets on two older flats. Jim turned his attention to the box cab body. During a Saturday work session the crew stops for a picture.  The next several weeks saw great industry on the box cab. We took lots of pictures of progress as we built small parts. Before long the body started to take shape and we were able to mount the body on the chassis and take it for its first trip around the railway. During the spring of 2002, Peter replaced all the plastic stake pockets on our two short flat cars and Dwight added electrical jumper cables to all rail joints on the old main line to add to the integrity of the signal system. The AVR often participates in Community Train shows and this year we were at both the W.M.R.C. spring contest and train show. The box cab and the new flat car were displayed. Often we were able to catch the work crew on a Saturday in a group picture and record who was working on a work day. the following two pictures record just such an event. April 27, 2002 and later May 11th, 2002. After all the industry of the winter one rite of spring on the AVR is to run a beer train. We are able to load empties right inside the station and run them out by train to the loading spur in the parking area. This year Dwight and Andrei ran into a tree and Dwight was forced to go after the tree with his chain saw. During the summer of 2002 the main project was to complete the new addition to the main line. Many members worked hard to place gravel, build switches and by the end of June we had reached where the west diamond was to cross the old main line at mile post 25.  The construction of the diamond took some time and did not get installed until near the end of August. During that time the members completed some smaller projects like installing level crossings, placing sub roadbed north of the diamond, completing details on the east tunnel, building all the tunnel frames for the west tunnel and ballasting all the new track. During July we acquired a new F-7 from Missouri and transported it to Winnipeg. The next picture shows the locomotive arriving at the AVR. Another milestone on the AVR was the arrival of John and the first steam engine to run on the AVR. John is now a member. During the summer 3001 paid a visit to the Denver club and you can check out the pictures under the heading "Railways We Have Visited". During one of our regular summer open houses we were visited by a group of ladies from the Red Hat Society and we took them for a ride. At last the diamond was complete and the west diamond was installed. Track was soon being laid west to the future tunnel where track laying ended for 2002. With all the rain we were getting the tunnel trench never dried out enough to allow construction. The members turned their attention to the track laid in 2001 which was still not levelled and ballasted. This was almost completed until the weather ended all track work. Five members of the AVR traveled with two trains to the Fall Meet at St. Croix and pictures are included in the section under "Railways we have Visited"   In September John returned with his Alan 10 wheeler and the members showed up for the event. AVR GROUP OF SEPT. 7TH WITH STEAM.  The crew then turned its attention to getting the railway ready for the annual Christmas run. Jim came up with a great idea for running the Box Cab.  Just some of the events in the life of a real small scale railway.

During the winter of 2003 the members of the AVR met each Saturday afternoon and continued to work on preparation projects for next summer. Several switches were fabricated and 32 track panels. The work crew of Feb 1 shows one typical Saturday crew as they worked on  Construction of a switch in the station shown in the last picture. During the winter several of the members built a 12 x 12 storage building at the upper parking area to hold dinner tables, other equipment and Christmas displays from the upper area of the display. Building storage shed.   Once spring arrived the members started working on outdoor projects on the AVR. The first major project was the West Tunnel that was completed with the exception of wing walls and back fill. The connecting track was laid and  the third diamond was installed.  Bill continued with mile post replacement and during the summer made and replaced all mile posts on the whole line. He also built our first six new cross bucks. The members cleared the sidings at Paterson, Winch, Chapman and Old Fort and in due course laid all the needed switches and track. Work then continued on the 168 foot spur at Paterson and the elevator spur. The roadbed was cleared for the spur at Old Fort and the area west of the station was excavated to extend the double track westward. In preparation for our first Labour Day meet a group of members constructed our first mechanical train lift, three 20 foot steaming tracks, poured an unloading pad and re-graded the loading spur track. Water and electricity were made available at the site. Construction of lift and steaming bay pictures.  During the summer lots of small projects were completed like clearing the site for our new Engine House. This included the removal of the old dog run. The removal of a storage shed where members had to evict some unwanted tenants.    During the summer other notable things occurred including our first visit by a  Wedding party  and our first Labour Day meet. Bill took 3001 along with three gondolas to the 2003 Ramble down the west coast and visited, Train Mountain, Medford, Kitsap, Victoria, Squamish, Burnaby and Airdrie before returning to Winnipeg. These pictures can be viewed at  OTHER RAILROADS WE HAVE VISITED  In September nine members of the AVR attended the Fall Meet at St. Croix taking two trains after modifications to our train trailer. 

The Christmas season of 2003/04 continued as normal with many colder days then the previous winter. Large numbers of people continued to come out during December. New displays were added to the facility for Christmas. Once Christmas was over the members of the AVR started to build three new gondolas and a long flat car in the station. A large quantity of rail side signs were constructed and painted up ready to be put out along the railway. Ties were cut and creosoted in preparation for summer additions so that once the summer came  spurs could be completed at Chapman and Old fort. As well the Charleswood Station tracks were extended to mile 2 and a new spur was added. A series of pictures called Work Projects During The Spring were added to our site. During the spring Jim and Barry presented a steam safety course for all active members of the club in preparation for the arrival of our new steam engine #2365. Bill traveled to Victoria and Train Mountain to be trained on the new locomotive by her builder Cliff. It was a great trip and pictures and story can be found at Test At Train Mountain. At the AVR construction was hard at work getting the new engine house ready and the eventual arrival of 2365 in July.  We are including some pictures on Sit Preparation and Car ConstructionAs the summer progressed we made the foundation form and put down the steel and the big day arrived when we poured the floor and all the work that went into its construction.  In July Cliff arrived with 2365 and it was unloaded, checked and sent on its maiden trip around the rails of the AVR. It was in time for our July Open House and was an instant success with our quests. During the weekend Cliff, his wife Susan and father-in-law Arthur stayed around to see her run. We recorded the event in a series of pictures. During the summer of 2004 we continued with open houses for the public and special events. While the big event was the arrival of 2365 we did have John visit with his Alan 10 wheeler and he became the first steamer to travel around the completed new line with Bill at the throttle. In August we visited The Red River live steamers with our new Pacific and triple headed with Whit and Barry's Pacifics. One again we held a successful dinner train and had our second Labour Day Meet with visitors from Alberta with a locomotive that was run on air for the first time at the AVR. As fall came upon us the majority of the AVR members were hard at work trying to close in the Engine House before winter set and brought a halt to outdoor construction. Walls were built, trusses assembled and nailed into place, shingles were completed and doors and windows were put into place. We started a picture gallery on the new Engine House and Machine Shop

The AVR continued to travel to other clubs and attended the Fall Meet at St. Croix outside Minneapolis with Vic, Bill, Barry and Len in attendance and 2365 was received very well. In February Bill took 2365 and a 5,000 mile trip to California and ran at LALS at Griffith Park and at Orange County. On the way back it ran at Denver at the Colorado Live Steamers. Pictures of these Tracks can be found at Other Railroads We Have Visited.  In late October Bill along with several other members started to put up the displays and many new features were added to the display as it grew to 71,000 lights. Once the 2004/2005 Christmas Run was over the members spend countless hours completing the inside of the Engine House with Electrical, Insulation, Vapour barrier, drywall, taping, painting and all the other things that go on in a new building. Back in the station Peter with help from other members started to build a wood refrigerator car and Jim with help from other members took on the job of completing the Box Cab. There is a picture group on both projects under The AVR Roster. One of our get to it projects was the removal of paint and re-painting of two of our older locomotives #202 and #6109. Both these projects can be found in The AVR Roster section above.

We start them young at the AVR. A picture of some of the family members helping out.

The AVR runs in snow

 As we look down the track we look forward to some challenging projects in the future.

This page last updated by Bill Taylor  of Winnipeg on Feb. 2nd, 2008

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