By Cecilia Nasmith
Local railroad historian and modeller George Parker's work has been widely seen and admired in a number of venues, such as the outdoor operating model railroad he set up at Cobourg's Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre and the displays he regularly set up as part of the annual Cobourg Model Railroaders show.
That show was always scheduled on the first Saturday in March. As of 2019, the annual event was discontinued after 22 years. With the permission of the organizers, Parker has set it aside this year for his own show.
Parker's show has a specific theme: Cobourg's 19th-century railroad history. He is organizing operating layouts, models, artifacts, drawings and even activities for March 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Cobourg Public Library. Then, from 3 to 4 p.m., there will be a presentation on the lumber trade in the 19th century.
And admission is free.
Parker didn't require the space at the Cobourg Lions' Centre, where the Cobourg Model Railroaders show was held, but determined that the Rotary Room at the Cobourg Public Library was more suitable for the kind of show he has in mind.
The quality of his displays should be a draw to the local-history buff as well as of interest to the model-railway enthusiast who likes vintage machinery.
Unlike the typical model-railroad show, this one has no vendors.
Also unlike the typical show, children need not grow restless when they are constantly reminded not to touch anything – Parker has arranged for some interactive displays people can do rather than watch. These include a wind-up clockwork locomotive and a track where model railroad wheels (made of Tim Hortons coffee cups) roll down steep inclines and around sharp curves without leaving the tracks.
He's particularly proud of his model steam engines you can operate safely, because no actual heat is involved. He has made these little marvels of wood, and they are powered by the air pressure from a balloon in much the same way an actual steam engine was powered by the air pressure from steam – educational and fun.
While Friends of the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway play a large role in the event, Parker sees the theme as the larger story of Cobourg and its railroads – plural.
While many Cobourg residents know that that particular railroad was only operational for a limited number of years, and went out of business in the 1860s largely due to the failure of the bridge across Rice Lake, that was only chapter one. Chapter two was when it was taken over by the Cobourg-Peterborough-Marmora Railway and Mining Company, an American-controlled operation that stayed in business through 1874 and focused on the iron-ore market.
This will be part of the display as well and, along with the model railway, visitors can see associated exhibits, like his model of the Blairton Mine with its heavy machinery that was on display one season at the Sifton-Cook Centre.
Special guests also include the group who restored an actual Crossen ore car from the Cobourg-Peterborough-Marmora railroad and set it up on display at the harbour (Crossen – there's another local-history name). They will be present with a display on that particular project as well.
At the door, people will get a hand-out with a directory of the exhibition that will help them know more about the different displays and activities they visit.
Parker's 3 p.m. presentation is called Where Have All The Giants Gone – giants being the gargantuan trees that were felled as part of the big sawn-lumber industry made possible by the Cobourg-Peterborough Railway, transporting the goods from Peterborough to Cobourg and from there to Albany, NY.
Those trees truly were giants, he said, compared to anything we have now.
“People have no conception of what the forestry was like,” he declared.
What with the sawn-lumber industry, farmers clearing away land to settle on and squared timber shipped to Quebec City, it is now a shadow of its former self, but Parker will be celebrating the role it played in this area.
The presentation will include a couple of songs everyone will enjoy (with a couple of singers present to lead a sing-along). The Log Drivers' Waltz will be familiar to many, he said, celebrating the dexterity these men enjoyed on the dance floor after days spent balancing on floating logs. Then there's the Shanty Boys' Alphabet, the story of the men who cut timber through the winter, lodging in crude dwellings called shanties.
The library is located at 200 Ontario St., and everyone is welcome to drop in to enjoy the show (and learn a thing or two about yesterday's industrial scene in Cobourg).