A steam donkey circa 1922

Phillips’ steam donkey during the 1920s

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

The hundreds of residents living at Sun River today may be interested to know that the Phillips family’s steam donkey shown, once sat on their subdivision land and yarded in timber that had been felled by the Phillips brothers.

Besides their family farm and orchard nearer to the river, where apple trees can still be seen, the Phillips family focused on logging their section.  The location held an incredible stand of Douglas-fir and assorted conifers.  In 1910 the Phillips brothers ordered a steam donkey engine yarder from Washington Iron Works, and it was barged up the Sooke River to their property.

This 1922 photo shows Fred Milne operating the donkey and yarding in the logs. During the 1920s they acquired a hard tired truck to haul their logs, which they dumped at a log dump at Coopers Cove.  Though it’s hard to picture it today, the dump was on the east side of the inlet, where a narrow dirt roadway allowed trucks to drive in, dump the logs into the water for booming, and back out again onto Sooke Road.

Much later, the steam donkey was converted to gas, and later still, left as a relic. In the late 1970s logging contractor Ted Shaw brought the machine to our attention and it was donated to the museum by Ron Fitton.  Like most Sooke projects, its restoration was undertaken entirely by volunteers. A variety of fellows, each skilled in their field, made it all happen.  First, our 83 year old master donkey sleigh builder, Olof Frederickson, oversaw the donkey sleighs, and we found it totally in character to the high standards of the day, that when logging superintendent Jim Brandon of Pacific Logging first offered a set of fir logs, Olof declined them and asked for better quality logs. Yes, they were provided for us, and work began.

Maywell Wickheim undertook rebuilding of the machine itself; because only the main frame was left, components had to be found from a variety of sources.  The steam boiler we acquired from Rajindi Mayo at Paldi, while other needed parts were obtained through a volunteer team who hiked into the West Coast Trail.  The Parks branch allowed us to retrieve the parts from a derelict up the Trail, and Hilly Lewis remembers they lugged in oxygen and acetylene tanks to cut off bolts. Bruce Payne of V I Helicopters brought the heavy parts into Sooke for us. The project took about two years to complete.

Because we could not actually produce steam in the boiler in the original manner without a licensed engineer, the boiler was re-tubed down using copper coils so that the amount of steam produced could not blow up the boiler and endanger lives.  Through the 1980s we had the donkey operating on the museum grounds on weekends.  We were able to fire the boiler, produce steam, blow the whistle, etc, but it did not actually move.

Two young fellows who worked weekends in their youth operating the contraption were Alec Jessiman and Gordie Carosella. Groups of visitors were attracted to come and see its operation – not your everyday sight!

 

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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