Mechanical issues could mean the end of the line for Assiniboine Park's mini steam train

The miniature steam train at Assiniboine Park may be nearing the end of the line.

Owner and operator worries trouble may derail the train's 54-year run

Mechanical issues have left the mini steam train at Assiniboine Park stalled this summer. (Assiniboine Park Conservancy)

The miniature steam train at Assiniboine Park may be nearing the end of the track.

The train, which is powered by a mini-oven fed by chunks of coal, has been doing loops around a track at the southwest corner of the park, next to the zoo, for 54 years.

But mechanical issues have left the train unable to leave the station this summer.

"I'm trying to do everything I can to get it going.… It's like a part of our family," said Tim Buzunis, who took over as owner and operator of the train from his father in 1988.

Buzunis said he spent roughly $16,000 repairing the train over the winter and it was in good working order when he brought it back to the park in late April.

Tim Buzunis took over as owner and operator of the steam train from his father in 1988. (Ian Froese/CBC)

But a burn ban put in place at the time kept him from running it until the May long weekend.

When he tired to fire up on the engine on the Saturday of the long weekend, he had no luck.

"Of course on a long weekend we couldn't find anyone to come out and help and the machine shop was closed," said Buzunis, who, along with his cousin thought they had the problem fixed by the next weekend.

"But then the next day something came loose and went out of whack, and it threw out the timing and bent some gears and parts.

It's something he's never seen before.

"You should never really have to re-time a steam train — like a car. Once it's timed it's accurate unless you do something or something happens to throw the timing off."

Losing hope

After spending the last couple of months, and roughly $20,000 of his own money, trying to get the train up and running again, Buzunis says he's starting to lose hope.

He says the train is rare — there were only about 50 ever made in the world — and the manufacturer is no longer in businesses, meaning finding advice on how to fix it is tough.

It's like a jigsaw puzzle and I'm trying to get whoever I can to help us.- Tim Buzunis

"It's not like I can call the shop where this train was produced and talk to someone about what to do," he said.

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle and I'm trying to get whoever I can to help us."

He's had help from the folks who keep the Prairie Dog Express running, but their system is different.

He's also reached out to a shop in North Carolina that took over the sale of parts for the trains, who gave some advice, but the train still won't go.

He's even reached out to someone who runs the same train at the Omaha Zoo, who offered to help over the phone but won't be able to come to Winnipeg in person until the season is over.

"That's the problem — a lot of the people who have these trains, they're running and they're not about to leave their operation to come here," he said.

On Monday he plans to take the train out of the park and to a shop.

"We'll get it hoisted it up and tear everything apart and kind of start over again," he said.

End of the line?

If that doesn't work he says the last thing he can do is ship the train to the shop in North Carolina to see if they can figure out what's wrong.

But that would to be expensive, and Buzunis says it may not be feasible.

It could mean the end of the line for the train, he says.

"The train itself has never made a lot of money — it was never a business that my family relied on to make a living," he said.

"My dad did it because he was passionate about trains."

When it's running, the miniature steam train takes riders through a loop around the southwest corner of Assiniboine Park. (Assiniboine Park Conservancy)

He says it's upsetting to see the train sitting immobile, especially since the death of his father.

"I was four years old when that train was brought here, and I do remember it coming across the border," he said.

"It's been like a sibling in our family all our life."

With files from Nadia Kidwai


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