Curator Dennis Oomen (left) of Penticton Museum and Archives looks over one of Andrew McCulloch’s diaries in front of the Kettle Valley Railway display at the museum. Mark Brett/Western News

Century-old diaries returned home to Penticton

Unique materials belonging to Penticton man donated to museum

More chapters in the life of one of Canada’s foremost engineers have return home to Penticton.

One of the earliest photos of Penticton’s Andrew McCulloch. (Submitted photo)
A number of Andrew McCulloch’s personal and travel diaries, some dating back to 1888, were recently given to curator Dennis Oomen of the Penticton Museum and Archives.

Recently, expedited by the wildfires threatening his 100 Mile House home, author and Kettle Valley Railway historian Barrie Sanford made the generous donation of the century-old material, which also included a number of original photos.

“At least as of last night we had a nice house on our property in 100 Mile and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming days, we’re nervous,” said Sanford last week after dropping off the items. “They’ve been kept on my property in fire proof file cabinets but that (fire proof) is a bit of a misnomer, especially if they’re sitting in smouldering ashes for four days after the fire.”

Sanford was willed the diaries by Ruth McCulloch, Andrew’s daughter, and he has spent the last three decades transcribing the material which contained 18,000 days of entries.

“His (McCulloch) writing is very small and sometimes hard to read so I had a great big magnifying glass like this in front of my computer as I was writing it,” said Sanford spreading his hands in a large circle. “I feel attached to the man and I want to make sure that what he gave remains in public hands and ultimately will be viewed by everyone.

“My principal concern is seeing the information is retained so I’m putting any of my personal ambitions aside and saying this belongs in the museum. This belongs in the public.”

Author and Kettle Valley Railway historian Barrie Sanford donated material from Andrew McCulloch to the Penticton Museum & Archives. (Mark Brett/Western News)
According to Oomen what makes the diaries even more valuable and interesting is the work Sanford did to explain the various references about people, places and work in the transcriptions.

“That adds immeasurably to the historic value and to their usefulness to any historian and just the public in general,” said Oomen.

One of the transcripts Sanford read out during his visit was from Jan. 25, 1904 while McCulloch was working on a rail line between Arcola Sask. and Brandon, Man.

“At noon we built a fire to make lunch. The smoke froze into a block immediately above the fire and finally it grew so heavy the force of the fire could not shove it up any further. Consequently as more smoke formed the fire was forced into the ground leaving a hole to set the tea pot on. The tea froze as soon as it left the spout so each man had a piece of tea about three quarters of an inch in diameter and nine inches long. When we tried to put out the fire the flame had frozen so the water would have no affect on it so we chopped the flame up with an axe and spread it on the prairies.

Another excerpt he read was from May 26, 1898 during a surveying expedition of the Kootenay Pass by horseback after one of the horses fell into a river.

Thankfully the crews bedding was on another horse but then: Was congratulating my self that I had dry blankets when in less than a half mile the cursed horse – he had four bundles of bedding- rolled down the hill… into the river and proceeded to float down stream. Could find no trace of him. No use to swear as there is not cuss words heavy enough to express my feelings.

“There’s a lot of good stuff here and I have to admit I’m a little jealous,” said Sanford about giving away the material.

Oomen expressed his gratitude in getting the donation and could not stress enough the significance of it.

“McCulloch was a diary keeper his whole life and this is good news for us,” he said. “For anybody who wants an inside view of not only railway culture but what life was like in those times, McCulloch’s diaries are a real treasure trove.

“It’s turn-of-the-century, Edwardian era. I mean it was largely muscle, horsepower, black powder dynamite, yet they got it done. It was an unbelievable achievement driving a railway through some of the roughest terrain the world and it says a lot to the calibre and character of Andrew McCulloch and it’s straight from his pen.”

This recent donation complements some of the Penticton engineer’s work diaries donated to the museum two years ago.

McCulloch died on Dec. 13, 1945 at the age of 81 and fittingly, was buried in Penticton’s Lakeview Cemetery overlooking what was once the Kettle Valley Railway, a railroad which he helped build.