Marvellous model mailbox will run again in West Van

The old Royal Hudson doesn’t roll through these parts anymore.

Although West Vancouver resident Angela Burns can’t answer for the absence of the iconic locomotive, when it comes to a giant mailbox that’s modelled after the Hudson and used to sit in front of her house at Marine Drive and 28th Street, she has answers.

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She wants to reassure the community: her family’s train-shaped mailbox will be rolling back to its original spot very soon, just as soon as it receives a much needed tune-up.

For the past several weeks the model train mailbox has been absent outside Burns’ house. And for the past several weeks she has been hearing about it.

“People have been quite upset and worried,” she tells the North Shore News. “Since the train came down ... I was just making dinner and the doorbell rang and I didn’t recognize the man at the door and I opened the door and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘What happened to the train?’”

And while Burns did her best to reassure the man the magnificent mailbox was certainly coming back, others in the community have kept on asking.

She came home one day to find a card on her front door from a stranger, who had grown accustomed to driving by the sightly mailbox on their daily commute, expressing condolences over its absence.

“I was even at a party on Saturday night and someone I hadn’t seen in a long time, the first thing she said to me was, ‘What happen to the train?’” says Burns.

Currently the train-mailbox is out of sight, but it’s not out of mind.

It was excavated from the ground outside Burns’ house a few weeks ago and transported to a garage by Shane Lanham of Lanham’s Fine Finishing, a restoration and renovations outfit.

“When we took it down, the day we were having it removed we had an excavator there and a woman walked up – she was walking her dog – and she was devastated,” explains Lanham with a laugh.

“Once we started on it I started to hear from more and more people about how many people really know about this train.”

Burns commissioned Lanham to restore the mailbox after decades of rust and wear were starting to outshine the mailbox’s usually magnetic and magnificent glow.

The history of the giant metal mailbox is something of a mystery, notes Burns, but what is for sure is that it has sat at the same spot on Marine and 28th for likely more than 50 years.

“My dad seems to think it was around for a while before that. It was likely built in the ’60s, possibly the ’50s,” says Burns.

Angela Burns poses with her train-like mailbox in 2011, prior to its current restoration - file photo North Shore News

Growing up, Burns lived next door to where the mailbox sat and she inherited it after acquiring the house next door some years later.

Rumour has it that the inventive man who lived next door, Jack Pearson, built the model mailbox, as well as a host of other intriguing trinkets littered on what’s now Burns’ property, including a 40-foot windmill at the bottom of the garden.

“He was retired when he lived here and he and his wife loved the garden and he also had a workshop in the house and built all sorts of things,” says Burns.

Burns grew up around the mailbox, likely based on the actual Royal Hudson train that used to traverse the area along the nearby tracks. She notes that “you used to see this white billowing steam coming from a long ways away if you were on a straight section of track.”

Since coming into possession of the train’s model mailbox counterpart, Burns has come to see it as a quaint, but essential, component of the neighbourhood.

“There’s so much interest in the community, it’s great. It’s quite incredible,” she says. “People have seen it for decades and it’s there and it’s kind of maybe a reminder of the past. It’s just standing there like it has for 50 years. ... It’s just very playful, a big train – kids love it. They love seeing something like that. You drive along and you don’t see that in many places.”

Besides the mailbox’s current restoration, it has received one other major renovation in its likely half-century existence.

While most people have simply enjoyed the mailbox’s charming presence, others have held a propensity for wanting to tip it over, explains Burns.

“For the third time in less than two years, we have awoken to find it pushed onto its side. This has broken the wooden trestle that it sits upon and the fence behind that is on our property,” wrote Burns in a letter published by the North Shore News in 2011.

The mailbox weighs more than 100 kilograms and stands more than a metre high, requiring multiple people to put it back in its place, she says.

“We finally outsmarted them and dug holes around the base and poured cement in so there’s no way they could ever push it over again,” says Burns.

While Burns recounts people’s infatuation with the mailbox – vacationers stopping to take photos of it, children and grandparents alike enamoured by its stately presence – Lanham has approached the project with an artisan’s mindset.

He even drove up to Squamish to pay a visit to the real and retired Royal Hudson train for inspiration. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” he says. “I love creative projects and things that I’ve never done before.”

While Lanham works on restoring the mailbox, bringing out its old shine and adding some flashy new additions as well, both he and Burns anticipate it could return to its usual spot as early as next week.

For Burns, it couldn’t get up and running again fast enough.

“The main thing I’ve realized is I feel a responsibility to the community to keep this train going forever, as long as I’m here,” she says.

Asked about the model train mailbox’s significance her answer is clear: she knows it’s not a huge thing, but sometimes it’s the little things that count.

“I think it could just be that it stands the test of time in a community where so much has changed.”

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