Back in the Day: Whistler’s Rail Baby Buggy

By Geertje Ihde, Whistler Museum.

Nowadays Whistler is a truly stroller-friendly resort. You can see proud parents pushing thier buggies not only on the Village Stroll or throughout the streets but even on some of the mountain trails. But it wasn’t always such an easy-to-access place. In pioneer times there were no roads or valley trails to take people through the wilderness. For many destinations the only options were the railroad tracks or an exhausting day of bushwhacking.

 

The rail baby buggy at Parkhurst. Louise Betts sits in the buggy and her father, Wallace, holds it. 1938.
The rail baby buggy at Parkhurst. Louise Betts sits in the buggy and her father, Wallace, holds it. 1938.

One mother took the railway track walking a step further than most. Jenny Betts lived in Parkhurst logging camp, on the northeast side of Green Lake, which was isolated even from the tiny community that Whistler had to offer at the time. To visit the store at Rainbow Lodge required a four-mile trek along the railway tracks. When Jenny had her daughter, Louise, things got even trickier. Her husband Wallace had the idea to invent a rail baby buggy “made from a wooden box with double flanged wooden spools used for the wheels.” With a wooden handle, it was pushed along one track like a normal carriage. Wallace hand-carved the first set of spools out of a round of wood.

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These handcars (powered by pumping the lever at the front) were popular before speeders were introduced, and were sometimes used by those who lived at Alta Lake since they were much faster than walking. Courtesy Whistler Museum.
These handcars (powered by pumping the lever at the front) were popular before speeders were introduced, and were sometimes used by those who lived at Alta Lake since they were much faster than walking. Courtesy Whistler Museum.

 

Louise Betts and another baby in home-made sleighs made out of crates. Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Louise Betts and another baby in home-made sleighs made out of crates. Courtesy Whistler Museum.

 

The buggy worked fine, but the hand carved wheels were not ideal – one day while walking to Rainbow Lodge Jenny was surprised by the kind offer of a stranger: “I saw this man. I was quite scared to meet him all by myself. I was really quite intimidated meeting strangers. You didn’t know who they were. Anyway, this man, when I got close to him, he was very nice and friendly, and he said, ‘Those are awful looking wheels that you’ve got. Would you like some good wheels?’ Then I said, ‘Oh, well, what would be better?’ He then told me how he had a lathe, and he was Alex [Philip’s] friend. He said, ‘I’ll make these wheels, and send them up to you.’ Well, I forgot all about it. Behold! A year later there were these wheels. So I had a pair of really good wheels!”

After that the ride was much smoother. It was still a little nerve-wracking though – one had to listen for approaching trains from either direction. Each time a train came along, the buggy, child, and supplies had to be hauled off the track. Since no set schedule existed, this could happen at any time.

 

Wallace Betts, Bob Jardine with Louise Betts in the railway buggy at Parkhurst, 1938. Courtesy Whistler Museum.
Wallace Betts, Bob Jardine with Louise Betts in the railway buggy at Parkhurst, 1938. Courtesy Whistler Museum.

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