Selkirk College Millwright Student Helps Keep Streetcar Buzzing Along
When Buzz Gach was a kid, his grandfather would take him on Nelson’s historic Streetcar #23 during summer visits to the city. As a final project in the Millwright/Machinist Foundation Program at Selkirk College, Gach produced a part to help keep the beloved transport running smoothly on its tracks.
Using the skills and knowledge he developed in the 36-week program, Instructor Matt Sumner challenged Gach to produce a replica part for Streetcar #23 after the society that runs the amenity contacted the college for help. Gach produced a large nut/bolt used in the suspension that is vital to the operation of the streetcar that entertains both visitors and locals.
“It’s rewarding to know that I can make a part that will be useful in something like the streetcar,” says Gach, who completed the foundation program at the end of August. “When I first started this program it was daunting and little intimidating, so it’s encouraging for my future that I can make parts that people can use.”
The Foundation of a Rewarding Career
Working full-time since he was 16, the 30-year-old Gach arrived at post-secondary for the first time earlier this year after deciding that a change was needed. A window installer for the previous seven years, Gach was living in Trail when he chose to further his formal education at Selkirk College’s Silver King Campus in Nelson.
The same Fruitvale-based grandfather that took him on the streetcar as a kid was a machinist who spent part of his career working at Teck’s Trail Operations.
“My grandfather was a big motivation in choosing this trade,” Gach says. “I got to see how good he was at using his hands and how efficient he was in the shop, it made we want to strive to be better in any shop environment. Millwrights and machinists can work their way around any problem, that makes it a satisfying trade to pursue.”
Students who graduate from the Millwright/Machinist Foundation Program earn Level 1 and Level 2 technical training credit towards the millwright apprenticeship as well as Level 1 technical training credit towards the machinist apprenticeship.
Graduates of the foundation program typically find employment as apprentice millwrights in the operation and maintenance of machines and systems used in manufacturing plants, resource development firms, mines, mills, and various industrial enterprises. Those who choose the apprentice machinist route are employed to set up, calibrate, program and operate sophisticated machine tools in a variety of industrial environments.
Taking on the Challenge
Returning to the classroom and shop setting at the Silver King Campus was not easy for Gach, but the desire for success overshadowed any trepidation.
“There is a lot I had to relearn and plenty that I forgot, but it came back quick,” he says. “Study tactics was a task and having to constantly be thinking about school even when you get home takes an adjustment. If you would have asked me to make this part for the streetcar at the beginning of the program, I would have had no chance. My instructor handed this to me and said that he felt I could do it.”
Long before rubber tire traffic dominated the roadways of the West Kootenay, residents relied on streetcars to transport them to their destinations. In Nelson, streetcars dominated its undulating terrain prior to the midway point of the 20th Century. Streetcar #23 was part of the fleet, but like the rest of the outdated public transit, workhorses was taken out of commission in 1949. In the late-1980s,Selkirk College staff and students helped refurbish the dilapidated streetcar as part of a community project.
For Gach’s instructor, getting to challenge students with tangible projects that help the community function enables him to connect learning with practical outcomes to illustrate the importance of the trade.
“It’s great to see a student like Buzz come into this program and overcome any doubts he had about being able to be successful in this trade,” says Sumner, who also took his foundation program at Selkirk College and spent 23 years working in the trade before starting his teaching career last year. “It’s hard work and rewarding work, I think that is what most students who complete the program leave with when they walk through those doors.”
Gach earned an A for his project, the streetcar has a new part to keep it operating smoothly in the coming years and the Silver King Campus continues to turn out graduates who are making a difference in our region and beyond.