Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: NunatukAlong the shore of Green Lake, you will find a monstrous old Caterpillar tractor that dates from the 1930’s.  Abandoned here in the 1950’s, it looks as if the driver parked it one day and just never returned to work.  In fact that may have been the case as one day in 1956, the sawmill at Parkhurst shut down forever and the town was abandoned.  For a logging town in the 1950's having everyone suddenly leave was not unusual and in fact Parkhurst vacated every year when the sawmill shut for the winter.

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With few job opportunities in the small community most left for the city to find work over the winter months.  When Parkhurst was abandoned permanently in 1956, the big Caterpillar tractor was probably simply parked at the edge of Green Lake with the expectation that it would be retrieved later.  Maybe it was too expensive or difficult to transport it from the far side of Green Lake.  Or maybe it sat unmoved for so long that it became unmovable.  Now, decades later it is a bold landmark overlooking Green Lake and a permanent marker, if arriving by boat, to Parkhurst Ghost Town.  Adjacent to huge Caterpillar tractor is a large disintegrating wooden dock that is a great place to take in the wonderful view of Green Lake.  From the dock if you look directly to the right you will see a large triangle of deep forest jutting out into the lake.  This is where the Parkhurst sawmill once operated for thirty years.  Looking at the almost impenetrable forest now, it is hard to picture this area without trees and with train tracks extending into a large building housing the sawmill with an enormous steel chimney several dozen metres tall.  A little bushwhacking takes you to the huge, old chimney now laying on the ground in several huge pieces.  You can even locate the solid steel base of the chimney in the midst of a large bewildering clearing devoid of trees.  It takes a little investigating to realize that under about a foot of grass, moss and other forest growth you are standing on massive sheets of thick metal that once was the roof of the old sawmill.  For decades this would have been the loudest and busiest place in the area, now it is a wonderful silent oasis cut off from the world by the 65-year-old forest that surrounds it. 

Parkhurst Caterpillar Green Lake

Parkhurst 1939 Cat D8 1H

The Parkhurst Caterpillar on the shore of Green Lake was built in 1939 and is the very successful D8 model.  Caterpillar produced just under 10,000 of this 1H series type of Caterpillars from 1935 to 1941 and this one was the 4916th one off the assembly line.  The normal operating weight for a standard Cat D8 like this is well over 16,000 kilograms and this one was powered by a 115 horsepower 6 cylinder Caterpillar model D13000 diesel engine.

Parkhurst Map Complete v14

Classic Tractors: The Caterpillar D8 Series

This is a great video by NZ Contractor Magazine that highlights this type of tractor.  It even shows how the plow functioned with the overhead cable system, nicknamed "headache racks".  The Caterpillar RD8 in the video is also of the 1H series and also has a LeTourneau plow, though a slightly different model.  The plow on the RD8 in Parkhurst is a LeTourneau FK8, whereas the plow in the video is a LeTourneau AK8.

The Other Parkhurst Caterpillar

The second Caterpillar tractor in Parkhurst Ghost Town is not easy to find despite being just a few metres from the hulking Caterpillar at the shore of Green Lake.  If you bushwhack through the dense forest toward the point of land that the Parkhurst Sawmill was located you will find this second tractor also abandoned in 1956.  This tractor is much easier to identify than the other one and appears to be a Caterpillar RD8 built in 1936.  The reason these two tractors look very different is because the one at the edge of Green Lake is a specialized design for logging.  On its identification plate it has the letters "SP" at the end of the serial number.  The "SP" is added by the manufacturer to denote "Special Parts" added at the factory.

Parkhurst Caterpillar RD8 1H

Caterpillar made just 9999 1H series RD8 and D8 Caterpillars from 1935 to 1941 and this one was one of the early RD8's at number 334.  In 1937, a year after this one came off the assembly line Caterpillar dropped the 'R' from the RD8 name and continued the line as D8.  The other Parkhurst Caterpillar, just a few metres away on the shore of Green Lake is a D8 of the same 1H series, and was built in 1939.  The Caterpillar RD8 tractor was hugely popular and became renowned worldwide after their widespread use by the Allies during World War II.  This Caterpillar at Parkhurst is so hidden by the forest that even standing a couple metres from it you can barely see it.  Even in winter when the surrounding trees and bushes have shed their leaves, you still have to get fairly close to spot it.  Considering the age of this tractor and that it has been sitting in this spot through 65 winters, it is remarkably intact.  It sits in the forest with its massive 4 ton plow stretching out in front of it.  Consumed by the forest, the enormous plow is being lifted off the forest floor by several trees.  Still attached to the 36,500 pound tractor the huge old steel plow weighs well over 8,000 pounds and yet this plow, squeezed by several growing trees, has been lifted off the ground about 40 centimetres.  One tree at the edge of the plow seems to be straining against much of the plow's weight as its thick, muscular trunk bends away from the plow a few centimetres before rising straight up into the forest canopy.  Climbing inside this old Caterpillar, the steel steering control levers and gas, brake and clutch pedals are all nearly as they would have been in 1956.

Parkhurst Caterpillar RD8 1H Letourneau Plow

With the forest pushing in all directions the huge plow is rising off the forest floor by several trees.  This plow weighs over 4000 kilograms and is being pushed upward by several trees that individually don't look very strong.  It appears that they have the plow in a vice grip by growing on either side of the plow from underneath.  The trees are growing at a slight angle away from the plow, then as the trees grow bigger and thicker the vice grip increases and so does the upward pressure.

Parkhurst Caterpillar RD8 1H Snow

From the front of the plow you can't see any trees lifting the plow, but behind there are several as well as along the arms that attach to the tractor further down.

Caterpillar RD8 1H Plow Lifting

Underneath the plow at the front is where you can see the heavy lifting trees pushing in opposite directions, but all are pushing upward.  It is still hard to believe that trees can lift something this heavy and you find yourself crawling around in the dirt mystified at how it could be possible.

Caterpillar RD8 1H Trees Lifting Plow

One remarkable thing that you can't help but wonder is how high will these trees be able to lift a 4 ton plow.  The trees are mostly still young, fast growing and it appears they are just getting started.  It also seems quite probable that the slowest and hardest part of this process is lifting it the first few centimetres.  Now that the plow is off the ground more trees can grow underneath where previously they could not.  It seems likely that this amazing plow could rise a lot more and faster by the year.

Caterpillar RD8 1H Trees Lifting Plow

The Parkhurst Plow Tree

Just a couple metres from the Caterpillar RD8 and its rising plow is another interesting plow and forest battle going on.  This time, so far at least, the plow is winning.  A large tree, likely started growing when the plow was abandoned here in 1956, is growing through a large, triangular opening.  Squeezed through the gap the tree then widens considerably once above the plow and continued up as if a completely normal tree.  You find yourself circling the plow and tree marvelling at how it has filled every gap in the plow, fighting for room to move and grow. 

Parkhurst Ghost Town Plow Tree

It is interesting that when looking at the Plow Tree you can't help notice that the Caterpillar is completely concealed by the forest just a couple metres away.  One of the plow's arms is almost touching the Caterpillar's tracks and yet standing beside the plow you can't see through the forest enough to make out a huge, antique Caterpillar tractor!  Makes you wonder what else you have not found in Parkhurst Ghost Town.  Notice in the picture above with the two kids, you just make out the shadow of the big tractor in the background and this is when the trees have no leaves.  In the summer months it would be completely hidden.

The Parkhurst Sawmill Site

The Parkhurst Sawmill operated on the triangle of land that juts out into Green Lake and also extended along the shore between the train tracks and the shore.  The old sawmill was almost certainly crushed under heavy snow in the years following its closure in 1956.  With the town abandoned there were no caretakers to maintain any of the old structures and the crushing weight of spring snow eventually flattened all but two houses.  Only the Blue Face House remains along with the precariously leaning Ghost Shack just a few metres away.

Parkhurst Sawmill Tent

Today, when you wander around where the old sawmill was you will notice a strange lack of trees growing in certain areas.  After a bit of poking around you realized that under the forest floor layer of dirt, moss and grass are huge sheets of metal that once covered the roof of the Parkhurst Sawmill.  Some of these can still be seen where there once was a covered area over train tracks that branched off from the railway we see today and extended to the sawmill near the end of the point of land.  With some digging you may uncover the old train tracks under all the collapsed debris, but it seems likely that the tracks were removed and salvaged.  The giant steel chimney from the sawmill is still easy to find sprawled across the forest floor in a few pieces.  The brick building that housed the furnace is now a pile of bricks crumbling around the old furnace.  Also in the forest you will encounter yet another abandoned tractor.  An old Cletrac tractor, similar to the the Caterpillar RD8, but newer, smaller and lacking an enormous plow.  As with the nearby tractor, the forest has consumed and hidden it quite well.

Parkhurst Sawmill Map v5

Parkhurst Ghost Town

Parkhurst Trails are Dog FriendlyParkhurst Ghost Town is a beautiful and comparatively quiet place to hike in Whistler.  An ever increasing network of hiking and biking trails over the years have made it quite an accessible place to get to from either the Sea to Sky Trail/Green Lake Loop Trail from Lost Lake near Whistler Village or via the Parkhurst Trail at the far end of Green Lake.  A short drive from Whistler Village along the Sea to Sky Highway past the north end of Green Lake takes you to the trailhead for the Parkhurst Trail and the short hike to Parkhurst.  The highlights of Parkhurst Ghost Town are not just the interesting old relics of the abandoned town, but the gorgeous views of Green Lake from several places along the Parkhurst Ridge Trail.

Parkhurst Ridge Trail Camp 8

Parkhurst Whistler Map v13

More Parkhurst Ghost Town Info

Free Camping Gear Delivery to Garibaldi Park