Yet managers were so impressed with his extensive CV full of rail industry experience that they appointed him to the full-time role of infrastructure manager.
Mr Bruce is now responsible for 18 miles of track between Pickering and Grosmont, as well as 36 structures including stations, other buildings and signalling, and is in charge of long-term upgrades such as the installation of controlled emission toilets and the opening of a new carriage stable on the line he has enjoyed visiting since childhood, as well as overseeing the arrival of two new bridges at Goathland next winter.
Bosses called him in for an informal chat after spotting his CV attached to a volunteer application form and realising he had the expertise required.
He previously spent 40 years with engineering contractors Amey, working on mainline projects for Network Rail and later specialising in asset management. The qualified civil engineer from York took early retirement at the start of the first lockdown and had originally planned to go on photography trips before travel was banned and he looked for alternative ways to spend his free time.
"The form asked for previous experience, but I couldn't fit it all into the box! So I attached my CV and I then got a call from them and a job offer. Although I was looking forward to a peaceful retirement, it's one of those occasions when if Carlsberg did jobs, I would want to work somewhere like this. I've been a visitor all my life but I've never been involved before and I thought this would be a really nice way to carry on working," said Mr Bruce.
He is in charge of planning the maintenance schedule and ensuring records are up to date, and he has been impressed by the balance struck between the preservation of the railway - which closed to mainline traffic in the Beeching axe period in the 1960s - and the integration of modern management systems and methods of working.
"It's essentially a museum for 18 miles, and it's all about preserving that - people come here to see and ride the trains. However, the underlying infrastructure is older than the rolling stock; it mostly dates back to when the line was built in 1865. It is very old and it needs a bit of TLC. But we have modern systems for IT and the retail side, and the two meet in the middle really well. I've been pleasantly surprised."
Modernisation will come in the form of the new toilets, as in order to continue running the additional six miles from Grosmont to Whitby along the mainline, they must comply with new Network Rail regulations which prevent the dumping of sewage on the tracks and which come into force in 2023. Waste will now be stored on board and tanks emptied at the end of each day. An increasing awareness of the needs of disabled passengers has meant that several coaches will also be converted to offer better access for wheelchairs.
"In the longer term, we will maintain things as and when we can afford to. We need to renew a few more bridges and relay track - it's neverending really, and we only have a small window during the winter in which to complete maintenance, as we are a single line so can't do work while the trains are running."
Mr Bruce also clarified that it is unlikely his remit will ever extend to reinstating the southern link to Malton and York that was severed following the Beeching closure.
"I would love to bring everything bang up to date, but it's not something that will happen overnight and we have to manage our finances carefully over the next 10 years. There's enough work to keep us going!
"In the past managers have looked at the feasibility of reopening the line to Malton, but it's been discounted and it's not realistically going to happen any time soon."