Sunday, May 15, 2016

Setting concrete for the REC

The third phase of the Museum's campus is the Railway Education Center, and construction has been underway since March.  The new center will include public restrooms, a classroom, and an archival vault for the Museum's collection of small objects, photographs, published works, maps, drawings, and more.

General contractor Kirtley-Cole and Associates of Everett have been proceeding at a rapid pace.  Since completing the GeoPier foundation supports just before GiveBig event earlier this month, concrete foundation work has been progressing. 

Concrete pours require careful planning.  Forms are constructed to the shapes and sizes stipulated on the drawings.  Reinforcing steel is wired together inside the forms.  A concrete pumper under the control of a skilled operator delivers concrete into the forms. 

A concrete worker vibrates the freshly-poured concrete to remove any air pockets, and ensure uniformity throughout.  After the concrete cures for a day or so, the forms are removed, which reveals the finished casting. 

The steel rebar extends out the top or side of the pour so that it can interlock with the next pour, the grade beams and interior floor.  The interior of the stem wall receives foam insulation to help keep the floor warm in the winter. And speaking of floor, the next report on construction progress should detail the new concrete floor.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Humanizing Railway History

Connecting history to modern lives is a challenge for museums.  Museum interpreters carefully look for ways to engage and interact with visitors' wide-range of interests, backgrounds and cultures. For some it’s the love of railroads and machinery that draws them here, especially when they can “talk train” with knowledgeable people. Then there are others (the majority of visitors) who are looking for a family experience, and the Museum is simply a “neat place to take an old-fashioned train excursion and see the top of Snoqualmie Falls with the kids.”  And others fall between these two groups. So how does the Museum address all of the varied interests and ages?
One common denominator lies in the “humanization” of history. All of us can relate to being a real person. And when that side of railway history is presented, it leads to learning fun without knowing that learning is happening! Recent exhibits include historic photos with people in them.  What the people of the past wore, their expressions, their stance all let visitors connect to the fact that these were real people who lived the railroading experience in one way or another. Giving visitors something they’re familiar with, even though different, allows them to make a connection to the past while making comparisons with their current lives.  The new Northern Pacific Railway Stewardess exhibit, along with firsthand looks inside the Chapel Car and Bunk car offer a glimpse of how railroading isn’t just about the technology, but about real people and how the railroad impacted their lives.
Periodically, we bring real humans into the humanization experience through living history programs where visitors speak with, listen to, watch and engage re-enactors portraying passengers of earlier times. For instance, a living history piece has been added during School train.  Students are greeted by an actor in Edwardian-era clothing. During the presentation, they learn about the passengers of that era – their clothing, luggage and “quiet” toys that children riding the trains may have had. A highlight is dressing a girl and boy from each class in period clothing. Afterwards, the students are invited to handle the clothing and try the historic toys themselves. When the light goes on about how early 20th century train travel is different from their modern lives, it’s magical.  They never considered how those everyday items tied into railroad history! And now those simple ordinary items opened up a new understanding of how the railroad changed everything.
All of these techniques engage Northwest Railway Museum visitors in different ways to keep the history alive, but none of these are possible without the Museum’s members and donors who allow funding of new programs and exhibits to occur along with running and restoring the artifacts. So as we move closer to the Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG date on Tuesday May 3, please consider scheduling your GiveBIG donation to ensure more programming growth at the Northwest Railway! Remember, every little bit helps. And if you’re curious to see some of this firsthand, ride the May 1, 11 am train for the Groundbreaking of the Railway Education Center and you never know who you might run into on the train…

-Guest blog by Marketing Manager Peggy Barchi

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

GiveBIG May 3rd - or schedule today!

GiveBIG May 3rd 2016
The annual GiveBIG day of charitable giving is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3rd.  Your support for the Northwest Railway Museum will expand public access and improve programs.  That will mean more opportunities to visit the exhibit building, and better public access to collections.   

GeoPiers are being installed
to support the foundation for
the Railway Education Center
GiveBIG is taking place May 3rd, but donors can schedule their gift anytime between now and May 3rd!  Supporters who visit the Seattle Foundation web site here can complete the donation form, and use their credit card to schedule a GiveBIG donation.  Then, on May 3rd, their donation will be automatically processed and credited to the Northwest Railway Museum.  Scheduled donations will also receive a partial match from the stretch pool!

Artist's rendering of the new Railway
Education Center, now under construction.
Specifically, GiveBIG support will be used to complete the Railway Education Center, now under construction in Snoqualmie.  This project will allow weekday visitation to the exhibit building; provide a preservation vault for photographs, drawings, and other paper-based materials; build classroom space; open a collection lab; expand the parking lot for public use; and construct public restrooms so almost no one ever has to wait.

GiveBIG 2016 is an initiative of the Seattle Foundation, and this is the fifth year the Northwest Railway Museum has participated.  More than 16,000 donors are expected to participate this year with opportunities to support projects such as the Railway Education Center beginning at $10.  All contributions are eligible for a partial match with a share of the stretch pool.  Why not schedule your GiveBIG donation today?  Click here to start to process.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Enhancing Train Shed Programs

The Northwest Railway Museum recently completed and installed the Train Shed Tour Package Enhancement. This project, installed in time for the regular train season to kick off on April 2, was funded by a 4Culture Heritage Special Projects grant.

The grant funded improvements to the Tour Package program, but is actually benefiting everyone who rides the train since ~ new this season ~ almost all trains now stop and let passengers off for a visit to the Train Shed. Improvements include purchase and large format printing of historic images used to illustrate various pieces of rolling stock on display in the Train Shed. Curator Jessie Cunningham found images that showed the inside of freight and passenger cars to better illustrate the use of such cars. The grant also purchased easels for displaying the images as well as two voice boosters to help docents project their voices during the Tour Package.

The large format images have received a great response since the beginning of the season. The Tour Package is available on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month, April thru October, at 12:30pm at the Snoqualmie Depot. The Tour Package includes a short Depot tour, train ride to the Train Shed (ahead of the general public riding the train), Docent tour of the Train Shed, and new this year, the Tour Package also includes a trip to the CRC to view the ongoing restoration projects! After re-boarding the train, participants enjoy a train ride to Snoqualmie Falls and back to Snoqualmie. The round trip program is 2.5 hours long and is great for train and history enthusiasts that are looking for a more educational or informative experience. Reservations can be made in the Depot Bookstore or by phone at 425/888-3030 x 7202.

For those who cannot take a train ride or the Tour Package, the images will be on display in the Snoqualmie Depot freight room within the next week. The Depot is open 10am to 5pm daily.

The Museum is grateful to 4Culture for supporting our programming with this Special Projects grant! 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County, Washington is committed to making our region stronger by supporting citizens and groups who preserve our shared heritage, and create arts and cultural opportunities for residents and visitors. The Northwest Railway Museum has received a great deal of support and funding, both large and small, from 4Culture over the years.
Stock car unloading cows.

Crew relax inside their caboose.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Not just a train ride anymore . . .

In its 49th year of public programs, the Northwest Railway Museum has made a significant change to its excursion railway operating plan.  Beginning in April 2016, all regular trains stop at the Train Shed Exhibit Building for passengers to take a self-guided tour.  It's not just a train ride anymore!

The Museum has been developing the Railway History Center campus for more than 10 years.  Located on Stone Quarry Road in Snoqualmie, the campus will feature all the Museum's critical facilities including visitor services, an exhibit hall, collection storage, and collection care.  Given the building permit, zoning, and public safety requirements, this is a multi million dollar development.  However, there is some great news: the initial development is nearing completion with the third phase now under construction.  So it's time to open the exhibit building to the public!

The new regular train schedule features a two hour excursion.  Passengers board in Snoqualmie, travel to North Bend, then return to the Railway History Center where they have an opportunity to detrain and take a self-guiding tour of the Train Shed Exhibit Building.  The 30 minute visit is an opportunity to see chapel car 5 Messenger of Peace, White River locomotive 1 and caboose 001, exhibits that detail how the railroad changed everything, and more.  Then, passengers entrain to continue their excursion to Snoqualmie Falls, and a return to the Snoqualmie Depot.  A similar schedule also departs the North Bend Depot.

Still want more??? Take the Train Shed Tour Package on the first and third Saturdays at 12:30 PM.  A docent-led tour will also include a visit to the Conservation and Restoration Center where you will learn about the rehabilitation of former Northern Pacific Railway steam locomotive 924.

Check out fares and schedules here on the Museum's web site.  Please note that the new operating schedule is in effect through October, but does not apply on Mother's Day or Father's Day weekends, or during Day Out With Thomas, Snoqualmie Railroad Days or Santa Train.  Visit the Northwest Railway Museum for a completely new experience, because it isn't just a train ride anymore!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Archive construction begins

An excavator clears away brush and
organic soil in preparation for GeoPier
On an unremarkable and cloudy day in March 2016, an excavator was delivered to the Railway History Center on Stone Quarry Road in Snoqualmie.  It attracted little notice from Mt. Si high school students, who sped along Stone Quarry Road in the parent's cars at their usual speeds, which rivaled those attained by Amtrak Cascades.  Yet the excavator was soon meaningfully changing the way the Northwest Railway Museum will operate in the future.  The excavator was on site to begin building a public parking lot, and to clear and grade the footprint for the new Railway Education Center ("REC"), the third building on the Railway History Center campus.

Railway Education Center rendering
developed by Miller|Hull.
The REC will be a modern building designed to appear similar to a train station, but using a modern architectural flavor developed by designers at the Miller|Hull PartnershipIt is a project valued at nearly $3 million, and is moving to construction after a lengthy permitting process, and the time required to secure construction financing.  The general contractor is Kirtley-Cole, who is experienced in the construction of institutional buildings of this size. Construction began in earnest in mid March, and will hit its peak in early summer.  The project is scheduled to reach substantial completion in early fall 2016, but many uncontrollable factors including weather could affect the completion date.

Parking lot construction adjacent to
Stone Quarry Road begins to take
Fundamentally, it will be a tool to expand public access and improve preservation.  It will house essential facilities and services including public restrooms, admissions, and a small gift shop, but it will also incorporate an environmentally-controlled archival vault to preserve the Museum's irreplaceable collection of photographs, documents, and books that illustrate, interpret and document the railway history of the Pacific Northwest.  A reading room will be provided to allow students and other researchers to access the collection.  The collection lab will be used to process and conserve small objects and paper-based materials.  A classroom will provide for lectures, presentations, tours, and school groups to congregate and learn about regional railway history. 

First floor layout.  Library and archives
will be located on the second floor.
The REC is a facility that addresses needs first identified when the Museum was founded in 1957.  Its design has been under development for more than seven years; it is being constructed between the Conservation and Restoration Center (2007) and the Train Shed (2011). After completion, this new facility will allow the Railway History Campus to open to the public when there are no trains operating, which will allow the Museum to serve a broader and more diverse audience.  A lack of public restrooms, parking, and program offices are just three factors that have limited the Museum's ability to expand public access, but which this new facility addresses.

Major funding has been awarded for the REC by 4Culture, the Washington State Historical Society's Capital Heritage Fund, the Schwab Fund, major corporations including Puget Sound Energy and the BNSF Railway, and hundreds of individuals.  The Museum has additional support opportunities including the upcoming May 3rd Give BIg event (click on the link at, and  a live donate now link here.  Your support will help expand public access and improve preservation.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tubing the 924

It has been a busy two weeks at the Conservation and Restoration Center with great progress shown in the rehabilitation of Northern Pacific Railway steam locomotive 924.

The last Blog article highlighted the work required to prepare the locomotive for its Federal Railroad Administration internal inspection and approval.  Now, the time had come for tubing the boiler.  Some may ask if this process is premature as the FRA mandates that the 15 year boiler clock begins one year after the first tube is placed or first fire, whichever comes first.  A great deal of work remains on NP 924, including a full running gear rebuild, and by committing to a tube job at this time, it means that completion must be reached within the next year otherwise federal boiler time is wasted.  Although this concern is valid, the rebuild of NP 924 is on an expedited timeline, with rehabilitation to service if not complete in one year, will be mostly so.

In order expedite the project, it was time to protect the internal surfaces of the pressure vessel from deterioration in service by the application of a product called Apexior, produced by Dampney.  Often referred to as a boiler paint, Apexior is actually a Bitumen coating that prevents rust, scale, and other unwanted byproducts from boiling water from forming or adhering to the interior sheets of the boiler.  An interesting fact about this product is that this same product has been continuously produced by the same company since the steam era on American railroads.  Therefore this product not only makes sense from an artifact care and investment standpoint, but also as a period-appropriate material and technique.  

At the same time as Apexior was being applied, the boiler tubes were being prepared for installation.  This process involved the removal of mill scale from the exterior and interior ends of the tubes.  By removing this oxide coating, the bare steel of the tube can be rolled into the hole in the tube sheets, assuring a tight seal with no contamination.  Following this step, the tubes were cut to length and ready to install.  Although the tube sheets in 924 were straightened as much as possible, any locomotive will exhibit variation in the lengths of various tubes.  The 238 tubes in locomotive 924 were no exception, which required every tube hole to be measured for length so that every single tube could be custom cut to fit.  

With tubes sitting at the ready, it was time to start inserting the tubes into the boiler.  This seems an easy task until one realizes the steam delivery pipes leading to the cylinders cover approximately 1/3rd of the front tube sheet, making simple insertion of many of the tubes impossible.  To complete this job, tubes had to be inserted through a hole near its final location in the front tube sheet, cross several holes over into the rear sheet, be pushed inside the front sheet, then manipulated with a bar to line up with the appropriate hole in the front sheet, then pushed forward into the hole.  Sometimes this had to be done several times to reach the final placement of a tube.

This task being completed, it was time to roll the tubes into the sheets. A tube roller, consists of three hardened steel rollers in a cage, driven by a central tapered pin.  This taper pin is rotated by an air motor which serves to expand the tube into the hole in the sheet, crushing it into the hole and forming a pressure tight seal.  The rolling process requires a great deal of judgment as it is possible to over-roll a tube and thin it to the point it would fail prematurely.  Many specialists in the steam locomotive rehabilitation field say the best rolled tube is the one that weeps just barely on its first hydrostatic test.

Although the seal formed by rolling is critical, it is not by any means the end of tubing a locomotive.  Structurally, the most important step is the next process known as beading.  Beading uses a special tool and small air hammer to roll the edge of the tube sticking out of the tube sheets over against the sheet.  This process turns every tube into a hollow rivet by forming a head that prevents the sheet from pushing off the rolled end of the tube.  This work is intensely physical, but makes for a much stronger product, and is historic.  Another important result of the beading process is that it makes the tubes much less prone to fire cracking and burning away of the steel.

Related to this prevention of fire cracking and burning, seal welding of the firebox end of the tubes is also critical.  The term "seal welding" is actually a bit of a misstatement as the weld is not intended to prevent leaking as the roll should provide adequate sealing.  Instead, a small weld is made around the circumference of the bead on the rear sheet in order to pull heat away from the thin tube, and allow it to flow into the much thicker tube sheet.  This prevents the tube ends from overheating and burning away or cracking to an even greater degree than just a bead alone.  In addition, this process was also historically used on steam locomotives, particularly on locomotives that burned oil rather than coal.
Following seal welding, the tubes are lightly rerolled front and back to assure the seal was not disturbed during the beading and welding processes, and then the job was complete!

Substantially completing the boiler work on locomotive 924 involved many facets.  First and foremost, funding was secured.  King County 4Culture awarded a Landmarks Capital grant to fund purchase of the new 2 inch boiler tubes, seal welding rod, and new staybolt material.  Second, an awesome team of volunteers performed much of the cleaning, cutting, and tube installation.  Third, Curator Pappas' pressure vessel skills allowed quick and efficient completion of the work, including the rolling, beading and welding.

The next task is to install the blast nozzle in the smoke box, and reapply the smoke box front. After this, the running gear rebuild will begin.  So stay tuned for another update!

--Photos in this post by Dave Honan and Spike.  Used with permission.