Saturday, November 28, 2020

Yuletide Express

Train boy
The Covid-19 pandemic is continuing its impact on Washington State, and public events remain under suspension.  Unfortunately, this means the annual Santa Train - an event that has run every year since 1969 - has been canceled.  The Museum is instead offering a holiday-themed train excursion called Yuletide Express.  The Yuletide Express offers a safe, fun, and uplifting experience for families.  

Participants enjoy a 25 minute train excursion to Snoqualmie Falls.  Santa is riding the train and presenting boys and girls with a small gift, and as participants detrain they receive two cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company.  Life-sized photographic portraits of Santa are positioned at the Snoqualmie Depot to provide for a safe photo opportunity with Santa.  

Yuletide Express is a shorter, less intimate experience than Santa Train, but it complies with all the applicable guidelines for railroads from the Centers for Disease Control.  In keeping with these guidelines, masks are mandatory and the requirement is enforced for everyone five years of age and older.  The train well ventilated with windows or doors open throughout.

The Yuletide Express is operating weekends from Snoqualmie through December 19.  Tickets at $24 and are available at  

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

924 on the point

The 924 under steam on November 1, 2020
The Northwest Railway Museum has substantially completed a major rehabilitation effort on steam locomotive 924. Sunday, November 1, 2020 was a beautiful fall day in the Snoqualmie Valley, and the 924 was under steam to pull its first passenger train in more than 40 years. This momentous occasion occurred six years to the day after the locomotive was retrieved from long term storage and moved to the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Workshop.

The 924's steam chest, cylinder, and jacketing.
924 engine cab and boiler with steam   Side view of the 924 smoke box with steam and exhaust smokeFront of 924 with steam clouds

History - Locomotive 924 was a product of the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works, and is a light switcher with an 0-6-0 wheel arrangement. It was built in 1899 for the St Paul and Duluth in Minnesota, but by 1901 it was under ownership of the Northern Pacific Railway and was reassigned to the Puget Sound region. It served in Western Washington until 1923 and went on to serve the Inland Empire Paper Company near Spokane.

The 924 is seen pulling into the King Street crossing in historic downtown Snoqualmie on Sunday, November 1, 2020.
Highlights - During its first 24 years of service, the locomotive saw a numerous changes, many of which were required to correct damage caused by dock failures, switching accidents, and regulatory changes. As part of the effort to research and recognize the importance of the 924, it was nominated to the King County and City of Snoqualmie Landmarks Register.  For the restoration efforts, a period of significance between about 1906 and 1908 was selected allowing a replica of the second cab (it had at least three) to be fabricated and installed. The selection of that period also dictated the selection of a headlight, lettering style, size and location of air tanks, pilot beam size and shape, the boiler jacketing material, location of running board, and the appearance of the spot plate on the smokebox front.

Locomotive 924's tender is piles high with Douglas fir firewood.Selecting a fuel - The 924 was built to burn coal, a fuel that transformed the world in an industrial revolution. Coal is not readily available in Western Washington, and it has some negative environmental implications. So the Museum has committed to burning wood products instead of coal.  For the time being, 924 is burning Douglas fir firewood, and lumber cutoffs from the Conservation and Restoration Workshop.

Steam locomotive 924 heads an excursion train departing west from North Bend.Performing the work - Much of the effort to rehabilitate a steam locomotive could be characterized as loosely directed labor accentuated with highly skilled machining.  The total effort may approach 20,000 hours, but some aspects of the work have entailed a significant learning curve. And certainly it would not have been possible to undertake the work without highly skilled individuals including Jon B., Gerry P., Steven B., Josh K., Gary J., Brian W., Mike D., Lyle E. and others.  Together, they have conspired to overcome the secrets of a largely forgotten manufacturing process completed more than 121 years ago.

Locomotive 924 prepares to depart from North Bend on Sunday, November 1, 2020
Funding the work - Steam locomotive rehabilitation is costly work, and for the 924 is valued at more than $700,000.  The effort would not be possible without generous support from individuals, foundations, companies, and public funders, but also the generous volunteers who donated their time and talents.  Washington Heritage Capital Fund was the largest funder.  Important support was received from hundreds of individuals, King County 4Culture, The Emery Rail Trust, Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association, Osberg Family Foundation, the Schwab Fund, Boeing Match, Microsoft Match, and more.  The Northwest Railway Museum is very grateful for this generous support.

The 924 prepares to depart from the Conservation and Restoration Workshop
Watching the spectacle
- A key objective in rehabilitating a steam locomotive is to be able to demonstrate it for the public.  The 924 will still require ongoing work - budgets were just not large enough to replace or renew every working part, which could easily have exceeded costs of more than $1 million.  However, the locomotive is compliant with applicable regulations and will be operating regularly on the Museum's interpretive railway between North Bend and Snoqualmie Falls.  The locomotive will make another appearance later this year, and then appear regularly in 2021.

The 924 builds steam outside the Conservation and Restoration Workshop

Thursday, October 8, 2020

All Aboard! Train Excursions Resume

The train crew was excited to welcome the first passengers of 2020 on board.
The call of "All Aboard" rang out loud and clear on Saturday, October 3rd as weekend train ride excursions began for the first time in 2020. With online tickets in hand (or on cell phones), passengers of all ages arrived filled with excitement to enjoy the beauty of the Upper Snoqualmie Valley via the historic train. While carefully following the Safe Start rules of social distancing and mask usage, this season's train rides give passengers a sense of what it was like a century ago to visit the region. And in the hustle & bustle and stress of modern life, it lets everyone slow down and just enjoy the ride.   

Take A Ride

Boarding the train at either the Snoqualmie Depot or the North Bend Depot, guests enjoy the panorama of life along 5.5 miles of the original 1889 Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway. Featuring views of the Snoqualmie River and stately Mount Si, the train rambles over historic Bridge 35, passes by historic heritage fruit trees and lets guests see the dramatic drop below Snoqualmie Falls. At times, members of the infamous North Bend Elk herd may be spotted! 

Passing through Snoqualmie and North Bend, passengers glimpse buildings that represent the area's past, present and future and provide interesting post-ride shopping and dining experiences! And all of the train excursions include the opportunity for guests to enjoy a drive up visit to the Train Shed Exhibit Hall, during its open hours, at their leisure. In the Train Shed, the story of how the railroad changed everything unfolds along a one way path featuring large and small pieces from the Museum's collection.


Seasonal Train Rides

This season, look for holiday themed rides - Halloween Excursion and the Yuletide Express. Although past favorites (Halloween Storytelling and Santa Trains) are not available this year, the holiday spirit can't be dampened aboard the historic train. So come join the fun! Find out more and reserve your tickets for all of the 2020 train rides today. We look forward to seeing you and can't wait to greet you with a welcoming shout of  "All Aboard!"

Thanks for making it all possible

The Northwest Railway Museum is particularly grateful for direct public support that is helping it weather the crisis.  Reopening of the Museum has been made possible with generous support awarded by 4Culture, the City of Snoqualmie, HumanitiesWA, and the Washington State Library.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Bellingham Railway Museum

The Covid-19 crisis has been particularly difficult for museums.  The Northwest Railway Museum has been able to survive - at least so far - with a combination of public and private grants and loans.  Other historical societies and museums have not been quite as fortunate.  

The Bellingham Railway Museum was established in 2003 and located in historic downtown Bellingham.  It was notable for its awesome model railway exhibits, and was popular with young families.  Yet despite significant local support, it could not survive the closure forced by the Covid-19 crisis.  In June, its Board of Trustees announced that the temporary closure would be permanent.  

In Washington State, non-profits are generally expected to designate a succession plan in the event of its demise.  During the dissolution of a nonprofit, the Washington State Attorney General has the final approval of the distribution of a organization's assets.  The Attorney General is interested primarily in seeing that the assets remain with an organization of similar purpose.

The Northwest Railway Museum was listed as the Bellingham Railway Museum collection's successor, and was contacted early in the summer about the dissolution.  The Bellingham group was located in rented space so the Museum worked quickly to inventory, pack and move the collection to Snoqualmie.  Volunteers and staff spent countless hours in Bellingham preparing for the move, packing more than 400 file record boxes.

The effort was led by Cristy L., the Museum's Registrar.  A museum registrar is responsible for implementing policies and procedures pertaining to collection care.  This includes maintaining a collection inventory, knowing where everything in a collection is located, and protecting every aspect of its well-being including environment and security. 

The demise of any museum is a community tragedy, and a loss to all involved.  Yet the Northwest Railway Museum is trying to make the best of it, and is immediately incorporating the best aspects of the Bellingham collection into exhibits in the Train Shed.  Initially, this includes the Lionel train set, a dining car china collection, several lanterns and signal lamps, and a series of posters.

The Museum extends condolences to the Volunteers, Trustees and Staff of the Bellingham Railway Museum and to the Bellingham community for their loss, and gratitude to former Bellingham Railway Museum Executive Director Shelissa G. for her invaluable assistance in helping with the transition.

The Northwest Railway Museum gratefully acknowledges King County 4Culture and the Cares Act Reopen grant awarded in part to support the processing and move of the Bellingham Railway Museum collection to Snoqualmie.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Critical Times Need Critical Support

How is the Northwest Railway Museum handling the pandemic?  This is arguably the most difficult period in the Museum's 63 year history, and continued community support is critical to recovery.  Notwithstanding, the Museum has used the closure to perform upgrades.  Exhibits, artifacts, and even publications are getting attention, and we are confident the Museum’s audience will see and appreciate the difference.

Notably, The Museum's publication, The Sounder, was redesigned in an effort led by Lee Ater of LOT22.  The changes bring the newsletter into line with branding standards, easier to produce and make it more visually interesting.

Meanwhile, with the expectations for reopening the Museum came an opportunity to upgrade exhibits. This resulted in more interpretive content, and transformed the hall into a more visually-interesting experience, both of which are vital to attracting and retaining an audience.

Sadly, many pandemic-related orders are affecting the Museum in truly negative ways.  The continuing prohibition on events is particularly damaging because it devastates both audience and income.  And even if events were permitted in King County, they would be limited to just 50 people. Unfortunately, none of the Museum’s events are economically viable when serving smaller groups.

The Museum is unable to host Halloween or Santa Train this year. However, we are improvising, and hope you will attend our alternative Safe Start activities! Beginning October 3, the Museum will operate regular train ride excursions, using  social distancing practices, most weekends through the end of the year.  At Halloween and during the Christmas season, trains will operate with appropriate holiday themes such as the Yuletide Express, but guests will remain on board for the duration of their visit.  We know this may not be to everyone’s liking, but it does appear to be the Museum’s best practical alternative that keeps staff, volunteers and visitors safe, and complies with the law. 

Externally, we sadly share that the pandemic has been particularly difficult for all museums. The Bellingham Railway Museum closed its doors in March, and it was soon apparent that it would never reopen. NRM staff and volunteers worked with their officers and former staff to ensure their collection is preserved, and remains in the public domain. Over the summer the collection was boxed up and moved to Snoqualmie. Their beloved Lionel 027 layout has been reassembled in the Train Shed, and will soon be operational. We extend our heart-felt condolences to their staff and volunteers for their loss—closing a museum is heart-breaking.

Your Support is Critical

We wish to thank you for your continued support during these uncertain times. The Northwest Railway Museum is dynamic and successful in part because of people just like you. Now, during the Covid-19 crisis, we need your support more than ever. Please consider helping to sustain the Museum in any of the following ways:

Visit to find out how you can help.

Not everything about 2020 has been negative. The happiest news of the year remains the success of steam locomotive 924. Despite challenges, the 924 has successfully operated under its own power this year. Like the chapel car 5 project before it, the 924 work generated more questions than expected, but the skillful dedication of museum volunteers and staff have allowed work to continue. We hope you will be able to join us for the first run this fall—check for updates.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Interpreting Railways' Impact

Interpretation (an explanation as a way of teaching) is more effective when it is applied in a planned and thematic way. The Northwest Railway Museum’s Interpretive Plan establishes guidelines for sharing interpretive themes used in messaging and communication with visitors. It shapes the major themes that will bring visitors to our doors again and again over the years. It outlines the facilities needed to support the Museum’s collections and best enable the staff to effectively operate the Museum in a sustainable and efficient manner. It imagines a dynamic institution at the heart of the community—one in which the Northwest Railway Museum shares the stories of people and railways that engage both area residents and visitors from afar. The Plan codifies the Museum’s adherence to professional standards, best practices, and codes of ethics as defined by the American Association of Museums and American Association for State and Local History. In this way, activities and other forms of implementation arise from a clear direction and documented list of tasks or actions, all based on sound reasoning.

The Northwest Railway Museum began development of the Railway History Campus in 2006, and continues its growth. Staff developed interpretive themes for the focus of exhibits. Beginning with the original interpretive themes identified in the 2010-2012 Train Shed Exhibit Hall exhibit planning, staff began expanding original interpretive themes to create a cohesive plan for interpretation across the Museum’s sites. Exhibit topics were selected based on workshop participation by the Executive Director, Deputy Director, and Exhibits Committee during that period. This featured a multi-phase exhibit plan for the Train Shed Exhibit Hall which included an exhibit sharing how the development of the transcontinental railways fueled western expansion; an exhibit on how railways then impacted the Pacific Northwest; interpretive panels on each of the historic artifacts on display; and exhibits focusing on how the railway impacted diverse groups of people. It connected these themes to exhibits at the Snoqualmie Depot; creating an exhibit about the first railway into the Snoqualmie Valley, and connecting that exhibit to one on how the Snoqualmie Depot impacted Snoqualmie. Between 2010-2019 the Museum completed the first three phases and began working on the fourth phase with planned exhibits on Stewardess Nurses, Japanese-American Railway Workers, and Railway Workers of WWII (the Faces of the Railway exhibit). 

The Museum’s mission clearly describes two important themes: 1) the story of experiencing the excitement of a working railway; interpreting ways that visitors can be involved in the ongoing heritage and operations of trains.  And, 2) the story of how railroads influenced the development and settlement of Washington State and adjacent areas; interpreting how railways changed everything in the Pacific Northwest.

As the Museum has expanded exhibit offerings within the Train Shed Exhibit Hall, the plans for a fourth building, the Roundhouse Gallery, prompted the need to review and elaborate the Interpretive Plan just as the former plan neared completion and was due for review. This has coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic causing new social behavioral changes and social gathering size restrictions, which have necessitated new ways of envisioning traditional operating models.

Consequently, this spring the suspension of programming caused by the Covid-19 pandemic redirected efforts and allowed the Interpretive Plan and exhibits to be updated with additional content in the Train Shed Exhibit Hall.  Now, as visitors experience the Train Shed, they travel a directional route exploring how the arrival of the transcontinental railway changed settlement patterns, foodways, trade networks, leisure travel and industry. Additionally, they explore aspects of what people working for the railway have experienced with new exhibits on railway workers.  Additional exhibits will be arriving later this fall and winter expanding upon these stories with the installation of Asa Whitney’s Dream, an exhibit on railway car lighting, and an exhibit on the Japanese and Japanese-American logging railway workers of the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co. Tickets to visit the Train Shed Exhibit Hall are currently available at Shop.TrainMuseu


Friday, September 4, 2020

Train Shed reopens September 11

The Northwest Railway Museum is pleased to announce the planned reopening of the Train Shed Exhibit Hall. The Train Shed will reopen on Friday, September 11th at 11 am, and is located in Snoqualmie at 9320 Stone Quarry Road.  It includes many of the Museum’s most significant artifacts including chapel car 5 Messenger of Peace, and a variety of exhibits about how the railway changed everything. The hall incorporates more than 24,000 square feet, and has not been able to reopen this year until now due to the pandemic. 

Beginning September 11, the Train Shed will be open every week until the Christmas season, Fridays through Sundays from 11 am - 4 pm, and on Wednesdays from 1 pm- 4 pm. Tickets are available online at and must be purchased in advance; adults are $10 and children are $5.

The pandemic has required the Museum to be closed for most of the season, which has until now been unprecedented.  Notwithstanding, the Museum will remain open unless guidelines change.  

To comply with Washington State's SAFE START – STAY HEALTHY plan to protect the health and safety of our community, up to ten people may enter every 15 minutes, and the Train Shed has been reconfigured with a new directional experience featuring refreshed and renewed exhibits. To ensure a safe experience, interactive exhibits requiring touch have been temporarily removed, and cleaning staff will be frequently disinfecting other touch surfaces including doors and restrooms.  All visitors over 2 years of age are asked to wear masks, and pursuant to state law, masks are required for all visitors over the age of 5 years old.

Members of the Northwest Railway Museum remain entitled to free, unlimited visits to the Train Shed.  For access, please contact visitor services manager Lara H by email or by calling 425.888.3030 extension 7202.