Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Coal trains from Snoqualmie?

There is coal in the Snoqualmie Valley! 

"Soon there will be scores of rail cars full of sequestered carbon headed from Snoqualmie to power Seattle, and dozens of new local jobs mining the ore, too." 

Well, not quite, but almost a century ago an enthusiastic Mr. R.T. Warwick, Agent of the Northern Pacific Railway in Snoqualmie could easily have said such a thing. 

In 1925 the California Alaska Corporation was operating the Niblock Mine, which was extracting coal from two seams located near today's I-90 exit 27, just outside Snoqualmie city limits.  In a common move both then and now, Mr. Newenham of that venture had offered a glowing report light on evidence and advised that, 

"they have opened up number three vein and found it (to be) twelve feet thick, and a very high grade of coal."  

Agent Warwick dutifully reported this information to the railway company's traffic manager.  Statements like this were difficult to verify over distance, so these glowing reports usually went unverified, causing the value of mining company stock to rise, and sometimes even tricked railway companies into building rail lines that would never see enough traffic to recover the cost of construction, let alone operation.  The promise of coal and iron mines in the Snoqualmie Valley was part of what led to the construction of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway into the area.  Yet when the valley was connected by rail, it was its vast timber resources that dominated the local economy.

So a colliery was operated on and off by a series of three successive operators over a period of almost 40 years, but it never achieved any of the success found to the west in the mines of Issaquah, Newcastle, and Renton.  So there will not be any coal trains in Snoqualmie at any time in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Station Name Sign Snoqualmie

The iconic Station Name Sign on the Snoqualmie Depot has been rehabilitated!  The sign was a project managed by T. Little more than 35 years ago to complete the restoration of the depot to its appearance in 1900.  Over the ensuing time, rain, sun, heat and cold had conspired to fade the paint.  Thanks to local artists Laura and Bob Antone, the sign is again resplendent with fresh paint!

Laura and Bob began back in January by removing the sign and storing it in the depot's freight room to give it time to dry out.  Then they carefully traced the original lettering on tracing paper.  This gave them a reference so they could repaint the white background.

The next step was to apply fresh black paint to the letter bodies.  "One Shot Lettering Enamel" was the paint selected for the project, and a grant from the City of Snoqualmie Lodging Tax Fund allowed the purchase of these supplies and materials.

After allowing the paint to dry for about a week, the sign was rehung on the front of the depot.  Thank you to Laura and Bob for their generous contribution of time, and to the City of Snoqualmie for the grant to pay for materials.  This effort is helping ensure this 1890-built City of Snoqualmie Landmark remains as the centerpiece for the downtown historic district.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Abby Williams Hill Exhibit

The newest exhibit in the Train Shed Exhibit Hall is on loan to the Museum for the next year from the University of Puget Sound. This new exhibit follows the life of artist Abby Williams Hill. You might ask, “Who was Abby Williams Hill and what does she have to do with Pacific Northwest railroad history?”

Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943) was a landscape painter who is known for her commissioned works for the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway companies in the early 1900s. Her paintings were exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, the Jamestown Centennial in 1907, and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. Her works promoted rail tourism including being printed in a travel pamphlet for the Great Northern Railway entitled Scenic Washington Along The Line (of the) Great Northern Railway in 1904.

The University of Puget Sound has graciously loaned the six panel exhibit to the Northwest Railway Museum through February 4, 2022. The collection was donated to the University by Hill's daughter, Mrs. Ina Hill. Many of Hill's paintings are on permanent display in the Collins Memorial Library and other spaces on campus. Hill's personal papers are held in the Archives & Special Collections of the University’s Collins Memorial Library. The Abby Williams Hill Collection contains approximately 150 paintings and drawings and includes letters, diaries, day books, postcards, news clippings, ephemera, and artifacts documenting the life of Hill and her family. The Hill Collection documents her travels across the nation and in Europe, her relationship with her husband and four children, her experiences hiking and painting in the Pacific Northwest wilderness, and her passion for social causes including her work with the Congress of Mothers.

Thanks to the curatorial staff of the University of Puget Sound, now you can view the exhibit and learn about the incredible life of Abby Williams Hill when you visit the Train Shed Exhibit Hall. The Train Shed Exhibit Hall is open Thursday- Sunday, 11AM-4PM. Tickets are available online or admission is free when you purchase a train ride ticket.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Trucks for the Parlor Car

The parlor car in 2016 on Whidby Island 
Parlor car 1799 was built by Pullman in 1901 and is typical of an extra fare day service car of the era.  It and an identical car were the Northern Pacific's very first true all parlor car.  It was donated to the Museum in 2018 and moved to Snoqualmie from Whidbey Island.  It had been used as a seaside cottage for more than 70 years, but is now destined to return to its former configuration as a Northern Pacific Railway parlor car.

The trucks arrive on a truck
When the car was reconfigured as a cottage, the trucks - frames that support the suspension, wheels and bearings - were removed and scrapped.  The original trucks were a standard design developed by the Master Car Builders (MCB) Association, and were of composite wood and steel construction.  This same truck design is found under chapel car 5 Messenger of Peace, and Spokane, Portland and Seattle coaches 213 & 218.  It is a design that was replaced by the late 1910s with all steel cast trucks.

The trucks were unloaded by
simultaneously lifting  all three axles

The Museum is delighted to share that Steven Butler and Morton Machine Works donated a pair of 1900s-vintage MCB trucks to the project.  The former Great Northern Railway baggage car trucks were located at the Texas State Railroad Museum and arrived by highway truck last Sunday morning.  This 25 ton load arrived on time after a four day drive from Palestine, TX.

Both trucks were unloaded in 45 minutes
The fine folks at Imhoff Contractor and Crane Service of Snoqualmie made quick work unloading the "new" parlor car trucks.  They were unloaded onto the Museum's main track and moved into the Conservation and Restoration Workshop where they will be rehabilitated in anticipation of installation under the parlor car later this year.

The transportation and unloading of this pair of MCB trucks was funded in part with individual donations, and grant funding from the Washington Heritage Capital Projects Fund of the Washington State Historical Society.  Work is being guided by research funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation conducted by Mr. Kyle Wyatt, former Curator at the California State Railroad Museum.  Special thanks to Steven Butler for donating these important components to the parlor car.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Improving the parking lot

The Northwest Railway Museum has amazing volunteers who possess an impressive diversity of skills.  That fact was clearly on display on Wednesday, 6 January 2021 when Brent M. led a team of volunteers and constructed concrete foundations for two new parking lot lights.  

The parking lot is for the Railway History Center, and the new lighting will improve pedestrian safety during low light and night conditions.  The lights were part of the original Railway Education Center design but cost issues had deferred the project until now.  Soon, two new light towers will be erected on the concrete bases.

Brent and his team with some help from community service workers dug holes, constructed wooden formwork, erected steel reinforcing cages, and tamped concrete into the forms.  A quad of mounting bolts was set into each pour as well.  After the concrete cures for a few days, the formwork will be removed.  After at least a seven day set, the lamps will be erected and connected to power.  An optical sensor will turn the lights off during daylight hours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Thinning the forest

Earlier this year, the Museum's Train Shed Exhibit Hall was struck by a falling tree.  A sudden wind storm had caught the crown of the more than 120-foot tall tree and laid it across the Train Shed roof.  Repair costs topped more than $140,000, and would have been very disruptive had it not been for the pandemic.  This was the second tree strike in 10 years so the Museum's leadership ordered a tree health study.

A certified arborist studied all the trees within 150 feet  of the campus structures, and the results were concerning: more than a dozen hemlock trees had developed root rot.  Unfortunately, the western hemlock is susceptible to several species of fungus that attack the roots.  Naturally, that weakens a tree's resistance to wind.  The resulting root rot has been implicated in the tree fall earlier this year.

A local tree service was engaged to remove the diseased trees, along with several over-mature cottonwood trees.  With the closeness of the buildings and railroad, most of the trees were brought down two feet at a time.  A logger climbed to the top of each such tree and beginning with the crown cut off two feet at a time and worked his way down.

The logging operation was an unfortunate necessity in protecting the Museum's collections.  However, there is a silver lining: the felled trees are being cut up to use as fuel in the 924, or at least after the wood seasons in six months or so.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Trains are operating!

Beware of logging trucks!  The Snoqualmie Valley continues to host a variety of silviculture businesses, including active logging operations.  It is quite common to see fully loaded trucks rambling through town and across the tracks, generally with a high degree of safety.  

Unfortunately, on Friday, December 4 one such trailer failed to negotiate the turn from Railroad Avenue on the Snoqualmie Parkway. The resulting carnage seriously injured a motorist, destroyed a car, and took out the center median crossing signals for the Snoqualmie Parkway.

The crossing signal mast and signal will be down for the count.  Siemens Rail Automation will be shipping a replacement assembly in a few weeks, and until then a railroad flagman will be in position whenever trains cross the Snoqualmie Parkway.  So the Yuletide Express will operate as scheduled for the next few weeks, and there will be one more person on hand to waive at Santa as he rolls on by!