Friday, February 2, 2018

Back to the Snoqualmie Depot

The Snoqualmie Depot is the most iconic structure in historic downtown Snoqualmie, and the most recognizable object in the Museum's collection.  It was built in 1890 for the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway by the firm of Anderson and Scott in just two months, but in keeping with 1890 technology it did not have electricity, indoor plumbing, or even insulation.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a King County and City of Snoqualmie Landmark.

The structure was extensively rehabilitated and restored between 1979 and 1981, and it remains the centrepiece of historic downtown Snoqualmie.  The rear of the depot was particularly difficult to rehabilitate and restore because there was just one photo illustrating that portion of the building.  Now there are two. 

Thanks to a tip from Kent S. from the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association, the Northwest Railway Museum was able to purchase a "new" rear view of the Snoqualmie Depot.  It shows perspective that would have been from within the footprint of today's Woodman Lodge, itself a King County and City of Snoqualmie Landmark, and built in 1903.  The photographer is not identified, but the photo was taken during the period when the Kinsey Brothers lived in Snoqualmie and were learning the trade. 

The "parlor card" was exposed in the early 1890s and it is reassuring to note that the only "big" difference is incorporation of the accessibility ramp into the raised platform, which was installed in 1980.  The listing on Ebay had just one day remaining and fortunately the Museum was able to secure this important image.  Thank you Kent!

Friday, January 26, 2018

And the newest Snoqualmie Landmark is . . .

The newest and perhaps most unusual City of Snoqualmie Landmark is a wooden electric interurban car. Built by St. Louis Car in 1907, it entered service between Seattle and Tacoma in February 1908.

The City of Snoqualmie Landmark Commission met on Thursday, January 25, 2018 to consider the nomination of car 523 to the Register.  Car 523 was donated to the The Northwest Railway Museum in September 2017 and a $11,000 grant from 4Culture funded its move from Petaluma, California to Snoqualmie, Washington.  The Museum prepared and submitted a nomination in fall 2017; this was the Commission's first meeting since.  A Commission staff report was made, the Museum gave a presentation, and then the public was invited to comment.

Historic Preservation architect Todd Scott is staff support for the King County Landmarks Commission (who sits as the Snoqualmie Commission when acting for Snoqualmie).  He presented the staff report and called out more than a dozen communities in South King County once served by the Puget Sound Electric Railway and car 523.  His report concluded with a recommendation to list car 523 on the Landmarks Register.

Museum Executive Director Richard R. Anderson gave a short presentation on the 523 and commented on the car's role in the settlement and development of the White River valley.  He went on to describe the extra-fare service offered using the parlor in the 523, and its popularity during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909.  (Check out this excellent University of Washington online exhibit too.)  He also mentioned the important role of the Georgetown Steam Plant in powering a portion of the electric railway's third rail and overhead.  And he introduced noted artist J. Craig Thorpe who has been commissioned to create an original artwork of car 523 departing the Auburn Depot.  Mr. Thorpe unveiled the pencil sketch that was created to develop the concept and help finalize the exacting research that is being performed to create an accurate representation of a scene from the fall of 1915.

The City of Snoqualmie's Community Development Director Mark Hofman presented a letter from Mayor Matt Larson who wrote, "This artifact is highly relevant to one of the most compelling chapters in Snoqualmie's History . . . (among) the first customers of the electricity generated from the Snoqualmie Falls Power Plant was the Puget Sound Electric Railway cars . . . I believe the Puget Sound Electric Railway Car 523 will prove to be the most valued and popular artifact in the Northwest Railway Museum's collection.  I support this effort without reservation."

Following the close of the public hearing, the Snoqualmie Landmarks Commission voted to approve the listing of car 523.  It is a fitting tribute to a rare and representative object that retains a high degree of original integrity, and the listing will support the car's preservation. Stay tuned for progress as the Museum prepares to undertake significant rehabilitation and restoration of this unique resource.

Special thanks to the Landmarks and Heritage Commission, Historic Preservation Officer Jennifer Meisner, Historic Preservation architect Todd Scott, Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson, and artist J. Craig Thorpe for helping bring this nomination all together and making it a reality.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Ride with Pleasure, Safety, Economy, and Reliability

Towards the end of the 19th Century, electric railway technology was introduced and it spread like lightning. Soon there was interest in establishing electric interurban railways in even far-flung places such as Tacoma and Seattle.  Specifically, enterprising individuals saw an opportunity to provide commuter service between Tacoma, Seattle and points in between, a distance of about 35 miles.  Support for such a service grew quickly and developed in part from feelings of antipathy towards the Northern Pacific Railway, a steam railroad with costly fares and unfavorable schedules.  Yet getting it built was still a significant undertaking filled with risk.

In October 1900 Fred E. Sander secured the first franchise to build an interurban line between Seattle and Tacoma.  Sander owned the narrow gauge Grant Street streetcar line that extended south to Georgetown, and envisioned the interurban as an extension of that line that would be simultaneously double tracked and rebuilt to a standard gauge of 56 ½ inches between the rails.  Construction began in February 1901 supported by more than $1 million in capital secured in eastern markets, but it was insufficient to complete the work.  Sander’s dream sold at foreclosure just six months later, on July 10, 1901.  It, along with the Grant Street streetcar, was eventually brought under the control of the Seattle Electric Company. 

Meanwhile, a second interurban company was formed in December 1900.  Headed by Northern Bank President Jacob Furth, it was also backed by Tacoma promoters Henry Bucey and John Collins.  There was some minor controversy as the interurban line’s precise route was decided, but during its early phase of construction the enterprise was purchased by Stoneand Webster, a Boston-based company that owned street cars, interurbans and electric utilities all across the country, and who the year prior created Seattle Electric Company with the merger of Seattle’s street railways.  A few months later, Stone and Webster also purchased the Snoqualmie Falls power station.

Shortly after service to Tacoma began, the Seattle Tacoma Interurban was renamed the Puget Sound Electric Railway.  Incorporated as a subsidiary of Puget Sound Power, Light and Traction, the entire operation was owned by Stone and Webster of Boston who had designs on an electric interurban network that would stretch from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Completed in 1902, the PSER operated between Seattle and Tacoma on a 38-mile main line. Using the conventional overhead of municipal streetcar lines in the urban areas of Seattle and Tacoma, and third rail on its own track in the country, the PSER provided service between downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

The PSER advertised a ride full of, “Pleasure, Safety, Economy and Reliability.”  The trains were electrically-powered so the trip was free of smoke and cinders, and was smooth and quiet.  The 75-minute "Limited" trip between Pioneer Square at the intersection of Occidental and Yesler in downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma’s car barn at 7th and A streets featured just two stops.  However, all trains - including those that stopped at all 22 stations and took considerably longer than 75 minutes - featured the excitement of traveling at more than one mile per minute down the Kent Valley.

Initially, the PSER had 22 stops between Seattle and Tacoma.  Communities known today included Fife, Milton, and Kent, but also many no longer remembered included Orillia, Farrow and O’Brien.  The PSER enabled these communities to thrive by allowing residents to commute to work in Seattle or Tacoma.  Kent, for example, instantly became a commute to downtown Seattle comparable in duration to one from North Seattle.  Larger communities such as Auburn had a station building while smaller villages had just a platform.

Initially, trains operated with three cars.  Later, when cars such as the 523 were added, shorter trains of just two cars were able to handle as many passengers as the original three car trains, and also offer parlor car service.  By the teens, there were single car trains operating too.

As the PSER increased in popularity and ridership grew the company added branch lines.  For instance, a short branch between the mainline and Renton soon saw 33 trains per day.  Puyallup was connected to the mainline with a new 6-mile branch added in 1908.

Operation of the PSER was at the forefront of modern practice.  From the beginning, a dispatching office in Kent controlled trains using timetable and train order.  Instructions were issued by the dispatcher via telegraph and operators at each station wrote out the instruction on a form called a train order.  Train orders could be given to the motorman (train driver) in person or handed off with a train order hoop, which occurred while the train was moving.  The instructions on the train order were the authority to occupy the main track, and could allow the train to proceed, take a siding, or even hold the train for a period of time.  A typical station stop was just as long as it took for passengers to get on and off, not unlike a Sounder light rail train.

In August 1913 PSER announced it would spend more than $60,000 to purchase and install a new automatic block system.  This signal system was cutting-edge technology for the era and was designed to allow trains to safely and efficiently operate at high speed (60 miles per hour) with frequent departures.

Changes in ridership and revenue began appearing after WW I.  Construction of highway 99 combined with increasing rates of ownership of private automobiles resulted in a rapid decline in patronage.  By the late 1920s, revenues were no longer sufficient to pay the cost of capital, and this resulted in a default on bond payments.  Competition from highway buses and steam railroads proved insurmountable and parent company Puget Sound Power and Light refused to bail the railway out.  The last train operated on December 30, 1928; tracks were removed beginning in 1930.

Portions of the PSER right of way survive as the Interurban Trail, a 14-mile trail corridor developed and maintained by King County Parks, but they remain under ownership of successor company Puget Sound Energy.  Several substations have been adaptively reused and survive to this day.  And the sole remaining electric car - the 523 - has now been preserved at the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie.  So the legacy of the Puget Sound Electric Railway will live on in a museum exhibit and in local recreational trails.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Victorian Santa

Santa Train is a Northwest tradition that began in 1969.  Each year thousands are thrilled to see Santa, but one day is extra special: Victorian Santa Train!

Friday, December 15th was Victorian Santa Train 2017 at the Northwest Railway Museum.  Guests enjoyed a train excursion to Snoqualmie, received cookies and hot chocolate from the Army Ambulance Kitchen car, and had a visit with Victorian Santa in the Snoqualmie Depot.  

Young guests received on Santa's lap were treated to a Jacob's Ladder gift, which is a wooden toy popular in the late 19th Century.  It was the toy that every kid said they had to have!  And the atmosphere was made oh so much more festive with the enthusiastic participation of Victorian (and Edwardian!) reenactors dressed in period clothing.

Check out these images from this year's Victorian Santa Train!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

PastPerfect training

This month the Northwest Railway Museum partnered with Savor Snoqualmie Valley and Two Rivers School to conduct PastPerfect collections software training for volunteers from local historical societies.  The training was hosted in the computer lab at Two Rivers School; the Museum's Registrar Cristy Lake led the effort.

PastPerfect is the defacto standard collections database used worldwide by more than 10,000 museums for cataloging museum collections.  Catalog records include provenance, condition, location, purpose, and even photographs.  Examples of catalog records are included in the Northwest Railway Museum's new online lantern exhibit.

For PastPerfect to be effective, it is essential that museums have staff and volunteers trained in its use.  In the Snoqualmie Valley, a half dozen museums use the program, but most have only part-time volunteers that have not had formal training opportunities. During this training session, volunteers from Duvall Historical SocietyFall City Historical SocietySnoqualmie Valley Museum and the Cedar River Watershed EducationCenter all participated.

Ms. Lake is a veteran user of PastPerfect software, and she provided the overview and basic guidance in the use of the software. Two Rivers students helped answer questions and created a friendly atmosphere as everyone worked through the process of creating sample accession and object records.

Thank you Two Rivers School students and Savor Snoqualmie Valley for helping local historical societies modernize their collections cataloging!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Giving Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Giving Tuesday is a day of charitable giving held every year on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and this year is officially Giving Tuesday in the City of Snoqualmie as declared by Mayor Matt Larson.  The Northwest Railway Museum is part of the Giving Tuesday movement, and invites you to support programs and initiatives.  This year support will be directed towards continuing work on NP steam locomotive 924, to assess Puget Sound Electric Railway interurban car 523, and help move former Northern Pacific Railway parlor car 1799 to the Museum from an island in Puget Sound.  And the Museum is grateful for General Fund support too!


NP 924 circa 1908
Locomotive 924.  Rehabilitation of this former Northern Pacific Railway steam locomotive has been underway for the last two years.  This multi-year effort will allow this 1899-built steam locomotive to operate again!  924 is a City of Snoqualmie and King County Landmark. The locomotive cab and running gear are two of the undertakings contributions are supporting this year, and some additional boiler work will be taking place early next year.  Recent work has included rehabilitation of the steam appliances.  

LC parlor car photoParlor car 1799.  Parlor cars were extra fare cars on passenger trains that catered to the needs of the more affluent.  1799 operated between Seattle and Yakima on through trains.  This former Northern Pacific Railway parlor car is located on an island in Puget Sound, and is included on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Places list.  The owners have offered the car as a donation provided it is removed from the site.  The project is ready to proceed pending receipt of development permits, which is expected to occur early in 2018.  Support is being directed towards the cost of crane, barge and trucking fees.

InterurbanInterurban car 523The Puget Sound Electric Railway operated electric trains between Seattle and Tacoma from 1902 through 1928.  Car 523 is the only known surviving car, and originally served as a combination coach/parlor/observation car. It arrived in Snoqualmie in September.  Support towards this project will help funding a complete assessment, and the first phase of its structural rehabilitation to repair side sill damage caused by the car’s reuse as a residential home.

The General Fund is a great way to support the Northwest Railway Museum without designated a specific project or initiative.  Support received designated towards the general fund will be used for regular programs including School Train, operation of the Snoqualmie Depot, and the operation of web sites like

Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to support the Northwest Railway Museum.  Please visit the donate now page and choose your favorite project!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Digital collections now available online

The main page of Digital Collections.
The Northwest Railway Museum recently completed a 4Culture Collection Care (Heritage) grant: Small Object Cataloging. The project proposed to catalog a selection of small railway artifacts and provide the public with a way of viewing those items through the Museum’s website. 

As part of the project, more than 600 objects were cataloged using Past Perfect Museum software. The software also includes a function that allows the public to view designated collection items online. The Digital Collections are available for perusal on under Research. The Museum selected a small sample of artifacts for the online collection under three categories: lanterns, ephemera, and tools of the trade. 

The Digital Collections are available at no cost to the public on Additionally, some artifacts from this project are on display in the Train Shed Exhibit Building, which had approximately 14,000 visitors in 2017.

Sample page of the Ephemera collection.

Lantern main page.
Sample table of contents for Tools.
Sample page of the Lantern collection.

Railway history is an under-represented heritage theme yet railroads played an extremely important role in getting people to the Pacific Northwest and materials out of the area. The Digital Collections help tell that story to the public through photographs and collections data.

A 4Culture Collection Care (Heritage) grant funded this exhibit. 4Culture is the cultural funding agency for King County, Washington. Using Lodging Tax and 1% for Art funds, 4Culture has four program areas to serve the county: arts, heritage, historic preservation, and public art. For more info on 4Culture, visit their website at