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!

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.