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!

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