Sunday, November 30, 2008

Haul Out the Holly

The season is upon us and once again, the volunteers of the Northwest Railway Museum, under the direction of Sue S. and Joyce C., have transformed the Snoqualmie Depot. Old fashioned garland and white lights hang from the eaves of the 1890 building. In the waiting room, a 12’ tree is decorated all in white: poinsettias, ribbons and lights. The mantel is hung with stockings and the windows twinkle with the lights of a miniature holiday village. The freight room is decked with garland and large ornaments. Even the locomotives on the Snoqualmie Valley Railway have a wreath on the front. The Snoqualmie Depot is open Monday - Friday, 10 AM to 5 PM, through Christmas Eve. Come see the decorations and experience the Museum at holiday time. While you're in Snoqualmie, you might want to see the holiday decorations of local merchants too!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Santa Train

Today is the first day of Santa Train, the Museum’s grand holiday tradition that first ran in 1969 right here in Snoqualmie. 40 years of Santa Train has brought many changes, not the least of which has expanded the audience to nearly 11,000 patrons. Harvey Girl and I will be writing several posts about Santa Train and today I am going to talk about the evolution of this event. In future posts, we will be talking about why we run Santa Train, what goes into transforming the depot for Santa Train, and talking about some of the people who attend Santa Train.
The Northwest Railway Museum began its first regularly-scheduled public programs in 1967 with a short rail excursion along the reconstructed Niblock Spur. (This line served the Snoqualmie Coal and Coke Company beginning in 1889, and later was used as a log reload spur. It was removed circa 1954.) In that era, Snoqualmie was a rural community far removed from Seattle and Bellevue and patrons had to be more deliberate about visiting. Volunteers wanted to find a way to thank the people who had supported the program so the Museum decided to host a Santa Train. For a modest fare, patrons could ride ½ mile into the woods, visit with Santa and enjoy a hot cocoa and cookie baked in a railway kitchen. Popularity was instant. Line ups to buy tickets stretched as far as the eye could see and by the following year the “thank you event” had become an annual program.
Santa Train in the woods continued to be popular but in 1976 an opportunity to improve the event arrived: the Burlington Northern Railroad donated the Snoqualmie Depot and a portion of the Snoqualmie Branch to the Museum. While the Depot needed substantial restoration, it was a big improvement over a camp in the woods (particularly when it was raining) and became the host location where people boarded the train, got their refreshments and visited with Santa. Popularity remained high and by midday often hundreds of people were in line to buy tickets.
By the late eighties, popularity – Santa Train now served several thousand patrons - was hampering the enjoyment of the event for many people. In response, the Museum introduced advance ticket sales where people could order tickets by telephone. In an era before the Internet was popularized and when credit cards were less common, there was some trepidation. However after the first season, this approach had proved itself and patrons began to expect the presale of tickets.
More change came in 1987 with the dedication of the North Bend Depot. Museum planners saw the opportunity to have people board in North Bend, travel by train to Snoqualmie, get off the train to visit with Santa and enjoy refreshments, and then board the train for their return to North Bend. This destination model was adopted a few years later and continues to this day.
Other improvements have been added in recent years too. Santa has been giving a small gift to children for over 10 years. Web-based ticketing was introduced in 2002 and now nearly 90% of all tickets are sold there. A fifth and sixth day were added in 1996; a seventh day in 2007. And for the future? This year's event sold out on November 1st but tickets for Santa Train 2009 will go on sale to members in August 2009. Why not find out for yourself?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

The Northwest Railway Museum is a community resource. It could not offer great programs or even exist were it not for awesome levels of community support. And what is community support? It takes many forms and comes from every part of our community. So on this day of Thanks the museum Board of Trustees and staff humbly extend our Thanks to the community:
Thanks to our members for your continued confidence and support.
Thanks to Snoqualmie City Council, Mayor, and City Staff for supporting our programs and facilitating a major land exchange.
Thanks to City of North Bend Council, Mayor, and City Staff for supporting our programs and facilitating a major land exchange.
Thanks to King County, State of Washington and United States elected officials and employees who support funding and legislative initiatives.
Thanks to major funding partners – foundations and corporations - for supporting programs and facility development.
Thanks to individual donors who contribute objects to the collection, materials for collection care, and funds to support buildings and programs.
Thanks to 200 volunteers who contribute over 14,000 hours per year staffing programs and caring for the collection.
But most importantly, Thanks to the many thousands of people who every year visit our museum in Snoqualmie or stop by the web site. We are honored you continue to choose us as a place to spend some of your precious time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Missing pages of history

In the days leading up to the worst natural disaster in Washington’s history, it snowed as much as one foot per hour. Telegraph lines were down and two trains - the Fast Mail and the Spokane local - had been trapped at Wellington in Stevens Pass by heavy snow and avalanches for several days. Then, on March 1, 1910, after weeks of relentless winter weather, it began to rain. The storm culminated in a massive avalanche that swallowed both trains, assorted freight cars, a rotary snowplow, at least two steam locomotives, and four electric locomotives. Official records indicate that 96 souls perished in what became known as the Wellington Disaster. For the 26 survivors, a makeshift emergency hospital was created inside the motorman’s bunkhouse at Wellington. (Motormen operated the electric locomotives that ran through the Cascade Tunnel.)

Photos taken several years after the disaster were conspicuous for the absence of the bunk house and so far no record of its demise had been discovered. What had been effectively lost to history was the fate of the bunkhouse itself. Or at least until now. Several missing pages of history arrived at the Northwest Railway Museum earlier this year in the form of a glass negative collection. Two images depicted in that collection are believed to have been taken in 1913 and show the motorman’s bunkhouse engulfed in flames.

The Museum is grateful the donor recognized the value of the collection and ensured it found a home in a public collection. But many more collections remain in garages and attics. Often they are inadvertently overlooked and discarded as estates are settled. A few more missing pages of history are waiting to be found, perhaps in your family’s attic.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Get the glow - by sharing

What makes you feel warm all over? Sharing what you have with those who have less than you do. Imagine the face of a child on Christmas morning who didn’t think Santa was coming, when they see gifts under the tree and realize he came after all! Your heart skips a beat when you think of the parents and how happy they are to be able to provide for their children.

The Northwest Railway Museum is partnering with Sterling Savings Bank and the Kiwanis to bring holiday cheer to families. Help make the season brighter for many this year, with your donation to our Giving Tree. Please bring new, unwrapped gifts to place beneath the tree at the Snoqualmie Depot or Sterling Savings Bank, North Bend branch, by December 16. Gifts will be made available to families selected for assistance in time for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Without a story, this large iron and steel object is recognizable to most casual observers as a steam locomotive. Without more information, the "WASH" in the name might lead you to believe is was used somewhere in Washington. The "PLYWOOD" suggests it had something to do with the forest industry. But what was it used for and why was it important? When was it built? Where was it used? How did it change our world?

Answering questions like these is what museums do and we call this interpretation. This year, the Museum completed design, manufacture and installation of ten outdoor interpretive signs that each highlight an artifact of railroad history and the role it played in Washington history. The project was funded by the City of Snoqualmie Lodging Tax revenues and the signs are located along the Centennial Trail in downtown Snoqualmie. Come down, check them out and let us know what you think!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Train Expo 2008

What’s more wonderful than an event with trains and children? That’s what we found at Puyallup Train Expo last weekend. On November 15 and 16 thousands of people toured the train layouts, models, and sale tables set up at the Western Washington fairgrounds. And the Northwest Railway Museum was there too with a model of the new museum campus, a slide show and traveling exhibit panels. Hundreds of families stopped by to visit with Museum staff and volunteers and see what is planned for 2009.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Threats to the Museum's collection

Last week was trying. Near-record rains again raised awareness about how vulnerable any museum collection is to the natural environment. Earthquakes, ash from volcanic eruptions, and flooding are the top threats facing the Northwest Railway Museum collection. And this week forecasters were calling for the "perfect storm" as a duo of tropical storms appeared to sequentially target the Snoqualmie Valley. As late as noon on Wednesday, November 12 everyone was expecting more than 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period and USGS flow forecasts were calling for a river crest of 63,000 cubic feet per second (CFS). Never before had such flows been forecast and Museum staff began to wonder if water would actually get into the buildings for the first time ever. (The Snoqualmie Depot was built in 1890 and there is no record of water ever getting into the structure.) Thankfully, the storms ended up tracking differently and river flow peaked at about 45,000 CFS, but still over ten times the normal November flow.

For the Museum, the result was no damage. However when the threat was first forecast, Museum management made an immediate decision to close the museum and focus on mitigation: ensure nothing was sitting directly on the floor in either the Snoqualmie Depot or the Conservation and Restoration Center, and that anything vulnerable such as books and papers were at least six inches above the floor. Everyone is happy that record flooding never materialized but it is apparent that area storms are increasing in severity above storms of the last century. Planning for the future will require an assumption that storm related impacts will be greater, but by how much? The same question is on the minds of many museum managers across the region.

Included images: Snoqualmie Falls at 45,000 cfs with Museum's railway visible on the far river bank; South Fork at 6,000 cfs flowing below Museum's bridge 35.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Insider information from the Northwest Railway Museum

Many people ask, "what's happening at the Museum this week?" Our new blog will attempt to answer that question and offer some insight into our behind-the-scenes activities. Collection care activities in the Conservation and Restoration Center, objects in the collection, development of the new exhibit building, and coverage of public programs are just a few of the things we'll spotlight here. So stay tuned and thanks for dropping by. Better yet, why not subscribe and learn about every new post just as soon as it's published?