Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Join our volunteer staff

Yes you can volunteer year ‘round!

Just because the interpretive railway and its public train excursions takes the winter off, doesn’t mean our volunteers do! Before there was a Conservation and Restoration Center (CRC), collection care had to take the winter off because of the weather, because who likes to work outdoors?! Nowadays, those projects carry on, even in the worst of what Old Man Winter throws at us. Before Christmas when night temperatures dropped to a chilly 6 degrees, it never dropped below 45 degrees in the main work area.
This winter at the CRC projects include rehabilitation of coach 218 (work underway includes installation of new floor sills, replacement window posts, and new carlins) as well as maintenance of locomotives 4012 & 4024 and coaches 213, 276 and 272. Collection Care Manager Bill Hall is at the CRC Wednesday thru Sunday. There are two ways to get involved: if you are an existing volunteer, call Bill directly at (425) 888-3054, or if you would like to become a volunteer, call or email Volunteer Manager Jessie Cunningham at (425) 888-3030 x 204 or email jessie at trainmuseum dot org. There is a brief application process.

Come spend the winter with us at the CRC and help perpetuate our railroad history!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Funding the Museum

We’re often asked how the Northwest Railway Museum is funded, and perhaps more to the point, people want to know how donor funds are “invested” in the Museum. This is a great question, particularly in light of the recent awareness of how some investor-owned businesses have been spending investor money. So here it is: unless otherwise directed by the donor, contributions are invested in new facilities and in collection care. However at this point in the Museum’s history, it is really in the facilities where donors can make the biggest difference.

The Conservation and Restoration Center is one such facility and it was completed in 2006 at a cost of $2.4 million after years of permitting and fundraising. This collection care facility is allowing the Museum to perform some truly awesome work on really important objects. Caboose 001, built by White River Lumber in 1945 is an example and is shown here in a 2008 post-rehabilitation photo. Incidentally, donor funds paid for materials and over 5,000 volunteer hours performed the rehabilitation.

The next facility will be an exhibit building to place large objects such as locomotives and coaches inside, out of the weather. This 25,000 square foot facility will revolutionize how the Museum preserves and exhibits its collection. This project is expected to cost approximately $3.7 million (exact cost will be determined in a bidding process) and $2.7 million has been pledged or received.

So how can supporters contribute? The Museum’s web site has a secure donation page here. There is also the Giving Express program through American Express that can be used to donate cash, or even membership rewards points. And you can always visit in person – the Depot Bookstore is open every day except New Years, Christmas and Thanksgiving – and speak with a real person. But you don’t have to give money to be a supporter. You can volunteer, come and participate in programs, or simply tell your friends and family about what we are doing and why you believe in it. Thank you!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More on rotaries

Apparently many of you are interested in rotary snowplows. Here are some additional links to information and videos about rotaries.

Exhibit one: Rotary 1 on the White Pass and Yukon

Exhibit two: Union Pacific rotary 900082

Exhibit three: Although a little out of date, here is a list of remaining rotaries

Exhibit four: HistoryLink's entry for the Museum's rotary 10

Exhibit five: Garden railway rotary snowplow model in action

Exhibit six: Rotary snowplow demo at Portola, CA

Exhibit seven: Sample footage of 1952 Southern Pacific rotary action

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rotary snowplow

This week’s snowy weather in Western Washington reminds me how all-weather travel is really a modern convenience. In the early days of the transcontinental railroads, winter line closures were a frequent occurrence. The introduction of the rotary snowplow improved winter operating conditions for railroads, particularly in mountain passes here in Washington, but also notably in California and British Columbia.

In this region, the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, and the Canadian Pacific Railway relied on rotaries to clear heavy snow. Accounts of the 1910 Wellington Disaster frequently mention the efforts of rotaries to keep Stevens Pass open, and it was only a shortage of coal that prevented them from continuing to clear snow. (X808 was one of those rotaries and is pictured here circa 1913.) Considered the “big guns” of snow clearing, rotaries continued to play a prominent role in winter railroading until well into modern times.

So what is a rotary snowplow? It is a giant wheel of cutting blades that spins into the snow, shaves off a layer of snow and then expels it to the side of the tracks. The plow itself is not self-propelled – one or more locomotives push it. Traditionally, blades were steam powered. Today the few rotaries remaining in service are diesel-electric.

Toronto, Canada Dentist J.W. Elliot invented the rotary snowplow in 1869 but a practical application was not tested until Leslie Bros. built Orange Jull’s design in 1883. Other manufacturers including Cooke soon manufactured variations on the concept.

The Northwest Railway Museum owns former Northern Pacific Railway steam rotary snowplow #10. Built in 1907, the plow was used extensively on Stampede Pass, a mountain pass used by the Northern Pacific just east of Auburn and a little south of the better-known Snoqualmie Pass. Retired in 1964 and donated to the Museum, rotary 10 can be viewed at the Snoqualmie Depot. Through the magic of QuickTime VR, you can view the inside of the cab here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

Day 7 of Santa Train. All trains are sold out and we are receiving calls asking if the train is still running today. It is of course (only one weekend in 40 years has been canceled) and a generator has been borrowed along other precautions to help ensure a happy experience for all. Certainly some people are concerned about driving on compact ice and snow – this is Western Washington after all – but many more seem happy to be here. The real concern is an approaching windstorm with projected gusts of 80 mph, but it isn’t expected to have a significant impact until after the last Santa Train has returned to North Bend.

So far Santa Train is running smoothly and it is beautiful to ride over the hill and through the snow to see Santa. And the hot cocoa tastes so much sweeter in the cold, at least to me. Radiant heaters are located in several areas to help keep the chill off, but some people are not dressed for freezing weather. Unfortunately that makes the experience less pleasant for them yet it is authentic. Imagine just a few short decades ago when the only practical intercity transportation choice was the train. If the weather changed while you were on a trip and you hadn’t made room to pack extra clothing, you had to make do. Today most of us are fortunate to have personal vehicles that allow us the freedom to move on our own schedule and to easily carry extra provisions. That’s one of the big changes the automobile has brought our society. It did mean giving up some all weather reliability though: Santa Train is running on schedule today yet nearly everyone spent a lot of extra time on the roads getting to North Bend.

P.S. Santa Trains all ran on 20 December without incident, although a few hundred people did not show up to use their tickets. On 21 December, Amtrak canceled nearly all their Pacific Northwest service. Why? Historically, the railroads had thousands of employees and therefore had the resources to clear snow and ice from turnouts, the arrangement of rails that allows a train to move from one track to another. In the mountains today, this work is done by impressively powerful automatic propane heaters. In the lowlands, snow is so infrequent that there are no automatic heaters. So frozen turnouts means very significant delays that make most passenger trains completely impracticable.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rehabilitating a coach

Coach 218 is an average coach. (We gave you a very brief introduction to it in our Coach made of wood piece published on 15 Dec 2008.) Built in 1912, it has much in common with coaches used by nearly all major railroads in the Northwest. It is built from wood but has several steel components that would have been made of wood had it been built just a few years prior. There is nothing terribly out of the ordinary or remarkable about coach 218 except that it has survived into the 21st Century. This makes it a great interpretive piece for the public because it can be used to represent what was once common.

Rehabilitation work began on the 218 in 2007. The first step in any major collection care project is research to develop a body of information that will guide the actual work and aid in its interpretation. Some information is derived from historic records, books and recollections; most is derived from the object itself. Obviously, some of the information gleaned from the object is obtained only as the project proceeds.

This month (Dec 2008) rehabilitation work on coach 218 continues to focus on the carbody and just this week a milestone was reached: volunteers installed a new right side plate, the top rail along the length of the car and that forms not only the top of the car side but the bottom support for the carlins (roof ribs) that make up the horizontal structure for the clerestory roof. (The nature of this work is rather technical – and uses terminology many are unfamiliar with - but the attached photo tells most of the story.)

The original plate was cut from two lengths of 3”x6” southern yellow pine, with a scarf joint connecting the two pieces. The scarfed joint was offset one window set from the center of the car and together made a plate nearly 80 feet long. This plate also had mortises on the under side for each of the window posts, and partial dadoes for the carlins.

Over half the plate on the right side of the car was deteriorated and we determined replacement was the preferred option. The remaining elements of the clerestory were undamaged so we decided to replace the plate in two halves - a top and a bottom - to avoid having to lift the clerestory and allow for installation over the tenons of the window posts. The new plate is also southern yellow pine, made from 2x6-16’ planks glued with marine grade epoxy.

With the new plate installation substantially complete, installation of carlins in this area has begun. As the rest of the car side comes back together, steel tie rods that run through the window center posts and between the windows will be installed to “tie” everything together.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Santa Train is for families

Santa Train is a Northwest tradition that dates from 1969. What is it about the event that makes it so enduring? We regularly ask repeat visitors what brought them back and we use that information to help plan future events. So here they are, the top three factors (informally) cited by visitors:

1) Affordability/good value. Yes, the event is not inexpensive at a 2008 price of $15 per person. But how does that compare with a visit to a mall Santa where the photo prices begin at $45 and they won’t let you take your own pictures?

2) Non-commercial. The visit with Santa is not tied to the sale or use of a product or service, other than the museum visit itself and the inherent commercial message some argue Santa is sending. It is also not tied to a movie or trademarked character. And yes, according to the responses we have received, a lot of people do care.

3) Repeatable. Families can come back year after year and get a similar and predicable experience. That allows Santa Train to become their family tradition.

So there you have it, the three critical factors in the success of a 40 year tradition. We think there may be a consultant somewhere who would take issue with our findings, but their analysis of our success/failure would have cost thousands of dollars. And if you take issue with our findings and think we can be doing something better, our Executive Director would really like to hear from you. Please email him: director at trainmuseum dot org. (Sorry, you’ll have to type that as a real address because we can’t put a linked email in here without getting lots of solicitations for pharmaceuticals and enhancement products.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

A coach made of wood

In the pre-war boom days, steam locomotives pulled nearly every train, land travel was predominantly by train, and railroad coaches were built of wood. Wood? Yes, wood! And when track conditions permitted, these wood coaches traveled at speeds that today are common on freeways. Amazing.

From the arrival of the railroad until 1912, nearly all railroad passenger coaches used in the Northwest were built of wood. Steel construction was introduced shortly after the turn of the 20th Century but did not completely replace wood in carbody construction until 1913. And the use of wooden coaches to carry passengers persisted until well after World War II. Some of those same wooden coaches continued to serve Northwest railroads - but as outfit cars for maintenance crews - until the early 1980s.

Wood railroad coaches were advanced technology for their time and there was quite an art and science to their construction. For instance, there were only a handful of wood species acceptable for use in carbody construction. There were specific types of joinery used to connect the components together. There was a specific manner in which steel tie rods and stiffeners were installed. There was some degree of sophistication in the car side as it served as a truss spanning between car bolsters (where the wheel trucks attach) and also had to help transmit the pulling and pushing forces transmitted from the coupler and draft gear.

The Northwest Railway Museum has several representative examples of wooden coaches used in the Northwest. One example - coach 218 - was constructed in 1912 for the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway by the Barney and Smith Car Company of Dayton, Ohio. It is now undergoing extensive rehabilitation at the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center in Snoqualmie.

In the coming weeks and months, this blog will feature periodic updates on the work being performed on coach 218 and detail some of the challenges in taking on a project of this scale. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes view.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who were the Harvey Girls?

Wanted: Young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent , as waitresses in the Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railway in the West. Good wages with room and meals furnished. Liberal tips customary. Experience not necessary.

What an opportunity! 100,000 girls and young women went to work for Fred Harvey between the 1880s and 1950s in the Harvey House restaurants established along the rail line to provide good, wholesome meals to weary travelers. They typically worked a 12 hour day, serving meals to an entire train load of people in 30 minutes. They came from farms, tiny towns, and big cities in the East. Some came to escape arranged marriages, some for adventure, others for necessary employment, but all had in common: they were hard-working, independent women who became an important part of American history. They found employment at a time when there were very few jobs considered suitable for women of polite society. They helped open the West by settling in the newly established towns springing up along the Old Santa Fe Trail, then the route of the Santa Fe Railway.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A real Santa

Santa comes in many different faces but it takes a special person to be a real Santa. Here at the Northwest Railway Museum we are proud to have had a real Santa: Francis Davenport. Mr. Davenport died Saturday, December 6 at his home in North Bend. He was 74.

Francis grew up in the Snoqualmie Valley and after 3 years in the US Army became a plywood grader at the Weyerhaeuser Snoqualmie mill. (In the days of his youth, that operation was known as the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company.) Later, he became a custodian for the Issaquah School District. For many, however, he was simply Santa Claus. He is survived by his wife Marcia, sister Barbara, four sons, two daughters, 11 grandchildren, 2 great grand children, and many thousands of friends and admirers.

There are many stories we can tell about Santa that will put a smile on nearly anyone's face. Here is one of our favorites: On a Saturday back in the late 1990s, Santa had to leave promptly after the last train so he could attend a party in North Bend. One of his family members brought his pickup truck and trailer to the museum all decked out with a sleigh, colorful lighting and eight tiny reindeer. Shortly after departing from the Snoqualmie Depot, a police car pulled him over. Santa was told by the young officer that he was too much of a distraction to other drivers and would have to disconnect his lighting. Well Santa was none too happy but agreed to comply. On Monday, word reached the Mayor of Snoqualmie who was outraged. “Leave Santa alone” was the short and simple memo he sent to the police chief. So Santa got to keep his sleigh, lights and eight tiny reindeer.

The Northwest Railway Museum is privileged and honored to have been graced by the kind service of “Frannie Claus.” In his time with the Museum he received an estimated 100,000 children of all ages including a sitting Washington State Governor, numerous elected representatives, and people from nearly every walk of life from across Western Washington, and even Oregon and British Columbia. Francis, we are going to miss your friendship, your humor, and your incredible ability to please so many people. And to all a good night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Collection care or facadism?

At the Northwest Railway Museum, care for the entire artifact is essential to its long term survival. Many artifacts are 100 years or more of age and have remained outside for that entire time. Water and insects have intruded into many features of the object – in fact into areas that some of the curators may not even know exist. So when an object is being rehabilitated or restored, collection care staff must look at every element to ensure that all threats have been addressed, especially if it involves water, rot or insects.

For instance, take the roof of the Northern Pacific Railway boxcar depicted here. The object was built during WW II as a special wartime composite wood and steel car that conserved steel in a time of shortage. In the approximately 70 years since it was built, water has allowed fungus to gradually consume the wood behind the object’s fascia board along the edge of the roof (technically, the "plate" on this car). A more expedient method of addressing the problem may be to replace the fascia and ignore the underlying plate that is normally hidden from view – in essence, focusing on the facade. That approach may seem cost effective in the short term but over years (or even decades) the object and much of its significance will be lost. What significance are we talking about? The techniques and craftsmanship that built the car and that are preserved in the structure – both seen and unseen. It helps us to understand why or how things we take for granted today came to be. That is an important responsibility for a museum because if we don't do it, who will?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Jingle all the way

Santa Train® riders have been singing along with Mr. Bells for six years now. Looking jaunty in his train cap decorated with giant jingle bells, Dick S. leads carols aboard seven Santa Trains each day, for seven days. Veteran riders look forward to celebrating the holidays with Mr. Bells.

Dick boards every train ready to make merry with the passengers. His delightful resonant voice rings out over the crowd, drawing them in. You can’t help singing along.

Dick and his wife, Charlsia have been volunteering at the Northwest Railway Museum for 8 years. They teach classes at School Train and help at events throughout the year as well as Santa Train. They first began riding Santa Train with their now grown children 40 years ago and are among the select few that can say they have attended every year since the event began in 1969!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Somewhere in Time

Somewhere In Time Unlimited is a Seattle-based society that sponsors social events for people to dress in vintage clothing. There are several formal events per year and dozens of informal opportunities.
And what better than Santa Train held at the Victorian-era and Queen Anne-styled Snoqualmie Depot to display 19th Century finery? Saturday, November 29, 2008 was an opportunity for Judy L. and Mikaela H. and dozens of others to try out their brand new handmade Victorian-style clothing. They traveled by train from North Bend, visited with Santa and enjoyed refreshments from the railway kitchen car. They paused on the platform of the White River Lumber caboose 001 for a photo.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Someone's in the kitchen

The Railway Kitchen Car, that is. In October, Museum volunteers fire up the coal stove in the army ambulance kitchen car and begin baking the 25,000+ cookies given to Santa Train riders each year. Recipes are formulated by Dale C., who volunteers hundreds of hours yearly performing collection care in the Railway History Center on rail artifacts, cooking for the volunteers and baking for Santa Train.

Here's the secret recipe (I guess it's not a secret anymore!):

Santa Train Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes a whole bunch!)
¼ cup vanilla
3 lbs. butter
1 dozen eggs
16 cups flour
4 cups sugar
2 tbs. baking soda
4 cups brown sugar
8 cups or to taste, chocolate chips

Preheat oven by starting a fire with kindling. Add coal until desired temperature is reached. (Takes about 1 hour.) In a 5 gallon bucket, cream butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla, using your drill and a mixing bit. Add flour and baking soda and blend until well mixed. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake for awhile; turning pans so cookies don’t get scorched by the fire. Constantly rotate pans within the oven due to uneven oven temperatures. Take out when done and cool on wire rack.