Friday, November 27, 2009

Hidden Talents

Walking by the bay window at the Northwest Railway Museum, I spied some activity inside at the desk. Clarence, our telegrapher of many years, has taken up a new hobby. As I look closely, peering through the antique glass, it seems Clarence is putting the finishing touches on a Christmas model railroad display.

The tracks are covered with snow and Isaac’s Hardware awaits holiday shoppers at the end of the line. Wildlife is free to roam. I spy a moose, beaver and some wild mustangs. Clarence has taken a break from sending messages and is painting the roof of a new building.

The scent of pinecones and hot chocolate hang in the air with the smoke from the locomotive. A woman steps out her front door to wave at the passing train as it slows to pick up waiting skiers headed for the slopes. The fireman shovels more coal into the firebox as the engineer picks up steam for the trip into the mountains. Santa better be careful not to slide out the open door of the coach, as he waves merrily to the townspeople.

What a cheery display. It put a spring in my step and hope in my heart. The season of joy is upon us and all is ready. Northwest Railway Museum volunteers have been busy decorating for several days now, and the freight room, baggage car, kitchen car and waiting room of the Snoqualmie Depot have been transformed in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Oh yes, and Clarence has been busy too.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks in 2009

15 things the Northwest Railway Museum is thankful for (in no particular order):

1. Sprinkler systems! (The Snoqualmie Depot was spared from major fire damage by sprinkler heads located on the structure’s exterior.)

2. Successful flood recovery. (On January 8 the Museum experienced the most significant flood event in its history and recovered in time to operate trains in April as scheduled.)

3. Broad base of community support from a truly successful community. (Participation through programs, volunteering, contributing funds, donating goods and services, and helping protect the museum from fire, flood and even petty crime.)

4. Popular programs. (2009 experienced record-setting participation in the Museum’s programs.)

5. Beautiful scenery in a great location. (A beautiful location helps the Museum be successful, and is part of railroad's legacy in the Northwest.)

6. A Collection of Northwest railway history truly representative of the region. (Locomotives, a depot, bridges, freight cars, coaches, lanterns, books, photographs, maps, and examples of pretty much anything else imaginable that was used to build, operate or maintain a railroad.)

7. Great volunteers. (Over 200 people have participated this year in everything from flood recovery to staffing all programs.)

8. Dedicated staff. (Five full time and four part time staff provide management and general support for museum programs.)

9. Supportive local government (Snoqualmie, North Bend and King County have all helped the Museum become more successful.)

10. Awesome elected officials at all levels of government from the City of Snoqualmie Council all the way to Congress.

11. Irreplaceable support from the State of Washington and the United States. (Together, the State and Federal government are funding nearly 40% of the new Train Shed.)

12. Museum members. (Membership remains as one of the Museum’s critical support mechanisms.)

13. Generous funders. (Recent new support received from 4Culture, North American Railway Foundation, the Quest for Truth Foundation, the City of Snoqualmie and dozens of individuals.)

14. Effective and dedicated Board of Trustees. (Museum is governed by 11 volunteer trustees. Members include rail historians, museum volunteers, and community representatives.)

15. The best bells and whistles of any museum in the County!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

World's Greatest Hobby on Tour

Model train show season has begun and the Northwest Railway Museum was present at one of the best train shows around this past weekend: The World’s Greatest Hobby on Tour, originating in Illinois.

Thousands of families and train lovers gathered in the Showplex at the Puyallup Fairgrounds for a train palooza, featuring model train layouts by local groups, retailers and manufacturers, and heritage preservation institutions such as the Northwest Railway Museum.

The Museum put on a well coordinated three-faceted display. The diorama depicting the Railway History Center has been refurbished with new covers, paint, and touch-ups to the modeling. Referencing the completed Conservation and Restoration Center, the currently under construction Train Shed and the future Library and Roundhouse helped visitors visualize the completed center. The Museum’s newest exhibit, “North Bend’s Own Train,” which tells the story of the importance of the railroad in North Bend, Washington, was well-received. An operating model train layout by Ron C. and friends completed the Museum’s display. This layout depicts the countryside in Great Britain, such as is frequented by Thomas the Tank Engine™. Children of all ages enjoyed operating Thomas by remote control.

In 2010, the Museum will be exhibiting in Seattle, at the Pacific Science Center Model Train Show, January and in Monroe, at the United Northwest Show at the Evergreen Fairgrounds, in February.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Good conductor, bad conductor

Weyerhaeuser Timber Company White River Branch #1 is a diesel-electric locomotive built in 1951 during the transition from steam to diesel. It is an important object in the Museum’s collection for the era in which it was built, because it represents local King County history (Enumclaw area), because of its connection with the forest industry, because of its builder (Fairbanks Morse) and because it worked together with White River Lumber caboose 001 that is also in the Museum’s collection. And, well, just because (yes, Spike disliked that reason too!)

Diesel-electric refers to the power transmission. A diesel engine turns an electric generator and relays control how much electricity is sent to electric traction motors that are mounted on each axle. It is a very efficient design and similar to the concept used in hybrid cars, except there is no storage battery.

Locomotive 1 is operationally complete and for nearly 20 years regularly pulled trains on the interpretive railway. Unfortunately, electrical problems developed a few years ago and the locomotive has been out of service ever since. Unfortunately, electrical problems concomitant with managing old locomotives because wires and components that are nearly 60 years old tend to be bad electrical conductors when they should be good, and good electrical conductors when they should be insulators. (In this context, conductor is not the boss of the train, it refers to the electrical properties of something. If something is a good conductor, electricity will probably flow easily through it.)

Locomotive 1 is slated to go on long term exhibit in the new Train Shed when that structure is completed later next year. In preparing for that exhibit, the Museum’s staff has been attempting to address known issues including stuck fuel injectors (Fairbanks Morse Engine sent out a crew to fix this problem) and electrical problems. For the 1, electrical problems appear to be confined to two traction motors that have an unusual buildup of carbon dust. In that situation, we would call that carbon a very bad good conductor: it allows the high voltage intended to power the electric traction motor to leak into areas where it is not supposed to. If an attempt were made to operate those electric motors, the result would be a very bright flash and a lot of molten copper, and that would almost certainly make future operation unlikely.

Over the past several months, various cleaning techniques have been applied to the locomotive 1’s traction motors. It is too soon to tell if the locomotive will be able to operate with any regularity, but some of the results are promising enough that a new set of carbon brushes – an essential component in a direct current traction motor – has been installed.

We have a lot more information to share about locomotive 1 – and even an exciting announcement or two – so watch for more posts in the coming weeks and months.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Washington State

Why be modest? We’ll take credit for Washington State’s 120th birthday.

Washington became the 42nd state when President Benjamin Harrison signed a proclamation on November 11, 1889. It’s not coincidental that D. H. Gilman was signing Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company stock certificates (shown here) in 1888, or that investors were planning the town of Snoqualmie in 1889, or that the Snoqualmie Depot was built in 1890. Railroads were crucial to Washington Territory’s development and statehood.

Before railroads, you got here by wagon or ship. The first trains began operating in Washington Territory in the 1870s. In 1883, a spike driven in Montana completed the second transcontinental railroad, this one reaching the Pacific Northwest. (The first connected the East Coast to California.) Washington State’s population surged to 357,232 by 1890, a five-fold increase in 10 years. (In case you’re wondering, we’re past 6 1/2 million now.) Seattle's population grew from 1,107 residents in 1870 to 3,533 in 1880 . . . to 42,837 in 1890. Trains, of course, didn’t only bring an influx of people. Trains carried goods and materials essential to the region’s growth and development.

The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern connected Snoqualmie to Seattle in 1889, the year Washington became a state. Does the Northwest Railway Museum have any artifacts from that era?

The Snoqualmie Depot, shown here around 1896, was built in 1890. About 150 feet of original track remain in front of the depot today. The final image shows original SLSE rail laid in 1889. This was the main track until about 1963. Rail behind the depot is also from the period. However it wasn’t laid here until 1999. It came from local logging lines.

Bridge 35 over Snoqualmie River’s South Fork provides a view of the most common bridge
design of that period. The through-pin-connected Pratt truss bridge was built in 1891, although it spanned a river in Montana before being relocated to North Bend in 1923.

The Northern Pacific day coach 889 is considered the oldest railway car/large object in the Museum’s collection. It was purportedly built in 1881, though it could have been built a few years later. (We have no definitive research yet.) The Canadian Pacific 25 was built in 1881 but didn’t find its way west until the 1890s.

You can see a picture of a steam locomotive built in 1885 (not in our collection) on the Washington State Steam Railroads and Locomotives website.

Secretary of State blog

Seattle History Examiner
History Link
Seattle Times
Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History: Oregon, Washington, by Donald B. Robertson

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on regulation

Ballast regulation that is.

Progress on rehabilitation of the Museum’s Kershaw ballast regulator was featured in an August post and the project is nearing completion. By November 6, Rich W. completed rewiring. He installed new switches, wires, a new battery, and a battery isolation switch. Additional work was performed by Brandon C.

Rich also applied all new flood lights, a new fan for the cab, and new ignition wires. Later in November, new sealed window units will be installed and a new cab heater too. The hood and wings will be reattached and the project will be all but complete.

Also noteworthy this month was receiving correspondence from Knox Kershaw of the Knox Kershaw Company. He shared with Museum staff how he remembers in 1965 seeing models just like the Museum’s regulator being assembled on the factory floor. He expressed how delighted he was to see photos of the Museum’s regulator from the August Blog post.