Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wellington Disaster too dramatic for fiction

The story behind the storytelling is unexpected. Gary Krist didn’t start out to write a narrative nonfiction book about the Wellington Disaster. For one thing, he wrote novels and short stories. For another, he had never heard of the Wellington Disaster.

In an interview with Failure Magazine, Krist explains that a total fluke inspired him to write The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche. “I was researching a different topic—the Duke of Wellington—and the Google result included something about a Wellington disaster. I had never heard of it so I clicked on the link and started reading. It turned out to be this incredible story that—except for a couple of privately or regionally published books—had not been written about.”

In fact, in an original essay called “A Fresh Chapter of History,” Krist says that a few minutes after clicking on that link, he “knew exactly what [he] would be doing for the next three or four years of [his] life.” He speaks of America’s forgotten stories—the Wellington tragedy in particular, which demonstrates the courage and sacrifice that helped shape the country.

Early in his research, he realized that fiction wouldn’t do the story justice. The bare truth was too dramatic. Plus, the facts needed telling since historians had not written much about the eve
nt. The result is narrative nonfiction (not a historical novel) free of invented dialogue and characters. Krist’s careful research encompasses not only the event, but the period in which it took place, the “Golden Age of Grand Disasters.”

In an interview with Boise State Radio’s Bob Kustra, Krist says that the March 1, 1910, avalanche that swept two trains off the tracks occurred during “an era when our technological reach exceeded our grasp. We knew how to put trains in these mountainous places. We knew how to build these big ships that supposedly were unsinkable. We. . .did know how to do them, but we didn’t know how to do them safely yet. So this is kind of a transition era when technology was leaping forward at a furious pace, but the safety element was a little bit lagging.” Consequently, the Wellington Disaster was part of a process evolving at that time that led to greater corporate liability, responsibility and safety. Listen to the radio interview here.

Krist’s second narrative nonfiction book, American Colossus: An Epic of Chicago, will be published in 2010 or 2011. It portrays an extraordinary 12-day period in the Chicago of 1919. Before writing The White Cascade (published in hardcover in 2007 and paperback in 2008), Krist wrote three novels—Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory and Extravagance—and two short story collections—The Garden State and Bone by Bone. In addition he has written op-eds for The New York Times and Newsday, articles for a number of publications including National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, and book reviews for The New York Times Book Review, Salon and The Washington Post Book World. He has received The Stephen Crane Award, The Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lowell Thomas Gold Medal for Travel Journalism, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Gary Krist lives in Bethesda, Maryland. He explored Washington, including the Iron Goat Trail along the railroad grade where the avalanche occurred, while researching The White Cascade. He returns to Washington to speak at “Working on the Railroad 2010,” a benefit for the Northwest Railway Museum March 5, 6:00-9:00 PM, at Snoqualmie Ridge TPC Golf Club, 36005 SE Ridge Street, Snoqualmie. You may purchase tickets ($100/ticket or $700/table for 8) by phone at 425-888-3030 ext. 202 or in person at the Depot Bookstore, 38625 SE King Street, Snoqualmie.

Museum Director Richard Anderson read The White Cascade out of personal interest last year and got in contact with Gary Krist through Skykomish Historical Society’s Bob Kelly. The Northwest Railway Museum is looking forward to welcoming Krist to Snoqualmie. You’re invited to hear firsthand his adventures in researching and writing about a significant event in railroad and Washington history.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Scouts improve wetland buffer

Boy Scouts from Troop 677 working under the direction of future Eagle Scout Alec B. have improved a wetland buffer. This sensitive area is located west of the new Train Shed exhibit building. The project was required as part of the approval conditions for the Train Shed and is designed to mitigate the ladder track's buffer encroachment. The scope of work turned out to be just right for an Eagle Scout project.

Troop 677 in based in Sammamish and is directed by Scoutmast Allan G. There are at present 47 Scouts in the troup and they have produced an impressive 45 Eagle Scouts since their founding in 1993. Eagle candidate Alec B. is 16 years old and successfully completed this important project.

The buffer enhancement project was completed two weeks ago. It involved 37 Scouts and a total contribution of 191 hours and 45 minutes. They removed invasive species, did some minor grading, spread composted soil, and planted 175 shrubs and trees.

The Museum's wetland ecologist Scott L. volunteered his time to provide technical support and assitance for this one day project. Scott is with Environ and completed the reports required for the Train Shed's National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") review, State Environmental Policy Act ("SEPA") review, and the Snoqualmie Sensitive Areas Review.

Special thanks to Clayton L. and his North Fork Enterprises for sending Rick over to strip part of the site with a backhoe.

As you can see, building a railway museum in the 21st Century involves far more than a building and some track!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rehabilitation of NP 28417

The Museum has completed another boxcar rehabilitation. Work included repair or replacement of deteriorated wood siding, relocating end tack boards to their original location, restoring tack boards to the doors, replacing the wood running boards on the roof, and general cleaning and painting. Original lettering configuration was applied with paint masks. A crew led by Richard W. conducted the research and performed the work, which took place during a several month interval. Other active participants included Dick H., Martin N., Dale C., and Dan C. Work was completed inside the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center.

Boxcars were the mainstay of yesterday's freight railroads. They could be found hauling nearly everything: manufactured goods, automobiles, grain, lumber, and even aircraft parts. Today, most of these same functions are performed by shipping containers.

The Northern Pacific Railway boxcar NP 28417 was built in June 1944 by Pullman-Standard under the railway’s Authorization for Expenditure (“AFE”) 5079-43. The original design was for an all-steel car however WW II steel shortages resulted in a modified design that substituted wood for the car sides. The design was designation “single sheathed war emergency boxcar” to indicate the wood substitution.

NP 28417 retained its Northern Pacific initials and numbers until after the merger that created the Burlington Northern. In 1976 it was retired to work service and was renumbered BN 950289 (AFE 75-3076). In continued to serve the railway until circa 1983 when it was retired and sold to the Northwest Railway Museum for the sum of $200.

The Museum also owns NP 28129, another car from the same order. That car remained in revenue service until 1974 and was also purchased by the Museum circa 1983.

Check out the larger proportions of NP 28417 compared to NP 14794 built just 12 years earlier. The older car was rehabilitated last year.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Turning the floods and fires of 2009 into good things

Last year began with a major flood. It was countered by a flood of support. Halfway through the year, an arsonist set fire to the Snoqualmie Depot. That was countered by fire in the bellies of countless community members, volunteers and visitors who value the experience and education the Museum offers.

We ended the year way ahead.

Despite the flood our regular train season began on time, thanks in part to a generous grant from 4Culture. Bonus: Snoqualmie Valley Railroad passengers enjoyed a smooth new stretch of track.

Instead of repainting just the burned portion, we repainted the entire Snoqualmie Depot. Bonus: It looks better than it has in years.

Other highlights:

We broke ground on an exhibit building for coaches, freight cars and locomotives, and by now it’s really beginning to look like a building! This 25,000 square foot Train Shed will almost completely halt deterioration from rain, wind and sun.

Before the Train Shed came the Conservation and Restoration Center, used to full advantage last year in rehabilitating a classic 1963-built ballast regulator and in rehabilitating a 1932-built Northern Pacific Railway boxcar to its 1953 appearance. The CRC also sheltered substantial work on rehabilitation of 1912-built passenger coach 218, one of the last wooden coaches built for service on an American railroad. Museum volunteers also got a former British Columbia Railway Portec Model B Zapper Automatic Spike Driver ASP-3 back in working order.

The Northwest Railway Museum received important recognition in several ways last year, including the Spellman Award for outstanding achievement in restoration, for the Caboose 001 project.

Selected as a recipient for a Connecting With Collections Bookshelf, we received essential textbooks, charts and other collections resources assembled by some of the foremost museum experts in the country. We’ll use this Bookshelf to ensure that our collection of railway artifacts is preserved for generations to come.

The Chapel Car Messenger of Peace was listed on the National Register of Historic Places under national criteria. Then it earned City of Snoqualmie landmark status by a unanimous vote. Later it received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in collaboration with the President’s Council on Arts and Heritage, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service. All in all, a very good year for Chapel Car 5.

The Museum relaunched the late Brian Fritz’s Washington Steam Railroads and Locomotives website dedicated to surviving Washington railroad history, welcomed a lively, interactive community to the new Northwest Railway Museum page on Facebook, and created the historical exhibit “North Bend’s Own Train” in time to help North Bend celebrate its 100th birthday. The Museum was pleased to benefit from an Eagle Scout project, installation of 400 feet of fencing to improve safety and security. And we experienced record-setting participation in Museum programs, including the 8th annual Day Out With Thomas, the 40th annual Santa Train, and the 70th annual Snoqualmie Railroad Days, which the Museum hosted for the first time in 2009.

Floods? Fires? We won’t exactly say, “Bring it on.” But 2009 was a good year for demonstrating what can be accomplished with a dedicated community of supporters, workers and visitors. Full steam ahead in 2010.

Monday, February 8, 2010

IMLS Director visits Museum

Saturday, February 6, 2010 was an early morning for the board and staff of the Northwest Railway Museum. Dr. Anne Radice, Director of the Institute for Museum and Library Services (“IMLS”) in Washington, DC, was in Seattle and was able to schedule a visit to the Northwest Railway Museum at 7:30 AM.

IMLS is an agency of the Federal government supporting libraries and museums across the United States. With an annual budget of more than $265 million, they are the largest Federal agency supporting museums and libraries.

The Dr. Radice and the IMLS staff selected Chapel Car 5 Messenger of Peace for funding from the Save America’s Treasures program they manage in collaboration with the National Park Service and other Federal agencies. This visited represented an opportunity to view the Chapel Car before work begins, and to see the facilities where it will be rehabilitated and exhibited.

Dr. Radice began her visit promptly at 7:30 touring the Snoqualmie Depot, White River caboose 001 and the Chapel Car. She and her special assistant Betsy M. traveled in locomotive 4012 to the Conservation and Restoration Center where she met several key staff members and several members of the Museum’s Board of Trustees including President Susan H., Treasurer Jon B., and Secretary Sue S. We were also delighted to have Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson present to represent the community and the Museum (Matt is an ex officio member of the Museum’s board and participates in most meetings). Matt was able to give Dr. Radice a brief overview of the downtown redevelopment efforts and how they cohesively link the Museum with the community. While at the CRC, Dr. Radice also visited the construction site of the new Train Shed exhibit building.

Dr. Radice was intrigued by the Museum and had many great and helpful suggestions. She confessed that as a little girl she had a classic American Flyer train set, and that as an adult she often rides Amtrak in the Northeast corridor. When she visited the Depot Bookstore, she could not resist buying a model of Chapel Car 5.

The Museum is honored to have welcomed Dr. Radice for a tour and we are delighted our community is able to attract her interest.

(Shown in photo, left to right, Honorable Matt Larson, Mayor of Snoqualmie; Richard R. Anderson, Executive Director of the Northwest Railway Museum; and Dr. Anne Radice, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)