Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Train Shed milestone

Train Shed construction has been continuing despite delays in the arrival of building materials – such as American-made steel. Nevertheless, the new Train Shed exhibit building has completed 50% of the roof with the entire south side of the building now fully under cover. It is a modest but important victory in the construction of this major new structure to preserve the collection and provide year ‘round opportunities for programming.

Meanwhile, flashing around windows and doors is being installed paving the way for windows and doors to also be installed. The most obvious addition is the bright green moisture barrier that is being installed to keep water away from the wall insulation but allow water vapor to escape. The exterior cladding that will cover this material is now on site but will not be installed until the window flashing and roof are complete.

The Train Shed construction continues to progress while maintaining the highest standards in workmanship and general quality. Unfortunately, lengthy building material delays have had an impact on the schedule and completion has been pushed into June. It will nevertheless be a structure for the Museum and the Community to be proud of.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Improving curb appeal

Building a successful museum also means helping build a successful community which, like building a museum, takes great patience. So our congratulations to the City of Snoqualmie for their courage of conviction: nine years of effort has secured enough funding to begin the first phase of historic downtown Snoqualmie’s infrastructure revitalization. New storm sewers, underground power, new sidewalks, and new street furniture including lamp standards, seating and even garbage cans. Railroad and logging motifs have been utilized by KPG Engineering, along with many features that emphasize the beautiful setting in which the community is situated. This first phase rebuilds Falls Avenue and the north side of Railroad Avenue, across the street from the Snoqualmie Depot. Phase two (which is still in design) will rebuild Railroad Avenue directly in front of the train station and expand downtown parking.

Speaking at the offical grondbreaking on 29 March 2010, Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson described the many hurdles that had to be overcome. Mayor Larson, the City Council, and the City Staff have certainly done that and then some.

The successful bidder was Sanders General Contracting from Issaquah who submitted the low bid of $2.3 million (and by just $17,000). Sanders is beginning work this week and expects to wrap up in October.

The largest single funder is the US Economic Development Administration, a unit of the US Department of Commerce who has provided a $1.4 million grant. The funding, which for Snoqualmie at times seemed elusive, was secured with the active involvement of Congressman Dave Reichert, King County Executive Dow Constantine and former Executive Ron Simms, and Puget Sound Regional Council. Not coincidentally, these same partners are helping the Northwest Railway Museum secure resources to develop public museum facilities.

Public works projects are never easy: disruption to everyday life will be significant over the next six months. This project will be different because Snoqualmie did their homework: staff and consultants met with affected businesses, property owners were invited to provide meaningful comment on the preliminary designs and input was actively incorporated into the final design, and construction activities are being actively managed to minimize impact on major events such as local athletic events, Day Out With Thomas, and Railroad Days.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Coach 218 progresses towards completion

Coach 218 has been an occasional focus of the Northwest Railway Museum Blog, and this post represents another update. It also represents our first-ever video post (a panorama shot of coach 218), so let us know what you think.

Work began in earnest in 2007 and has been progressing at a steady rate. To recap the history, the coach was built in 1912 by the Barney and Smith Car Company of Dayton, Ohio. It features composite wood and steel construction, a precursor to all steel construction that became the standard in 1913. So this coach 218 and its sibling coach 213 were among the very last cars to feature wood in their carbody structures. Coach 218 was retired from passenger service over 60 years ago. It continued to serve the railway as an outfit car for track repair crews and retired from that second life in the 1980s. The rehabilitation work now underway will return the coach to passenger service, only this time at a museum.

Earlier this month, a team of volunteers tried their hands at riveting. Lead by retired boilermaker John H., the crew consisting of Dave J., Russ S., Roger S., and Bill H. assembled the platform beam for one end of the coach. Using a propane-heated rivet oven, they heated rivets until they were red hot (approximately 1,500 degrees), picked them up with rivet tongs, inserted them into the predrilled hole, placed a bucking bar on the factory head, and then applied the pneumatic rivet gun to the buck shaft that protruded through the other side. A handful of blows from the rivet gun produced uniformly round head and a tight connection. Similar techniques were used in the construction of the car, although much of the riveting was probably performed with machines that used steam or pneumatic pressure to squeeze the rivet into the hole to form a neat, round head on the end of the buck shaft.

Check out the panorama video shot:

Other continuing progress includes application of the siding/cladding, now nearing completion. Bob M. has volunteering an average of one day per week and has been leading the installation effort. To install a single board that is less than two inches wide involves a series of tasks. It must be cut to length, placed onto the tongue of the adjacent board and forced tightly against it and then nailed in five to nine placed, depending on board length. To minimize damage to the boards, the holes to accept the cut nails are predrilled, and to minimize areas where rain can infiltrate, a bead of latex caulking rated for 50 years is being applied to the tongues before the next board is installed.

Also measuring progress is the floor deadening, the name given to the insulation under the car floor. Horse hair was the dominant insulation but had trapped moisture causing widespread issues. Much of the 1912 deadening was badly deteriorated and/or contaminated with mold. New boards were milled by a team consisting of Russ S., Bob M., and Chuck M. Manufacture and installation took place on Wednesdays and Thursdays over a period of five months and was substantially completed this week – congratulations to the crew!

Next steps for coach 218 include installation of the subfloor, completion of the “B” end platform, manufacture of new steps, application of the canvas roof, completion of siding installation and installation of window stops.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another reason we're on the map

Snoqualmie Depot circa 1896
That’s right. We’ve made the list.

Feliks Banel’s list of Seattle’s Least Endangered Historic Spots, that is. Composed of such Seattle icons as the Paramount Theatre, Space Needle and Sorrento Hotel, the list features fifteen historic places, all worthy of a visit.

It’s nice to see that we are in good company. We're proud to be on a list with the Wing Luke Asian Museum and the Northwest African American Museum any day, both of which are directed by people with an uncommon vision of what the future can be and its link to the past.

Banel goes on to point out that all of these historic landmarks are the least endangered because of ownership committed to preservation, a healthy business generating dependable revenue and aesthetic distinction. The Northwest Railway Museum receives a high score in all those categories.

So, we’re doing a lot of things right. Now, watch as we complete the Train Shed and raise historic preservation expectations to a new level!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Coming soon . . . new depot restrooms!

The Snoqualmie Depot restroom renovation project is progressing nicely. The project was outlined in a January post here and since then the old restrooms have been removed, the new walls and floor installed along with electrical and plumbing rough-in. This week, tile installation is underway. There are so many improvements the public will hardly recognize the place!

The new design incorporates an electric door opener to make the front door easier for wheel chair and walker users, and to assure ADA compliance. The design includes new low-flow toilets with slightly wider stalls than the old restrooms, and the flusher will operate with a sensor. And the gentlemen’s urinals will be waterless. Sink faucets will have sensors to activate water flow, which will stop when hands are removed. New hand driers will use high velocity air to dry hands. Lights will operate with motion sensors that will turn off when the facility is empty. The baby change tables will be relocated to the accessible toilet stalls so even the youngest patrons will have privacy.

The restroom floors are being tiled with medium gray ceramic tiles. The walls behind the toilets and sinks are tiled with white subway tiles installed with epoxy adhesive. The look really “feels” like a train station! Best of all, tile has a really long life cycle so millions more visitors can use the facilities.

The scope of work included replacement of the platform steps outside the restroom door and that work was completed in February. The platform elevation was raised nearly 4 inches to eliminate the entry threshold, a potential barrier to wheel chairs and ADA compliance. This also necessitated replacement stairs on the east end of the platform. As a bonus, the new stairs provide access to both the front and back of the depot.

New restrooms are scheduled for completion in time for the first train in April. A dedication (no doubt featuring a "royal flush") is being planned for later in the spring, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Working on the Railroad success

The Museum hosted its first Working on the Railroad benefit dinner at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Attended by 137 people, the March 5th event was an unqualified success. Great food, entertainment, and an insightful historical talk filled the evening. It was a fitting way to remember the Wellington Disaster and a great way to support a new museum exhibit building.

Co-hosts Bob Jeans and Cindy Walker welcomed everyone and introduced several key people. 4Culture Executive Director Jim Kelly made additional introductions and spoke of the role and importance of historical organizations in preserving and interpreting American history, and the importance of culture and cultural organizations in a healthy community. A wonderful dinner was served by the TPC kitchen and the Issaquah Singers serenaded the patrons with a medley of railroad songs. During the evening a series of unique items including copies of photos from the Museum’s Oberg Collection were offered in a silent auction. Several items including an opportunity to run a locomotive were auctioned off. Following dinner, Gary Krist, author of The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway and America's Deadliest Avalanche, presented a gripping presentation about the Wellington Disaster. (More about Gary Krist here.) Rare photos and an incredible narrative captivated the audience for nearly 45 minutes. The evening concluded with an informative question and answer session.

The Working on the Railroad benefit dinner in part commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Wellington Disaster, an avalanche that occurred March 1, 1910 at Wellington in Stevens Pass. (The disaster killed 96 people and is the most deadly North American avalanche.) The evening was also the formal launch of the Wellington Remembered exhibit and web site, an initiative to remember the community that was far more than the site of a disaster; it was a company town and a community from 1892 until 1929. Excerpts from the exhibit were on display in the TPC foyer and engendered considerable interest. (The exhibit itself appears in the Snoqualmie Depot freight room inside a model of a snow shed; shown at left is Executive Director Richard Anderson, Author Gary Krist, and Educator Jessie Cunningham as they toured Mr. Krist through the new exhibit.)

Working on the Railroad was made possible with the generous support of the community. We are grateful to Gary Krist for donating his time to speak about the Wellington Disaster. We also give thanks to the many businesses and individuals who contributed goods and services to the auction and dinner: Salish Lodge and Spa (overnight stay with breakfast), Jim M. (wine from the Bookwalter Vineyard), Allan W.(Hand-made candle box, wine butler & coaster holder), Cindy W.(Cedar River Watershed tour + gourmet lunch basket), North Bend Theatre (Evening at the theatre for you and your 250 closest friends), Infinite Possibilities (life coaching sessions), Betty L. (Leavenworth condo stay), Snoqualmie Falls Golf Course (round of golf), Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (steam locomotive cab ride), Russ S.(hand-made wine rack), Down to Earth Photography (portrait session, photo of Snoqualmie Falls, & photos of the event), Carmichael's True Value Hardware (metal truck planter), Phil L. (auctioneer), Issaquah Singers (evening of railroad songs), THINK2A (graphics and marketing), ColorGraphics (printing), Thom W. (graphic design & layout), & Birches Habitat (photo frame for Gary Krist).

The Museum is very pleased with the results of the evening; proceeds will help support construction of the new Train Shed exhibit building now under construction in Snoqualmie. Support from the community and an enjoyable evening combined to create a memorable and repeatable event. We are all looking forward to another Working on the Railroad event this fall.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wellington Remembered

Today - March 1, 2010 - is the anniversary of a northwest tragedy: the Wellington Disaster. On March 1, 1910, at about 1:15 AM, an avalanche over ½ mile in length began high above the town of Wellington. The town itself was spared, but two snow-bound trains just west of the depot were swept into the valley below. At least 96 people perished, most of them railroad workers.

Several great authors have written insightful works about the avalanche, most recently Martin Burwash with his release of Vis Major. Gary Krist wrote The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche and an excellent profile of Gary and what precipitated his writing adventure was detailed by Phoebe Snow. And Gary will be making a presentation at the Museum’s Working on the Railroad benefit dinner this Friday, March 5, 2010.

Without question, the Wellington Disaster was a tragedy, but it tends to overshadow the importance of the town of Wellington, and even why it existed. In 1910 transportation in and out of Northwest was in its infancy. Just 27 years prior, the Northern Pacific Railroad had connected Puget Sound with the eastern railway network. The Great Northern Railway – whose tracks passed through Wellington – drove its last spike just a few miles from Wellington (near Scenic) in 1893, and that had been just 17 years prior. And to the north, arch competitor Canadian Pacific completed its transcontinental in 1885 and therefore had got a running start on the Great Northern. Railway transportation empowered the industrial revolution. It was vital for the development and settlement of the Northwest, and to connect trade with the Far East.

Wellington was a company town that supported the operation of the railway, in fact a vital link in the railway machine. For 37 years, from its founding in 1892 until its end in 1929, Wellington was indispensible to the operation of the mighty Great Northern. In Wellington alone, nearly 100 men were routinely required to build and repair track, build and maintain snow sheds, clear snow, service locomotives, maintain tunnels and bridges, maintain telegraph lines and of course run the trains.

So what was it like to live in Wellington? We know surprisingly little about life in Wellington, but some of its stories are probably similar to those of other nearly forgotten yet once vital Western Washington towns such as Cedar Falls on the Milwaukee Road and Lester on the Northern Pacific Railway. In 2010, just as the last living memories of Wellington have passed on, we are scrambling to learn what we can about this town.

The Northwest Railway Museum recently accepted the Oberg Collection, 60 glass negatives exposed in and near Wellington by Casper Hansen in 1913 and 1914. They offer some insight into life in Wellington and have provoked a broader study of the town. So on this anniversary of a tragedy, the Northwest Railway Museum is launching Wellington Remembered, an initiative featuring images from the Oberg Collection. As this project develops, we hope to hear from descendants, friends and acquaintances, and history fans. This project will result in a permanent exhibit in the new Railway History Center Train Shed, and the companion web site Wellington Remembered.