Saturday, December 18, 2021

Merry Christmas, Jack!

Jack taking a short break
in Santa's chair inside
chapel car 5 Messenger 
of Peace.
Jack Christensen has had a long railroad career.  He began as an engine wiper for the Northern Pacific Railway in the Auburn roundhouse.  He first operated a steam locomotive on Christmas Eve 1943 when he was just 16 years old.  16?  Yes, apparently the locomotive engineer called for the Auburn yard had been at a party and wasn't fit for duty.  During WW II there were labor shortages everywhere and Jack was the only person fit and available to run a locomotive.  So with a little encouragement and guidance, he was called upon to run a switcher in the Auburn Yard for several hours.  Jack went on to experience a long career with the Northern Pacific Railway, the Burlington Northern Railroad, and then the BNSF Railway, as a fireman, engineer, road foreman, and more.  He retired in 1999.  Along the way he became an accomplished artist.

Walla Walla Valley Railway 770  
as the King Street switcher in the
For more than 20 years, Jack has been painting the annual greeting card for the Northwest Railway Museum.  (This year, members received a greeting card featuring Jack's painting of the 770.  This locomotive is in the Museum's collection and moved to Snoqualmie in November 2021.)  The Snoqualmie Depot, 924, the rotary snowplow, and many other artifacts have become the subject   of Jack's many carefully researched works of art. 

Jack and Mary on the 
deck of 924.
Jack remains active in the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association, and has been closely following the Northwest Railway Museum's restoration of steam locomotive 924.  During Santa Train 2021 Jack got a little surprise: he had an opportunity to see the 924 operate.  It was a damp December morning when his daughter Mary - herself an accomplished museum professional at the Museum of Flight in Seattle - drove Jack to Snoqualmie to see the 924 under steam.  It had been a few decades since Jack had been on a "hot" steam locomotive, but when he was invited to board the 924, this spry 95-year-old was up the ladder like a new hire.

Jack on the right side of
the cab, where he belongs! 
Jack enjoyed seeing and hearing the 924 "bake a cake" and when he was invited to engineer the 924 into the siding, he lit up and quickly made his way into the cab.  A few minutes later, he had the Johnson bar in position, the cylinder cocks open, and the throttle slowly admitting steam to the cylinders.  The 924 quickly sprung to life and an unmistakable grin appeared on Jack's face.  How many people in the world today can say their steam experience spans nearly 80 years?

Enjoying the moment.
Mr. Christensen: thank you for all the beautiful artwork that has raised awareness about the 924 project, supported ongoing fundraising, and given enjoyment to thousands.  Merry Christmas, Jack!


David said...

Wow! 95 years old and still in he lives and loves trains! Nice story! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Sierra said...

We got the greeting card in the mail and my 6 year old son has it proudly displayed in his room. His favorite is currently the switcher. Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

I love this! I'm happy to have come across this great story. Thank Jack, you made me smile today!

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