Facebook Page

NRHS 2013 Convention Alaska RR 557 Project and The Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry 9/22/2013

by Chris Guenzler

We got up and went to the Sizzlin Cafe for breakfast. I said my goodbyes to Elizabeth before Chris Parker and I taxied to the Hilton where we stored our luggage for free. I was a Bus Host on the first bus this morning leaving at 8:00 AM. We loaded this bus first with people who had late afternoon flights like Chris Parker then any one else. We left at 8:00 AM and drove north to our first stop of the day in Wasilla or All I saw backwards. We pulled into the parking lot and was met by Bart Jennings.

The Alaska RR 557 Project

The final tour of the 2013 NRHS Convention features the opportunity to visit the restoration shops of the Engine 557 Restoration Company in Wasilla, Alaska. Locomotive 557 was one of 2,120 S-160 class Consolidation 2-8-0 locomotives built for the U.S. Army Transportation Corp (USATC) between 1942 and 1945 for use in Europe and Africa during World War II. The S-160 was designed by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Major J.W. Marsh, and the locomotives were manufactured by Baldwin Locomotive Works, American Locomotive Company and Lima Locomotive Works. The S-160 carried the nicknames of GI Consolidations or Gypsy Rose Lee locomotives (stripped down for action). During the war, a dozen S-160 locomotives were sent to Alaska to help handle the huge increase in freight movements over the Alaska Railroad. USATC 3523 arrived in December 1944 and quickly became Alaska Railroad 557. With the significant weather differences between Alaska and its intended European destination, 557 was modified with larger compound air compressors mounted on the front pilot; steam coils installed to heat the cabs; and a snow plow fashioned for seasonal use. Alaska Railroad 557 burned coal until it was converted to oil in 1954.

Alaska Railroad 557 was the last steam locomotive in regular service on the railroad. The primary reason for its survival was to help during high water conditions in Nenana, where the Tanana and Nenana Rivers regularly flooded the entire town and rail yard. The 557 also continued in occasional service for special events such as the annual fair trains and excursions. When the locomotive was finally officially retired in 1964, Washington scrap dealer and museum owner Monte Holm purchased the 557. On June 14, 1965, the locomotive left Alaska from Whittier, where it was loaded onto the Train Ship Alaska bound for Everett, WA. Instead of scrapping the 557, Holm preserved it for school groups to witness steam engine history in action. During the 1970s and through most of the 1990s, Engine 557 was kept in running condition and parked at Holm's House of Poverty Museum in Moses Lake, Washington.

In 2011, Jim and Vic Jansen, owners of several Alaska-based transportation companies, purchased the locomotive from the Holm estate to ensure its return to Alaska. The Jansen's donated the locomotive to the Alaska Railroad with the condition that it be relocated to Anchorage, rehabilitated and eventually put back into service. The Alaska Railroad arranged for ARR 557 to be moved back to Alaska via rail/barge service between Seattle and Whittier. The engine arrived in Whittier January 3, 2012, and was then moved to Anchorage on a railroad flat car later that day.

In June, the non-profit Engine 557 Restoration Company was formed to raise funds for, and to coordinate and oversee, the locomotive's rehabilitation. On August 15, 2012, ARR 557 was moved by a Lynden Transport truck and lowboy trailer from the Alaska Railroad Anchorage yard to the project facility in south Wasilla. Since the original oil tender was in poor condition, it was joined by a replacement oil tender donated by the Alaska Transportation Museum. The bulk of the restoration work will be accomplished at the Wasilla-based project facility, formerly known as the Kenai Supply Building. Owned by the Alaska Railroad, the facility is located at 1390 E. Matanuska Spur Road.

The goal is to re-establish the 557's full classic appearance as well as bring it into compliance with today's passenger rail regulatory requirements. Major costs include initial tooling, asbestos removal and abatement, replacing galvanized steel cladding, new insulation, boiler and tubing replacement and repair, gear inspection and repair, painting and positive train control electronics. A preliminary cost estimate for restoration is $600,000 - $700,000. When the work is complete, the Alaska Railroad is interested in using ARR 557 to pull a few refurbished railcars between Anchorage and Portage during the summer visitor season, perhaps as an excursion or as a dinner train operation.

Our Visit

I led the way off the bus and into the shop building.

The boiler of the ARR 557.

The cab of the ARR 557.

The Tender of the ARR 557.

In the cab they were selling things to raise money for their project.

The driving wheels of the ARR 557.

More parts for the engine.

Those wheels again.

The boiler of the ARR 557.

The drivers of the ARR 557.

More parts and tools.

Tools of the trade.

More of the equipment.

The group inside the shop.

Chris Parker helping the cause.

Our group was both inside and out.

Engine light and bell.

One more view inside the shop. I went outside and Bart Jennings told me we had a train coming. I walked out to the tracks and we had a green signal. I walked to the grade crossing and set up for my pictures then Bart joined me for picture taking.

A two car Princess Cruise train heading north by the 557 Restoration building in Wasilla.

To donate for this cause write The Alaska Community Foundation, Engine 557 Fund 3201 C Street, Suite 110, Anchorage, Alaska 99503 or Donate on line at Cut and paste this into you bowser to learn more about this exciting project.

After our 50 minutes visit was up, we reboarded the bus and headed up the Park Highway through Wasilla to the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry.

The Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry

The Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry (MATI) is a non-profit organization and its mission is the collection, conservation, preservation, display and interpretation of artifacts related to Alaska's transportation and industrial history. MATI was basically created to display and collect the machinery left over from the bursts of growth in Alaska's economy. Resources discovered meant that railroads had to be built, aircrafts had to be assembled, and roads had to be cleared for the development to continue. After the resources were exhausted, the machinery used remained in the forest and tundra due to the high costs of transportation for removal of the equipment, while the workers moved out. MATI has gathered those machines left to rust and preserved them to educate the public and present an educational, historical account of the history of transportation and industry in Alaska and the people of the era. A complete timeline of artifacts shows the progress that has been made through Alaska's history.

The museum features railroads, airplanes, boats, trucks and automobiles, as well as dog sleds and snowmobiles a full collection of Alaska transportation vehicles. Displays also include information on other Alaska developments such as the telephone and electrical industries. The role of the military in Alaska's development is also covered. Its aviation exhibits include aircraft from ultralights to a C-123. Several early aircraft engines are displayed, as are photographs and artifacts associated with Alaska's early flyers. Non-aviation exhibits include tractors, fire trucks, and other vehicles from the 1920s to 1960s; five diesel locomotives and 20 pieces of railroad rolling stock; mining equipment; antique steam and gas engines; and boats. Most of this equipment is displayed across acres of museum property, while some are displayed inside the main museum building.

This museum features the original collection of the Alaska-Yukon Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and today includes more than 35 locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars, plus numerous railroad displays. Included in this is the former Whitney Section House and the original "The Alaska Railroad" header from Whittier Tunnel.

Our Visit

I was off the bus and straight through the building and I went outside to photograph.

A Moose Statue and baggage cart welcomed me to this unique museum.

ARR 92 Sleeper 12 section I DR "Lake Minichumina".

Alaska Railroad F7A 1500.

Alaska Railroad S-1 1000.

ARR 92 Sleeper 12 section I DR "Lake Minichumina".

ARR Troop Sleeper 4.

ARR X-1305 Troop Sleeper

Bureau of Mines Mine Rescue 5.

Semaphore signal.

ARR Troop Car X1832.

ARR Troop Car X1710.

Bureau of Mines Mine Rescue 5.

ARR Wooden Caboose 1018.

ARR G 1013.

ARR G 1129.

ARR Railbus 1205.

Switch stand.

Whitney Section House.

ARR Tank Car X1666.

ARR Flat Car 2827.

US Army ARR GE 45-toner 7324.

CR&NW Wooden Bunk Car.

ARR Troop Car 1831.

Bureau of Mines Mine Rescue 5.

ARR Hopper 60432.

NRC Wood Bunk Car 4027.

ARR Flat Car P24.

ARR Troop Sleeper S-107.

ARR Crane LC-56.

ARR Boom Tender 0031.

ARR Troop Kitchen K-603.

ARR Jordon Spreader 6.

Museum scenes.

There is a ship called Dragonfly.

Little Toot.

Various mine cars.

Another boat.

Museum scene. I walked back outside of the museum past the equipment that I had yet photographed to a speeder to get some rare mileage at this museum.

The speeder went down the tracks.

ARR Crane.

ARR Flat Car 0048.

The Speeder is ready for my first ride of four that I would make on this trip here.

The controls of the speeder.

My trip down the tracks.

My speeder operator.

Speeder 7.

Click for part 2 of this story