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

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I arose and went to the Sizzlin' Cafe for breakfast then I said my goodbyes to Elizabeth who was flying home today 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 which was leaving at 8:00 AM. We loaded this bus first with people who had late afternoon flights, such ass Chris Parker, then anyone else. We departed on time and drove north to our first stop of the day in Wasilla, or, All I saw backwards. We pulled into the parking lot and were 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 United States Army Transportation Corp between 1942 and 1945 for use in Europe and Africa during World War II. The S-160 was designed by United States 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-161 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, Washington. Instead of scrapping the 557, Holm preserved it for school groups to witness steam engine history in action. During the 1970's and through most of the 1990's, 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 ARR 557, nee United States Army 3523 built by Baldwin in 1944 and assigned to Alaska in 1945, becoming 557. In 1965, it was sold to Michelson Steel & Supply, Incorporated in Everett, Wshington and sold that year to Monte Holm. In 2012, it was purchased by the Jansen brothers of Lynden Transportation and given to Alaska Railroad for restoration and operation, moving to Wasilla. It is currently receiving some lubrication and temporary journal repairs to facilitate a short move to its restoration site. Project 557 will be the non-profit entity that will restore her.

The cab of Alaska Railroad 557.

The tender of the steam engine.

Volunteers were in the cab selling a few items to raise money for their project.

The driving wheels of the engine.

More parts for the engine.

Those wheels again.

The boiler.

The drivers.

More parts and tools.

Tools of the trade.

More equipment.

The group inside the shop.

Chris Parker helping the cause.

Our group was both inside and out.

Engine light and bells.

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

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

To donate to this cause or learn more about the project, write to The Alaska Community Foundation, Engine 557 Fund, 3201 C Street, Suite 110, Anchorage, Alaska 99503 or visit their website at this link. Click here to learn more and donate.

After our 50 minute visit was finished, everyone 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 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 1920's to 1960's; 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, 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, walked straight through the building and went outside to photograph.

A moose statue and baggage cart welcomed me to this unique museum.

Pullman 12-section 1 drawing room sleeping 92 "Lake Minichumina", nee Pullman "McCord", built by the company in 1924.

Alaska Railroad F7A 1500 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1952.

Alaska Railroad RS-1 1000 built by Alco Locomotive Company in 1944.

Alaska Railroad troop sleeper 9996, nee United States Amry 9996, built by Pullman in 1943 and later was put into maintenance-of-way service.

Alaska Railroad troop sleeper 9170, nee United States Army 1970, built by Pullman in 1943 and later was put into maintenance-of-way service. Currently numbered 1.

Department of the Interior mine rescue car 5 built by Pullman.

Semaphore signal.

Alaska Railroad troop sleeper 9480, nee United States Amry 9480, built by Pullman in 1943 and later was put into maintenance-of-way service. Currently numbered 2.

Alaska Railroad wooden caboose 1018 built by Seattle Car and Foundry in 1917, and was the last wooden caboose used by the railroad.

Alaska Railroad speeder G 1013 built by Fairmont.

Alaska Railroad speeder G 1129 built by Fairmont.

Alaska Railroad Railbus 1205 builder and date unknown.


Switch stand.

Alaska Railroad Whitney wood frame section house built in 1917 which originally stood at mile 119.1, about 4.8 miles north of Anchorage station, and was one of a series built by the railroad and located at roughly ten-mile intervals. The area where it stood was taken by the federal government for Elmendorf Air Force Base and was rescued from demolition by the local chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society.

Union Tank Line one-dome tank car built by the company in 1916, sold to the Alaska Railroad and is currently numbered X1666.

Alaska Railroad flat car 2827 built in 1958.

United States Army 45 ton switcher 7324 built by General Electric in 1942.

Copper River and Northwestern Railway 40 foot wooden refrigerator car built in 1900 for the Northern Pacific Railway. It was rebuilt into a bunk car and sold to the Alaska Railroad. The Copper River and Northwestern Railway consisted of two rail lines, the Copper River line and the Northwestern line. Michael James Heney had secured the right-of-way up the Copper River in 1904. He started building the railway from Cordova, Alaska in 1906. The town of Cordova, Alaska was actually named by Heney on March 13, 1906, based on the original name given by Salvador Fidalgo. Both these railroads were abandoned and little remains of them.

Alaska Railroad troop sleeper 9424, nee United States Army 9424 built by Pullman in 1943 and later was put into maintenance-of-way service. Currently numbered 3.

Alaska Railroad troop sleeper 9996, nee United States Army 9996 built by Pullman in 1943 and later was put into maintenance-of-way service. Currently numbered 5.

Alaska Railroad hopper car 60432 built in 1932.

Nome Arctic Railway wood bunk car 4027.

Alaska Railroad generator car P24.

Alaska Railroad troop sleeper S-107 built by Pullman in 1943.

Alaska Railroad crane LC-56.

Alaska Railroad boom tender 0031.

Alaska Railroad troop kitchen K-603, nee United States Army built by American Car and Foundry in 1944.

Alaska Railroad Jordan spreader 6 built by O.F. Jordan.

Museum scenes.

A wooden boat named Dragonfly.

Little Toot.

Various mine cars.

Another boat.

Museum scene. I walked outside of the museum, past the equipment that I had yet to photograph, to a speeder to get some rare mileage here.

The speeder went down the tracks.

Alaska Railroad crane.

Alaska Railroad flat car 0048.

The speeder was ready for my first ride of four.

The controls of the speeder.

My trip down the tracks.

My speeder operator.

Speeder 7.

Click for part 2 of this story