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A Day at Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad ~ June 29th, 2013

by Elizabeth Guenzler

It had been six eyars since I had last visited the Mount Rainier Scenic Railway and during that time, the group had made great progress in restoring Santa Cruz Portland Cement 0-4-0T 2 (nicknamed "The Chiggen"). For most of the years that I co-hosted "Let's Talk Trains", the Internet radio show that was taken over by a group of rotating hosts for a few years after its founder, Richard Hamilton, passed away in 2009, the shows originated from my home in Lynnwood, Washington. However, a few times the show was taken 'on the road'. Such occurred this day and was prompted by a presentation led by Stathi Pappas, the then-Chief Mechanical Officer of the Mount Rainier Scenic Railway, at Winterail three months earlier, on the restoration of The Chiggen.

While the show originated from the railroad's office in Mineral, this is the sign that greets visitors at Elbe, the terminus of the railway.

Mount Rainier Scenic Railway History

The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is the longest continuously-operating steam railroad in the Pacific Northwest, running on track that was started in 1887 from Tacoma, Washington, by the Tacoma Eastern Railroad. The Tacoma Eastern was acquired in 1900 by a group of investors with financial interests in the Nisqually Coal Fields east of Elbe, resulting in extension of the line to the area where the MRSR now operates. The line was also extended south of Mount Rainier, eventually reaching Morton. From 1901, the railroad was controlled by the Milwaukee Road, although it remained a subsidiary owned through stock interest until 1918, after which it was absorbed into the parent company, although it continued as an independent entity until MILW's bankruptcy in 1980.

In the wake of the that bankruptcy, Tacoma lumberman Tom Murray, Jr. sought to open a portion of the line to tourists. MRSR was then created by Tom Murray to operate historic equipment stored in Tacoma. The Weyerhaeuser Corporation allowed the MRSR to operate its equipment on a seven-mile segment of the line from Elbe to Mineral. Weyerhaeuser maintained control of the track until 1998 when the corporation transferred control of all of its rail interests to the City of Tacoma, into what is now known as Tacoma Rail. This transfer of ownership did not affect the MRSR and its tourist operations, nor the availability of the route to commercial shipment.

Prior to 2016, steam operations were run based on availability of volunteer operators, who comprised the great majority of railroad personnel. However after being purchased by American Heritage Railways in 2016, the railroad's operations are run by professional staff. The MRRR's regular schedule ran weekends from Memorial Day to late October, with special event Polar Express trains November through December. In May 2020, American Heritage Railways announced that the railroad would cease operations "for the foreseeable future" due to financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hills around Mineral. Stathi then gave us a tour of the shop buildings as we had plenty of time before the show started.

Mount Rainier Scenic 2-8-2 5 (ex. Shafter Brothers Game Farm 5, exx. Simpson Timber 5, exxx. Port of Grays Harbour 5, nee Carlton Coast 55 1924).

The boiler section of Santa Cruz Portland Cement 0-4-0T 2 (ex. Ray Pollard 1971, exx. Gunnor Henriolle 1966, exxx. Richard Cook, exxxx. Henry J. Kaiser, exxxxx. Bechtel Kaiser Rock Co 2 1924). It was built in 1909 and most recently had been displayed at Pollardville near Stockton, California.

Cab view of this unique steam engine.

The builder's plate.

Satstop Railroad 0-4-2T 1 "Currie" built in 1885 (ex. Supermall display Auburn, WA 1995, exx. "C.F. White" display at Camp Grisdale 1935 to 1995, exxx. Simpson Logging 1 1935, exxxx. Peninsular Railway 6 1902, exxxxx. Shelton Logging Company 1 1899, exxxxxx. Penninsular Railway 1 1895, nee Washington Southern 1). It was moved to Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad in 2013.

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad West Fork Logging Company Heisler 91 built 1929. Ex. Tom Murray 1978, exx. Clyde Schurmann, exxx. Veronia, South Park and Sunset (never used), exxxx. Kinzua Pine Mills 182, nee Whitney Engineering.

THe Hillcrest Lumber Company emblem on Climax 10. I was unable to get a picture of the steam engine due to the tight proximities in the shop building. It was then time to set up for today's episode of "Let's Talk Trains".

The Chiggen emblem hung in the office. The show went very well and Stathi was a very knowledgeable and interesting guest, and made Bob's and my co-hosting of the show easy. It is always enjoyable to hear a steam train's whistle and this occurred during the show as the regular train arrived at the station so its "stack talk" and whistle could not be missed. Once the show was finished at noon, we were asked to join the crew for lunch then I wandered around the site and took pictures of nearly everything they had; this was the first time I had really been able to go all over.

MRSR 48-seat coach 520 (ex. City of Prineville Crooked River Dinner Train 520, exx. AMTK 4010, exxx. MILW 624, nee MILW 5200.

Logging skidder or donkey engine from Camp 6 Logging Museum in Tacoma. When that museum closed in 2011, the Western Forest Industries Museum and the MRSR initiated a project to bring together artifacts from Camp 6 with the Railroad's facility in Mineral to create a "Railroad Camp".

Northern Pacific F9A 7012A (nee Burlington Northern 838 1956). In 1985, this locomotive had a supporting role in the film "Runaway Train" starring Jon Voight. Rail yard sequences were filmed on the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway in Anaconda, Montana, using units from the BA&P. The film is set in Alaska, and 7012A, renumbered 500, was fitted with plywood boxes to simulate the distinctive 'winterization hatches' carried on Alaskan Railroad diesels.

Rayonier Incorporated caboose 3 which used to be at Camp 6.

MRSR NW2 481 (ex. Louis Dreyfus 481 1990, exx. Cargil 103 1982, exxx, Pacific Transportation Services 103 1982, exxxx. BN 481, exxxxx. BN 1713, nee Great Northern 5336. It was donated to the museum in 2001.

MRSR observation car "Nisqually River" built in 1917 as a Mine Safety Car for the United States Bureau of Mines, then the United States Department of the Interior then the Alaska Railroad. It was modernized and converted to a business car and rescued from a scrap heap in Chehalis, Washington in the early 1980's. It is undergoing restoration.

Information and history about "Nisqually River".

MRSR caboose 1751 (nee Southern Pacific 1751) built 1966. It had previously been used as an office in Tacoma.

The National Historical Place plaque of Camp 6 Logging Exhibit that used to be at Point Defiance Park.

MRSR 52-seat coach 545 (ex. City of Prineville Crooked River Dinner Train 545, nee Milwaukee Road 545 1947).

MRSR open car 681.

MRSR coach 685 of unknown origin.

MRSR coach "New Reliance" (ex. British Columbia Railway "Lone Butte", nee Canadian Pacific 2242).

MRSR coach 584 "Eatonville" (ex. British Columbia Railway "Squamish", nee Canadian Pacific 2283).

MRSR RSD-1 41 (ex. Department of Transporation 8025, exx. United States Army 8004, exxx. Alaska Railroad 1041 1951, exxxx. United States Army 8004, nee Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific 747).

MRSR coach of unknown origin.

MRSR baggage-express car 1517 (ex. Northern Pacific 1517, nee Northern Pacific 280 1921). Retired in 1967.

Baggage car of unknown original, originally used as the MRSR gift shop.

A view of some of the stored equipment and the hills around the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.

MRSR coach 582 "Morton" (ex. British Columbia Railway "Clinton", nee Canadian Pacific coach 2252).

Caboose of unknown origin.

United States Department of Transporation RSD-1 DOT-09. I heard the train and hurried back to the boarding area.

Newly-restored Polson Logging 2-8-2 70 pulling the regular passenger train into Mineral from Elbe.

The tender of Polson Logging Company 2-8-2 70.

Brian Wise, General Manager of Mount Rainier Scenic Railway, in the cab of Polson Logging 2-8-2 70. Built in 1906 as wood-burning Polson Logging Company 45, it was converted to oil in the 1920s and worked until 1960, when it was retired and donated to the City of Hoquiam, Washington. It was on outdoor display there until 1988 when it was donated to MRSR for restoration.

The steam train at rest.

The Baldwin Locomotive Works builder's plate.

One of the volunteers watering the steam engine before the afternoon's run. A public demonstration was then given of how to pour a babbit bearing which would be used on Hammond Lumber 2-8-2T 17 which was undergoing restoration.

Hammond Lumber 2-8-2T 17.

Information and history about this steam engine.

Stathi Pappas and fellow volunteer John go through the preparation, pouring the babbit and heating it.

The finished product. This was something I had never seen before and was a treat to behold, especially so close. It was then time to board the train for the trip to Elbe.

Polson Logging 70 returns from being watered and serviced.

MRSR coach 901 "Mineral", a former Southern Pacific commuter coach that was part of the consist.

Buildings from Camp 6 Logging Museum.

Polson Logging 70 rounning and round the train.

Polson Logging 70 approaching the train to couple onto it.

The smokebox door of Polson Logging 70.

The museum and yard areas as viewed from the departing train.

Scenery on the way from Mineral to Elbe.

The train rounding a curve.

Views along the route.

Curving through the forest.

The Nisqually River as viewed from the new bridge which was built after the railway suffered a large washout in the winter of 2006 when the river overflowed.

Our crossing of the Nisqually River.

Passing Milepost 48.

The Park Junction sign.

The train crossed a small creek.

The hills and mountains of this area.

Another view of the Nisqually River. We arrived at Elbe but did not stray far. The engine ran around the train for the return trip and I stayed in the "Clopen", the "closed-open" car that used to be British Columbia Railway's "Brandywine Falls". This gave me an excellent vantage point from the rear of the train.

On the way back to Mineral.

The tracks upon which we had just travelled.

Stored equipment on a siding.

A section of straight track.

The view as we cross the Nisqually River bridge.

One more view of the Nisqually River.

Polson Logging 70 leads the train back to Mineral.

The forest was all around.

Approaching a small bridge.

The steam engine has disappeared around the curve but the telltale smoke remains. We returned to Mineral and walked up to the steam engine. Neither Bob nor I could believe it when the fireman invited us into the cab and to stay there during the switching and servicing in the yard!

Inside the cab of Polson Logging 2-8-2 70.

The firebox.

John at the throttle of the steam engine.

Another of the volunteers guiding the steam engine to the watering area.

Reversing into the yard for watering during the cab ride. We detrained and gave our profuse thanks for an fantastic experience and day.

John in the cab after we had climbed down.

The final excursion of the day leaving Mineral for the one-way trip to Elbe.

This had been an incredible and memorable day in all aspects and thank you to everyone involved.