The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad began running its steam powered excursion trains over 30 years ago and in that time has traversed the same seven miles between Elbe and Mineral Lake, where each train made a brief stop over at our lake side picnic ground. Â The location is scenic, but its proximity to the water made it impossible for MRSR to make any improvements that would enhance the passenger’s visit. Â The railroad has lacked a real destination that offers our patrons more than just the train ride. Â Beginning in June 2013, that will no longer be the case as MRSR opens Phase I of its new museum that focuses on the logging and lumbering industry of the great Pacific Northwest.
Most folks who ride the train ask where they can see the other steam locomotives, and many of them make the drive to Mineral after riding the train to take a tour of the shop and locomotive storage buildings. Â It only seemed natural to the MRSR management that the Mineral facility should be the destination of our trains so that everyone would have the opportunity to see the restoration or repair work in progress (in effect a “living history” experience), as well as the rest of our unique collection of steam locomotives and other logging equipment. Â Thus, two years ago with the closing of the Camp 6 Logging Museum at Pt. Defiance Park in Tacoma, the idea of creating a new museum at Mineral was hatched. Â During November 2010, five historic logging camp buildings were relocated from Tacoma to Mineral, followed by several pieces of logging equipment including a rare home-built logging caboose that once ran behind our Willamette geared steam locomotive.
(1) Five logging camp buildings were relocated from Tacoma to Mineral with the help of Snell Crane and Graham Hay Trucking.
(2) Neighboring West Fork Timber Co. donated one of their old logging camp buildings to the museum project. Â Snell Crane moved it from next door to our site.
(3) Ex-Rayonier Inc. logging caboose #3 arrives at MRSR from the closed Camp 6 Logging Museum. Â The caboose will eventually be completely restored to operational condition.
A formal presentation of the museum concept was made to the board of directors of the Western Forest Industries Museum (MRSR’s parent non-profit IRS 501(c)(3) organization) in July 2012. Â With board approval, construction of the new museum began in earnest. Â Since then, major exterior renovation work has been performed on the restoration and maintenance shop building, the “heart” of MRSR’s operations and the museum. Â Underground electrical conduits have been installed about the site to feed the various buildings, and exterior repairs and painting have been performed on several of the camp buildings. Â To allow the steam trains to access the museum site, a new run-around track was constructed by Coast Rail of Tacoma so that our locomotives can pull the trains from Elbe up to a new loading/unloading platform at the museum, then run around to the other end of the train for the trip back to Elbe. Â And upon stopping at the platform, the steam locomotives will be able to fill their water cisterns from an authentic logging railroad water tank. Â The tank is an 1890′s vintage railroad tank car that once sat atop cribbed logs about three miles south of Mineral along the West Fork Logging Company’s logging railroad.
(4) Â MRSR’s restoration and maintenance building (the “Shop”) has been renovated to “back-date” it in keeping with the railroad logging camp theme.
(5) Â The new run-around track taking shape at the museum site. Â The new loading/unloading platform will be constructed along the left side of the track in the distance, and the water tank that will serve the steam locomotives will stand just on the far side of the post by the left side of the track.
(6) The West Fork Logging Company (and later the St. Regis Paper Company) hauled logs out of the woods south of Mineral with geared steam locomotives from 1911 to 1956. Â The locomotives frequently stopped at this water tank to fill their cisterns. Â The tank was donated to the museum and has been moved to the museum site for continued use by MRSR’s steam locomotives.
The complete museum project is being constructed in three phases over the next several years. Â When Phase I opens to the public in June 2013, all excursion trains will run from Elbe directly to the Mineral museum site. Â Passengers will disembark the train to take a tour that will include the restoration/maintenance shop, the two buildings where the steam locomotive collection is stored, and various other pieces of logging equipment on display about the museum grounds. Â Two of the logging camp buildings will be open for viewing, including our ex-St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Co. “Kapowsin” camp building that is to display a typical logger’s bunk room and forest interpretive displays presented by the Green River Community College. Â The other logging camp buildings will open to the public as displays are developed and installed.
Phase II of the project, scheduled for 2014, will include expanded displays at the “logging camp”, a reconstructed steam powered saw mill, and picnic grounds. Â Phase III, tentatively scheduled for 2015, is to involve the creation of a miniature (7-1/2″ gauge) train ride that will incorporate 1/8th scale logging “donkeys” (steam powered winches for skidding and loading logs onto rail cars). Â Set up inside a covered “arena”, visitors will be able to see how logs were loaded onto railroad cars out in the woods during the “highball” days of steam logging, before the advent of modern equipment that doomed the logging railroads.
All of us at MRSR are very excited about this new project and hope that you will come out, ride the train to see the progress that we’ve made, and return to see the project grow!
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