Mount Rainier Scenic Rairoad's depot at Elbe, Washington, USA - 5 Oct 2013 William Slim.
The American Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, set in the forests of Washington state, features logging locomotives pulling passenger coaches including an open-air car. Mount Rainier is CURRENTLY an inactive volcano. One of several along the American west coast including Mount Baker, Mount Shasta, and the infamous Mount St. Helens which erupted on 18 May 1980 killing 57 persons, destroying 250 homes, 47 bridges, 185 miles of roads, and 15 miles of railways. Mount Rainier lies within Mount Rainier National Park which is accessible from highway 706. This road runs east from Elbe, Washington, ( pronounced L-bee ) towards the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at the center of the park facilities.
Elbe may be reached from Washington state's main north-south highway, Interstate 5, by taking Highway 12 east, located between Chehalis and Castle Rock. Alternatively, take Highway 7 southeast out of Tacoma.
Elbe is a small village with very limited accommodation. This being a string of cabooses located adjacent to the highway in what would be the center of the village. Additional accommodation becomes available as you travel towards the National Park but the prices increase the closer you get to the volcano. At Elbe there is a burger stand, a grocery store, some scattered buildings and the depot of the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.
The railroad trip from Elbe takes about 45 minutes to reach the terminus at Mineral. Before the return trip a brief layover gives enough time to explore the "Railroad Camp" and structures located at Mineral. The Elbe depot sells tickets and souvenirs. The current fare is US$24. per adult return, with discounts for various ages. Check their web site for all the current rates and promotions.
A Short History
Polson Logging Company's headquarters, known as Railroad Camp, showing locomotives, crew, and workshops, near Hoquiam - 1942 Clark Kinsey - University of Washington Library PH Coll 516.2860.
The use of steam powered locomotives and equipment for logging had all but vanished by the early 1950's. Within ten years, the Junior League of Tacoma had begun a movement to preserve the "highball" days of logging. Various artifacts were acquired from some of the big Pacific Northwest logging companies such as Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier, and St. Regis Paper.
With a nest egg of US$25,000, the league created the "Camp 6 Logging Museum" at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. To manage the museum, the non-profit Western Washington Forest Industries Museum was formed then later renamed to Western Forest Industries Museum (WFIM). During the late 1970's, the museum formulated plans to extend its small, circular railroad to include a trip around the park utilizing the existing Five Mile Drive. The plan never materialized.
Coincidentally, Weyerhaeuser Timber had just assumed ownership of a railroad line from Tacoma to Morton, previously operated by the Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (the Milwaukee Road) and originally constructed in the 1890's as the Tacoma Eastern Railroad.
Soon a deal was struck between Weyerhaeuser and WFIM for use of the unused portion of the line between the towns of Elbe and Mineral, near Mount Rainier National Park, so the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad was born.
After two logging steam locomotives, a Climax locomotive from Vancouver Island, and a Heisler locomotive from a private collection in Washington, were rebuilt at the Murray Pacific log yard in Tacoma, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad made its inaugural run in June, 1981 and has been operating ever since - MRSR.
Polson Logging Company camp K-2 near Hoquiam - Date unknown Clark Kinsey - University of Washington Library PH Coll 516.2817.
Mineral Railroad Camp Buildings
A diagram of the buildings located at Mineral, Washington, USA - Date/Artist unknown.
The headquarters for many logging railroads in the Pacific Northwest was usually a conglomeration of repair shops, store houses, and housing for the workers who kept the logging railroad's equipment rolling.
One of the larger logging companies in Washington was the Poison Logging Company, located just north of Hoquiam. Poison's base of operations was a place known as "Railroad Camp". From this point, the company's logging railroad stretched north up the Olympic Peninsula to Crane Creek, and south to the log dump at New London, just up river from Hoquiam. All of the steam locomotives (and later diesel-electric locomotives), log cars, and other logging equipment were maintained and repaired at Railroad Camp.
When you step off of our train at Mineral, the first thing you will see is a group of wood buildings painted red with white trim. These are all historic logging camp buildings that have been moved to Mineral from various western Washington logging operations. They have been brought together to form our version of "Railroad Camp".
The largest structure, with the flat roof, is the MRSR restoration and repair Shop. This building was once a logging truck repair shop used by the St. Regis Paper Company near Morton, Washinton, in the 1960's and 1970's. It was disassembled and moved to its present location in 1983 by MRSR personnel. Reassembled on a new concrete foundation, the shop contains one track with a servicing pit, and all of the machine tools necessary to completely rebuild a steam locomotive from the ground up. The shop is in effect a living history museum in and of itself, as the staff and volunteers of the MSR perform work with the same skills and types of tools employed by railroad shops since the early 1800's.
The six smaller buildings in front of the shop are historic logging camp buildings from the West Fork Logging Company (later St. Regis Paper) of Mineral, Washington, the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Company of Kapowsin, Washington, and the Polson Logging Company (later Rayonier) of Hoquiam, Washington. The two larger buildings near the passenger platform were built in the 1940's and used to house unmarried loggers in the woods. They are known as "skid shacks", each having large timbers underneath that allowed the buildings to be dragged across the ground to a point where they could be loaded onto a railroad flat car and moved to another location. The four smaller buildings all came from Poison's Camp 14 and once sat on top of their own railroad cars which allowed them to be easily moved from site to site. These buildings were constructed in the early 1920's and served varying purposes over the years. Two are divided into four rooms each for housing unmarried loggers. One has an open floor plan for long tables and benches where the loggers ate their meals. The last building, with its unique clerestory (or cupola style) roof was the "flunkies" cabin. This was home to perhaps several women who worked in the camp to prepare meals for the loggers.
Planning and fundraising is underway to restore each of these camp buildings and furnish them with various displays to tell the story of camp life, and the technologies employed to fell the trees and move the logs to the mills. We hope that you will make plans to return to ride our train and see the continuing progress made at our "Railroad Camp" - MRSR.
A sixteen page, 8 1/2 x 11 inch (21.5 x 28 cm), full colour guide book was included with the price of the return ticket on the day of our visit. It contains a wealth of information about the structures and railroad equipment to be found at the railroad. It is also available for purchase at the depot in Elbe.