30 August 2013
Feed Your Intellectual Cravings
While Out Tasting Dessert Delights
Elbe Washington USA - Steam locomotives really do huff and puff.
My childhood memories came alive again on a recent Sunday afternoon as a 1922 Baldwin steam engine chugged into the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad's museum in Mineral.
The railroad has been operating since the 1980s, but it only opened its Mineral museum and shops (think grease, not souvenirs) to the public this summer. Though you can drive to the museum, nearly everyone takes the train there from Elbe.
On my visit, the locomotive was pulling a collection of passenger coaches filled with visitors. At the controls, sat engineer Craig Cootsona and fireman Zeb Darrah. In front of them was a dizzying array of levers, knobs, and handles. In between an aperture revealed an orange-hot fire.
Volunteer Karl Klontz showed me around the logging railroad-themed museum. Some of the structures from the former Camp 6 logging museum in Point Defiance Park, at Tacoma, have been relocated to Mineral, but have yet to be opened to the public.
The railroad stores and maintains its equipment in the shops. Some of the hardware is display only, others are being actively restored (you'll probably see a couple of oil-stained volunteers working on locomotives) while the railroad's five working engines are used to pull the passenger cars on the tracks.
Klontz tells me the railroad has one of the most complete geared steam locomotive collections anywhere. And if there's anyone who knows trains, it's Klontz. During the week, he operates trains for Amtrak. On the weekends, he volunteers at MRSR. He owns a retired caboose and a cat named Chesapeake Anne Ohio.
Klontz recently restored the railroad's 1885 14-ton steam locomotive that once ran on the Satsop logging railroad. The now shiny little engine is so cute, you could pinch its cheeks. Not surprisingly it's popular with kids who are allowed to climb inside and ring its bell.
The railroad is not exclusively chug-chug. They own a sexy streamlined 1950s era diesel locomotive. It harkens back to the early jet age and cars with huge tail fins. And yes, it runs, sometimes pulling passengers.
The round trip from Elbe with a stop at the museum is about two hours, two and a half hours on days where buying a barbecue lunch is an option.
Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad's depot is located at 54124 Mountain Highway East, Elbe. Trains depart Elbe: 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 10 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Schedule changes to weekends only in September. The Museum and shops are located at 349 Mineral Creek Road, Mineral. Train fares: $27 adult, $24 senior/military, $22 ages 4-12, free under 4. Prices are for steam engine rides. Diesel is less expensive, rides with barbecue lunch are more expensive. The museum is free. Information: 888-783-2611 and www.mrsr.com.