August 25, 2012
Beautiful Alder Lake is a 7 mile long reservoir on the Nisqually River near Eatonville, WA. It was created by the construction of Alder Dam in 1945. At the eastern end of the lake is the town of Elbe which is home to the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad that we’ll be riding on today.
The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad is the longest continuously operating steam train railroad in the Pacific Northwest. In February 1980, the Milwaukee Road closed down their lines in Washington including the 66 mile branch from Tacoma to Morton. It was later acquired by Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, and a deal was soon struck use a portion of this line as a tourist railway, between Elbe and Mineral Lake. More than 25 years later, the steam trains continue to roll through the foothills of Mt. Rainier much to the delight of steam lovers young and old alike.
More than 90 percent of the folks who keep the MRSR running are dedicated volunteers. Each year thousands of passengers step on board one of the steam trains to take this historic steam journey.
Inside one of the coaches, we find a restored 1920’s decor complete with wooden bench seats.
Nearby the depot at Elbe is this tiny 18-by-24 foot Lutheran church, which has stood here since 1906. The church reminds us of the rich German heritage in Elbe and it bears the name of the founder’s origin – the Elbe River valley near Hamburg, Germany.
We pull out of Elbe station on our way to Mineral Lake, the terminus of the line. As we leave the station we pass by one of the many historical steam locomotives that have been restored by the volunteers at MRSR. We ride next to the city streets as we leave the town of Elbe.
On this warm summer day, the open-air observation car at the back of the train is especially popular.
We travel through verdant timbered forests that are part of a thriving timber industry in the foothills of Mount Rainier.
We cross the Nisqually River Bridge, which was recently restored between 2006 and 2010 after the Nisqually flooded and damaged the bridge in 2006. The Nisqually River is approximately 81 miles long and runs between Mount Rainier and the Puget Sound. The Nisqually is fed by glaciers on the southern side of Mt. Rainier. The Nisqually River is the traditional territorial center of the Nisqually tribe that shares its name and also lived throughout southern Puget Sound.
Above the river valley is the mighty Mount Rainier at 14,411 feet high – it shines in the warm summer sun.
Our train passes over Mineral Creek, which is a popular spot for locals to cool off in the hot summer.
The MRSR operates on a historic logging line, so there are plenty of derelict logging cars and equipment up and down the sidings.
We pull into the town of Mineral, WA – the terminus of our journey.
Our train stops near Mineral Lake where we get off for a while and enjoy a barbecue with live entertainment along the shores of this picturesque lake. They say that Mineral Lake is the home of the 10 pound trout. Nearby streams and rivers do offer an abundance of salmon, steelhead, and trout. The lake was formed by glacier melt from Mount Rainier thousands of years ago and during Mineral’s logging era, the lake served as a log holding pond for the bustling mill that sprawled at the south end of it’s shores. Today, this peaceful lake is a popular fishing and recreation spot for many locals and tourists alike.
The steam engine pulling our train is a Rayonier number 70, a 70 ton Baldwin 2-8-2 rod locomotive built by the Baldwin locomotive works of Philadelphia, PA for the Polson Brothers Logging Company of Hoquium WA. After a rich 70 years of service in logging operations all over the Pacific Northwest, the engine was purchased by the MRSR in the 1990s, restoration work continued for nearly a decade. The engine was finally introduced into service in 2010.
We’re back on the train for the return journey to Elbe station. We pass by more logging cars and rolling stock on the sidings. Much of this equipment belongs to MRSR: logging donkeys, flats, speeders, box, refrigerator, crane, equipment cars, and literally tons of other items in the collection. The MRSR is not a static museum of steam era logging equipment. Volunteers and staff are actively restoring and maintaining all the equipment on the line. MRSR has a full service shop back in Mineral where repairs and restoration is carried out.
The MRSR is really the result of one man’s passion and commitment to preserve the Pacific Northwest’s rich heritage of stream trains. As a young man Tom Murray, Jr. first heard the unforgettable sound of geared locomotives working on the steep wooded hillsides of his father’s timber lands. Tom was a hands-on witness to the final days of steam locomotive logging in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. He resolved to do whatever he could to save for posterity some of the relics of the hey day of steam in the Pacific Northwest.
As we near Elbe station and the end of our trip through time, we reflect on our historic journey back into Elbe’s past as a major hub of steam logging in the Pacific Northwest. We hope you’ve enjoyed riding along with us on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.