On Sunday, we attended the open house at the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association’s workshop.
That’s where they’re carrying out the herculean task of restoring a steam locomotive. They’ve been at it for years and they’ll be working for many more years before the restored engine chugs down the tracks.
The image on the left shows the locomotive during its working life. On the right is a photo I took at the open house. You’ll recognize the rounded boiler and the cylinders from the photo. Because the workshop is in a quonset hut, it wasn’t possible to get far enough away from the locomotive to take a photo of the whole machine.
Here’s what the Association’s site says about the locomotive and the restoration process:
Richter photo of Baldwin #21 operating in the Santa Maria Valley.
Locomotive No. 21 was built in 1925 by Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Santa Maria Valley Railroad in southern California.
For 37 years, it pulled loads of sugar beets, vegetables and petroleum products along the 36-mile rail line. It also became the “pet” engine of the railroad’s owner, Capt. G. Allen Hancock, a West Coast financier who helped bankroll agriculture in the valley during the 1900s and had a passion for putting himself at the throttle.
The 81-ton locomotive became a favorite on the railroad for both its domineering presence on the track and its famous engineer. The renown, steam-driven workhorse of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad was retired in 1962.
Crews dismantled the most famous engine of the SMV railroad and trucked it to Snoqualmie, Wash where a railroad preservation group planned to place it into excursion service. That plan never materialized and for over a decade, #21 rested disassembled under . . . alder trees.
Railroad buffs in Clatsop County joined forces in 1990, forming the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association. The first major order of business was to find a steam engine to restore and run along the Astoria rail line.
After combing trade journals and cruising the Pacific Northwest, word finally came that the No. 21 engine from the old Santa Maria Valley Railroad was sitting dormant in Washington. By then the engine had changed hands several times and was owned by the Puget Sound Historic Railroad Association.
The ARPA bought the locomotive with $27,000 in community donations and brought the locomotive to Astoria piece by piece in 1991. The disassembled locomotive was stripped, sandblasted, cleaned and painted with primer by volunteers in their spare time.
The renovation of the engine is still under way as crews work to restore it to the same working condition as when it rolled off the Baldwin lines in 1925.
New life is being breathed into famous No. 21 from southern California. Once it roars back to life, only it’s name will be different: the Astoria and Columbia River Railroad No. 21.
R E S T O R A T I O N
The ARPA plans to not only restore engine #21 to operating condition, but to rebuild it to the same condition as when it departed the Baldwin shops in 1925. It’s a tall order, no doubt, but we believe we have the expertise and the support to make it happen.
With our strong desire to maintain historical accuracy, we are making every effort to return No. 21 to the same configuration and appearance that it had while it chugged along the tracks during its storied career.
That means if the backup light is missing, for example, we’ll try to find an original to replace it. If that’s impossible, we’ll study photos, try to obtain original blueprints and find similar lights made by Baldwin that closely resemble the original piece. We won’t simply install a modern headlight in the name of convenience – time and money will not be an excuse to compromise historical integrity.
The restoration has been taking place in several locations. Most of the work has been on property owned by the Port of Astoria. Since November 1998, we’ve been working in the former Bartlett Repair Shop, the building is on loan to the ARPA until a buyer is found.
The response to our project so far has been positive. The public has been invited to get a first-hand look at the work we’re doing – essentially a peek at how the old railroad shops used to operate back in the steam era. (The Columbia River Maritime Museum had enormous success in using a similar concept during reconstruction of an early salmon gillnet boat for display.)
We hope to build a new home for our restoration work, constructed to represent an engine house of the 1920s and include an interpretive museum and a shelter for the locomotive.
O P E R A T I O N
Once locomotive No. 21 is restored, the ARPA plans to run it for excursions along the A-line, which includes tracks owned by the City of Astoria and Portland & Western. We hope the trips will educate the public on both the labors and the grandeur of the bigone era of steam-train travel.
We’ve already contacted the railroads’ engineering departments to make sure that a locomotive the size of No. 21 will be allowed to operate on this line. By inviting Portland & Western to inspect the restoration and under what ARPA is capable of, we think it will be easier to get approval to run our train on the tracks.
We plan to run #21 excursions of a hour and a half duration from the Astoria Depot east. The scenic run jogs along the Columbia River crossing drawbridges and a number of trestles. We are planning a limited number of excursions between Astoria and Portland during special events and festivals, including the Greater Astoria Seafood Festival, the Astoria Regatta, and the Portland Rose Festival. Each of these events draws thousands of visitors to our area. During weekends in the summer, we hope to operate dinner trains between Astoria and Clatskanie, about 40 miles upriver.
When it’s not operating, No. 21 will be displayed in our engine house. Because of expected costs (tariffs, insurance, operation, etc.), we will probably need to run at near-capacity to remain solvent. With that in mind, we intend to initially operate on a limited schedule until demand warrants expansion. But, with the charm and character of Astoria and its new locomotive, we expect our operation to be quickly popular and our hours of operation will rise to meet that demand.