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Thread: The Story of My Virtual Railroad

  1. #1
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    Default The Story of My Virtual Railroad

    Several of you have asked me about the origins of the Tacoma & Eastern virtual railroad. I could not find anywhere else to post this, so here is the story:

    The Tacoma Eastern Railroad began life as a 30-inch narrow gauge logging road running from a wharf at the head of Commencement Bay in Tacoma, Washington. The railroad left the wharf fronting Dock Street and continued southward through a steep chasm to a sawmill located near South 38th Street. The railroad, the wharf, and the sawmill were owned and operated by brothers John F. and George E. Hart. the little narrow gauge road brought dimensional lumber materials from the Harts' sawmill to their wharf, largely for export to the lumber-hungry markets of San Francisco.


    The early operations of the railroad were successful, but the Hart Brothers became concerned about their ability to expand their market and move their product due to the fact they were unable to interchange cars with the (standard gauge) Northern Pacific Railroad. A reconstruction program was initiated to convert the railroad from narrow to standard gauge and the line became known officially as the Tacoma Eastern Railroad for the first time.


    The Tacoma Eastern Railroad was not known for moving passengers, but moving timber—big timber and lots of it too. Ninety percent of all freight hauled by the railroad was extricated from the forests beneath Mount Rainier. Forty- and fifty-car trains were loaded with logs, lumber, cedar bolts, shingles, cordwood, wood pulp and delicately crafted wood trim. Of these materials, the logs were the most prevalent and many of these train cars were loaded with one enormous log that measured eight feet or more in diameter at the butt and could tip the scales at 40 tons. These massive logs were euphemistically referred to as “Tacoma Toothpicks” (Photo Below).




    PASSENGER SERVICE BEGINS. The only President to have ridden the rails of the Tacoma Eastern was William Howard Taft. In 1911, President Taft came to Tacoma specifically to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Taft arrived in early October but an early snow storm had preceded his arrival by a few days, making the Presidential trip rather arduous. The train trip took two and half hours from Tacoma to Ashford. After that, the Tacoma Eastern became known as the National Park Railroad.


    The Tacoma Eastern was eventually acquired by the Milwaukee Road as a part of a Pacific Expansion effort. Between 1919 and 1980, the National Park branch would consistently be ranked the second most economically viable branch in the entire 1700-mile Milwaukee Road system. However, on March 15, 1980, the Milwaukee Road became the single largest railroad failure in American history. The Tacoma Eastern Branch of the railroad was conveyed to the Weyerhaeuser Corporation who used the line to move logs from Thurston and Lewis counties to a trans-loading facility at the Port of Tacoma, and later, the Port of Olympia for international export. Oddly enough, the modern public pressure for access to the Mt. Rainier National Park has initiated a current movement to restore the line from Tacoma to Ashford for park access. The right-of-way is currently owned by the City of Tacoma, and public funding for the project is widely supported in the area. There is even some support for the short extension from Ashford to the old sawmill at Mineral Lake, which would be an excellent living museum and a further attraction for tourism.


    My virtual railroad (Tacoma & Eastern) changes the name slightly for legal reasons, and is based on the timeframe of the early National Park era, circa 1917-1924. It is a mile for mile recreation of the original line at the time of its peak expansion. It was also at this time that the TE started using conventional locomotives (photo above), mostly for passenger service. They retained the geared locos for logging until the sale of the railroad and actually well beyond that time under the Milwaukee Road banner.
    Last edited by Robert704; February 22nd, 2020 at 06:05 PM. Reason: Photos

  2. #2
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    That sounds like an excellent route to work on that will keep you busy for years and years of Trainzing. As you've probably noticed, having a backstory, a history of your route, helps keep things in focus and makes building the route a lot easier than a freelance one with no purpose.
    John
    Trainz User Since: 12-2003
    Trainz User ID: 124863
    T:ANE Build: 94829
    TRS2019/Trainz-PLUS: 105100

  3. #3
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    The Ashford-Mineral Lake branch is currently (or when I last drove through) the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, operating under steam (NOT the game concern) as a tourist attraction. Under MILW ownership, it extended all the way over the hill to Morton where it interchanged with Weyco's own logging railroad.

    This route I want to take a look at.

    There was an infamous curve at the foot of the steep grade entering Tacoma. A brick bakery sat at the foot of the grade and reportedly was demolished at least twice by a runaway train. The line certainly has a history!

    :B~)

  4. #4
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    Excellent story, well done. Back stories like this really makes a fictional route come to life. I need to write one for my route once I get all the missing assets fixed.

    Dave

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by RHKluckhohn View Post
    The Ashford-Mineral Lake branch is currently (or when I last drove through) the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, operating under steam (NOT the game concern) as a tourist attraction. Under MILW ownership, it extended all the way over the hill to Morton where it interchanged with Weyco's own logging railroad.

    This route I want to take a look at.

    There was an infamous curve at the foot of the steep grade entering Tacoma. A brick bakery sat at the foot of the grade and reportedly was demolished at least twice by a runaway train. The line certainly has a history!

    :B~)
    You are correct on all counts. The bakery was at the foot of the "Chasm" mentioned in my original post. It was hit at least three times that are documented in the Tacoma Tribune archives. That grade was steep and the bottom had a sharp turn to line up for the gorge. The grade was not much of a problem when geared traction (Shays and Climaxes) was used, but as the distance to the logging sites increased, the TE began using conventional steam traction - mostly 2-6-0 Moguls, and the grade was a lot more problematic for them.

    Weyerhaeuser did have an operation out of Morton, and contracted with the Tacoma Eastern to run track from Mineral Lake, over Divide and into Morton to interchange with their operation there. Eventually, Weyerhaeuser did acquire most of the Tacoma Eastern track and the two operations were integrated for some fifteen years. Weyerhaeuser used a lot of "Rail Rollers", which were hastily constructed sections of track that allowed gravity to power the loaded skeletons back down to a railhead. They were then pulled back up to the cutting by light automotive type railcars, or in a few early cases by mule teams.

    Today, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is a Washington Registered Excursion Railroad that operates track from Elbe to Mineral Lake with the intent of establishing a museum at Mineral Lake to honor the logging industry. They are also involved in the effort underway to revive some sort of rail access to Mt. Rainier National Park's southwestern entrance from either Tacoma or Olympia or a outlying suburb of either. The idea is to run tour busses from that point into the park, similar to the setup at Zion and Bryce National Parks. The recent flooding that wiped out much of the access to the park is sure to have an impact on this effort. We are watching to see what happens.

    OF INTEREST: The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is the only operation that has ALL THREE western geared locomotives operational today. A Heisler, a Climax and a Lima Shay (Pacific Coast Version built by Willamette Locomotive Works in 1929).
    Last edited by Robert704; March 7th, 2020 at 08:18 PM.

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