'Rail Trail Walking Guide' recounts early history of trains, industry from Bellingham to Fairhaven

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 9, 2013 

Rail Trail Walking Guide

William Rink and Karl Kleeman, co-authors of the book "Rail Trail Walking Guide," Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, at the Bellingham Railway Museum.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Two transplants to Bellingham with a mutual love of trains have produced a book that explores railroad and industrial history from Fairhaven along the shoreline to downtown Bellingham.

Karl Kleeman compiled the historical information and William Rink handled the design and maps for their "Rail Trail Walking Guide." Both are active members of Bellingham Railway Museum, the book's sponsor.

Whatcom Community Foundation gave nearly $4,500 to the project because the book appeals to people of all ages, from students to seniors, and combines two community passions - local history and outdoor activity, said Mauri Ingram, the foundation's president and CEO.

"This really melded those two," she said. "This is a great way to bring it to life for people."

As the "walking guide" title suggests, the 84-page, spiral-bound book is meant to be carried while people walk the three and a half miles from the foot of Harris Avenue into the heart of Fairhaven, and then north to Taylor Avenue Dock and the South Bay Trail into downtown.

At $4.95, a price kept low thanks to the foundation grant and several business sponsors, the book is light on the wallet, too.

The book divides the route into three sections, so walkers can cover the ground in stages. Each section uses historic maps, photos and text to detail railroad and industrial sites at 35 numbered points.

"It's not a heavy read," Rink said.

Those points correspond to outdoor signs that have been installed on posts, boardwalk railings and buildings along the route. The signs offer a snippet of historical information from the book, plus a scannable matrix code so people with smartphones can call up basic info and maps from the Bellingham Railway Museum website.

Taken as a whole, the book offers a rear-window glimpse of the busy working waterfront of decades ago, when shipping piers and railroad lines met by the shoreline to serve industries tied, for the most part, to the region's rich natural resources of salmon, coal and timber.

Some of the landmarks survive today, such as the Reid Boiler Works building, Taylor Avenue dock and the downtown Northern Pacific railroad trestle.

Others sites, including lumber mills, a can factory and a flour mill, only survive in archives at Whatcom Museum and the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, the source of many of the old photographs used in the book.

Kleeman, a retired expert on infectious diseases, developed his fascination with trains early, thanks to a model set he received as a child, and a grandfather who worked for a railroad in Iowa. Kleeman kept that fascination with him when he moved to Bellingham from North Carolina 11 years ago.

"I'm a history buff," he said. "So much of the history of the county centers on the development of the railroads."

Rink grew up in Southern California, where he worked in marketing and advertising before moving to Bellingham in 1998. He now has own design business, Visual Results. His interest in collecting antique model trains sprang from a memorable three-day train trip from California to Kansas he took as a kid.

"Ever since then I've had an interest and a passion for trains," he said.

COMING UP

What: Book signing for "Rail Trail Walking Guide," by Karl Kleeman and William Rink.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14.

Where: Bellingham Railway Museum, 1320 Commercial St.

For sale: The $4.95 book is available at the museum and at Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, 904 Potter St.; Coffee Junction, 401 Harris Ave.; and Village Books, 1200 11th St. Proceeds go to reprints and to maintenance of the book's outdoor signs.

Museum details: 360-393-7540, bellinghamrailwaymuseum.org.

Extra: To learn more about the history of the waterfront between downtown and Fairhaven, read "Boulevard Park & Taylor Avenue Dock," by Brian Griffin.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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