A 57-year piece of the city’s history – and some residents’ childhood memories – rolled away from Bloedel Donovan Park on Thursday to its new home in Snoqualmie.
Moss-covered and surrounded by a chain-link fence in recent years, the steam locomotive at the Bellingham park was a rusting relic from railroading’s golden age.
Now, the H.K. Porter locomotive built in 1918 will be returned to its former glory after the City of Bellingham donated it to the nonprofit Northwest Railway Museum, which will restore it and put it on display next year.
The museum paid the city $1 and agreed to incur the costs of transporting the locomotive, which had been at Bloedel Donovan Park since 1960.
“What’s special about it is it still exists. It has survived all these years,” Richard Anderson, the museum’s executive director, said Thursday as crews readied the steel locomotive for transport.
The museum was one of three railroad organizations in Washington state and Oregon that responded to the city’s call in 2015 for organizations to remove the locomotive and give it much-needed attention.
“We don’t have the resources for restoration of locomotives,” said Steve Janiszewski, operations manager for the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department. “We really wanted it to go to a group that restores locomotives.”
The Northwest Railway Museum was the best option, Janiszewski said, because it had the most resources, the best proposal and another Porter so it had expertise with that type of locomotive.
“It is a piece of city’s history but it’s still available for people to go visit at the Railway Museum,” Janiszewski said. “I’m glad we found a group such as their group to take care of it. That was important to us.”
The locomotive was originally used by the Navy at its Norfolk Shipyard in Virginia, according to Jeff Jewell, researcher for the Whatcom Museum.
It was later moved to Bremerton and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Jewell added. After the U.S. declared it as surplus property in 1950, the PermanenteCement Co. bought it for use at its plant on Marine Drive.
In 1960, the company donated it to the City of Bellingham, which installed it at Bloedel Donovan to the delight of children and other train lovers.
It fell into disrepair over the years and some of its components have been stolen or vandalized, the city said.
In its new home, the locomotive will be used to tell the history of railroads in the Northwest as well as in related science or physics demonstrations.
One day, it may be repaired so that it can run again.
Northwest Railway Museum has about 138,000 visitors a year.
“The world has changed so much,” Anderson said. “Most of us love history, and so the opportunity to experience it is very appealing for most of us.”
And an exhibit that’s not behind glass or on a wall gives people another level of engagement.
“It’s alive,” Anderson said.
Information on the Northwest Railway Museum is online at trainmuseum.org.