Passing through Elbe, WA recently, we stopped to watch the old Hammond Lumber Company Number 17 pull a consist of passenger cars.
The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (MRSR) is a steam-powered heritage railroad operating in Washington State between Elbe and Mineral. The railroad travels on tracks that pass through thick forest just south of Mount Rainier. The depot, gift shop and ticket office are located in Elbe. The train travels to the new Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad & Museum exhibits located in Mineral, WA. The MRSR, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, runs its collection of vintage rail equipment over seven miles of track owned by Tacoma Rail, an entity distinct from the MRSR.
The railroad has four steam locomotives in regular service, as well as several diesel engines. Most of the railroad's engines are geared steam locomotives. These specialized types of steam engines—Shay locomotives, Heisler locomotives, Climax locomotives, and a Willamette locomotive were used in the early 20th century for logging. Compared to traditional side-rod steam locomotives, geared locomotives were better-suited for steep grades and hastily-laid track. Thus, the MRSR seeks to preserve and operate historic geared locomotives and related logging technology in order to present visitors with a sense of a bygone logging era critical to the development of the Pacific Northwest.
The steam engines are run based on availability of volunteer operators, who comprise the great majority of railroad personnel. Steam engine operation requires more volunteer assistance than diesel operation, due to the extraordinary amount of skill and expertise required to operate steam locomotives. The MRSR's regular schedule runs weekends from Memorial Day to late October with special event Santa Express trains November through December.
Number 17 was built for the Crosset Western Co. in Wauna, OR, sold to Hammond Lumber Co. of Samoa, CA in 1942 and is the primary summer motive power for the MRS.