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The last couple of weeks have literally flown by as the Willamette project was pushed to as close to completion as humanly possible so that we would have an operational locomotive for its first two scheduled operations on Wednesday, August 5th and Saturday, August 8th.

After the Willamette’s first run under its own power on Saturday the 1st, there was a pretty good list of things that had to be completed before the locomotive could actually pull a train the following Wednesday for the media and other special guests. We had to get all of the hand rails installed along and in front of the boiler, install the front coupler cut lever, foot boards at both ends, and a host of smaller projects. Also of huge importance was to get the cab painted black. On Monday the 3rd, I waited until the early evening to go up to the shop to do that chore, hoping everything would be cooler (which it wasn’t). What I envisioned (and told my wife) as a three hour project turned into a nine hour ordeal as I dealt with last minute penetrations through the front wall of the cab (the hole saw wouldn’t cut!), cleaning of the cab roof and sides, and masking off of the doors, windows, and other openings to keep the black paint out of the inside of the cab. When that was done, I prepped some other un-painted parts as well to receive a new coat of primer along with the cab and oil tank (which had to be sanded down first). Then it was time to set up the spray equipment and mix the new two-part urethane paint that I’d not used before. By about 2:30 am it was all black and I was dog tired.

08-03-09_001.jpgThe cab and oil tank with a fresh coat of black paint, ready to be unmasked.

Tuesday the 4th was a flurry of activity, and unfortunately I didn’t take time out to take any photos! Suffice it to say that we were all working hard and fast to get the #2 ready for her first trip out over the railroad (abeit a short one from the yard to Mineral Lake). The morning of the 5th, we were still putting final touches on the locomotive. Tom Payne painted the silver “2″s on the cab sides and rear sand box. Walker Lane cut full dimension lumber to make the rest of the footboards while Jim Fitch did the installation and painting. Just before train time, I installed the #2′s original porcelain enameled “Willamette” heralds on both sides of the oil tank. The guests arrived at 2pm, took a short tour through the shop and other buildings to see the rest of the locomotive collection, then boarded the very short train (one open-air coach, a caboose and a tank car full of water to appease the forestry folks due to the high fire danger) for an equally short trip over to the picnic grounds at Mineral Lake.

08-05-09_001.jpgWhen the #2 is standing still, anywhere, it’s hard to resist taking a photo of her. Here she is sitting in the sun at Mineral Lake while the guests enjoy lunch. Soon afterwards there was a bottle of champagne broken over her front coupler by Mr. Tom Murray to dedicate the newest addition to the MRSR fleet of operable locomotives.

08-05-09_002.jpgAfter returning to the shop and putting the train away, the Willamette was spotted in the afternoon sun for a photo session.

08-05-09_003.jpgA little later, the crew backed the #2 down the yard lead to the short Roundtop Creek trestle so Bob Harbison, Jim Gertz and I could take a few shots of her over the water.

We had one line shaft bearing run hot on the 5th, apparently due to the wedge being sucked in too tight. We had heard stories that the situation was not uncommon on the Willamettes, but found it difficult to believe that a wedge could pull itself in like that.

On Friday the 7th, we once again fired up the Willamette for more testing, and to take it around the Mineral Lake loop in order to get it facing the right direction for Saturday’s event. We also had to switch out our 50 foot Milwaukee Road flat car to spot over at the lake as it was going to be used as a band stand.

08-08-09_001.jpgFriday morning, and I’m finally installing the porcelain enamel copies of the “Willamette” heralds onto the #2 for good. Now the originals can be locked up for safe keeping.

08-08-09_002.jpgAt the lower Mineral yard, the #2 pumps up the air on a string of logging flat cars, preparing to move to of the flats and our Milwaukee flat car up to Mineral Lake. Seeing the Willamette in the woods with a string of logging flats was like taking a time machine to the 1950′s.

The short trip to the lake on Friday brought up the hot bearing issue once again. After further discussion, we also came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough lateral motion in that particular axle, so during the morning of Saturday, August 8th, with a constant parade of railfans and photographers roaming about the shop track to see the crews get the Willamette, Climax #10 and Alco 2-8-2T #17 ready for action, I re-shimmed the left side thrust bearing plates on each axle that required it. Meanwhile, Karl Klontz and Scott Gordon were busy replacing the vavle stem packing at each cylinder with “new” packing that came from Rayonier with hopes that we could get the blow-by under control.

At 10:30am on the 8th, the #17 left with the first regularly scheduled excursion of the day, after which the #2 and the #10 were spotted in the yard for some photos.

08-08-09_003.jpgThere are rare locomotives, then there are Willamettes and Climaxes. And of those that exist, these two are of the rarest yet: operable.

After the #17 arrived with her train and was filled with water, it was time to put the #2 and the #17 on the point of the 2:30 pm special event train.

08-08-09_004.jpgThe #2 drops down the lead and couples onto the #17 as the 2:30 train prepares to leave.

08-08-09_005.jpgAs the 2:30 train rolled by the Murray Switch, fireman Dean Barbour watches the Willamette roll by, obivously very happy to see in operation the locomotive that he helped restore.

As the train made its way westbound towards Divide, the Willamette was running without problems until we got about a half mile from the siding at Divide. Then the second line shaft bearing began smoking and the train came to a halt to assess the situation. We cut off the #2 and ran her lite up to the siding while the #17 pulled the train up the main to await the arrival of the Climax which was following behind with the fire train (tank car with pump and hoses, caboose, and the NW2 #481 in reserve). At Divide, the Willamette crew took steps to get the line shaft bearing wedge unstuck (the previously overheated bearing was running perfectly well) while the #17 and #10 see-sawed the train to get the two engines on the head end for a double-header down to the big trestle and back.

08-08-09_006.jpgThe #2 is in the hole at Divide, letting its overheated line shaft bearing cool down while the #17 backs the train down the main to make room for the Climax.

By the time the train returned to Divide, the bearing was down to a reasonable temperature so I agreed to let the Willamette take part in a tripple-header run-by for the photographers, with the proviso that the crew take it easy!

08-08-09_007.jpgThe Willamette leads the charge past the photographers for the first of two photo run-bys at Divide. She wasn’t sand-bagging it, either! Ironically, the hot line shaft bearing ran cooler and cooler each time she went by.

With everyone back on board the train, the tripple-header continued back to Mineral where the Willamette was finally cut off the train and sent back to the shop so the crew could “get off the clock”. The #17 and the Climax backed the train up into the Mineral Lake picnic area where John Sparrow’s band was playing and our caterer had food ready for everyone.

08-08-09_008.jpgJohn Sparrow and his band kept the folks entertained atop our Milwaukee flat car.

08-08-09_009.jpgBy the time we got to Mineral, everyone was good and hungry, so the chow line was a long one!

Running low on water, the #17 also went back to the shop to leave the Climax to return the train to the yard on its own. After the train was put away, some folks stayed around the shop area for some night photos of the locomotives.

All in all it was a very successful day, even though we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do with the Willamette. She put on a good show and generally ran very well. Now it’s time to put her back into the shop for boiler insulation, jacketing, and more black paint!

So that’s what a Willamette geared logging locomotive operating under its own power sounds like!

On Saturday, August 1, 2009 at approximately 8:00 pm (no one bothered to check their watch!), history was made at the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. To be more precise, history was brought to life as the very last locomotive built by the Willamette Iron & Steel Works of Portland, OR, (construction number 34, ex-Rayonier, Inc. #2, nee-J. Niels Lumber Company #6 built in December, 1929) took its “first steps” down the shop track after an intensive rebuild that began on September 8, 2007. The first run of the 75-ton locomotive was the culmination of more than $350,000 worth of materials and labor provided by MRSR staff, volunteers and contractors.

Our Willamette #2 was saved from the scrap heap and donated to MRSR by Mr. Jim Gertz of Pt. Angeles, WA, and in gratitude of his efforts to preserve this rare locomotive for future generations to enjoy, Mr. Gertz was given the honor of pulling the throttle for the first time. It did not require much arm twisting to get Jim into the right-hand seat, but we did have to encourage him to blow the whistle a bit! When everyone was at the ready with their cameras, the sign was given and Jim moved the reverser lever forward, released the brakes, pulled the throttle back, and once again “the Deuce” was back among the ranks of the world’s operable steam locomotives. After a hiatus of almost 50 years, folks young and young at heart can once again experience a real live Willamette geared logging locomotive!

Here are a few photos taken during just before and during the big event:

07-30-09_001.jpgDuring one of the hottest days on record, Brian Wise is found welding bolts to the inside of the smokebox barrel ring to support the smokebox front and door.

07-30-09_002.jpgTim Gordon spent a good deal of time inside the cab running all new copper lines to the air brake gauges.

07-30-09_004.jpgThe steam and air brake gauges are mounted in a cluster above the center of the boiler backhead. Tim’s copper tubing work turned out wonderfully.

7-30-09_003.jpgLocal woodworker Marcel Saterdal spent more than a few days in the high heat installing all of the restored wood work in the cab’s ceiling and walls. About 95% of the wood is original! Marcel did an outstanding job.

08-01-09_001.jpgDuring the morning of Saturday, August 8th, a literal swarm of people were working to get the Willamette ready to run. Here’s machinist Gerry Petitjean preparing the steam delivery pipe for installation.

08-01-09_002a.jpgAmong the last of the “big” jobs to be completeted was the installation of the universals and slip joints between the crank shaft and the first and second trucks. Dean Barbour, Doug Barbour and Karl Klontz (l to r) muscled their way through this project.

08-01-09_003a.jpgGerry Petitjean and Scott Gordon work above while Karl Klontz and Dean Barbour work below.

08-01-09_004a.jpgMeanwhile, Brian Bundridge (getting a bit of advice from Tim Gordon) was moving forward with the rebuild of the steam driven reciprocating pump that was mounted to the top of the locomotive’s water tank.

08-01-09_005a.jpgBefore water could be put into the boiler on Saturday, Brian Wise went back into the firebox (after spending better than five hours in there the night before installing fire brick) to remove the old fusible “drop” plug and install a new one.

08-01-09_002.jpgWhen all was in order, the locomotive was rolled outside and steamed up.

08-01-09_004.jpgJim Gertz loaned us the use of the Willamette’s original builder’s plate and front number plate to be copied. A firm in Portland made the copies during the previous week. Dean Barbour and Karl Klontz prepped and installed the copies on the front end of the locomotive. The headlight, restored by Craig Cootsona, really put the icing on the cake.

08-01-09_005.jpgWith one of the original “Willamette” emblems mounted on the side of the oil tank for good luck, Scott Gordon and Jim Gertz (l to r) await the “highball” signal.

bh1_8266a.jpgMr. Jim Gertz sits in the right-hand seat of the locomotive he saved from the scrapper’s torch, ready to make history! Photo by Bob Harbison.

08-01-09_006.jpgA small contingent of MRSR volunteers, friends and family lined the shop track to view history in the making.

bh1_8275a.jpgWith his hand on the throttle, Jim Gertz brings history to life as “the Deuce” begins to move under its own power for the first time in almost 50 years! Photo by Bob Harbison.

bh1_8449.jpgA number of test runs were made up and down the shop lead to check for problems. Here the #2 passes MRSR’s other two operating locomotives, ALCO 2-8-2T #17 and Climax #10.

08-01-09_009.jpgHere’s what the “business” side of the world’s only operable Willamette geared logging locomotive looks like!

bh1_8330.jpgMRSR General Manager and Chief Mechanical Officer, Brian Wise, takes a moment from all of the excitement to shake hands with Jim Gertz and thank him for letting us all be a part of this great adventure.

The test runs went exceedingly well for a project of this type. We did note a couple of items for correction, and of course there are always more things on the “to-do” list, such as finishing the handrails, foot boards, painting, and eventually the lagging and jacketing of the boiler (after a few more test trips). We’ll keep plugging away at the details over the next month, but we’re certainly on-track for the Willamette’s public debut on Saturday, August 8th!

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