The "Blue Mountain" History.


   The Blue Mountain is the oldest existing locomotive in the State of Washington.
The narrow gauge engine was built in 1877 for the pioneer Walla Walla &
Columbia River Railroad and served in the Columbia Basin for nearly
30 years until it was displaced by standard gauge locomotives
and finished it's career in Alaska.

Construction 1877:

   The Blue Mountain locomotive was ordered by Dr. Dorsey Baker in the fall
of 1877 for the narrow gauge Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad that
had been completed two years earlier to span the 32 miles between the steam
boat docks at Wallula and the Eastern Washington town of Walla Walla. The
engine was entered into the order books of the Porter Bell Co. of Pittsburgh, PA.
on October 23, 1877. The order called for a locomotive with a 0-6-0 wheel
arrangement, and a eight wheel tender, at a gauge of 3 feet. The engine was
to be equipped to burn wood as fuel. Lettering was to include the number "4"
painted on the cab panels and the railroad's initials of WW&CR on the sides of
the tender. The engine weighted 14 tons, and the tender weighted approximately
3 tons, for a total weight of 17 tons. Tractive effort was about 5000 pounds, and
draw-bar horsepower is estimated to have been between 150 to 200 hp.
Porter Bell Co. shipped the locomotive by steam ship
on January 1, 1878.

Walla Walla Valley 1878 to 1883:

   In Walla Walla the Blue Mountain joined five other Porter locomotives,
two tiny 7-ton tank engines with an 0-4-0 wheel arrangement, the "Walla Walla"
and "Wallula"; two 10-ton 2-4-0 engines, the "Columbia", "Mountain Queen",
and a much larger 20-ton 2-6-0, the "J.W. Ladd" (the Mountain Queen and
J.W. Ladd were actually delivered a few weeks after the Blue Mountain). By the
time the Blue Mountain arrived in Wallula, it already had a new owner, for on
February 18, 1878, Dr. Baker had sold seven eights of his railroad stock to the
Oregon Steam Navigation Company (OSN). The OSN controlled transportation
on the Columbia River, and purchase of the railroad strengthened it's

   For three years the Blue Mountain hauled wheat and other freight between
Walla Walla and Wallula. It's narrow gauge territory expanded when OSN
started to construct a branch line from Whitman to Weston in the spring of
1878. Although the line never reached Weston, it was completed as far as
Blue Mountain Station, 14 miles from Whitman, on September 15, 1879.

   In the meantime the OSN had been sold on July 1, 1879 to Henry Villard who
reorganized it as the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company (OR&N).
Villard immediately set out to construct a standard gauge railroad from Portland
to the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers at Ainsworth, 11 miles
upstream from Wallula, to meet the Northern Pacific Railroad then under
construction from the east. All of this construction briefly expanded the narrow
gauge trackage. Temporary narrow gauge tracks were laid from Wallula 11 miles
north to South Ainsworth at the mouth of the Snake River, and from Wallula 26
miles West to Umatilla, continuing on to Coyote, 43 miles from Wallula, in the fall
of 1880. The Blue Mountain most likely saw service all the way from Walla Walla
to Umatilla from October 1, 1880 until May 1881. The Umatilla to Coyote section
was never ballasted and was not operated. At Umatilla the railroad connected with
steam ships avoiding the Umatilla Rapids during the low water season. The standard
gauge tracks from the Dalles reached the narrow gauge at Coyote in May of 1881.
The line was rapidly widened to Umatilla. The Umatilla to Wallula line was converted
to standard gauge on May 17. Standard gauging continued, and the first standard
gauge train arrived in Walla Walla on May 25, 1881. The Wallula to South
Ainsworth line was converted to standard gauge at the same time, leaving the
14 mile Blue Mountain branch as the only remaining narrow gauge

   The light traffic on the Blue Mountain spur did not require six locomotives, and
the Walla Walla, Wallula, Ladd were shipped to the West side lines in June, 1881.
The Mountain Queen left a few weeks later, in August, 1881 having been sold back
to Dr. Baker for a new narrow gauge railroad venture, leaving only the Columbia
and the Blue Mountain stationed at Whitman.

   Dr. Baker's new line was incorporated as the Mill Creek Flume Railroad.
Using surplus narrow gauge rails, Dr. Baker started construction on a 14-mile line
reaching east of Walla Walla toward the Blue Mountains in August of 1881.
The new railroad ran 11 miles to Dixie with a 3-mile branch to Tracy on Mill Creek.
The initial objective was to access the timber regions of the Blue Mountains via
flumes reaching to both Tracy and Dixie. This line would become the home of
the Blue Mountain in later years.

   The Blue Mountain continued to work with the Columbia on the Blue Mountain
Branch for another two years. In the meantime the OR&N was preparing to build
a new standard gauge line from Walla Walla to Blue Mountain station via Milton-
Freewater as part of a new through route to Pendleton. on March 23, 1883 the
standard gauge line from Walla Walla reached Barret, a point 8 miles from Whitman.
Barret to Blue Mountain section was quickly converted to standard gauge, and the
Whitman to Barret line was dismantled. The two remaining narrow gauge engines
were shipped west to a "new" narrow gauge operation at Cascade rapids in the
Columbia gorge.

Cascade Portage Railroad 1883 to 1894:

   The large amount of standard gauge construction and conversion of narrow gauge
in the early 1880s left the OR&N with a surplus of narrow gauge locomotives and
a shortage of standard gauge power. In view of the light traffic on it's Cascade
Portage Railroad, it was decided to convert that line to narrow gauge, and to
free up the two standard gauge locomotives that were working there.

   The 6-mile portage railroad had been built 20 years earlier by Capt. Ainsworth.
It was constructed on the Washington side of the Cascade Rapids of the Columbia
River at the present area of the Cascade Locks. The railroad bypassed a set of rapids
that could not be navigated by steam boat. The line was originally built in 1863 to 5-foot
gauge, and was converted to standard gauge in 1880. The completion of the railroad on
the Oregon side of the river greatly reduced steam boat traffic and the volume of freight
carried on the portage railroad. It was now narrowed again to 3-foot gauge. In the
spring of 1893 the Blue Mountain and Columbia traveled by river steamer to the
upper landing and worked the portage railroad for 11 years.

   The operation of Dr. Baker's locomotive on the Cascade Portage Railroad was
ironic, for 18 years earlier Dr. Baker had tried to put that line out of business by
building a competing railroad. He built a shorter mule powered narrow gauge railroad.
His line was organized as the Middle Cascade Portage Railroad, and became the
subject of immediate legal challenges. It was a battle Dr. Baker did not win, and the
OR&N's Cascade Portage Railroad became the sole survivor. By the time the Blue
Mountain and Columbia arrived, the portage business was probably very light,
however ship traffic never quite ceased, and the little engines continued a
modest portage operation.

   On June 12, 1887 the OR&N bought the Mill Creek Flume Railroad,
and brought both surviving narrow gauge lines under one ownership. In 1888
one of the two portage railroad engines, possibly the Blue Mountain, was shipped
to Walla Walla temporarily while the Mountain Queen received an overhaul in
the OR&N shops at the Dalles. In 1889 it was renumbered to OR&N # 2.

   In 1891 the Union Pacific Railroad took control of the OR&N and the Blue
Mountain became Union Pacific # 283. In 1894, when the OR&N returned to
operations under it's own name, it received the number "3".

   In May 1894 the Columbia River experienced a major flood. Main line
operations were disrupted for weeks, and the upper half of the portage railroad
was washed out. In view of the light traffic on the line, the damage was not repaired,
and the portage railroad was eventually reduced to a stub operation shipping salmon
to a cannery owned by the Warren Packing Company. The Columbia remained to
serve the canning operation for another dozen years until the line was converted to
mule power about 1906.

Mill Creek 1894 to 1905:

   The OR&N shipped the Blue Mountain back to Walla Walla in the summer of
1894 to assist the Mountain Queen on the Mill Creek Flume Railroad. By this time
traffic on the narrow gauge line to Dixie had been impacted by a competing railroad,
for in 1889 the Northern Pacific Railroad had constructed a standard gauge line from
Walla Walla to Dixie and on to Dayton. The remaining traffic apparently did not
warrant two locomotives, and the Mountain Queen was sold to the Ilwaco Railway &
Navigation Company in 1900, leaving the Blue Mountain as the last narrow gauge
engine in Walla Walla.

   During this time the Blue Mountain was likely stationed at Dudley (Tracy)
as the OR&N maintained narrow gauge locomotive facilities there. OR&N maps
also show a one-stall narrow gauge engine house in Walla Walla. On the Dixie and
Tracy lines the Blue Mountain hauled wheat, cord wood, and clay. A narrow gauge
spur led into the Walla Walla State Penitentiary where clay was used to
make bricks.

   On November 23, 1903 the narrow gauge was sold to a new entity, the Mill
Creek Railroad, and the Northern Pacific subsequently assumed control of the line.
With a parallel railroad to Dixie, the N.P. likely had little use for the narrow gauge.
By June 1905 the Northern Pacific had terminated narrow gauge operations. Some
of the tracks, probably the Tracy spur, and some yard trackage in Walla Walla,
were converted to standard gauge, and the rest was dismantled.

Nome, Alaska 1906 to 1992:

   With the end of narrow gauge operation in Walla Walla the Northern
Pacific sold the Blue Mountain to the Seward Peninsula Railway in Nome, Alaska.
The Blue Mountain was shipped by steamer to Nome and the engine went to work in
the Nome gold fields in the summer of 1906. The Seward Peninsula Railway was built
in 1900 to serve gold mining operations in the hills east of Nome. Until the arrival of
the Blue Mountain the line was operated exclusively with Climax geared locomotives
due to the very rough trackage over the swampy tundra.

   Pictures taken in Nome show the engine had been modernized. While the
engine had earlier been converted from burning wood to using coal, the diamond
stack was removed (the old wood burning stack having been replaced at an earlier time),
and a straight shot gun stack was installed. The engine also received modern air brakes
and no longer had to rely on the tender brakes that were standard back in 1877.

   The Blue Mountain's operating life in Nome lasted only five years. At the
time the Blue Mountain arrived, the Seward Peninsula Railroad was involved
in a major expansion that increased the length of the line from about twenty miles
to more than 90 miles, running from Nome all the way to Shelton on the Kutzitrin River.
However the Nome boom was nearly over, and traffic did not meet expectations.
Regular train service ended in the summer of 1910. The Blue Mountain was
never to run again.

   The engine was stored outside the old engine facilities in Nome for many years
while repeated efforts to reopen the railroad failed. It was still in reasonably good
condition in the 1930s. Sometime in the 1940's it was run off the city dock into the
Bering Sea to act as rip-rap for the Nome sea wall. Thanks to the extremely
cold water and the fact that the Bering Sea is frozen much of the year, the engine
survived it's immersion in salt water surprisingly well.

   While the engine lay in the water slowly accumulating barnacles, the
Seward Peninsula Railroad survived as a public railroad owned by the state
of Alaska. "Trains" were pulled by a variety of motive power, including dog
teams, converted trucks, and small gasoline powered locomotives. Part of the line
was used in the 50s and 60s as an increasingly popular tourist railroad with the
Suzy-Q motor car and trailer operated by Chuck Reader. The tourist operation
success in turn led to thoughts of reviving steam operations on the line.
Herb Engstrom, a Nome miner with gold mining operations in the Nome River
Valley, at first intended to obtain one of the Wild Goose Railroad Climax
locomotives from Ophir Creek, but when that engine was shipped to
Anchorage, he decided to retrieve the Blue Mountain from the seawall.
He dragged the locomotive up to Front Street, a road running parallel to the beach.
For several years the locomotive sat on display on a short section of track next to
his Front Street home. By this time the engine was reduced to it's frame,cylinders,
running gear and boiler. The cab, stack, sand dome, running gear and pilot were lost.
Herb ordered a new boiler to be built from the Seattle Boiler Works and had it shiped to
Nome. The new boiler was then installed on the old frame. The front wheel was removed
and a small four wheel truck was installed making the Blue Mountain a 4-4-0. During
this time Herb Engstrom died leaving his dream unfinished. As time went by the engine
sat in its shed untouched. Herb daughter June decided to sell the engine and began
advertising it. The ad was noticed by Doctor Klipper from Kennewick, Washington
who in turn notified the society, and plans were made to buy and move the
locomotive back to Washington. A society member was sent to help with the
loading of the engine in Nome.

Return To Washington State:

   The Blue Mountain returned to Washington State in 1992 the same way it traveled
to Nome in 1905: by ship. The Crowley Marine Company and the Neil F. Lampson Co.
teamed up together to move the engine. The Crowley Marine Co. generously donated
the shipment from Nome to Seattle, and the Lampson Co. donated the trucking move
from the Seattle docks to Pasco.

   The Blue Mountain was cleaned up and the old boiler was put back on the engine.
The original front wheel was also put back on the frame returning the engine to its 0-6-0
configuration. It was then taken back to the Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla,
Washington for the 125th anniversary of the Walla Walla & Columbia River
Railroad founded by Dr. Baker, where it sat on display near the bank for a month.
The little engine had come full circle and returned to its first home. The locomotive
will someday be restored cosmetically as a static center piece for the
Washington State Railroads Historical Society Museum.

The Blue Mountain The Early Years.

The Blue Mountain At Work Near Nome Alaska.

The Blue Mountain Before The Sea Wall.

The Blue Mountain Behind The Sea Wall 1953.

The Blue Mountain Under Restoration.

The Blue Mountain In Walla Walla For The 125th Anniversary.

Questions and Comments to The WSRHS:        

  • Return To TheMuseum Home Page.