Steam locomotive to return to the Pacific Northwest from Arizona

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SEATTLE — A steam locomotive that worked for years in the Pacific Northwest is headed home after a vacation in Arizona.

Former Northern Pacific No. 1762 and Spokane, Portland & Seattle No. 539, a 2-8-2 Mikado built in 1917, has been acquired by the Port of Kalama, located along the Columbia River near Longview Wash.

The locomotive is currently held by the Grand Canyon Railway in Arizona. Mark Wilson, the port’s executive director, said logistics are still being worked out for the locomotive’s move, so there’s no date as to when it might be headed to Kalama.

The port has budgeted $375,000 for the project, including $100,000 for the locomotive itself and $163,000 for moving it, Wilson said.

Once returned, the locomotive will be on display in an interpretive center at the port.

Although the locomotive is currently in SP&S livery, “Our interest is related to its beginning as a Northern Pacific locomotive, though the SP&S worked in our area as well,” Wilson said. “Kalama as a community was built by the NP in 1870.”

The locomotive was built by American Locomotive Works in Dunkirk, N.Y., at an original cost of $36,631. According to the website Locomotive Wiki, it initially operated on freight service on the Northern Pacific.

In 1944 the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway Co. (originally incorporated in 1905 as a joint venture by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific) acquired it and renumbered it as No. 539.

No. 539 was retired on Oct. 4, 1957, and donated to the city of Vancouver, Wash., which put it on display in Esther Short Park until 1997.

From there, the locomotive went to Battle Ground, Wash., where it sat in a park awaiting restoration to operating status for dinner train excursions, according to one press account. But that project as never launched, and in 2007 Grand Canyon Railway acquired it.

Grand Canyon too had ideas about restoring No. 539 to operating status but never went ahead.

“Grand Canyon Railway currently has two fully operational locomotives, 4960 and 29, and has no plans in the foreseeable future to begin the extensive restoration project on 539, so when the railway was approached by the Port of Kalama to return this piece of Kalama history, it made perfect sense to do so,” said Rene Mack, a public relations representative for Xanterra Travel Collection, a National Park concessionaire and operator of the Grand Canyon railroad.

When it arrives, the locomotive will go into a building specifically designed to accommodate a locomotive. The port hopes to land some grant funds to cover relocation expenses.

As for whether the locomotive will wear NP or SP&S livery in its new home, Wilson said, “I have been thinking that it would be interesting to do both – SP&S on one side, NP on the other.”
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