Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alaska's Future Steam Program

Alaska Railroad 557; Wasilla, Alaska; September 22, 2013
In the last edition we looked at the last operating steam locomotive in interior Alaska at the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum in Fairbanks. And while the TVRM and the White Pass & Yukon are both narrow gauge, there is a movement to bring standard-gauge steam to the Alaska Railroad.

Alaska Railroad 557; Wasilla, Alaska; September 22, 2013
The big steam news in Alaska is the repatriation of Alaska Railroad 2-8-0 No. 557, which is undergoing restoration in Wasilla. No. 557 was built by Baldwin in 1944 for the United States Army Transportation Corps as No. 3523, but was immediately diverted (along with 11 sisters) to Alaska for World War II logistics. Eventually, No. 557 would become the last steam locomotive in service on the ARR, finishing its career in Nenana where it would occasionally switch the yard when flood waters made diesels non-functional. It would also be used for special events. The last use for No. 557 came in 1962 as it shuttled passenger trains through flood waters at Nenana, handing the trains off to diesels at either end of the water. In 1964 the locomotive was purchased by a scrap dealer in Everett, Wash., but was saved by Monte Holm, who bought the engine for his “House of Poverty” museum in Moses Lake, Wash. (the locomotive and its original tender were separated prior to the move from Alaska).
Alaska Railroad 557; Wasilla, Alaska; September 22, 2013
Holm passed away in 2006, and his grandsons sold No. 557 to the Jansen family, long-time friends, who were interested in seeing the engine saved. The locomotive was donated to the Alaska Railroad under the condition that it be restored, and the railroad established the 557 Restoration Company to oversee the work. Currently housed in a shop in Wasilla (owned by the ARR), No. 557 has received a tender from a work train preserved at the nearby Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry and could return to the rails as soon as 2015.
Alaska Railroad 557; Wasilla, Alaska; September 22, 2013
A walk through the Wasilla shop shows the progress being made on the locomotive. The inside of the firebox shows the work done by Art Chase to ultrasound the locomotive to look for thin spots (a few were found).
Art Chase and Alaska Railroad 557; Wasilla, Alaska; September 22, 2013
 Meanwhile, No. 557's cab has been repurposed (temporarily) as the project's gift shop.
Alaska Railroad 557; Wasilla, Alaska; September 22, 2013
Sister engine No. 556 is on display in Delaney Park in downtown Anchorage. It was outfitted with ramps, railings at platforms, making it a large playground jungle gym. It has recently undergone a complete cosmetic restoration that has, thankfully, made it presentable once again.
Alaska Railroad 556; Anchorage, Alaska; September 23, 2013
My visit to Wasilla was in September 2013. Certainly more has been accomplished on the 557. For more information check out 557 Restoration Company.

1 comment:

Art Chase said...

Thanks Steve,
great blog entry. Along with alaskarails.org, here is another info site you might like with additional current status pictures.

http://www.rypn.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=32533

Especially near the end of the thread.

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