Monday, July 28, 2014

Interior Alaska's Only Operating Steam Locomotive

Tanana Valley Railroad Museum; Fairbanks, Alaska; September 14, 2013
The largest state in the U.S. has but one small operating steam locomotive in semi-regular service (the White Pass & Yukon occasionally operates steam on the coast out of Skagway). Today's tour will take us to Fairbanks, where we'll visit Pioneer Park. This park has an interesting story of its own, dating back to 1961 when the Pioneers of Alaska requested public land to establish Pioneer Memorial Park to showcase the history of Alaska. In 1965 the Alaska '67 committee requested the park be used for the centennial celebration of the purchase of Alaska from Russia, which opened as the Alaska Centennial Exposition in 1967. In 1968 Pioneer Memorial Park was donated to the state of Alaska, which immediately donated it to the city of Fairbanks. On May 1, 1968, Fairbanks mayor Red Boucher renamed the park “Alaskaland.” However, since the park has no rides like most theme parks and the Alaskaland name conjured up something similar to Disneyland, the Pioneer Park name was restored in 2002. Today the park is free to enter, although many of the individual museums charge admission.
Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska; September 14, 2013
Pioneer Park has three railroad attractions within its 44 acres. First is an observation car used by President Warren G. Harding when he participated in the ceremony completing the Alaska Railroad in 1923. Second is the narrow gauge Crooked Creek & Whiskey Island Railroad, a three-foot gauge line that circumnavigates the park on about a mile of track and uses a small diesel locomotive for power. The third is the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, which is home to interior Alaska’s only operating steam locomotive.
Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska; September 14, 2013
TVRM has two buildings within Pioneer Park, a large shop building and a smaller museum. It is in this shop where Tanana Valley No. 1, an 0-4-0T, has been restored. Built by H.K. Porter in 1899, No. 1 was purchased by the North American Transportation & Trading Co. for hauling coal from Cliff Creek, 50 miles from Dawson, Yukon Territory. It was sold to the Coal Creek Coal Co. in 1903 and in 1905 it was sold again, this time to the Tanana Mines Railway (later the Tanana Valley Railroad), becoming the first steam locomotive in interior Alaska.

Tanana Valley Railroad Museum; Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska; September 14, 2013
The Tanana Valley was absorbed by the Alaska Railroad in 1917 and No. 1 remained on the ARR roster (albeit “unfit for service”) until it was donated to the City of Fairbanks in 1927 and placed on display at the station. It was moved to Pioneer Park for the Alaska centennial in 1967, and then leased to the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad, Inc., in 1992 for restoration and operation. The museum was built in 2005 and opened in 2006.
Tanana Valley Railroad Museum; Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska; September 14, 2013
Today No. 1 operates on the one-mile loop around Pioneer Park on a limited schedule. The line features a couple of impressive grades, and the little engine works hard pulling its open-air cars. Our visit for these photos occurred in September 2013 as part of the convention of the National Railway Historical Society. More Pioneer Park photos can be found here.
Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska; September 14, 2013

Other Small Alaska Steam

There are a couple of other small steam locomotives on display along the route of the Alaska Railroad, although you’ll have to go almost all the way to Anchorage to find them. Off the main line and not far from Wasilla, you’ll find Premier Coal Company No. 5, a three-foot-gauge 0-4-0T, adjacent to the repurposed Palmer station. The Alaska Railroad’s tracks are still in place at Palmer, although the branch is now only served as far as a gravel mine for freight and as far as the State Fairgrounds at the new South Palmer station for passenger trains. No. 5 was built by Baldwin in 1910, one of three sister locomotives purchased for the construction of the Alaska Railroad.
Premier Coal Company No. 5; Palmer, Alaska; September 22, 2013
In Anchorage you’ll find a standard gauge 0-4-0T on display directly in front of the Alaska Railroad’s depot. This locomotive was built by Davenport in 1907 as a narrow gauge 0-4-0T for the Panama Canal Commission where it worked as No. 802. In 1917 the Alaska Engineering Commission (the predecessor to the Alaska Railroad) received surplus locomotives from Panama and No. 802 became No. 6, working on the construction of the ARR. In 1930 it was converted to standard gauge to serve as the Anchorage shop switcher. Upon retirement in 1947 it was made the “honorary No. 1” and used for special occasions until being placed on its current display pedestal in 1952.
Alaska Railroad "No. 1"; Anchorage, Alaska; September 20, 2013

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