Monday, January 12, 2009

NP 218 at South Tacoma Shops

Northern Pacific Railways 218, South Tacoma, February 1961. My buddy El Purington and I had ventured south of Seattle to the Northern Pacific’s South Tacoma Shops.

As I remember it, there were two interurban cars on a storage track down there, destined for the Puget Sound Railroad Historical Association at Snoqualmie. And a “work crew” had been called out to do some cosmetic work on the cars prior to their delivery to the museum site. You can barely make out the cars just behind the gondola car on right side of NP 218.

Ah, yes, it all comes back to me now! The varnished interior of the cars had been painted over, and it was our task, as volunteers, to remove that paint. The smell of paint remover comes back to me now! And of course, no visit to South Tacoma would be complete without checking out the latest attraction at the B&I Circus Store!

As with the other transcontinental players, the Northern Pacific Railway (not Railroad, not Railways) has many interesting antidotes surrounding its arrival in the Pacific Northwest. And there was a period of time when it was thought that my hometown – Port Townsend – would be the Pacific Terminus for the Railway. That led to a lot of activity up here on the Quimper Peninsula that ended in great disappointment for a lot of movers, shakers, and speculators!

Well, Tacoma eventually became the Western Terminus, and the size of this shop facility demonstrates its importance as “the end of the line!” I don’t recall we bothered to drive down to South Tacoma Shops facility; as I recall it had a controlled entrance. The shop buildings stretch "as far as the eye can see" behind NP 218.

The sprawling plant operated from 1890 until its closure in 1974. The facility was composed of 36 separate brick buildings, about a mile and a half in length, covering 15 acres. At it’s peak, more than 12-hundred craftsmen, representing almost two dozen locomotive and car repair professions, were employed to build, rebuild and service anything that traveled on wheels for Northern Pacific west of the Mississippi.

South Tacoma’s Reclamation Yard is where a lot of steam ended their lives.

Northern Pacific pulled out, destroying the large brick shops, in 1974. This diagram for re-development will give you an idea how big the facility was.

Railroad Stuff:Northern Pacific Railway 218, built by Electro Motive Division in 1955 as a GP9, 1,750 hp, in 1955, serial number 20305. Retired in February 1983.

4 Comments - Click here:

Kurt Clark said...

I recall that Mr. Purington provided the audio track for a video tape we have that highlights the NP's "Casey Jones Excursions" of the late 1950s. Without it, the show would be very quiet!

Oil-Electric said...

Elwins's recordings were used as backgrounds for many silent films transferred to video. He was a perfectionist trying to match "chuff - chuff - chuffs" from his vast wire and tape audio collection to a locomotive on the screen without the benefit of a "downtown" audio recording facility with A and B tracks, mixers and synchronization and so on and so forth. He got burned out on it after just a few videos.

Rick said...

My Grandfather, William Gildart, worked as a blacksmith in the south Tacoma shops from around 1920 until he retired in 1960. I would be interested in conversing with anyone who has knowledge about this area.
Rick Gildart
rgildart99@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I remember as a 14 yr old going through the NP shops off South Tacoma Way after they were closed and seeing all the equipment left behind as if everyone had just vanished from those shops. I told my friend who was with me that it was sort of spooky looking around and seeing cloths,coffee pots,TV's and tools still sitting there like everyone would be back soon. Also after they tore down the shops I remember my dad buying a lot of the brick's from those building and building our house out of them.

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