Steam switcheroo

Engine No. 40 sits at the Alaska Marine Lines staging area awaiting its trip home to Colorado. Dimitra Lavrakas

No. 40 out, No. 69 coming back


The White Pass and Yukon Route is shipping steam engine No. 40 back to its home in Georgetown, Colo. after two summer seasons in the North. However, the railroad won’t be losing any steam power: WP&YR recently acquired one of its old engines, No. 69, from a museum in Nebraska.
No. 40 originally was leased for five years from the Georgetown railroad as a replacement for WP&YR’s main steam performer, No. 73, while it underwent restoration, said company Vice President Gary Danielson. But the little engine did not work as well as expected.
“It became clear to us that No. 40 was not an engine to be used on the hill,” Danielson said. “We have reached an amicable end to the lease,” adding that it will leave Skagway by barge this week.
The Colorado engine arrived in June 2000 in time to be part of the railroad’s centennial celebration a month later in Carcross, sharing the spotlight with No. 73. During that celebration, it was announced that the railroad would be returning to Carcross in 2001. No. 40 would have been an ideal engine for lakeside service on a Bennett-Carcross run, Danielson said, however that service was postponed indefinitely due to the need for extensive roadbed upgrades required by Transport Canada.
Last spring, No. 40 and No. 73 were used to push Rotary Plow No. 1 during snow removal operations on the pass – a three-steam photo opportunity that had not been seen since the 1950s. Then No. 73 went in the shops for its year-long rehab, and No. 40 was called on for regular steam duty. It performed well in 2001, but only after extensive modifications, Danielson said.
No. 40 had run on a five-mile-loop in Colorado, and was not used to the rigors of the White Pass.
“A lot of the things we had to do to her didn’t become noticeable till it did a long haul on the railroad,” Danielson said. “After the work was done, she ran great last summer, especially on the flat areas and would have been great for service along the lake.”
But with that service not expected until at least 2003, and No. 73 coming back on line next June to do the Saturday steam runs from Skagway to Bennett, that meant No. 40 really wasn’t needed anymore.

Engine No. 69 as it looked when it ran on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of local historian Carl Mulvihill.

No. 69 at the Stuhr Museum in Nebraska was traded back to WP&YR for four historically correct trucks. Photo courtesy of the Stuhr Museum.

In the meantime, the railroad had always been looking to bring back one of its own, Danielson said, and No. 69 became available from the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska.
“After some discussions, a deal was worked out with their board to acquire the engine for three sets of wooden trucks,” Danielson said.
Those historically correct trucks are hard to find, he added, and White Pass had 10 of them. The wooden trucks, which can be used on passenger or flat cars, were delivered last week by a Hamilton Construction lo-boy truck from Skagway. The lo-boy picked up the engine and moved it to Rader Rail Cars outside Denver, Colo. for storage.
“Whether or not we restore it to operating condition or cosmetically for display, at some point she will be coming back to Skagway,” Danielson said.
Skagway railroad historian Carl Mulvihill said No. 69 was the “most powerful” steam engine that operated on the railroad. The 2-8-0 Baldwin was built especially for the WP&YR and arrived in June 1908. At the time, it was “the largest narrow gauge steam engine ever built,” he added.
“It was primarily used for pushing, as a helper engine,” Mulvihill said. “They didn’t use it north of Bennett. It ran only in summertime, it was too wide for winter use.”
Like many of the older steam engines in its early fleet, No. 69 had an “outside frame” that made it wider and harder to operate in snow.
No. 69 ran on the WP&YR until its retirement in 1954. It was sold in 1956 to the Black Hills Central RR where it operated as “Klondike Casey.” It was acquired by the Nebraska Midland Railway in 1973, and by the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in 1975.
Mulvihill operated the engine on the museum’s 1.5-mile track during a visit there in the 1980s. However, over the years it developed mechanical problems, and the museum ran out of money to properly restore it, Mulvihill said.
The museum’s directors, in a July letter to the Grand Island Independent newspaper, estimated repairs to the boiler would cost a minimum of $370,000. It decided it could no longer run a steam train at the expense of other museum programs.
“The deaccessioning of locomotive 69 is part of a larger design,” the board wrote in the letter, which was posted on the museum’s Website. “The transfer of the locomotive to another organization is best not only for your Stuhr Museum, but also for engine 69. It is our desire that it receives continued care, be accessible to the public and return to Alaska. It is an extremely rare opportunity for the Stuhr to be able to return engine 69 to its home – to the organization that created its specifications and ordered it from the Baldwin factory in 1908.”