Our museum’s Shay Engine, Number 2147, is the only surviving Shay from our Little River Railroad. However, Number 110, which was the pride and joy of the Little River Railroad, as well as the smallest Pacific steam locomotive ever built in the United States, is still running today in Coldwater, Michigan. We’re proud to boast in this blog that Number 110 is no longer alone. Another former steam locomotive from our railroad is under steam again.
In 1909, the Baldwin Locomotive Works got its first order for a Mallet steam engine to be used on a logging railroad. The railroad was the Little River Railroad, located in the Great Smoky Mountains. Little River’s owner, Colonel W. B. Townsend, ordered a special designed locomotive, one light enough for the flimsy tracks of his logging railroad, but powerful enough to exceed the pulling capacity of the typical steam engines of the time. The engine, Number 126, was delivered before year’s end, but returned little more than a month later, because its wheelbase and weight were too much for the tracks of Colonel Townsend’s Smoky Mountain operation.
Baldwin’s salesmen began to canvass the country for a new buyer for the returned Mallet setting in Baldwin’s factory yard. They found one in June of 1910, the Whitney Logging Company of Astoria, Oregon. Whitney named their new locomotive “Skookum,” a Native American name meaning “powerful, brave, sturdy, tough, durable, exceptional.” After a year in service, local newspapers in the area were reporting Skookum’s dazzling success. Thanks to all the positive press, Baldwin was soon inundated with orders for more logging Mallets from all over the Pacific Northwest.
From its time with the Whitney Company, Skookum ended up running the rails of several different logging railroads, until finally ending up on the Deep River Railroad in Washington. For twenty-two years Skookum served as Deep River’s primary locomotive. Then, on Wednesday, February 23, 1955, Skookum derailed going over a trestle, a short time later she ended up on her side in the muddy creek bed below. There, she was abandoned to slumber for years.
In 1960, Skookum was raised from her grave piece by piece and trucked to a railroad museum in Snoqualmie, Washington. After passing through several hands and failed attempts to rebuild her, she finally ended up at the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, where she has now been reassembled and test fired. Sixty-three years after her derailment and abandonment, Skookum is once again on the rails with the promise of running for decades to come. I guess its save to say that this powerful, brave, sturdy, tough, durable, and exceptional locomotive has definitely lived up to its name—Skookum!