Skookum and Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, March 11, 2019

Today is a travel day for me. I’m on the way from Milwaukee to Portland (currently bumping along over Iowa at 40,000 feet -- surely not even the Rock Island in its dying days was this bad!) and eventually the Pacific shores at Garibaldi, Ore., a lovely seaside village and world headquarters of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. I’m heading there for our Trains magazine-sponsored photo charter with the legendary 2-4-4-2 No. 7 Skookum. An update on some last-minute drama with the photo charter in a moment, but first, a few words about Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.

In the U.S. railway preservation community, there are a handful of operations that are well known for their unflinching commitment to steam: Strasburg, Cass, Tennessee Valley, Cumbres & Toltec, and Durango & Silverton, to name a few. You can always count on them to have steam, and to have a roster of locomotives ready to go or in the shop being groomed. And then there are some, like Oregon Coast, that have come out of nowhere in recent years and are on the cusp of being known for steam in the region and nationally.

The Pacific Northwest has been an amazingly strong region for consistently offering steam at a variety of operations: Sumpter Valley, Chehalis, the engines of the Oregon Railroad Heritage Center, among others. For years, Washington’s Mount Rainier Scenic, funded by the late Tom Murray, was the darling of Pacific Northwest. It offered geared and rod driven locomotives and often more than two or three engines at a time.

Scott Wickert set up Oregon Coast Scenic some 16 years ago on the former Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad, which itself was the former Southern Pacific Tillamook branch. When I last visited in 2006 with my fellow steam fan, David Crosby, we enjoyed seeing, riding, and photographing Curtiss Lumber Co. 2-truck Heisler No. 2, along the Pacific Ocean inlets. Since that visit, Scott added more motive power, notably McCloud River 2-6-2 No. 25, the most ideally proportioned Prairie-type in my opinion. You can take the engine in with one glance: No need to study the engine back and forth. It’s all there in one compact but powerful package. I last saw No. 25 on home rails in northern California in 2008, and I look forward to renewing the acquaintance.

Right now, I’m eager to see what happens with Skookum. Last Thursday when Oregon Coast crews had the engine out for a break in run, something happened with an eccentric rod on the fireman’s side, and the part got damaged. The crew made repairs and planned to start moving the engine again. I hope it’s back in time for our trips that start Thursday. Wish us luck. And if you’re going to be at Winterail in Corvalis, Ore., on Saturday, I’ll see you there.




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