Lessons learned from trackside and on board with Skookum at Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, March 20, 2019

We concluded our Trains magazine-sponsored photo charter Monday at the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, where we enjoyed several days of steam preservation operations. There, we were reminded of some important truths. We learned a few new lessons, too while taking in all of the motion in the running gear of 2-4-4-2 Skookum, the classic good looks of Polson Logging 2-8-2 No. 2, and the well- proportioned and mighty McCloud River 2-6-2 No. 25 along Tillamook Bay and in the foothills of the Coast Range east of Portland on the former Southern Pacific branch. Among the many findings, I will share these three thoughts:

*The rare and wonderful steam locomotive named Skookum, the objective of our trip, is a fascinating 110-year-old locomotive with a personality all its own. It’s prone to slip its back drivers on rails wet with morning dew. It’s easy on water consumption, most likely thanks to compounding and the light load it was carrying. And it’s capable, after 63 years in a state of disassembly and a long and slow restoration, of trying the patience of its keepers as well as those who came to study it in steam. Anticipating Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s restored Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 and Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 No. 4014, the Year of the Articulateds, as I like to refer to 2019, will always be remembered as getting off to a fantastic start with this most unique of North American locomotives.

* The Oregon Coast Scenic crews are not only resourceful but patient and hard working to an extreme. When Skookum decided to misbehave and broke its left rear eccentric crank last week, the offending part was off to a machine shop in hours and the engine repaired before our event began last Thursday. When it happened a second time at the end of the day Friday, the repair was made on site in the hands of capable OCS crews assisted by regional talent. The engine was ready to go again on Monday. Their steadfast commitment to returning the engine to steam and impressing the 80 photo charter participants gathered will be remembered for its heroic results: Skookum ran three of the four days we’d hoped for, and on the day when it was not available, the crew fired up No. 25 and it and No. 2 carried on while the shop forces concentrated on the star of the show. With the problem pinned to a lubrication issue, which can be solved, Skookum seems to be on the road to a great future at its next venue, California’s Niles Canyon Railway.

* After a long, cold winter, there are few things more pleasant than standing where you can overlook a locomotive in steam with the beautiful Tillamook Bay in the background on a sunny day when the temperature hovers in the low 70s. May we all enjoy many more such days. With eagles and egrets in flight over head, it is a splendid place for a preservation railroad.

There’s much more I could write about this event, this locomotive, and this remarkable railroad. I will be doing so in the coming days here and also in the June issue of Trains. We are busy preparing a 60-minute video, Skookum Lives! The Lazarus Locomotive in Action, with the best clips from our trip, experts on the engine, and much more of its history. This video will be available for purchase soon. We’re also just about ready, possibly as early as tomorrow, to announce our next photo charter adventure. You won’t want to miss it.

For now, I can say is thank you to the great people at Oregon Coast Scenic for an incredible performance. Thank you to the customers who traveled from across the continent and as far as Europe to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime event. And thank you to our photo charter great coordinators, Kevin Gilliam, Michael Summers, and OCS’s Martin Hansen, whose tireless efforts to restore and operate steam make me proud to call him friend. To Skookum, you have been a little reluctant to return to operation, but I think you will like it now that your admirers know about you. Welcome back to the land of the living!

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