If the smell of a diesel engine and the chugging of a vintage train gets you all in a tizzy, the Northwest Railway Museum may be just the place for you, as it is for its volunteers...
Name: Lee Fellinge.
Hometown: Born in Newport Beach, Calif.; now residing in Sammamish.
Affiliation: Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie.
What: Volunteer locomotive engineer, trustee of the Northwest Railway Museum, and Sammamish city councilman.
Good thing to know: Locomotive engineers need to know the train track yard by yard so they can increase or decrease speeds in advance, Fellinge says.
His story: If the smell of a diesel engine and the chugging of a vintage train gets you all in a tizzy, the Northwest Railway Museum may be just the place for you, as it is for its volunteers.
“It’s kind of like departing from a railroad station a hundred years ago,” said locomotive engineer Lee Fellinge of the Snoqualmie Depot.
The depot is home to the museum and several older locomotives.
Fellinge doesn’t even seem to mind when the antiquated machinery needs repairs and the air brakes or the windows need replacing. He’s volunteered as a locomotive engineer for the museum since 2000, and he’s still learning and teaching others about the intricacies of each mechanical beast.
For example: “It’s not the diesel engine that actually moves the wheels on the locomotive,” he said, before diving into an in-depth explanation of locomotive mechanics as only a man clearly fascinated with his railway expeditions could.
After a career in corporate finance, Fellinge became a freight-train conductor for Union Pacific Railroad in 1998. But, after deciding the job’s 24-hour-a-day demands did not suit him, he began volunteering as a locomotive engineer for the museum.
“What draws me to them is partly just the mechanical operation of a railroad,” said Fellinge. “Not only were they an amazing civil-engineering feat back in the 1800s, but then I’m also intrigued with how they transformed life in the United States and the world.”
Now, he trades off operating a locomotive with other volunteers a few times a month, winding visitors on a 65-minute ride over rivers, by mountains and through wetlands on tracks long used to transport hops, lumber and coal. The train departs from Snoqualmie, traveling within view of Mount Si southeast to North Bend. After a stop in North Bend where passengers can debark as they please, the train heads back northwest to Snoqualmie Falls.
Burlington Northern Railroad stopped using the rails officially in 1975, and later donated the tracks to the museum.
The museum’s passenger cars were built between 1912 and 1915 and some were modified in the late 1940s and early ’50s, providing passengers with an “interpretive ride” to North Bend or Snoqualmie Falls.
The Snoqualmie Depot was built in 1890 by several railway companies and was restored to its original grandeur in 1981. The museum now displays diesel and the older steam locomotives along with freight and passenger cars.
The volunteer engineers are so devoted to re-creating the original atmosphere of the vintage trains that they use complicated hand signals rather than radios to communicate with one another.
Fellinge relishes the feeling of history brought alive.
“It’s having the feeling that you’re taking this equipment, restoring it to the way it was when it was first built 50 to 100 years ago, and then operating as it was operated in the era.”
His summer events:
Pops on Us: Father’s Day special at the Northwest Railway Museum, June 19-20. Fathers ride free when accompanying a paying child. Free soda pop with each train ticket. 38625 S.E. King St., Snoqualmie (www.trainmuseum.org, 425-888-3030).
Day Out With Thomas: The cheerfully smiling face of a full-size locomotive painted like the storybook locomotive Thomas the Tank Engine pulls the train. Sir Topham Hatt, a character from the same stories, will be dressed to greet guests. July 9-11 and July 16-18, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., $14, 38625 S.E. King St., Snoqualmie (866-468-7623, www.trainmuseum.org/DOWT/Thomas_main.htm)
The details: Northwest Railway Museum with historical displays is open 10:15 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays year-round; from Memorial Day through October, the museum opens for additional hours 10:15 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Free admission. Vintage trains depart several times a day on Saturdays and Sundays, April-October; hours vary, $5-$8, 38625 S.E. King St., Snoqualmie (www.trainmuseum.org, 425-888-3030).
Jennifer Lloyd, staff reporter
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