Engine that once hauled logs and sat in a mall parking lot is now an ambassador to Washington’s timber-rich past

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Fourteen tons may not sound tiny, but everything is relative. And when visitors to the Mt. Rainier Railroad see the 14-ton Satsop engine and its 80-ton and larger companion locomotives, the word “tiny” does come to mind.

This little engine, the Satsop Railroad #1, was built in June, 1885 by H.K. Porter. It was one of only four standard-gauge Porter 0-4-2T’s built for the logging industry in Washington state, and was the first conventional (rod type) steam locomotive in Mason County.

Before aviation giants, international coffee sirens and global tech companies dominated the economic scene of the Pacific Northwest, the early economic drivers in the region were trains and timber. The Satsop RR #1 is part of that history.

Satsop RR #1 has had an unusual existence since it rolled off of Porter’s erecting floor in 1885. Originally named “Currie,” then later the “C.F. White,” the #1 hauled logs and performed other switching duties for several railroad entities, all of which were components of the Simpson Logging Company.

Satsop RR #1 became the Washington Southern Railroad #1 in 1891, then the Peninsular Railway #1 in 1895, followed by the Shelton Logging Co. #1 in 1899. Three years later, the #1 was once again a Peninsular Railway Co. engine, but was renumbered to #6. Finally, in 1935, the #6 became Simpson Logging Co. #1.

After more than 60 years of service, the Satsop was placed on display at Simpson’s Camp Grisdale, a planned community built for lumberjacks and their families.

The story didn’t end there, as Simpson engineer and prolific live-steam locomotive manufacturer Dave Skagen, together with Bill Parsons, acquired the #1 in 1985. The engine was moved to Parsons’ shop where the boiler was re-tubed.

The #1 was then relocated to Skagen’s shop where the rest of the locomotive was rehabilitated to serviceable condition. Skagen operated the Porter on track built around his property, together with a small, scratch-built “bobber”-style caboose.

In 1995, the Satsop RR #1, caboose and a four-wheel, center-dump ballast car were sold to the SuperMall of the Great Northwest (now the Outlet Collection Seattle) in Auburn, and moved there for display outside the mall’s south entrance.

When the SuperMall changed their branding, the little Satsop engine was donated to the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad Railroad, founded in 1981 by Tom Murray.

Wayne Rankin and the Satsop locomotive. (Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum)
Wayne Rankin and the Satsop locomotive. (Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum)

Volunteers poured their hearts into the engine and worked to return it to glory. Now the Satsop is the only engine on display at the museum that guests can climb up into, ring the bell and see what the inside of a cab of a steam locomotive looks like.

Murray recently handed the baton to industry entrepreneur Al Harper and entertainment expert Wayne Rankin. The name was changed to the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum. “Preservation of the historic steam train collection and steam train excursions is our priority,” says Rankin.

The Mt. Rainier Railroad operates weekly excursions May through October from the depot in Elbe. The steam trains carry passengers through the forest and over the glacial-fed Upper Nisqually River before arriving at the museum grounds, where passengers can explore the exhibits then ride back to the Elbe depot.

Visitors to the logging museum will see the most comprehensive collection of steam-powered logging locomotives in North America. These engines are testaments to the problem-solving ingenuity required for navigating the challenging terrain of the rural West Coast forests. Imagine the precision machining, done by hand, required to build and operate 80+ tons of steel hauling additional tonnage of timber.

From the tiny 14-ton Satsop to the giant 99-ton Heisler, the House of Gears and Rod House are home to an impressive collection of rare steam engines, and offer a tangible link back to Washington’s early days of trains and timber.

The Mt. Rainier Railroad is a steam-powered railway operating in Washington State. The museum is a nonprofit organization operating under the direction of Western Forest Industries Museum. For more information visit MtRainierRailroad.com or call 888-STEAM-11.