The Willamette Rehabilitation Project at the Western Forest Industries Museum


By Brian Wise, WFIM/MRSR General Manager

Between 1920 and 1929, the Willamette Iron & Steel Works of Portland, Oregon, developed and produced 33 geared steam locomotives based on the popular Shay design from Lima, Ohio. The locomotives built in Portland incorporated a number of changes such as cast steel trucks, steel cabs, and Walschaerts valve gear. WI&S was also a proponent of using piston-style valves with superheated steam, a situation that Lima was loathe to adopt until the Willamette locomotives began eating away at the Pacific Northwest market. Lima countered with their “Pacific Coast” model of the Shay which recaptured the market and effectively put WI&S out of the locomotive business.

The very last of the Willamette locomotives, constructed in December, 1929, was ordered by the J. Neils Lumber Company of Klickitat, Washington, and became their #6. The 75-ton three-truck Willamette operated alongside nemesis Pacific Coast Shay #7 until 1947 when the #6 was sold to Rayonier, Inc. and moved to their Clallam County operation out of Sekiu on the Olympic peninsula, becoming that road’s #2. The “Deuce” labored for Rayonier until 1962, after diesels had finally taken over for the steamers. The #2 was saved from scrapping by employee Jim Gertz, who purchased the locomotive and moved it into a special shed erected on his property in Port Angeles. For the next 40 years the “Deuce” languished in relative obscurity until Mr. Gertz donated the locomotive to the Western Forest Industries Museum for their Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. In October 2002 the #2 was loaded onto a special truck and hauled to the MRSR shops at Mineral, Washington, for an eventual return to operation.

After a sizable grant from the Washington State Historical Society was secured, work began in earnest to return the Willamette to operation. During the summer of 2008 the Willamette was disassembled with the three-cylinder engine and boiler removed from the frame that October. MRSR shop personnel prepared the boiler for repairs while a suitable contractor was selected. By January 2009 MRSR had agreed to contract with Seattle Boiler Works for the repairs. With the boiler in Seattle, the MRSR staff focused on the locomotive’s engine, frame, trucks, tanks, and myriad of parts and pieces. The cab was sent to the shop of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Centralia, Washington, for a new front wall while the locomotive’s air compressor, dynamo and injectors were shipped to Backshop Enterprises, Inc. in Colorado for rebuilding. By the end of June 2009 the repairs to the boiler were completed and the rest of the locomotive was ready for re-assembly.

During the July 4, 2009 weekend the boiler arrived at the MRSR shops and the frame was readied to accept it. The following week a crane was brought on site and the boiler fitted to the frame, followed by the installation of the totally rebuilt three-cylinder engine. Less than two weeks later the boiler was fired up for the first time in order to check for leaks, set the safety valves, and blow out the steam passages to the cylinders. After approval by the FRA inspector, final assembly of the locomotive moved into high gear for a scheduled August 5, 2009 press run.

Working many, many long hours, MRSR personnel installed the final components to make the Willamette operational on Saturday, August 1st. Some of the parts were still being applied that afternoon as a fire was lit and boiler pressure slowly raised with Jim Gertz on hand to witness the proceedings. By 4:00 PM all was ready, and with Mr. Gertz at the throttle, the “Deuce” moved under its own power for the first time in 47 years.

After making a number of test runs in the MRSR yard, the #2 was returned to the shop for a final coat of gloss black paint and silver lettering. Four days later on August 5th, still minus boiler insulation and jacketing (to facilitate inspection of the boiler during the early operations), the #2 made its first “live” appearance for the media, press and dignitaries. Then on August 8th the Willamette operated in a rare triple-header with ex-Hammond Lumber 2-8-2T #17 and ex-Hillcrest Lumber three-truck Climax #10 for the benefit of the public.

Since its public premier the Willamette has continued to receive attention, most notably installation of calcium-silicate block insulation and a new steel boiler jacket, followed by a final coat of gloss black paint. The restoration complete, the #2 is now a lasting and fitting tribute to the men and women of the Willamette Iron & Steel Works, J. Neils Lumber, and Rayonier, Inc.