The Return to Steam of Polson Logging Co. 2-8-2 #70


Brian T. Wise, General Manager
Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad
September 2011

In April, 1922, the Baldwin Locomotive Works constructed a 70-ton 2-8-2 “Mikado” type locomotive at the request of the Polson Brothers Logging Company for their logging operation near Hoquiam, Washington. Polson already had two other logging “Mikes” on their roster, both constructed some ten years earlier, and decided that their new locomotive would be mechanically similar. Thus the #70 was built with a non-superheated boiler, D-slide valves with Stephenson link motion, and split bearings on all rods at a time when superheated steam, piston valves with Walschaerts valve motion, and bushed rods were the industry standard.

The #70 operated for Polson Logging, and later Rayonier, Inc., at the Hoquiam operation until 1963. Under private ownership, the locomotive then spent the next 30 years at the Northwest Railway Museum (originally the Puget Sound Railway Historical Association) in Snoqualmie, Washington, where it operated for the public on the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad. In 1992, the #70 was purchased at auction by the Western Forest Industries Museum and moved to their Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (MRSR) shops in Mineral, Washington. Rebuilding of the #70 began on September 11, 2001, and slowly progressed over the next ten years.

The #70 is torn down to its bare frame

Overall the #70 was completely worn out from its almost 70 years of operation under various owners. At Mineral, the locomotive was torn down to its bare frame with the boiler removed. Three of the main driving wheel sets received new axles, including the #3 axle which had to be precisely machined for the eccentric lobes. All of the driving wheels received new or re-machined tires. All of the driving boxes were re-machined and were fitted with new or re-machined crown brasses and thrust bearings. Once the frame was cleaned and found to be straight and square, all new cast iron shoes and wedges were machined and fitted up. Similarly, both the lead and trailing trucks were completely rebuilt with new pins and bushings, re-profiled tires and re-babbitted axle bearings. To distribute the weight of the locomotive properly, the locomotive’s entire equalizing system consisting of various springs, hangers, saddles, equalizers, pins and bushings were re-newed. Other running-gear work included all new split-bearings in the side and connecting rods, re-machined crank pins, re-babbitted crossheads, re-machined slide valves and valve rods, bored out cylinders (to remove pitting), new piston rods, and re-machined pistons with new rings (the pistons having been enlarged by 1/4” in diameter by fusion welding to match the new cylinder bores).

The #70’s boiler received a substantial amount of attention as well. Previous operations of the boiler had been hampered by various defects including cracking in and around the throat sheet, and leaks at the left side wrapper sheet and backhead knuckle. Repeated attempts to repair the defects eventually caused the boiler to be removed from service. To start, MRSR removed all of the boiler’s 2-inch tubes and then completely cleaned the boiler inside and out. Non-destructive testing (ultra-sound) of the boiler plates was performed. Then several sections of the firebox, wrapper sheets and throat sheet were replaced with new material. Further non-destructive testing (radiography) of other areas of concern revealed material defects that required repair. Following all of the sheet repairs, new 2-inch tubes were prepared and installed into the boiler barrel.

New cab is constructed

Cosmetically, the #70 received a brand new cab, constructed exactly as the original, with all new wood work. A new boiler-tube pilot was also fabricated and installed. The tender’s cistern had about half of its sides replaced with new steel, all around. The tender trucks were rebuilt, and the deck received new wood planks. A new drawbar and spring-loaded buffer were installed. After the oil bunker was cleaned and painted, it was installed into the cistern opening. New plumbing, paint and lettering completed the tender project.

During the last several years of the #70 project, it was decided that the locomotive would be rebuilt to appear much as it did around 1938. This was predicated by several factors, but most importantly the type of air compressor that needed to be installed on the side of the boiler. The #70 was built with a 9-inch single phase air compressor. At some point prior to 1938, the pump was replaced with a larger 11-inch single phase model. A photo taken in 1938 clearly shows the #70 with this size pump and lettered for the “Polson Logging Co.” Prior to Polson being purchased by Rayonier, Inc. in 1945, the 11-inch pump was replaced with a 10-1/2-inch cross-compound model. During this conversion, Polson welded a pair of brackets directly to the boiler barrel to support the wider pump. MRSR removed these illegally applied brackets (and subsequently radiographed their locations), and decided to use the original Baldwin air compressor bracket as-is. MRSR had both a 9-1/2-inch and an 11-inch air pump on hand and opted to go with the larger capacity single phase pump. Other items installed to help back-date the #70 included a Pyle-National type E-2 turbo generator and a very large converted kerosene headlight.

The #70 returns to service

The project came to fruition on October 28, 2010, with the first steaming of the boiler, during which the steam chests were steamed clear of debris. Following a successful FRA steam test, the pistons and valves were installed, main rods connected and locomotive brakes fitted up and tested. The first movement of the #70 under its own power occurred on February 16, 2011, followed by her public debut pulling MRSR’s Mother’s Day trains on May 8, 2011. Refinements continue to be made to the #70, including a brand new steel boiler jacket and further painting.

The #70 has proven herself to be a very capable machine pulling the regularly scheduled excursion trains, often hauling five coaches up the 2.8% grade to Mineral Lake. Now MRSR’s main piece of motive power, the #70 is supported by Willamette #2, Climax #10 and Heisler #91, all of which are stored operational. The MRSR shop is currently performing an FRA 1472-day overhaul of ex-Hammond Lumber 2-8-2T #17, after which it will share regularly excursion duties with the #70.