Washington State History Museum

Yesterday, we took the bus from Tobey Jones to the Washington State History Museum. They had free admission in honor of Martin Luther King’s Birthday.


The museum is housed in the old Union Station which was declared a national monument after train travel became less important and the upkeep of the building became more than the Union Pacific Railroad could afford. Part of it is now the Federal Courthouse and part has been refurbished as the museum. For its size, it has many very interesting exhibits.

I spent a lot of time at the model train layout (thanks to Ray Watters). I found it was really very accurate about Tacoma (and Western Washington in general) for the early part of the 20th century. It was interesting to see places that I’ve heard about in Tacoma’s history that aren’t there any more. It helps to be able to place them accurately, geologically.

There was a small, but nice, section about the history of women’s suffrage in Washington, honoring those early women who led the fight for voting rights for women. (Since it was MLK day, I was particularly interested in minority rights in Washington).

There was also a good series of short films about the Native Americans, and their poor treatment as the area was settled. The focus was on the loss of their cultures and languages. There were over 150 different tribes in Washington State, alone. Much of that is completely lost now.

I watched a longer (about 20 minutes or so) documentary about the Columbia River. It reawakened in me a desire to find out more about the exploitation of the river, because my grandfather worked on the dams around Spokane between 1905 and 1925 or so. My uncle was also an engineer for Portland Power and Light that ran the big hydro-electric dams on the lower Columbia River as well.

There were lots of interactive exhibits with hands-on activities that kids would appreciate. There were also exhibits showing a life-sized passenger rail car (that you could go inside), factory rooms, early dwellings, etc.  There was even a “pioneer” cabin with period clothing in kid sizes that they could dress up in.

I was disappointed not to see anything about Tacoma’s treatment of their Asian populations – either the expulsion of the Chinese in 1885, or the internment of the Japanese during World War II. The fact that this information was missing from the museum made me feel less confident in the other exhibits. I know these were shameful episodes in Tacoma’s history, but it was like I went to a historical museum in Dallas and no mention was made of the Kennedy assassination.

I just did a quick overview of the museum, and I think I will definitely go back.

Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad

Last Saturday, a group of us from Franke Tobey Jones joined folks from the Ruston Senior Center to have a wonderful day on the Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad. Our bus driver took us to Elbe, WA, the terminus for the tour.

We got there in time for breakfast at the local diner which is made from old railroad cars. There’s also a motel behind the restaurant made out of old cabooses.





The interior is has some wonderful old artifacts including this etched window (I hope you can see where it says “Silver Palace Car” and “Southern Pacific 1865”).


They also have a large emblem from Union Pacific Railroad.


The best part, though, are all the model trains – engines and cars – they have on display on a ledge around the top of the walls.

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Elbe is an historic little town with an interesting old church and some old buildings that were there around the turn of the twentieth century. It was a jumping off point for the logging industry who spread out from there to logging camps all over Mt Rainier.

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They have one of the old logging engines and coal cars on static display by the depot.


We looked around their gift shop, and about that time here came the train.



We climbed on board, and settled ourselves for a 45 minute ride to the old logging camp and museum they have set up near Mineral, a little town on the shores of Mineral Lake.


Along the way we passed wild flowers in the fields, and beautiful old trees and second growth forest.

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We crossed a bridge over the Nisqually River which flows out of the glacier on Mt Rainier. Unfortunately the clouds were thick and we couldn’t see the mountain.


After we crossed the river we followed the winding track which ran alongside Mineral Creek.

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We finally arrived at the Railroad Camp.


The Railroad Camp is where they have a museum, many old steam engines, and a whole logging camp set up. The buildings were built on skids and moved from camp to camp by flatcar when the trees in one area had all been logged.


They have one of the “dormitories” set up with furnishings for the women who cooked and cleaned for the lumberjacks. The others will be furnished as bunkhouses as funds become available.

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There were all sorts of equipment from logging donkeys to large steam engines to things I had no idea what they were. I know Ray would love to poke around there. (The one thing I noticed was that none of the engines had cowcatchers. I guess they didn’t need such a thing in the forest.)
















As we rode back to Elbe, we were reminded that Mt Rainier is so big, it creates its own weather. As we crossed the Nisqually, the rains came and we were glad to be snug in the railcar, and close to our bus for the ride back to Tacoma.