By Lilly Milman
White Pass & Yukon Route has restored a retired steam engine originally built in 1947 for use on its tourist excursion route. The oil-burning steam engine, known as engine No. 73, took its first passenger trip following the restoration work on the Fraser Meadows excursion route July 15.
This isn’t the first time this steam engine, one of the last of its kind to be built, has been restored, according to WP&YR train agent Justin Ballard. WP&YR initially retired the steam engine in the 1960s due to improving technology and replaced it with a diesel engine. Electric diesel engines became more popular because they were more efficient, but WP&YR restored the engine in the 1980s for the sake of nostalgia.
“All the passengers turn into kids as soon as they step on,” said train agent Dimitri Pylarinos.
Cart No. 73 was taken out of commission again in 2017 for about a year and a half to allow for the heavy restoration process, which involved stripping down the locomotive to inspect all of its parts and then putting it back together. Each part of the engine was X-ray tested for cracks and wear, and then renewed or entirely replaced, said Mark Taylor, WP&YR superintendent of rail operations.
The cart was repainted to mimic its original paint job in the mid-20th century. The restoration work was outsourced to the Newell Corp. in Arlington, Washington.
“This was the first time we’ve done this magnitude of work on a locomotive,” Taylor said.
On board the train’s first trip were engineer Jim Hamilton and fireman Dave Hunz, who have a century of railroad experience between them. Hamilton, referred to as the “caretaker of 73,” traveled to Washington to be present during its fire testing. In total, five engineers are qualified to manage the steam engine during excursions, Ballard said during the tour.
During No. 73’s first tourist trip, WP&YR crew members along the route stopped working to take photos and videos of the restored engine in action.
“Everyone’s super amped. The co-workers were running out to take pictures and everyone’s like, ‘Oh my God, steam’s happening,’” Pylarinos said.
The steam engine will be taking between two and four excursion trips per week this season, Taylor said.
In addition to bringing back the steam engine, WP&YR also reorganized the route taken on its summit excursion. A loop was constructed at the summit, as well as a secondary track in several areas alongside the original tracks, to allow trains to turn around without stopping and to pass each other for the first time.