The city of Longview is considering displaying the restored 1924 Shay Locomotive on the public library grounds again after plans to build a downtown park for the relic of logging history derailed.
The locomotive, donated to the city in 1955 by the Long-Bell Lumber Co., sat rusting on the Longview Library lawn for 41 years until the City Council gave Longview businessman John Chilson the nod to dismantle and restore it in 1996.
Chilson, whose downtown properties include the Merk and Stylemasters College of Hair Design, finished the painstaking restoration job in 2005. However, the city didn't have a place lined up to display the locomotive because there was talk at the time about expanding the library, and Chilson wanted it downtown.
The Chilsons and their former nonprofit organization, the Longview Public Service Group, poured $100,000 in cash and donated services into the restoration.
"You start a project, you want to finish it," Chilson said Tuesday. "This particular project got bogged down primarily in, ‘Where the heck do you put a big piece of equipment like that?' "
Last year, Chilson hatched a plan to convert a small parking lot between Stylemasters and Guse's coffee on Commerce Avenue into a "pocket park" and set up the locomotive there with a grassy plaza and clock tower.
However, Chilson, 69, has since decided the parking lot is too small for the 50-foot-long, 8.5-foot-wide locomotive and the glassed-in shelter he'd envisioned. Instead, the locomotive should be on city property and be covered by the city's insurance, he said.
This summer, locomotive advocates and city officials batted around several possibilities for the Shay, including the 15th Avenue/Tennant Way corner of Lake Sacajawea and the Broadway median strip between 15th and 14th avenues.
Finally, a frustrated Chilson asked City Manager Bob Gregory, "Why don't we just put it back where I got it?"
"I said, ‘Bob, just make a decision where it goes, will you?' I have the equipment, tools and know-how to make it happen, but I can't do it until the city lets me do it," said Chilson, who is storing the locomotive's 700 pieces at his various properties. "I said, ‘Just remember, I'm not getting any younger here.' ... I think it's time to settle this and get it done."
Thursday, the City Council will consider approving the locomotive's relocation to "Squirrel Meadow," the area on the west side of the library near the giant wooden squirrel statue.
Chilson said with the help of several strong men, it would take a couple months to reassemble the locomotive on site. But first, the ground must be prepared to prevent the 64-ton engine from sinking into the earth. They'll need to remove the sod and put down a railroad bed, ties and rails, he said.
Community Development Director John Brickey said it would be nice to protect the locomotive from the weather, but the city hasn't allocated any funding for a shelter. And there are no immediate plans to protect it from thieves, vandals and adventurous children with a fence, as the city did around 1959 after a boy fell while climbing the engine and ruptured his spleen.
Chilson says the locomotive's new epoxy paint will withstand years of exposure to the elements. Also, he doesn't think the engine will attract vandals if it and the library grounds are maintained.
"Normally people don't vandalize unless they think people don't care," he said.
One drawback to displaying the locomotive beside the library is it won't be highly visible from the road, Brickey said. But if a more appropriate place is found later, the engine could be moved, he said.
Regardless, it's high time the engine is back in public view, they agreed.
"I think the community wants it back. I think the community wants to see it," Chilson said.