The historic Shay logging locomotive could be back on the Longview Library lawn this summer if the city can raise enough private donations, materials and in-kind labor in the next month to build a pavilion and fence to protect it.
Given all the time and money citizens have spent restoring the city-owned engine, those involved in the massive project want to be sure resources for a shelter are lined up before the Shay is hauled from storage to the library. If that doesn’t happen by the end of August, the Shay will sit in storage for another year while the city scratches together outside funding for the pavilion.
Because the locomotive is a whopping 48 tons when fully assembled, the ground must be dry and hard when it’s set onto a rail bed at the library, which means the move must happen in late summer.
“This has to be a community-driven project. We won’t have a shelter unless the community steps up,” City Manager Bob Gregory said Wednesday. “We really need to be assured the shelter follows close behind the Shay.”
Under terms of a contract with the city, Collins Architecture Group of Longview designed a pavilion and site plan for the Shay this spring. The 20-by-60-foot pavilion would consist of a heavy timber truss under a metal roof that’s supported by eight log columns about 16 inches thick. Surrounding the locomotive would be a wrought-iron fence, which could be unlocked to allow access to the engine during special events. The entire shelter, which would be sited near the giant wooden squirrel carving, would cost in the range of $50,000 to $75,000, architect Craig Collins said.
Steelscape already has offered to donate the metal roof, and Patriot Rail said it would provide and install ties and rails, Gregory said. Ideally, he said, a contractor would come forward to supervise and coordinate the pavilion construction.
Wednesday, the Longview City Council and city staff took a field trip to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to see the workhorse 1924 locomotive, which sits on a log truck trailer in an outbuilding on Longview history buff John Chilson’s property. Once a rusting, used-up hulk, the locomotive is now glossy black with “Long-Bell Company” lettered in white on the side.
Longview businessman Jeff Wilson, a former engineer for Union Pacific, clicked a remote control. Smoke — the type used in nightclub acts — billowed from the smokestack. The Shay’s headlamp glowed, and a recording of a train chugging and whistling in the distance played from speakers.
“We had the opportunity to animate it, to give it life, unlike other static locomotives,” said Wilson, 53, whose primary business is TPI, a portable toilet company.
Long-Bell Lumber Co. presented the city of Longview with the 50-foot locomotive in 1956 to display as a tribute to the city’s logging roots, and the city placed it next to the public library. Unprotected from the weather, thieves and vandals, the engine rusted on the lawn until the mid-1990s, when the city gave the nod to Chilson to restore it.
Chilson and Wilson disassembled the engine into 700 pieces in 1998. The restoration work was finished by 2005, but the parts remained in storage for the next few years because there wasn’t a practical place to reassemble and display the locomotive. The Chilsons and Wilsons paid for the entire restoration, which cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“Every nut and bolt has been junk and rust,” said Wilson, who restores vintage military vehicles as a hobby. “We took this project and said ‘We’re going to build it to outlive us.’”
In 2011, the City Council approved a plan to return the engine to the library grounds. Last year, Wilson and a crew of skilled volunteer laborers, including longshoremen, spent months putting the locomotive back together at Chilson’s place.
“They’ve done a wonderful job,” Councilman Chet Makinster said Wednesday. “This is going to look so nice when it’s down at the park. This is neat. It’s history.”