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Northern Pacific Railway locomotive

The Port of Kalama commissioners Wednesday approved buying this vintage locomotive to display at its Interpretive Center. 

KALAMA — A “key piece” of Kalama history will be displayed at the Port of Kalama in the coming months after the port commission Wednesday approved buying a vintage Pacific Northern Railway locomotive and oil tender.

The Northern Pacific Railway led to the creation of the town of Kalama, which was the western terminus of the company’s rail line in the late 19th century. The first spike was driven there in the early 1870, and within just a few months the working population exploded to approximately 3,500, and soon the town had a motto: “Rail Meets Sail.”

“It will be great to tell that story,” Executive Director Mark Wilson said.

The commission approved a budget not to exceed $375,000 to buy and ship the locomotive. Wilson said the price of the locomotive is $100,000 and the estimated moving it is $163,000. Additional costs will include placing the locomotive into the port’s Interpretive Center.

Wilson said he is seeking a private grant opportunity to help cover some of the cost to ship the locomotive by rail from Arizona to Kalama.

The locomotive is known as SP&S 539. It was built in 1917 in Dunkirk, N.Y., for the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway, which was incorporated in 1905 as a joint venture by the Great Northern Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway to build a railroad along the north bank of the Columbia River, according to American-rails.com.

The original cost was $36,631, and its total weight when loaded was 266 tons, including 41 tons of water to generate steam. It once was on display at Esther Short Park in Vancouver.

The port originally planned place a locomotive in the Interpretive Center when the building opened in 2014. But Wilson said there are only 20 of these steam locomotives in the country, and none was available at the time.

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The locomotive’s current owners have kept it in good condition and repainted it, Wilson said.

Despite the price, the commissioners expressed support for the purchase.

“When we built the building, we put the (railroad) ties in with the intent to have it in there,” Commissioner Randy Sweet said. “This sounds like the only chance to make it real.”

In other business, the commissioners approved a 10-year agreement with the school district to expand an existing baseball field at Haydu Park to regulation size. The school district intended to build new fields as part of its bond project, but ran low on funds. The field expansion will cost the district about $300,000, saving about $1.5 million, Wilson said.

The port commission also approved a three-year lease with Cowlitz Container and Diecutting to expand to a 20,000-square-foot space in the port’s newest building. The rent will be determined after the construction of an office in the space.

The commission also approved a new policy on how the port will accept and track donated historical items. Liz Newman, marketing and communications manager, said she created the policy so historic items are properly preserved and their origins tracked. The port is planning to solicit photos, art and stories from people in honor of its centennial next year, Newman said.

The port may suggest donors give items to a museum, which can better preserve artifacts, she said. The port will then work with museums to borrow items for display at the Interpretive Center, Newman said.

The policy also ensures that donors understand that items given to the port become public record, Newman said.

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