The historic Shay locomotive, a relic of Longview’s logging heyday, is back home.
Just after 9 a.m. Tuesday, volunteers hooked the shiny black boiler and cab assembly onto a giant tow truck and rolled it down Columbia Heights Road and Washington Way to the Longview Library west lawn.
“This is a long time coming,” said Longview Mayor Don Jensen, who was among nearly 50 people watching as volunteer workers moved the 40-ton engine. “It’s neat stuff like this that makes our city better. Just little stuff.”
The Shay hauled timber from the Northwest’s forests from 1924 until 1956, when logging trucks replaced trains as the primary way to move logs from the woods. The Long-Bell Lumber Co., which founded Longview in the early 1920s, donated the locomotive to the city in 1956.
For decades, the engine sat on the library grounds and slowly succumbed to rust, bird droppings and vandals.
Restoration has been in the works since 1998, when Longview businessmen John Chilton and Jeff Wilson disassembled its engine. They kept it at Chilson’s Columbia Heights property north of the city, its parts coated with moss and scattered in the bushes.
During the next seven years, Chilton, Wilson and other volunteers began to pluck the more than 700 pieces from the brambles, clean them and figure out how to put giant steel puzzle back together.
The restoration was complete by 2005, but the parts remained in storage while Chilton, Wilson and others searched for a place to display the engine.
On Tuesday, their finished work was unveiled. Wilson, the 53-year-old owner of the TPI sanitation and septic company — and a collector of old military vehicles — sent giant, camouflage trucks to help maneuver the Shay into place.
Wilson said he and Chilton spent about $140,000 to restore the train. That cost doesn’t include the hours donated by volunteers skilled in what Wilson called “the old school trades” of welding, pipefitting and woodworking.
In the weeks to come, the engine will be covered with a timber and steel pavilion and surrounded by a fence to keep vandals away. The train includes a speaker that makes authentic steam engine sounds. The headlight works, and the stack can blow steam, Wilson said.
“Flip a switch and this steam train will come to life,” he said.
Around 9:20 a.m., truck driver Melvin Buck, 43, had the Shay underway, inching it down the Chilson’s long, gravel driveway and onto the windy two-lane roads that lead into town.
“Now the excitement starts,” said Lou Stewart, one the volunteers who restored the train.
For more than an hour, the Shay slowly made its way toward the library. It arrived at its old home around 10:30 a.m.
By 12:30 p.m. two cranes had lifted the train and set it back on its 20-ton wheels, which had been placed on a short stretch of newly laid track earlier this month. A crowd cheered as a volunteer rang the locomotive’s brass bell.
George Obermeyer, 67, who operated a hearing aid business in Longview for more than 30 years until he retired, said his wife was on her way to a dentist appointment when she spotted the Shay being towed back to its old home.
“They’re moving the train! They’re moving the train!” she exclaimed into her cellphone after calling her husband.
Obermeyer, who collects model trains, decided to watch. “This is a big deal,” he said. “I remember when it was old and dilapidated. I’d walk past and I’d see it rusting and I’d think, ‘Oh man.’ ”
Longview resident Sara Carlson, 36, also decided to get a closer look after her husband spotted the train in tow and called her. She and her children — a boy, 4, and a girl, 2 — heard about the restored Shay through the Longview Public Library’s story program, which will include train stories in the weeks to come to honor the Shay’s return.
“My kids are crazy about trains,” Carlson said.
The occasion brought back memories for several generations.
“We used to climb on this thing all the time when were little kids,” said Ken Fritz, 56, who grew up in Cowlitz County and lives in Castle Rock. “It was a blast.”
He surveyed the train’s shiny black paint and woodwork, which was freshly painted green and said, “I can’t believe how good of a job they did.”