A rare relic Returns

Historic mining locomotive returns to Juneau

Posted: Friday, August 08, 2008

A piece of Alaska mining history has returned to Juneau.

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Courtesy Alaska State Historical Library
Courtesy Alaska State Historical Library

A rare electric locomotive used to extract ore from the Alaska-Gastineau mine in the early 20th century has been acquired by the Alaska State Museum. The 18-ton locomotive built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1914 was donated by the California State Railroad Museum and arrived back in Juneau this week.

"One of the things that was very exciting about it, the locomotives that were used here are no longer in Juneau so it was a wonderful opportunity to bring back a piece of mining history," said Bruce Kato, chief curator for the Alaska State Museum.

The acquired locomotive was one of two that the Alaska-Gastineau mine sold to the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. in California in 1924 after a decade of use at the mine in the Sheep Creek valley south of Juneau. They remained in operation in California until the 1970s, when they were donated to the railroad museum.

Mining historian David Stone said it is rare to have a piece of Alaska's mining history still intact after all these years.

"That fact that they weren't scrapped, thrown away or for that matter really modified where it would have taken away the historical significance of them, is just an amazing thing," he said. "For the most part, Alaska's mining history, the equipment was scrapped and salvaged. So it's just amazing."

The locomotive was an innovative piece of technology when it was built, Stone said.

"It was part of an operation that changed the course of mining history," he said.

Stone noted that the Alaska-Gastineau mine was known for its innovation in the industry and was one of the largest gold mining operations of its era. The low-cost and efficient locomotives helped the mine become a model for the industry, he said.

The locomotive hauled the ore from the mine's 13 underground levels to its processing facilities in Thane.

"It was an innovative new locomotive in its day," he said. "It ran off electricity. It's a trolley locomotive and it pulled 40 10-ton ore cars. So it was the big ore train."

Also amazing is the amount of documentation on the electric locomotives that remains today, Stone said. Blueprints, photographs, maintenance records and other information has been preserved and will likely be on display with the locomotive at some point in the future, he said.

"They are the most well documented locomotives in the history of the state in terms of mining locomotives," Stone said.

The locomotive will be put in storage until it is decided where to display it, possibly in a planned expansion of the state museum, Kato said. The Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums recently received $7.5 million for planning and design of a new facility where the train may end up on display, he said.

"The first thing we needed to do is take the opportunity to acquire the artifact," he said.

Getting the locomotive to Alaska was no easy task, Kato and Stone each said. Lynden Transportation and Alaska Marine Lines donated shipping costs of getting the 18-ton train back to Alaska.

"We're very fortunate to have it back in Alaska," Stone said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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