In June of 2017, Museum welcomed the return of the Blue Mountain, Dorsey Baker’s only surviving narrow gauge locomotive, to the Museum for long-term display. This locomotive was ordered by Dr. Baker in the fall of 1877 for the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad that ran between Wallula and Walla Walla. It is the oldest existing locomotive used in Washington State.
Work on Dorsey Baker’s Railroad began in 1871 under the corporate name Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad Company, and was completed in October of 1875. Timber for the road’s ties and bridges was obtained along the Yakima River and a mill was erected on the Columbia in Wallula to process the wood. Over 9,000 tons of wheat were hauled over the line in 1875; 15,266 tons in 1876. Baker sold most of his company stock in 1879 to the Oregon Steam Navigation Company (later the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company). Starting in 1881, local lines were converted to standard gauge, eventually leaving 14 miles of track into the Blue Mountains as the only remaining narrow gauge track in the area.
In 1893, the Blue Mountain was shipped via boat to the Columbia gorge, where it worked the portage railroad for 11 years. In 1906 it was sent to the Nome gold fields of Alaska to serve mining operations. By 1910, the Nome gold rush was over and train service ended, marking the last run of the Blue Mountain. However, its story was not over—sometime in the 1940s, the locomotive was submerged in the Bering Sea as a part of the Nome sea wall. Eventually it was retrieved by a Nome resident and acquired by the Washington State Railroad Historical Society in Pasco, WA, in 1992.
The Museum houses additional artifacts from the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad in the Babcock Railroad Depot, located in the Museum’s Pioneer Village. A Baker Railroad Diorama showing a scale model of the railroad can be found in the Museum’s Exhibit Hall 2. Work will continue into the future on the Blue Mountain’s restoration and exhibit space.
The project partners who helped to bring the Blue Mountain home include Baker Boyer Bank, Konen Rock Products, Lampson International, Narum Concrete Co, Opp & Seibold General Construction, Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad, Town & Country Tree Service, Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla Sunrise Rotary, Washington State Railroads Historical Society, and the support of private donors.