Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: May 2014

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The Case of the Curious Curator: Timberjack

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I’m looking at this train right now, circa 1931. One out of 3,000 steam engine locomotives left in the country. The metal is corroded, there are jagged holes throughout its frame. Its dusty, rusty, faded– past its prime. There’s something magnificent and noble about things that are–that have a history– a life that you know has been well used and well spent. And this train has had a good life.

It was built in 1931 by the Bingham Willamette Co. of Portland, OR. Before coming to Missoula it traveled around and saw many sights, trading owners and acquiring new duties. It belonged first to the Western Lumber Company of Montana and was later acquired by the Anaconda Copper and Montana Company. Eventually becoming the property of Champion International. Here, it’s life began to pick up steam (pun intended!) and it took off into the world of fame and notoriety. It had a brief stint in a movie called “Timberjack”, where a rugged, young engineer used it to win back his beautiful lady. Missoulians were thrilled with the glamour of Hollywood and even held a Timberjack Day parade.

Looking through our archives I came across some old pictures from 1998 when it was first acquired by our museum. Locomotive 3

This picture gives us a view of the inner workings of the train. Based on the blueprints I found in our archives I believe this to be the boiler.

Locomotives are fueled by burning combustion materials such as wood or coal and this produces steam in the boiler, which drives the engine. Maintenance of the boiler is extremely important, since the boiler can burst if pressure is too high. In our archives I found a dense packet at least 10 pages long specifically documenting boiler safety.

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Here it sits, still tall, still grand and picturesque. Despite its rust, it is still gleaming. It has a had a good life and knows it. And if you are interested in witnessing the train in action and in its fully glory, check out the film Timberjack!