Sunday, April 6, 2014
What the Bell...
As the overhaul of Mikado number 19 was drawing to a close, the railroad was contacted in regard to a very interesting donation possibility. As many of you know, when numbers 19 and 20, or 81 and 80 if you prefer, were removed from service on the White Pass & Yukon in the late 1950s the locomotives were stored in the deadline in Skagway, Alaska. While out of service, the majority of the brass and smaller appliances were removed and either “acquired” for private collections or sent to the scrap heap. For years it had been rumored that the bells off the Sumpter Valley locomotives had been stolen, melted down, and cast into miniature brass cannons by a Skagway local. Luckily for the number 19 at least, this rumor turned out to be completely untrue. In 1968 a member of the Wilson family was working for the White Pass & Yukon while living in Skagway. The family wanted a dinner bell for the yard and decided to investigate the retired steam locomotives in the dead line. Most of the locomotives had already been picked over and no longer had their builders or number plates, bells, whistles, or headlights. One locomotive did still have its bell however, and the Wilson kids spent the better part of eight hours removing the bell and cradle from the boiler. Their mother had her dinner bell, and when the family moved to Idaho the bell went with them. Fast-forward 45 years to the summer of 2013, when Betty Wilson contacted the railroad. The Wilson’s had heard that two of our steam locomotives had once operated on the White Pass, and during a previous visit to McEwen had been informed that the original bells were missing and presumed long ago scrapped. They decided to send along some images of the bell they had and see if we could identify it or had an interest in it as a donation. Our response took about thirty seconds. The bell was identified as belonging to number 19 due to the fact that it was fully complete, and number 20 had returned to Oregon with the base of its bell cradle still on the boiler. It was arranged that the Wilson family would visit the railroad on Memorial Day Weekend and bring the bell with them at that time. Both the railroad and Wilson family are delighted that the bell has been reunited with number 19, and after a paint, polish, and minor overhaul, the bell is once again where it belongs. An interesting discovery was made during the overhaul however, and it is that the White Pass & Yukon modified the bell with an air-operated clapper. While it would not have had this feature on the Sumpter Valley Railway, it was decided to merely overhaul the mechanism for the time being and keep the air system intact. It still rings just fine with the bell cord as well.
Betty and Frank Wilson stand with the replica number plate from number 19, and Taylor Rush with the original bell.