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Project 52 - White Pass & Yukon Route locomotive #52

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

The Whitehorse Star, Thursday, January 30th, 1964

Project 52 - White Pass & Yukon Route locomotive #52

By Barbara Kalen

    The first railway locomotive brought to Alaska, W.P.Y.R. #52, will be returned to its original home in Skagway when "Project 52" has completed its purpose.

    Citizens of Skagway have long wished to have this historic piece of equipment on display at the "Trail of '98 Museum." This past winter, a group of trainmen and longshoremen banded together and formed an organization called "Project 52" to return the #52 from Taku City, B.C. where she now rests.

In 1898

    Locomotive #52 arrived in Skagway July 20, 1898, at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush.

    The White Pass & Yukon Route, under the able direction of construction engineer Mike Heney, had recently begun building what was then the first railway in Alaska. The day after she arrived, Locomotive #52 inaugurated service with a passenger train to the head of construction near mile four and she continued from then on to haul paying freight and passengers as well as supplies and men for the railway construction job.

    Although soon joined by other locomotives, #52 played an important role in opening up the north through the W.P. & Y.R., which for many years after its completion in 1900, was the only gateway to the Upper Yukon, serving many mining districts in northern B.C., Yukon and Alaska.

    About 1929, Locomotive #52 was transferred from the main line to the small W.P.& Y.R portage railway originally known as the Atlin Southern Railway, but more popularly known as the Taku Central, or "Taku Tram" which connected the Lake Tagish stern-wheel riverboats with the Lake Atlin steamers. These riverboats, which plied the Lakes system and the upper Yukon river were operated by a W.P. & Y.R. subsidiary company, the British Yukon Navigation Co.

Transfer Train

    The principal purpose of the two-mile "Taku Tram" was the transfer of Atlin-bound passengers and freight from Taku City on Lake Tagish to Scotia Bay on Lake Atlin, The "52" busily steamed back and forth on this little railway until the late 1930s when the once rich Atlin district began to decline. In time business decreased to the point where the "52" was retired and her place taken by a small home-made "Ford Tram" built at the Skagway R.R. Shops, and powered by a Model "T" truck engine. Finally this service, too, closed down when the highway reached Atlin. In the 1950's, even the rails were taken up, and the "52" rested alone at Taku City among the ever-growing weeds comparatively unravished by time or vandals.

    The men of "Project 52" began with the soliciting of pledges from the workmen in Skagway, with the intention of purchasing old "52" and bringing it to Skagway. The White Pass & Yukon Route has recently joined the project with the generous act of donating the engine for the purpose of display in Skagway, with the stipulation that the engine must not be resold or ever removed trom Skagway.

    The trainmen have volunteered a crew to bring her down from Carcross - and the W.P. & Y.R. will provide an engine to tow her down.

To Carcross

    "Project 52" is now seeking ways and means to move the "52" from Taku City across the lakes to Carcross, Y.T. - once there she can roll home on the rails. Pledges and contributions have piled up at a very gratifying rate, from all over the State and some from the South '48 as well - the State of Alaska, through the Department of Economic Planning and Development, has agreed to match funds to the amount of $1,000.

    More money will be needed yet, however, and the committee hopes that as more people learn of this interesting project, they will help support it. Contributions of any amount may be mailed to "Project 52", Box 191, Skagway, Alaska and will be gratefully received.

    Data for old engine buffs as follows: A 2-6-0 built by Brooks Locomotive Works in 1881. The early history of this engine is rather obscure but it is believed that she operated for a number of years on the Utah & Northern Railway before being sold to the Seattle-based Columbia and Puget Sound Railway (later the Pacific Coast Railway). When the Columbia and Puget Sound was standard-gauged in 1898, this engine was shipped to the White Pass & Yukon Railway, which was then under construction. Statistics: Loco. weight, 28 tons; loco. and tender weight, 39.5 tons; Loco. and tender length, 46'6"; loco. height, 12'; tractive effort, 12,975#; cylinders, 14 1/2 x 18. (information courtesy Carl Mulvihill, W.P. & Y.R. Dispatcher and Historian.)

    The old #52, as she sits now among the weeds at Taku City, B.C,, on Lake Tagish. A history-minded group of Skagway trainmen and longshoremen are now working to obtain this locomotive - the first railway engine ever brought to Alaska - and bring it back to Skagway, where it will be set up on display.
            Carl E. Mulvihill photo

    White Pass & Yukon Route locomotive #52, on the day of her arrival in Alaska, at Skagway, July 20, 1898. The buildings are part of the business section on Broadway street. Skagway businessmen at first opposed the Railroad venture, thinking it would take the prospectors out of town too quickly, and kill the packing business (which it did, when completed). The businessmen did not want the tracks laid down Broadway, but the railroad men called their crew at midnight, July 14, and by the following morning the track was laid down Broadway, It remained there until 1942, when the Army took it up to make more room for the truck traffic which clogged the streets during the busy war-time days.

WP&YR crews lay track down Broadway in Skagway

WP&YR locomotive 52 on her way to Skagway on  truck, 1964

    On March 11, 1964, "Old 52" passed through Whitehorse for the final time, on a lowboy truck on her way to Skagway.