Steam locomotives really do huff and puff.
My childhood memories came alive again on a recent Sunday afternoon as a 1922 Baldwin steam engine chugged into the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad’s museum in Mineral.
The railroad has been operating since the 1980s, but it only opened its Mineral museum and shops (think grease, not souvenirs) to the public this summer. Though you can drive to the museum, nearly everyone takes the train there from Elbe.
On my visit, the locomotive was pulling a collection of passenger coaches filled with visitors. At the controls, sat engineer Craig Cootsona and fireman Zeb Darrah. In front of them was a dizzying array of levers, knobs and handles. In between an aperture revealed an orange-hot fire.
Volunteer Karl Klontz showed me around the logging railroad-themed museum. Some of the structures from the former Camp 6 logging museum in Point Defiance Park have been relocated to Mineral, but have yet to be opened to the public.
The railroad stores and maintains its equipment in the shops. Some of the hardware is display only, others are being actively restored (you’ll probably see a couple of oil-stained volunteers working on locomotives) while the railroad’s five working engines are used to pull the passenger cars on the tracks.
Klontz tells me the railroad has one of the most complete geared steam locomotive collections anywhere. And if there’s anyone who knows trains, it’s Klontz. During the week, he operates trains for Amtrak. On the weekends, he volunteers at MRSR. He owns a retired caboose and a cat named Chesapeake Anne Ohio.
Klontz recently restored the railroad’s 1885 14-ton steam locomotive that once ran on the Satsop logging railroad. The now shiny little engine is so cute, you could pinch its cheeks. Not surprisingly it’s popular with kids who are allowed to climb inside and ring its bell.
The railroad is not exclusively chug-chug. They own a sexy streamlined 1950s era diesel locomotive. It harkens back to the early jet age and cars with huge tail fins. And yes, it runs – sometimes pulling passengers.
The roundtrip from Elbe with a stop at the museum is about two hours; two and a half hours on days where buying a barbecue lunch is an option.
Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad: Depot: 54124 Mountain Highway E., Elbe; Trains depart Elbe: 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 10 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Schedule changes to weekends only in September; Museum and shops: 349 Mineral Creek Road, Mineral; Train fares: $27 adult, $24 senior/military, $22 ages 4-12, free under 4. Prices are for steam engine rides. Diesel is less expensive, rides with barbecue lunch are more expensive; See website for details. The museum is free; Information: 888-783-2611, mrsr.com.
EX-NIHILO SCULPTURE PARK
Between Ashford and Elbe is a zoo where the animals never move. Good thing too, as they’d probably tear you apart with their teeth made of old saw blades and talons of rusting farm implements.
It’s all part of the metal menagerie of artist Daniel Klennert. He calls it the Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park or Ex-Nihilo. It’s Latin for “something made out of nothing,” he says.
As I walked the grassy expanse of Klennert’s property, I could hear the whistle of a Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad train as it rumbled somewhere nearby. His sculptures dot the tree punctuated peaceful property.
Klennert is a man who sees a second life in just about any object, though preferably metal. The sculptures are familiar: trains, motorcycles, people. But move in closer and what their made of is equally familiar – particularly if you’ve ever worked in a hardware store or car garage. An old car grill becomes a face, tools transform into a four-piece band, driftwood forms a horse. This is not art by committee. It’s more art by iconoclast. Political and religious messages and symbols pop up occasionally.
A gallery and home decor store is part of the rambling structure that serves as Klennert’s home, metal and drift wood studios. On the day I visited, he was on top of the building, cleaning his roof. Below him, giant dinosaurs, birds and a sea horse rested amidst neatly kept lawns and gardens. A steady stream of tourists pulled in, their eyes wide and mouths open.
Klennert said visitors from all over the world stop by his park. Many are surprised and delighted by his style of recycling.
“The old timers like to look at what I do. I had a guy from Detroit stop by who used to work in the auto industry,” Klennert said. The man had sent cars and parts out the door all his career. “He couldn’t believe where they ended up.”
Ex-Nihilo Sculpture Park: 22410 State Route 706 (3 miles east of Elbe); Open daylight hours; Admission by donation; Information: danielklennert.com, 360-569-2280
In a rut? Then Northwest Trek is the place to be this weekend. You can always walk or tram through the popular wildlife park, but Saturday through Labor Day Trek is putting on its “Get Out of the Rut Weekend.”
A rut is the annual breeding cycle of our hoofed friends such as deer and elk. It’s the time of year when their thoughts turn to love. And males violently compete for females. We’ll leave it up to you to explain that to the kids. If they cooperate, the animals will grunt, snort, bugle and spar.
Human activities at Trek include a series of merit badge stations: thrashing, be a cow elk, listening to rutting sounds and a “smelling activity.” The mind reels at the possibilities.
Plus, there’s a special elk bugling tour.
The park will have its regular activities going on as well if rutting isn’t your thing. From bison, bears and beavers to wolves, cougars and skunks, there’s plenty of critters to get up close to at the park.
In 2012 Trek introduced zip lines at the park. They allow riders to experiences the sensation of flying through the treetops like a bird and the opportunity to safely face fears, if your fears include falling from a tree.
Trek has four zip-line courses, each with different age limits and challenges between the zip lines. Sometimes you walk rickety bridges, sometimes cable tightropes and sometimes you climb cargo nets. The most extreme, Sensation, opened this year and is the park’s most challenging course.
The experience costs in addition to park admission and reservations are required.
September is for seniors at Trek. Not only are the kids back in school, but everyone 65 and older can get in for half-off general admission. They also can get 10 percent off of all zip-line courses, cafe and gift shop purchases during September.
Where the animals are: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.daily through Monday. (hours change seasonally); 11610 Trek Drive E., Eatonville; Adult admission tickets are $17.95 for Pierce County residents and $19.95 for non-residents; Prices differ based on age and residency. Zip-line courses range from $19.95-$59.95; Information: nwtrek.org, 360-832-6117Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 craig.sailor@ thenewstribune.com