A trip on the train at Mt. Rainier Railroad takes you on a 14-mile journey starting in Elbe that meanders through thick forests and foothills, provides uncompromising views of the Paradise side of Mt. Rainier sitting at 14,416 feet, and gives you an experiential front-row seat to the Upper Nisqually River aggressively flowing beneath the tracks as the train transports passengers to the logging museum in Mineral.

Imagine more than a century ago when this land sitting at more than 1,200 feet above sea level at the base of Mt. Rainier was a booming region for logging and mining. Elbe, in Pierce County, was founded in 1890, originally known as Brown’s Junction. By 1904, the Tacoma Eastern Railroad came in and laid tracks, transforming the community into a logging boomtown. Elbe, today a town of 29, once was prosperous boasting a hotel, school, hospital and store. Elbe has a rich German heritage and is named after the Elbe River valley in Hamburg, Germany, an area from where the pioneer settler Henry C. Lutkens traveled. In 1924, the Tacoma Eastern Railroad ended passenger service to nearby Ashford and Elbe’s once vibrant economy quickly vanished.

Photo by: Allen

In addition to Mt. Rainier Railroad, Elbe is home to an iconic national landmark: Elbe Lutheran Church, the second oldest and second smallest church in the U.S. Erected in 1906, the church “signifies peace and tranquility to residents and tourists alike,” according to the church website at The church is cared for by volunteers who depend on donations.

Several miles east of Elbe the train crosses the Upper Nisqually River, which represents the Pierce-Lewis county line. It’s just past the river where a logging community called Flynn once was thought to exist during the early 1900s. Information on the community is rare to find these days, and at times, it feels like chasing a ghost when tracking down information. But a map showing Lewis County in 1909 found on the Lewis Co., WA GenWeb Project website, places Flynn just to the west of Mineral.

Flynn is most heavily documented in the 1989 book, “Nowhere to Look but Up,” authored by LaVonne M. Sparkman. In the book, chapter 30 talks about the Loden family who settled in Flynn. And chapter 31 informs readers about the Hale family and also the formation of the Flynn school. For several years starting in 1908, Flynn had its own school district (No. 125). By the 1913-1914 school year, the Flynn School District was absorbed by what is now the Morton School District but continued to maintain its own school house. In 1925, Flynn students started attending the school in Mineral.

Several logging camps were active in Flynn starting in 1915. C. Lindberg, who also owned the Mountain Road Mill Co. in Lindberg, opened a logging camp at Flynn in 1915. In 1933, the Pacific National Lumber Co. also ran two camps in the same area. When the logging boom went bust in the region, Flynn all but disappeared

Finally, Mineral, where the logging museum is located, is economically driven by tourism. Mineral Lake is home to the “10 Pound Trout.” Fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation is abundant in the region. During peak fishing season the town population quadruples in size.

Mineral started out around the turn of the 20th century as a mining town. Those who came hoping to strike it rich were dumbfounded to find instead coal and arsenic. Despite a failed attempt at mining, logging camps soon ruled the day and during the boom years employed hundreds of people.

Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum provides guests not only a picturesque train ride, but also a visceral experience of living history. Come ride the rail and witness the history!


What does it take to preserve logging history?

Brian Wise, roadmaster at Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum, reevaluates that question every day as he singlehandedly led the early efforts to continue the legacy of the Camp 6 Logging Museum, which educated guests about the history of steam logging for more than 40 years at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma.

In the winter of 2010, Camp 6, founded by the Western Forest Industries Museum in 1964 and operated by the Tacoma chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, was forced to shut down when public and private funding dried up.

Tom Murray, who served on the board of the Western Forest Industries Museum and also founded the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad in 1980 (which in early 2016 closed and the new Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum was formed), was instrumental in arranging an agreement to transfer five cabins at Camp 6 to Mineral in November 2011 in order to found the logging museum there.

“I requested that the cabins come here in order to create the museum,” Wise said.

Four of the five cabins transferred from Camp 6 to Mineral were previously used up until the early 1960s by Rayonier Logging Company at a logging camp on Lake Quinault. The fifth cabin from Camp 6 was previously used by St. Regis Paper at a logging camp on Lake Kapowsin.

“There was a time when St. Regis Paper owned practically all the logging in this area,” Wise said. To complete the logging museum at Mineral, Wise requested a sixth cabin from West Fork Timber Company, which is located adjacent to the museum. In addition to the cabins, Mt. Rainier Railroad also procured steam logging artifacts from Camp 6. These comprised a logging caboose; a Caterpillar tractor bulldozer and logging arch; and a snowmobile built from the wreckage of an airplane by a logger based in Mineral who used it in the very same woods years ago.

“We wanted to make sure that came back,” Wise said. “These cabins and artifacts were built and used here in Washington state. It needed to stay here. These logging cabins were some of the last of their kind in the entire Western United States, so they needed to be preserved. And we’ve done a good job preserving the cabins.”

Between December 2011 and July 2012, Wise worked with independent curators Chris Erlich and Paul Pickard. Erlich and Pickard helped Wise with interior exhibit work in the various cabins. The logging museum opened at Mineral in June 2012.

Pickard’s significant contribution was the three hands-on interactive steam engine gearing mechanisms located in the steam tech cabin.

Erlich’s significant contributions included design work on the mural in the logging tools cabin and her work on the flunky cabin, or women’s cabin, that included doing research, creating a storyline and text, writing label copy, and procuring artifacts. “Brian had created a really nice interpretive plan for each cabin and messages for each cabin. He did a good job of summarizing,” Erlich said. “It’s fun to be working with a museum that has such an amazing collection of steam locomotives. I hope more people learn about it and go see it because it’s really amazing.”

Wise said the preservation work is an ongoing project. This requires that individual exhibits be reevaluated and refreshed. “As we have had time, I’ve been trying to add more of these (interpretive) panels with photos and information to read,” Wise explained. “As (guests) do their self-guided tour, they have something to read to teach them about what they’re looking at.” This includes new interpretive panels in the tools cabin educating guests about the different chain saws and miscellaneous logger tools. “We’re adding more to that,” Wise said.

In the men’s bunk house, Wise said work is being done to add more physical artifacts and also decent mannequins to pose as loggers wearing period clothing. And Wise said he is also hard at work developing a logging donkey exhibit in the steam tech cabin. Wise said maintenance on the cabins is ongoing. He said some cabins received new roofs and siding. Windows were all redone and the interiors were repainted. Elevated walkways were also built around the cabins to allow patrons easy access to the exhibit areas.

“We get a number of people asking what happened to Camp 6, and they’re very happy to see that all this stuff is being preserved,” Wise said. “It’s a very satisfying experience to be part of preservation, especially on this scale. “To be involved with the preservation of an entire logging camp, it’s incredibly satisfying and at times very overwhelming, because there is so much to do.”

Al Harper and Wayne Rankin, co-owners of Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum, have said that the museum’s sole mission is the preservation of history and to deliver it in a fun, entertaining manner. “With history being the road map to the future, we need to know our past, both the good and the bad,” Harper said in a video presentation. “Because it is history that teaches us the great lessons and it is history that lets us preserve that culture and that spirit that made America great.”

Wayne Rankin, a former Disney employee, is putting his entertainment background to use. “When you come to see us, you’re going to have a great experience, you’re going to learn a lot, you’re going to be entertained, and you’re going to have fun,” Rankin said.

The best way to experience the museum is to ride the train there from Elbe. Museum admission is included in the train ticket price May through October.