By ANDREW FICKES
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.
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 elbehistoricchurch.com. 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!