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.

About Andrew Fickes