Last stop for historic Shay locomotive

LONGVIEW — Instead of the rusting, broken down Shay locomotive he knew as a boy, Ivan Christensen could see his own tall figure in the polished metal of a fully-restored piece of Longview history.

The fond memories of climbing up along the Shay’s wheels and into its cab — and of friends rumored to have started a fire in the fire box — were just as well preserved.

Christensen, 72, was there for the steam locomotive’s first placement on the Longview Public Library’s lawn 59 years ago. The 1924 Shay was gifted to the city by the Long-Bell Lumber Co., which founded Longview in the 1920s.

The longtime train buff and former railroad telegraph operator traveled from his home in Wenatchee just to see the Shay at its dedication ceremony, the conclusion of nearly 17 years of restoration, and construction of a pavilion and fencing around it.

“In a matter of days, it was vandalized. Every time I came back here, something had happened to it,” Christensen remembered of the original Shay, which cost $140,000 to restore. “It does my heart good to see it restored and be in a protected environment.”

Over the years, the elements and vandals chipped away at the Shay’s beauty, until 1998 when local businessmen Jeff Wilson and John Chilson began restoring it. Wilson and Chilson returned the locomotive in October 2013, and the pavilion, designed by Craig Collins of Longview’s Collins Architectural Group, was constructed later.

The chance for public tours of the Shay locomotive attracted a variety of age groups. Ivan Christensen grew up a block from where the Shay is located and can remember playing tag on the engine when it was first placed on the grounds 59 years ago. He lives in Wenatchee now, but he made the drive back for the ceremonies and tour.

Now that it’s pulled into the “Shay Station,” as Wilson calls it, one last time, it will be up to the Wilson family to maintain the artifact through a 20-year renewable trust agreement with the city. The nonprofit Friends of Longview is still raising funds to put in concrete walkways, lighting and benches around the pavilion. The remaining tasks will cost less than $47,000.

“Money is relative,” said Chilson, who put thousands of his own money into the project. “(The pavilion) is a compliment. The way Craig (Collins) designed it … it enhances the strength of the locomotive and the historical significance of it.”

Brian Magnuson, a former home builder who now owns local Cascade Networks and who was the general contractor for the pavilion, estimated that the amber- and espresso-colored wood and black metal pavilion was worth $250,000 in volunteered time, labor and supplies. Twelve organizations pitched in to do everything from building the wrought-iron fence — which opens all the way around the Shay to allow for photography and tours — to pouring the concrete foundation.

“They designed it so the era was preserved with the Shay,” Magnuson said. “There’s nobody that has a pavilion as nice as this one.”

As Magnuson gazed up at the finished station, children lined up to sneak inside the cab, pull the Shay’s whistle, ring its bell and peer inside its fire box, illuminated by a red light. The number of adults lined up behind them was proof that few outgrow fascination with a whistling, smoking (a smoke machine was used to mimic steam) historic locomotive.

“The permanent placement of the Shay ensures it will be here for many more generations,” Magnuson said.

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