Old Mining Locomotive Helps Revive Dream: Owning A Train

BOW, Skagit County - Diz Schimke has a reputation for doing what he sets out to. At 18, he bought a chunk of property and built a little house. Ten years ago, the former national champion oyster shucker started a successful oyster farm on Samish Island.

But in 1992, when he undertook a new project, even his closest friend said, "Naw, you'll never finish that."

After all, who can build his own railroad? Yet, that's what 35-year-old Schimke did, scrounging ties, hunting down salvaged rail and stumbling on his jewel, an 1896 H.K. Porter locomotive.

"That's Diz," said his wife, Viki. "He doesn't let anything stop him."

Last month, Schimke fired up Engine No. 1715. For some reason the serial number has been shortened to a simple 17 on the engine's nose. He lit the blaze at 7 a.m.

By noon, hissing steam revealed a ready boiler.

He stoked the fire, checked the pressure (125 pounds per square inch - just right) and hopped aboard. He grabbed the throttle with his left hand and the brake with his right.

"The steam comes up the top of the dome," he said, patting the boiler with a gloved hand. "Then it goes down to the cylinders."

There next to the wheels, the steam does its work, building pressure to push the heavy steel. The classic "chug, chug" is steam escaping out the stack. More steam means more chug.

Soon, No. 17 cruises around Schimke's 7 1/2 acres - through trees, around his pond and past a switch that leads to a second phase of the line he hopes to finish around neighbor Gene Secor's house. It takes four or five minutes to navigate the 2,007-foot loop.

"The tracks ain't made for no speedballers," he said.

Schimke grew up in Bow next to Burlington Northern's commercial gauge line imagining that someday he could operate his own train.

"It's always been a childhood dream," he said.

Schimke installed rail rated at 30 to 35 pounds per three feet. This compares to standard track rated at 115 pounds. His tracks measure 24 inches across. He said he plans to build a water tower and a small station to house the ancient engine.

The Pittsburg-built locomotive began its commercial career for Standard Mining Co. in Burke, Idaho, extracting ore from subterranean silver mines. It initially operated under compressed air, and its tank stored up to 1,200 pounds per square inch.

Train historian and author John Wood explained in his book, "Railroads of the Coeur d' Alenes," that this style prevented spontaneous combustion of underground gases. His book documents that No. 17 was converted to steam in 1948 and decommissioned by Hecla Mining Co. two years later. It remained in a collector's garage until Schimke heard about and purchased it.

Beau Champ said he had no doubt that Schimke would complete his railroad. The Mount Vernon man said every time he visits, Schimke is tackling another upgrade.