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Tracks make return to Buckley

Museum getting a new exhibit

By Jessica Keller

The Courier-Herald

Railroad tracks haven't been found in Buckley for about 20 years. But, because of a Foothills Historical Society project, they are making a comeback.

David Meshke, Foothills Historical Society vice president, came up with the idea earlier this year to create a new logging railroad exhibit on museum property.

Once completed the museum will have about 500 feet of railroad track, complete with a turnout and switch, and will sport a motorized speeder, which used to transport workers into the woods, and box car, which carried the workers' tools the museum already owns, previously donated by Weyerhaeuser.

"So it's a completely operational toy, or new exhibit to the museum," Meshke said with a laugh.

The idea came to Meshke because both logging and the railroad is very important to the area's history and culture. Before Buckley was an incorporated town, it was briefly called White River Siding by railroad workers. Meshke thought a railroad logging exhibit would be a valuable addition to the other logging exhibits the museum already features on River Avenue.

It was also a practical idea, Meshke said, because the museum already had much of the materials required for the project - including more than enough rails and rail ties sitting behind the museum shed that originally came from the city of Tacoma's water shed near the town of Lester. The Weyerhaeuser speeder currently sitting in the museum's shed.

The railroad track and ties needed to be cleaned up, and the speeder could then be exhibited.

Meshke began laying down the track with volunteers, including high school students and a few inmates released from Buckley's jail, about five weeks ago, working primarily on weekends.

As of Sunday, Meshke and his crew had already laid out about 450 feet of track, including the straight main line and the switch and siding that veers off to the left of the main line. He said they hoped to finish laying out the remaining 50 feet of line that day.

The workers not only laid the rails - each 33 feet long, weighing 1000 pounds, and set the spike by hand, they even bent the track in the arch needed for the siding.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," Meshke said.

Although railroad enthusiasts and buffs would know the track laid out wasn't authentic to the kind of track used in the 1880s, but actually came from the 1920s, Meshke thinks the overall effect will be satisfactory.

When completed, 300 feet of main line track and 220 feet of siding will have been laid out by Meshke and his crew, but even after that the work is far from completed.

Meshke is going to build a storage shed to house the motorized speeder at the end of the turnout. He also intends on building a wooden road crossing the tracks, to provide access to the museum's shed, and a wooden footbridge at the end of the main line. Railroad signs and gravel in between the tracks will then complete the project.

If everything goes well, Meshke said, the motorized speeder will be up and running in time for the Buckley Log Show weekend next year.

But Meshke's plan does not stop with the completed project. When visualizing the complete result, he also wants to see a few more rail cars featured - maybe a donated logging car or a coal car.

The project, while a big one for Meshke, has come together fairly easily, he said, and he is glad he took it on - even if he did learn much more about laying down railroad track than he ever wanted to in the process.

And he hopes the residents of Buckley and the visitors to the museum also appreciate the exhibit. But he said, from the questions asked by passers-by, and the number of people pausing to walk along the track, he thinks they do.

"It's been fun," he said. "I've enjoyed putting together the project."

Jessica Keller can be reached at jkeller@courierherald.com.

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