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Train Enthusiast Keeps Alive Spokane’s Ties To Railroading

Art Putnam is a railroad nut.

He collects photographs, books, train orders, calendars, brochures and memorabilia from the golden days of rail.

Putnam, 37, wants to preserve the history not only for himself, but for other rail fans as well. He thinks Spokane should have a rail museum filled with the kind of stuff he’s been collecting for nearly 15 years.

But Putnam isn’t into just any old railroad.

He is captivated by the history of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad, a line that operated for some 70 years until it was merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1979.

“Basically, I buy anything SP&S;,” he said.

His love for the SP&S; comes partly from the fact that it was a large railroad operating solely in the Pacific Northwest.

The company executives fostered a family-like atmosphere, he said, and railroad employees were proud of the quality of service they gave to passengers and shippers alike. Its demise was fought by SP&S; loyalists who wanted to preserve the line’s unique spot in railroad lore.

A visit to the basement of Putnam’s North Side home is like entering a small museum.

On a wall is a 1958 calendar with a diesel locomotive pulling freight down the Columbia River alongside a hydroelectric dam. This is a picture of industry and motion that in itself is a commentary on the era.

At the center of his hobby room is a model train layout complete with replicas of the old shops and roundhouse at Hillyard.

Scattered around are old lanterns, an SP&S; coffee mug and a dinner plate set. Tucked away are dinner placemats and stationery from the passenger club car. Putnam even has a complete set of china from SP&S; passenger service.

But the heart of his collection are photographs of old locomotives. He said he buys them at estate sales, from old railroad collectors and at antique shops.

A photo album is filled with images of industrial might in the form of steam and diesel locomotives. He has pictures of the old No. 700 steam locomotive that was assembled in Hillyard and has now been restored in Portland.

His favorite locomotive, he said, is an F-3 diesel that was used to haul passenger trains in the 1950s. He sells framed copies of the diesel parked in front of the old shop in Hillyard for $35. The buildings have been torn down.

“I’m sad to see all that go,” Putnam said.

“As a boy, I’d take my bicycle and sneak over to Hillyard and watch the trains.”

In fact, he said, he still goes out to Parkwater at night sometimes just to watch trains.

Railroading was once such an important industry in Spokane that the community still has lots of rich railroad history tucked away in closets and basements.

Putnam said he’s discovered that retired railroaders and their families often possess historical memorabilia that should be preserved.

After all, the history of railroading is inseparable from the rise of Spokane, he said.

To get his message out, Putnam has opened an SP&S; home page on the Internet and offers readers a chance to participate in his quest to stay in touch with the past.

“There is a lot to learn from the history,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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