Through the 1950s, the railroads were in a technology transition. Steam engines, powered by coal, were being retired, though some had been converted to use fuel oil.
The arrival of diesel-electric locomotives signaled the end of the steam era and the old locomotives were heading to the scrapyards.
The Union Pacific Railroad offered to donate a retired steam locomotive to the city of Spokane as a reminder of its railroad heritage.
Which locomotive to choose?
Engine 3206, retired and sitting in Pocatello, Idaho, was chosen because it had pulled passenger and freight trains through northeast Oregon, Eastern Washington and North Idaho for more than 50 years.
The coal-fired engine was built by the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, New York, in 1904 for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. The regional carrier, incorporated in 1879, was purchased by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1898 and became the backbone of the Union Pacific line through the Northwest.
Engine 3206 derailed once, in 1933, struck a switch stand and flipped over. Although the damage was extensive, the engine was repaired and put back into service.
The retired engine arrived in Spokane in April 1955 and put on display in High Bridge Park in west Spokane. Kids and railroad fans could now climb on it and relive its glory days. For more than 20 years, the locomotive was exposed to the weather, covered with graffiti and vandalized. The engine’s large bell was taken.
Members of the Inland Empire Railroad Historical Society, formed in 1967, had painted the locomotive at High Bridge Park in 1970. The city of Spokane gave the locomotive to the historical society, which moved it to the Spokane Fair and Expo Center in 1978. The society’s cars were on display at the Spokane Interstate Fair each year.
In 2002, the train enthusiasts were asked to move their growing collection of train cars and memorabilia. That same year, the historical society bought a 30-acre parcel west of Reardan, Washington.
After years of fundraising and development, Engine 3206 and other cars were moved to the new Inland Northwest Rail Museum in 2016. It is open Thursday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is at inlandnwrailmuseum.com.
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