The Anacortes Railway left town Monday morning on the longest journey of its life: 830 miles to Sacramento, California, where it will be restored and someday placed in service as an amusement.
Headen Thompson, son of the train’s late creator, Tommy Thompson; and restorer Bret Iwan of Pasadena, California, helped crews load the century-old former coal train and hand-built passenger cars onto two large flatbed trucks for transport.
And so ended a saga that began in 2012 with the Thompson family’s donation of the train to the city on the condition it be cared for and displayed; failed attempts by local train enthusiasts to place the train in operation; the City Council’s rebuff of Iwan’s offer to purchase the train for $117,000; a final effort by Mayor Laurie Gere to work out a plan to build a venue for the train’s display; and the Thompson family’s request for the train to be returned.
The City Council voted July 12 to give the train back to the Thompsons, agreeing that the city had not met the conditions of the 2012 agreement.
The elder Thompson, a mechanical engineer and train enthusiast, operated the train in Anacortes as an amusement from 1979-1999. His son said the Thompsons and Iwans are now partners in a venture to restore the train and operate it.
Iwan is a restorer, building designer and voice actor whose family operates a narrow-gauge electric train in a neighborhood in Lincoln, California.
Gary Dear and friends watched from his Mad Hatter ice cream shop Monday as crews loaded the train onto the flatbeds.
“I watched it when they recertified it a couple of years ago,” he recalled. “It’s sad (the city) didn’t do what they were supposed to do. The city dropped the ball, without a doubt.”
Martin Mullen and his wife remembered taking their now-adult children on the train about 30 years ago. He said he was disappointed to see it go, but happy the train will have a new life. “As long as it’s going to be used,” he said. “It’s been sad to see that it’s just been sitting there, locked up.”
Lisa Carney, attorney for the Thompson family, said the family feels relief knowing the train “has a next chapter.”
Reminders of the train remain in Anacortes. The train barn — built by Tommy Thompson in 1979 to house the train — will remain on the Depot Arts Center property, site of a former Great Northern Railroad depot and a reminder of the role that rail played in the city’s development. The train barn exterior features a Bill Mitchell mural of Walt Miller, the first conductor of Thompson’s Anacortes Railway in 1979.
Anacortes Museum Director Bret Lunsford and his brother, Anacortes Parks and Recreation Director Jonn Lunsford, said Monday it has not been determined how the building will be used.
Tracks laid by Thompson are still in the public right of way, though the Thompsons and Iwan have 90 days to remove the rails if they choose.
The Anacortes Railway’s calliope, purchased from the Thompson family in 2012 by the Anacortes Museum Foundation, is on display in the Maritime Heritage Center.