ANACORTES — The Anacortes City Council voted 6-0 on Monday night to “postpone consideration indefinitely” on a request from the Thompson family to have the Tommy Thompson Train returned to them.
An attorney representing the Thompson family sent a letter to the city on Jan. 8 expressing the family’s desire to “rescind the gift of the Thomas G. Thompson, Jr. train to the City of Anacortes and have the train be returned immediately to the Thompson family.”
Thompson built the narrow-gauge steam train and ran it through downtown Anacortes from 1979 until his death in 1999.
Thompson’s widow Anne Thompson donated the train to the city in 2012 with the understanding the city would care for and store the train, and establish a static display for the enjoyment of the public.
The Jan. 8 letter from the Thompson family’s attorney states that the city has not fulfilled the terms of the 2012 agreement and the family “feels the gift has been grossly mismanaged.”
Images included in Monday’s City Council agenda packet purportedly show deterioration of the train since the time it was donated in 2012. In one image, dated October 2019, there is “chipped and cracked paint,” “surface corrosion due to exposure and a water leak,” and “tarnished brass with extreme wear,” according to text included with the image.
A second image from October 2019 describes “towels secured with bungee cords, intended to prevent water leakage” in the train shed.
In October, the City Council decided the fate of the train when it voted to reject an offer from vintage train restorer Bret Iwan of California to purchase the train, and instead decided to work to establish a static display in Anacortes. The vote required Mayor Laurie Gere to report back in six months with a plan for a display.
Council member Matt Miller said Monday the council should follow through with its October decision.
“We’re going down a path to ultimately follow the original agreement for a static display,” he said.
Gere said Monday she would report back with a plan by the end of March. Council members requested the plan include a price tag, timeline, and location for the display, and raised concerns about spending city funds on the project.
The nonprofit Anacortes Railway Group had originally proposed a plan to operate the train again. However, the group is now proposing to assist the city in establishing a static display to fulfill the 2012 agreement.
Dave Sem, president of Anacortes Railway Group, said Monday the group had secured a “major donor” for the project.
“Our funds would go to make the display self-sufficient, there would be no city staff or funding,” he said.
Sem said he wasn’t aware of “any evidence of leaks or wet concrete in the (train) shed.”
Though council members voted to postpone consideration of returning the train to the Thompson family, several questioned if the city would be able to fulfill the family’s wishes for a static display.
“(The plan) needs to be real and actionable,” Council member Carolyn Moulton said. “There have been a lot of dreams and ideas, but none of them seem very concrete to me.”
Community members have different ideas on what the city should do with the train.
Anacortes resident Dennis Clark said Monday the city should return the train to the Thompson family for several reasons.
He said the train was a restricted donation, not an outright gift, and the city has not met the terms of the 2012 agreement. He also said the city already invests in preserving its history through the Anacortes Museum, the Maritime Heritage Center and the W.T. Preston.
“The city has spent too much time on this topic,” Clark said.
However, others have commented in the past that the train is an iconic and educational part of the city’s history and should remain in Anacortes.