After spending more than 60 years as a cottage on Whidbey Island, the 117-year-old Parlor Car 1799 is coming to the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie.
Built in 1901 by the Pullman Company in Illinois, Parlor Car 1799 was operated by the Northern Pacific Railway from Seattle to Yakima until 1940. The car is one of two train cars built to a specific design specification called a “plan number” and is the only survivor of the two.
Richard Anderson, executive director of the Northwest Railway Museum, explained that parlor cars, or parlor sections of train cars, were more spacious and comfortable for passengers willing to pay higher prices.
“For people just on a day trip, perhaps they were going to Ellensburg or Yakima, the idea of the parlor car was to provide a better accommodation for someone who is willing to pay more,” he said. “It was the business class of 1901.”
By the late 1930s, several changes, such as as better seating and air conditioning, had been made to train cars which led to older models falling out of favor.
According to Anderson, a railroad executive working for Northern Pacific Railway in Auburn purchased the car in 1941 and moved it to Whidbey Island to use as a cottage. The train car was treated very respectfully as only a few modifications had been made to the interior. In addition, the car itself was kept under a roof, which protected it from rain and snow.
“They used a lot of respect to route the pipes and wiring and it’s been used that way for 77 years,” Anderson said.
The third and current owners of the train car, Dan and Jana Shaw, donated the car to the museum after their daughter-in-law brought her children to Snoqualmie for the museum’s annual Day Out with Thomas event. She found that the museum was connected to the event and got in contact with Anderson about taking on the parlor car.
The museum contracted Nickel Bros, a structural moving company, to bring the car over the Puget Sound for its big move to the museum’s train shed. On April 30, the contractors loaded the train onto a shipping barge and transferred it across the sound.
Because the car is in such good shape, Anderson said it won’t take too much time to get it ready for display at the museum.
“At this time we are not going to do any repairs or rehab,” he said. “Stabilize the car, put some wheels on it and roll it into the building and make sure there are no insects or rodents…Long term, it needs additional work, interior-wise it’s in very good shape, other than a very good cleaning and minor demolition work — it had a full kitchen cabinet. We’ve already removed that. We took that out before moving.”
Anderson said the acquisition and move cost the museum almost $100,000, which he hopes will be supported through continued fundraising for the project. The museum has already raised $50,000 and is participating in the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big campaign, a 24-hour online giving event to raise funds for area nonprofit organizations. This year’s event is May 9.
“(The parlor car owners) made a big give to the museum, so we are hoping folks in the community will give big to make sure we can follow through and deliver to the museum,” Anderson said.
The acquisition of the parlor car is another piece of unique Northwest history that Anderson is said is exactly the type of peice that matches the museum’s mission and vision.
“This actually ran out of King Street Station in Seattle and it’s relatively rare, even on a national scale,” he said, “not too many objects like this in museums around the country. This represents the golden age of travel, which is also not often represented. This kind of thing typically did not survive to the 1940s. It was basically somebody’s secret.”