A Relic Along The Rails

An Enormous Piece Of Whatcom County Railroad History Awaits An Uncertain Future

A railroad turntable sitting upon two sets of wheels on tracks in the forest
Sidelined by a broken dream, this unusual hulk of riveted iron patiently waits in loneliness for a more hospitable, functional place to call home. (D. Spangler)
A old photo of a locomotive engine parked on the turntable near the roundhouse
In this Sandison image taken a year before the Milwaukee Road took the reigns, B.B.&B.C.’s engine #3 is parked for a photoshoot on what appears to be a relatively young turntable. While it is difficult to say for sure in the black-and-white photograph, the turntable’s painted iron sides look to be in good condition, and the ties and top deck are undamaged, dead-flat, and sharp like new wood. (Photo courtesy of Whatcom Museum Archives)
A builders plate attached to side of rusty turntable
First stamped into a mold of sand then cast in molten iron, this cold badge proudly proclaims its maker in a no-nonsense, industrial typeface that allowed for a touch of flourish to only the numbers. I wonder how long ago the manufacturer disappeared into the wispy valleys of time. (D. Spangler)
An image of the boarded up roundhouse with turntable in the foreground
The long period of forlorn disuse and neglect is striking in this south-facing image from the 1970s. Here we see the turntable in its natural habitat many years before its removal, and its historic partner, the long-abandoned roundhouse, is still standing. During the 1980s, the roundhouse was demolished, and by 1988 its remaining concrete pad and deep locomotive service pits had sprouted a picturesque scene of alder trees, broken bottles, blackberry vines, and a tilted, abandoned car resting on a garden of trash. What an odd juxtaposition this was where once a goodly part of early Whatcom County’s economic livelihood literally pivoted. (Photo courtesy of Lake Whatcom Railway)
A group of workers standing on the turntable with a crane hook hanging above them
In this Jack Carver image dated July 31, 1980, the crew prepares the turntable to be extracted from its 90-year-old nest. I wonder if the wooden retaining wall of the pit was salvaged as well. Note how many more panes of glass were broken in the roundhouse’s upper windows since the 1970s image above. (Photo courtesy of Whatcom Museum Archives)
Turntable being pulled into the air by a crane
Looking north, the turntable span is skillfully craned onto a waiting flatcar at the former Milwaukee Railroad turntable pit; its bags packed for the short journey and an unexpected, multi-decade layover ahead. The active G-P paper mill can be clearly seen beyond the old railyard’s sand house in the background. Sunny and airy as this scene was, today it is a disorientingly shady canyon of apartment buildings. (Photo courtesy of Lake Whatcom Railway)
Steam locomotive pushing a flatcar with turntable on top
The turntable arrives upon a flatcar at Wickersham. Lake Whatcom Railway’s steam locomotive, #1070, ever the workhorse, is seen here working its magic after the handoff from Burlington Northern. (Photo courtesy of Lake Whatcom Railway)

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David Scott Spangler

History can be connective. Since I am moved by what remains, I am documenting and sharing remnants of Pacific Northwest history before they vanish forever.