Arts and Entertainment

Glory days of trains are remembered

For the Mirror

The history and social impact of trains in south King County is the subject of a new exhibit at White River Valley Museum.

“Auburn Yard: Northern Pacific Railway’s Western Freight Terminal” features 40 historic photographs depicting the yard through its 60 years.

From the building of the yard in 1912 to its closing in 1972, Auburn was a town defined by the railroad. Located at the center of the Northern Pacific’s north-south main line between Seattle and Tacoma, Auburn was the western-most terminal and ideal for a freight and service yard.

The massive industrial complex transformed Auburn, a sleepy farming community in 1910 of 957 souls –– smaller than the remote mining burg of Black Diamond, population 2,051. By 1913, with the yard completed, Auburn’s population had more than doubled to 1,928.

Transformation happened within Auburn’s society, as well. Some of the most prominent people in town were the railway’s agents, yardmasters and foremen. Many mayors and members of Auburn’s PTA, school board, chamber of commerce and city council came from the ranks of the Northern Pacific.

The railroad built a 25-stall roundhouse, machine shop and office, sanding, water and oil facilities, a power house, a store house, an ice house, a freight transfer shed, bunk houses for the yard’s section crew, a coal dock and more than three miles of switching tracks.

In the 1970s, when the Burlington Northern Railroad was formed in a merger, management favored yards in Tacoma and Seattle and began vacating the Auburn facility. Long-time Auburn resident Rodger Campbell, the last employee at the Auburn Yard, remembers distinctly “turning out the lights.”

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation is sponsoring the exhibit of the yard’s history.

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