History

Tacoma Chapter, National Railway Historical Society (TCNRHS) was founded in April 1965 and incorporated in 1978 as a Washington non-profit corporation. The Chapter’s mission is to collect and preserve historical documents and artifacts of all kinds pertaining to railroads, educate the public about railroad history, and promote railroad transportation. Tacoma Chapter NRHS received an IRC Chapter 501(c)(3) tax-exempt determination in 1983.

Since April 1965, Tacoma Chapter NRHS members have operated rail history field trips to inspect intriguing “railroad archaeology,” sponsored experiential-learning excursion passenger trains, held membership meetings and published The Train Sheet newsletter. After participating in the operation of three Northwest-based NRHS National Conventions in 1965, 1978, and 2005, Tacoma Chapter successfully hosted Cascade Rails 2011, the June 2011 National convention based in Tacoma.

Over the years, Chapter members have assembled and currently maintain the 900-volume Donald C. Dietrich Memorial Library, which also contains original railroad archive materials, photos, maps, and related research documents available by appointment.

For some 43 years, Tacoma Chapter members assisted in the operation and maintenance of the Camp 6 Logging Museum, which was created in 1964 on a 14-acre forested site inside Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. The museum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and included static displays of some 500 tons of steam logging machinery fully rigged in realistic settings, along with restored bunk houses and bunk cars from Northwest logging operations. Camp 6 also featured a short narrated train ride utilizing actual steam logging railroad equipment. Tacoma Chapter informally assisted Camp 6 operations for its first 23 years, then assumed management responsibility for the Museum for 22 years from 1988 until Camp 6 was closed by its owners on December 31, 2010, due to economic conditions and a changing park focus.

In April 2012, due to a successful Nation NRHS Convention, Tacoma Chapter NRHS relocated its offices and research library from the closed Camp 6 site to Freighthouse Square, and now occupies the former Milwaukee Road Division Superintendent’s office at 2501 East D Street, Room 204, in Tacoma. Freighthouse Square is the former Milwaukee Road less-than-carload freight terminal and office building, purchased privately in 1981 and recreated into commercial offices, retail shops, and a food court. The building also now houses the Sound Transit “Sounder” commuter train platform and ticket facility, and is designated to become the new Amtrak Tacoma passenger station in a few years, as part of Washington DOT’s “Point Defiance Bypass” relocation project.

The Chapter became involved NRHS Railcamp West (the first out west) which was held at multiple railroading sites in the area in 2012 and in 2013, members Bud Thompson and Bill Chapman took over planning and running of the 2014's camps. 

In August 2012, Tacoma Chapter began work on its new Tacoma Railroad Heritage Center, located at the east end of Freighthouse Square’s main floor. This professionally-designed project to tell Tacoma’s rich railroad history is currently under construction. The hallway displays of Phase 1 were completed in December 2012. Three display rooms comprising Phases 2, 3, and 4 were finished during 2013. We now hold our monthly meetings in the baggage room.

2013 was also the first year of the Rail Heritage Forum which was held at the Washington State History Museum's auditorium. We featured 6 speakers and had 44 attendees. Since it was moderately successful, the second annual forum was held in 2014 at the same location with 4 presenters. We had 27 attendees. We considered doing the forum a 3rd time in 2015 but cancelled it.

The Chapter has been archiving and inventorying its large collection of books, manuals and papers. We are active in three local shows, Kent, Monroe and Puyallup recruiting and selling books.

It is a sad day today as we report that the Chapter has been forced to retreat to the storage locker in Gig Harbor. As of April 21st, we are out of the Freighthouse office and any trace we were ever there will be removed by the end of April 2015.

Beginning in February 2015, we started the Foss Waterway Seaport Project. We donated the display cases and the television we used at the Heritage Center. Members have put in many man-hours building, painting, staining and being docents at Foss. The project was finished in October 2016  so please stop by and see the completed project or come be a docent.

In February 2017, the Chapter decided it needed to find a permanent home for its collection of books and railroad documents, along with the furniture and magazines we have accumulated since leaving camp 6. We are looking for a local college library to obtain our books and are negotiating with the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archives (PNRA) to gain a small amount of shelf space for the Chapter records in Burien. We may become an Auxiliary or Associate member to be determined by the PNRA Board.