History

The Anacortes Railway (ARy) is an ongoing project spanning some 55 years. Its history is predominantly one of its founder, Tommy Thompson Jr.  (1923-1999). Though there have been a few efforts to revive the train in the years since Tommy’s passing. What hasn’t changed is the overwhelming community support for the railway that reminds us that Tommy’s vision is alive and well. To put the ARy’s recent developments into perspective, see below for a brief description of Tommy Thompson’s vision and various proposals of narrow gauge rail on Fidalgo Island since 1961.

Anacortes Railway, Summary
1961 – c. 1964 Ship Harbor to Sunset Beach proposal
1965 – c. 1978 Anacortes city to Ship harbor proposal
1979 – 1982 Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival runs
1982 – c. 1985 Foot of J Ave. to foot of Dakota Ave. proposals
1986 – 1988 From Depot north to 5th Street runs
1989 – 1999 From Depot south to 9th Street, then to Commercial runs

-{ more on the life of Tommy HERE  }-

2000 – 2012 Train stored in Georgetown Steam Plant in Seattle
2012 – Train returns to Anacortes and stored in Railway Building in Anacortes

2015, Jan. – A volunteer team of Anacortes citizens take on the project of restoration and operation
2015, Oct. – The boiler is certified safe for operation by State L&I
2016, Feb. – The Anacortes Railway establishes nonprofit status


A brief history of Tommy Thompson Jr.
Compiled by Terry Slotemaker, 2013 – Source: Anacortes Museum Files

Tommy was born on October 3, 1923 and raised in Seattle. His father worked in the San Juan Islands. The family also owned McConnell Island located in the islands. At the age of 16, Tommy became interested in steam engines when he got a job shoveling sawdust at a steam powered sawmill on San Juan Island. After high school he worked for the Northern Pacific Railway in Seattle.

During World War II he was drafted and spent two years in Iran as an engineer on a state railroad. After World War II he studied to become a mechanical engineer at the University of Washington. While attending U.W. he and his brother spent summers and weekends on McConnell Island. They purchased a surplus U.S. Coast Guard surfboat for $400 in which they installed a c. 1900 steam engine. By 1949, Tommy and his brother used the boat to travel from Seattle to McConnell Island where they were building a house for their parents. Tommy continued to use it for the rest of his life. Between 1949 and 1981, the boat had traveled 11,000 miles.

By the mid-1950s, Tommy had become a mechanical engineer and was hired by the Shell Oil Refinery in Anacortes to run and maintain the refineries steam turbines and pumps. He and his family moved to a home on the north side of Campbell Lake near Anacortes. Over the years he purchased several steam engines and restored others. He helped restore the Seattle City Light steam locomotive which ran for several years between Sedro Woolley and Concrete. He also built a 9 inch gauge track on which he ran a train on McConnell Island.

In 1961, Tommy proposed to build a 16 inch gage, 6000 foot long scenic railway, at his own expense, to run from the ferry landing in Ship Harbor to Sunset Beach in Washington Park on vacated railway beds. He named the proposed line “The Great Anacortes and Rosario Straits Railway” and worked hard to gain support.

In 1965, Tommy purchased a 1908 Porter steam engine from Homestake Mining Company in Lead, South Dakota. Tommy transformed the engine into “a thing of beauty” to be used on his dream railway.

On August 20, 1970, an Anacortes American headline states, “Railroad Owner Pleads at Chamber for Help”.

In 1977, Tommy proposed to run a railway from downtown Anacortes to the Washington state ferry landing at Ship Harbor. Shannon Point Marine Center – WWU and others property rights blocked the running of a train through properties on the previously proposed route to Washington Park.

In 1979, during the Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival, Tommy ran his train for the first time on temporary tracks installed on Commercial Avenue from 4th Street to the Port Dock. These Arts Festival runs continued until 1982.

In 1982, Tommy proposed a one mile long railway to operate between J Avenue and Dakota Avenue. Burlington Northern Railroad and other land parcel owners did not give permission to use the unused railroad right-of-way.

In 1985, Tommy proposed running a railway from the Great Northern Depot north to 3rd Street, then west to N Avenue. By this time Tommy had built three, beautifully detailed, finely crafted, four passenger railway cars. Plan did not materialize.

From 1986 – 1988, the Anacortes Railway ran from the W.T. Preston north to 5th Street on special occasions.
From 1989 – 1999, Tommy, his sons and friends ran the Anacortes Railway from the Depot south to 9th Street, then west on 9th to Commercial Avenue during summer weekends and holidays.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Tommy proposed running his train from the Depot to March Point using the unused railway bed to Weaverling Spit and on the trestle over Fidalgo Bay.
On January 23, 1999, Tommy Thompson died of leukemia. He had worked on his March Point run dream, even when ill, at one point demonstrating how the existing tracks could be shoved together to make a 16 inch gage railway.

On May 1, 1999, the Thompson family ran the train for the last time.
From 2000 – 2012, Tommy’s train was stored in the Georgetown Steam Plant in Seattle.

In December 2012, Tommy’s train was returned home to Anacortes where it is stored in the Railway building just north of the Depot.