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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail: director@nnry.com

 


A Tribute to Jack Anderson
10 December 2004

 

Joan, Evva, and I have a frequent conversation on the fairness of life. Their contention is that life is not fair, and my flippant reply is, "If life was fair, horses would ride half the time." Now I need to eat those words because life is not fair; it took from us a person in the prime of his life, Jack Anderson.

I only had the honor of knowing Jack for a little longer than a year. It will be a regret that I will carry for the rest of my life, that I did not have the pleasure of knowing him longer.

For Jack was remarkable individual, I called him my magician, because I was convinced there was nothing Jack could not repair, fix, cajole, and make work. It was not just that he could repair things, but it did it in a low-key, understated way. It was experiencing artistry.

I posted Jack's passing on the Internet because I knew he had friends and acquaintances that would want to know of his passing. And then the phone calls and e-mails started coming. There was a common theme in all of the messages: Jack was a gentle man who had a deep love of steam locomotives. Jack was a renaissance man. He studied photography with the famed Ansel Adams. He graduated from Tacoma Community College with a degree in journalism.

But one of his loves were steam locomotives. He taught himself how to take care of and maintain these icons of a bygone era by reading old railroad books. Yet with Jack's touch, they weren't bygone. He coaxed them and made them talk to him. Every time you build a fire in a steam locomotive, the locomotive comes alive. And it is an art form to get a steam locomotive to do the work that you want it to do. And Jack did just that.

He did it in a quiet way. There was no ego, no bragging, Jack just got the job done. One of the many challenges facing the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is the lack of an ashpit. I was concerned that due to the ash build up in front of the enginehouse, that we would have a derailment. And I predicted it would happen on a busy day. Sure enough about one month after Jack joined us, 93 derailed just outside of the enginehouse, at lunchtime, during a winter photo shoot. The pilot truck and three of the driving axles were on the ground. I had visions of having to make refunds and saw dollar bills flying away. I met Jack at the locomotive, and asked what do we do? He said I will need some tie plates, two rerailing frogs and some ¼" sheet steel. He was polite. I was verging on panic. We rounded up the supplies the he requested and then he dropped down into the wet, cold cinders and starting placing everything. Now 93 weighs 335,000 pounds. Using our diesel locomotive, we would move 93 back about eighteen inches. Then it was back into the cold snowy cinders to reposition the rerailing frog, tie plates, and steel. Then it was another move back, eighteen inches, and then back into cold wet cinders. In one hour and forty-five minutes, 93 was back on the rails. Whenever Jack needed something during this episode, he always said please and thank you. Once 93 was back on the rails, it was serviced and went back out to the photo shoot. No money needed to be refunded because the derailment became a photo opportunity. Once all of the hoopla was done, Jack went back to his bench and continued on whatever project he was working on. I guess you could call this Jack's trademark, quiet, unassuming and a magician.

Martin Hansen, a person who knew Jack for over twenty-four years wrote a tribute to Jack that is posted, on the Mount Rainer Scenic Railroad Website. Martin generously, allowed me to quote part of his tribute.

We were deeply shocked and saddened to hear of our friend Jack Anderson's passing December 1, 2004. The news from Ely, Nevada could not have been worse. Jack and Carol had just moved into their new home in Ely and Jack had settled in as Master Mechanic at the Nevada Northern Railroad. No one was surprised that Jack was already well along in the completion of #40's restoration together with ongoing maintenance of #93 and the other rolling stock. What we could not believe was that Jack left us so suddenly.

While we that knew him will miss Jack's friendship, those in the steam community who may not have had the privilege of knowing this gentle man will miss his skills as a master mechanic. Let me tell you my view of our friend Jack Anderson.

Jack Anderson did not start out to be a master mechanic. After his schooling in the northwest, Jack was a contractor in home construction. As a child, Jack developed a life-long fondness for steam locomotives. While growing up, on family vacations he would take every opportunity to see active steam locomotives and on occasion, ride on these locomotives. This instilled in Jack the love for the mechanics involved in a steam locomotive.

In the 1970s, Jack became involved in the attempt to rebuild Northern Pacific #1364. This engine was removed from Tacoma's Point Defiance Park in the early 1970s in hopes of bringing it back to life for America's Bi-Centennial. Jack volunteered with those working on the project and began learning his steam skills at that time. At the same time, Jack began volunteering his extra hours at the railroad museum in Snoqualmie, Washington.

In the late 1970s, Jack and his friend Harold Borevec learned that Tom Murray and George Weyerhaeuser, Jr. were planning to start the Mr. Rainier Scenic Railroad. George and Harold had previously spent some working time on Shay #7 at Point Defiance Park. When they learned that a bigger operation was planned near the base of Mr. Rainier, both Jack and Harold expressed their interest to Tom Murray.

In 1979, Hillcrest Climax #10 and Heisler #91 were delivered to the Tacoma Tide Flats in need of rebuilding. Jack Anderson was hired to restore to operation both locomotives for use on the still planned MRSRR. By the summer of 1980, Jack had performed many minor miracles with very little in the way of tools and shop facilities. Many times working out in the mud and the rain on the tide flats, Jack could be found deep in the re-tubing and restoration of these two steam locomotives.

Jack was widely respected by those who worked with him as a mechanical genius. This is not a term that is used to describe many of the people working in the steam hobby. Jack's ability to read and study and learn mechanical skills in that fashion were second-to-none. During the 1980s, Jack wrote of series of excellent articles on steam boilers for the Locomotive Railway and Preservation magazine. These articles to this day are widely respected as the definitive works on steam boiler maintenance done in the last 50 years.

Jack's restoration of Climax #10 and Heisler #91 proved to be excellent. These two engines served for many years as the backbone to MRSRR. The fact that these two "lokies" operate still today is a testament to Jack's abilities as a steam master mechanic.

In his 24 years at MRSRR, Jack Anderson restored nearly a dozen steam locomotives back to operation. Additionally, Jack performed the rebuild of steam locomotives that he had previously restored when their flue operating time expired. MRSRR also became "the facility" for steam operators in the Western United States to send steam components to for rebuild and restoration. Additionally, the FRA held its training courses on steam boiler inspections at the Mineral shops due to Jack's knowledge of steam boilers. Jack's skills as a master mechanic and machinist quickly became nationally known and respected.

One of Jack's skills that have received less attention for but for which he was equally respected was his ability to work with and encourage volunteers. Many of us who have worked at MRSRR over the past decades have both learned and expanded our skills purely as a result of Jack Anderson and his encouragement. We all remember how Jack Anderson always made every volunteer feel welcome and in fact, made them feel that he or she was an integral part of the operation.

Over the years, I worked directly on a number of the steam locomotives restored at MRSRR. Many a time Jack Anderson would stop in his already busy schedule to offer me encouragement and training in the work I was performing on any given component. Jack would always make me feel as if this locomotive would not operate but for my humble efforts to work on the engine. In this way, Jack made all of us feel important at MRSRR and as if we were working on the locomotive as a team rather than under his supervision.

Beginning in the early 90s, Jack took great pleasure each spring in sponsoring a steam railroad event at MRSRR. We began operating double-headers then triple-headers and even quadruple-headers at these events. In the late 1990s, Jack was able to actually sponsor a quintuple-header train powered by five engines, all of which were rebuilt by Jack. This was certainly an achievement that few, if any mechanics in the United States could equal.

After 24 years with MRSRR, Jack, Carol and Chris thought that a change of scenery was in order. Jack heard that the Nevada Northern was looking for a new master mechanic. After a national search, the Nevada Northern was blessed to be able to hire Jack as their master mechanic. In late 2003 Jack and his family moved to Ely, Nevada where Jack quickly made friends with those at the Nevada Northern and began working to restore Locomotive #40. At his all too brief time at the Nevada Northern, Jack quickly gained the respect of all of those both in management and in operations at the railroad. The skills that Jack had honed at MRSRR served him well on the desert railroad in northern Nevada.

Jack Anderson's quiet and unassuming manner made him unique in the steam restoration business. All of us are acquainted with those in the restoration business that brag about their achievements even beyond what may be fair and just. Jack Anderson, to the contrary, was man so shy and unassuming as to be inconsistent with the monumental achievements he actually performed in his years as a master mechanic.

Let me share one of my fondest memories of Jack Anderson. I think you that knew Jack, will agree, this story exemplifies how Jack approached his job.

Each year when we would run a special railfan event in the spring, Jack would invite me up to help make up the trains, coordinate the event, and run the photo-lines. Jack and the rest of us would spend hours at the shops in the days leading up the event getting equipment ready for the event. In many years, this would involve completing the restoration on one of the engines Jack had been working on.

When the day of the event would arrive, the multiple steam engines would be fired up and readied for operation. Jack Anderson rarely, if ever, assigned himself to act as crewmember on any of the steam locomotives. Instead, the rest of us would take the engines out of the shop area and down to Elbe to couple on to the passenger train. Jack would remain back at the shop, as all of the equipment would leave. I would often ask Jack if he was going to join us on the trip. He always said that he had a "few things" to work on at the shop. Often, as we left, I would see Jack start to clean up the mess that we had all left in the final preparation of the equipment that was being used on the daily trip.

One year when we were operating one of the special spring trains, we had all departed with our engines early in the morning and left Jack back at the shop to 'tidy up'. Porter #5 was in the shop for a restoration that was taking a number of years. I recall when we left the shop Porter #5 was simply a boiler sitting on her frame and wheels and little else. There was not even a smoke box on the engine.

Later that afternoon when we brought the excursion train up to the shop for the railfans to tour, I noticed, in our absence, Jack Anderson had single-handedly mounted the smoke box for Porter #5 back on the boiler. While the rest of us were "playing trains," Jack Anderson had been busy continuing the restoration on one of his beloved steam engines.

All of us that knew and worked with Jack will miss him greatly. Our hearts go out to Carol and the rest of Jack's family for the loss that they have suffered. We can only hope that Jack's family knows that while Jack Anderson impressed us with his mechanical abilities on a daily basis, none of us would have dedicated as much time and effort as we have at MRSRR had it not been for the wonderful character and personal demeanor that we saw in Jack Anderson. Jack was a 'Master" at so much more than just mechanics.

Jack was born on June 3, 1953 and leaves behind his wife Carol, sons Joshua, Zachary and Christopher along with his daughter Stefanie Hill, granddaughter Camilla Hill and son-in-law Chuck Hill, and another granddaughter Neesa McGuire.

Jack is survived by his mother, Marijane Anderson, sister Sarah Garner and brother-in-law Marcus Garner, brother Drev Anderson and nephew Nathan Garner.

Carol asked that I include this poem:

When I have gone
And you recall
The love that used to be,
Let sadness have no part at all
Among your thoughts of me.

Remember gladness that we shared
And think of me that way.
Let your heart from pain be spared
For our life was gay.

Love was not meant
To cause regret or
Make a parting sad.
So I not ask you to forget
But remember and be glad.

 

 

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