What’s New in the ‘Hood: Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive

Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive
425 SW 153rd Street
Burien, WA 98166
Ph: 206.349.6242
Email: info@PNRA Archive.comcastbiz.net
Hours: The archive is open by appointment.

If you have been a regular reader of this blog you may remember that in 2014 Historic Seattle organized a series of tours of repositories in the Seattle area as part of a “Digging Deeper” series organized by Luci Baker Johnson. Due to popular demand, the program was again offered in 2015 with a completely new set of archive tours. With growing popularity of the program it is again being offered in 2016 with a couple of new features noted at the end of this article.

Because I am on a writing sabbatical, I was unable to attend this tour and so Luci Baker Johnson was kind enough to contribute as a guest blogger!  Thanks, Luci.


RRM groupHistoric Seattle’s “Digging Deeper” 2016 series was kicked off on Saturday, February 6th in Burien. A group of ardent individuals visited the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive (PNRA) to learn about the unique records that are archived and managed by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. PNRA preserves the heritage of the classic railroads that have shaped our region since the 1880s, then makes that information available to everyone over the internet.

Executive Director Gary Tarbox welcomed attendees and explained that PNRA was formed by a consortium of non-profit Railroad Heritage Organizations (RHOs) to own and operate an archive facility in Burien. The RHOs use affordable space and services to preserve the histories of their railroads. He went to explain that the facility is not a museum, but an archive that provides internet access to the collections from the following RHOs:

  • Boeing Employee Model Railroad Club – bemrrc.com
  • Cascade Rail Foundation, representing the Milwaukee Road in Washington state milwelectric.org
  • Great Northern Railway Historical Society – gnrhs.org
  • Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association – nprha.org
  • Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway Historical Society – spshs.org


RRM boxA little history and background about the railroad operations. The Burlington Northern Railroad was the product of a March 2, 1970, merger of four major railroads—the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad—as well as a few small jointly owned subsidiaries owned by the four. When this occurred materials (ephemera) was saved by railroad employees, rail historians and fail fans. These items were stored in basements, lockers, barns, etc. By now these ambitious individuals are in their 70s and 80s. The need to preserve was and is prevalent!


So, in 2009 the PNWA was created by a group of Railroad History Organizations (RHO) who pooled their resources to create a World-Class Railroad Archive in the Seattle area. In 2010 their dream became a reality. Through generous donations and loans they were able to purchase a 7,500 sq. ft. building in Burien. They were able to build-out the building to accommodate the vast amount of archive materials that had been previously stored by individuals. These materials include

  • Photographs
  • Station Plats
  • Authority for Expenditure (AFE)
  • Valuation Maps
  • Architectural drawings
  • Track Profiles
  • Time Tables
  • Special Instructions
  • Equipment Diagrams
  • Dispatcher’s Train Sheets
  • Yard Diagrams
  • Property Change Records
  • Annual Reports
  • Manufacturer’s Catalogs
  • Railroad History books
  • Geographic Maps
  • City Guides
  • Newspaper articles
  • and First Hand Accounts

RRM plansFollowing the presentation, Bob Kelly outlined three case scenarios to demonstrate how they assist researchers in their quest for information. There were many questions, all of them answered. 🙂

The bottom line that the archive folks told us was – just ask! That is, if you come across anything that may involve a railroads, which were plentiful in the Pacific Northwest history, send them an email with your inquiry. These expert volunteers – yes, ALL volunteers – will guide you to materials that you may have never dreamed existed!


We have added a couple of new features to the program. Specifically we are offering two hands-on-workshops that will assist researchers in techniques in record searching.

The first 3-hour workshop will take place on Saturday, July 9th and will be conducted by Carol Shenk and Greg Lange from the King County Archives. It’s an expansion on what they introduced in 2014 and was blogged about here: What’s New in the Hood: King County Archives.

The second 3-hour workshop will be the last one of the 2016 year and will take place4 on Saturday, September 24th. “Analyze Your Built Environment, an Observational Approach” will be led by non-other than professional genealogist and licensed Architect, Jill Morelli – the author of this blog.

You can sign up for any or all of these programs by going to Digging Deeper 2016.

Guest blogger,

Luci Baker Johnson


3 comments on “What’s New in the ‘Hood: Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive

  1. This is awesome, I did not know there was a railroads archives!

  2. Kevin says:

    Very cool!! I was totally unaware of this gem in Burien. As a “train geek”, I’m very excited to see this blog post!!

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