History of the Hawaii Railway

On December 8th, 1941, the United States woke up to face the aftermath of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Initiating an era that saw mainland railroads carrying excessive wartime traffic, the same event forced the little Mahukona Terminals Ltd. to prematurely meet its fate as the Navy closed the Port of Mahukona, Hawaii.

The Mahukona Terminals Ltd. had its roots in the Hawaiian Railroad Company which was formed in 1880 on the "Big Island" to link the sugar cane plantations in the North Kohala District to the Port of Mahukona which was the only feasible site to serve as a harbor from which bagged sugar could be shipped. On January 10, 1883 the three foot gauge railroad was completed as the second common carrier in the Kingdom of Hawaii. The line was just short of twenty miles long and was graded by a labor force consisting of 100 Chinese guided by 20 Caucasians. The president of the railroad was Samuel G. Wilder, an American who had lived in Hawaii since 1858, and served as Minister of the Interior to Hawaiian King Kalakaua for about two years. Before being deposed with the rest of the King's cabinet in August of 1880, Wilder signed the railroads charter on July 5th of that year. Various members of his family served the railroad until 1899 when they withdrew their interests.

The Hawaiian Railroad Company continued its legal existence until December 17th, 1897 when it was disincorporated to become the Hawaii Railway. A similar reincorporation occurred on September 30th, 1937 with the railway emerging as the Mahukona Terminals Ltd. Except for the name changes, the reincorporations had little affect on the physical nature of the railroad itself. Major changes first occurred in 1906 when the railroad began work to cut out over a mile of track by relocating and rebuilding many of their bridges. The work was brought about after a survey by Mr. C. H. Klugel, C. E. charted deficiencies already noticed by the Kohala company which purchased the line in 1899 from the Wilder family.

Improvements continued until the "Big Year" of 1937 when the Kohala Sugar Company laid spur tracks to the mills and their corresponding fields. This marked the first physical connection of the railroad to the sugar cane operations. Previously, trucks hauled the raw cane to the mills where the sugar cane was processed and put in sacks which were then loaded onto trains. The new operational format lasted less than a decade because the railroad's terminus at Mahukona was useless after its port was closed by the Navy during World War Two out of fears that Japanese subs might attack vessels in the small harbor. With all of the sugar traffic diverted to trucks, the railroad was scrapped with only four pieces spared. This equipment consisted of two four wheel British built "Kalakaua" passenger cars as well as the oldest and newest locomotives on the line. Both engines and one of the cars were sent to Honolulu during the nineteen fifties for a proposed railroad museum. The equipment sat for a decade alongside Oahu Railway Nos. 12 and 60 until plans for a museum were dismissed. In 1963 the oldest engine, the Leslie, a Baldwin 0-4-2T was brought to California with the coach. It was ultimately restored and played a New York City elevated engine in the background of the movie "Hello Dolly." Two years later, Number Five made its own journey East.

Predecessors to #5

Although first served by several types of industrial engines, the main stay of the Hawaii Railway were its 2-4-2's. In 1883 the railway purchased a 2-4-2 locomotive from the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Named the Kauka, it set the precedent for the Hawaii Railways use of the 2-4-2 type of locomotive. All subsequent road engines would be 2-4-2's which were purchased new in 1900, 1912, and 1925. The engines grew from 27,000 pounds to 37,300 pounds but all utilized 36 inch diameter driving wheels and cylinders with a 14 inch stroke. The locomotives of the Hawaii Railway were initially coal fired, but oil became the fuel of choice in 1917.

Each engine until #5 had a name, with #2 being named Kauka, which is Hawaiian for Doctor, a nickname given to Gerrit P. Wilder, a son of the line’s president. This locomotive was scrapped around the time #5 arrived.

Locomotive number three, purchased from Dickson in Scranton, PA, was built in 1900 and named Myrtle. It received a new Baldwin boiler in 1918. Although retired by 1945, this engine inspired the name and design of a locomotive now in service on the Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad. Operating in Maui, this locomotive was built as a saddle tanker in 1943 for the Carbon Limestone Company of Hillsville, PA. It was not until 1969 that it was rebuilt and sent to Hawaii where it operates today for tourists using a second hand whale back tender unrelated to the original Myrtle.

Number four of the Hawaii Railway was built by Baldwin in 1912 and named Hawaii. It was retired by 1945.


In 1925 the Hawaii Railway purchased #5 from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, PA. The locomotive was financed by a successful increase in freight rates as well as higher quantities of sugar shipments. The locomotive cost $11,901.25 new while a Model T Ford of the same vintage cost $290. Today the locomotive's price tag would be equal to approximately $118,848.

Number five served the Hawaii Railway until the end of World War Two when the line was fully out of service. With minimal use between 1941 and 1945, the engine did not even have two full decades worth of wear and was thus retired with the potential of running again. Being the newest and largest engine on the railway, the locomotive was set aside for a museum then being planned by Norman Clark. As the engine wasted away, waiting for a museum that never was, it carried with it various home made parts not present when the locomotive was first built. Among such items are a foot board in place of a pilot. Buckets of sand were placed on the foot board and workers, grabbing the bar above the pilot with one hand, would sprinkle sand on the rails with the other. The presence of this modification, combined with the discovery of a bend in the frame about one foot in front of the saddle and a new lead truck wheel set, are signs of a wreck that damaged the pilot and lead truck. A 1941 photograph shows that a cylindrical spark arrestor once graced the top of the smoke stack. Although oil fired, sparks and hot particles can be emitted when the flues are sanded and start dangerous fires in the cane. As the engine sat in Honolulu, various parts, especially brass, were taken from the engine. It did not even have its tender as that wound up in Antelope, CA some time before the locomotive and was under the care of Hal Wilmunder.

After being noticed by airline pilot and railfan author Jay Conde, the locomotive was brought to the attention of Bob Keller, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University. The engine purchased by Mr. Keller and shipped to his home in California. There he began the job of restoring the engine, even performing some work at the University's shop. In the five years that he spent restoring the engine, he had a new boiler fabricated by Ocean Shore Iron Works in San Francisco. Although built to the same dimensions as the original boiler, the new one is all welded. A welded tender water tank was fabricated by volunteer John Greco as it was missing from the tender, but the original wheels, trucks, frame, and oil bunker were present and reusable.

The initial steam-up of the new boiler on the locomotive took place in April 1970 in Alviso, CA. Later that year the locomotive would be fully assembled and operated on the Tahoe, Trout Creek & Pacific Railroad at South Lake Tahoe, CA. This operation utilized a new right of way and was operated by Keller's Scenic Railways, Inc. The railroad folded after a year or so of operation when Scenic was chosen to operate the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway in Chama, New Mexico. The locomotive followed Keller to that operation since it offered a safe storage location.

While in Chama the locomotive was used for the 1979 film "Butch and Sundance: The Early Days." The locomotive is briefly shown pulling a train of Chinese workmen on a flatcar laden with rail and ties.

In time, the locomotive was sold to Shorelands Corporation near San Francisco. In 1991 the locomotive came into the possession of the Southwest Leasing Corporation in West Los Angeles as collateral against a defunct loan of Shorelands. As the locomotive and tender were trucked through Los Angeles, Dr. Richard May received a call from a friend who said "a steam locomotive is going down Olympic Boulevard!" After chasing down the locomotive, Dr. May spoke to the truck driver when the rig arrived at Southwest Leasing and obtained the phone number of the new owner. Some time later, he managed to purchase the locomotive. In the process, he beat out the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, CA, which sought to add it to their recently acquired collection of narrow gauge equipment from Ward Kimball.

With a new owner, the locomotive once again found itself headed for a new location. This time the locomotive was bound North, to Georgetown, CA, and the shop of Brook Rother. In 1999 the locomotive began a three and a half month restoration in preparation for a visit to Railfair at the California State Railroad Museum. In order to refurbish the locomotive, it was completely disassembled. While apart, the locomotive had its rear set of drivers reversed so that the right and left (R and L) stamps on the axles would match their respective orientations. The previous restoration saw this wheel set installed backwards. Since the eccentrics are driven from its axle, the locomotive ran in the direction opposite to what the Johnson bar was set to. This was corrected during the initial restoration by reversing the eccentric rods. Machine work was done to the locomotive’s lead truck and new tires were installed on it and all of the tender wheels as well. The boiler was ultra sounded and approved for the 165 p.s.i. it was built to run at. Missing parts such as the steam pressure gauge, brake pressure gauge, bell, three chime whistle, headlight, turbogenerator, and Detroit Lubricator were all replaced at this time. Except for the tender floor, most of the wood work was also installed at this time. When the locomotive left Hawaii, termite concerns caused all of the wood to be removed and fumigated before being shipped seperately to the mainland.

With the restoration practically complete, the locomotive was loaded onto a truck and sent to Railfair in Sacramento. It operated there alongside the Eureka and other narrow gauge engines on a special segment of narrow gauge track. After delighting many visitors at Railfair, the locomotive made its next appearance at Ardenwood Park in Newark, CA, on Memorial Day of 2000. By the fourth of July that year, the locomotive was in Carson City, Nevada for a steam event at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. While there, it ran briefly alongside famous standard gauge Virginia and Truckee engines like the Inyo as well as Nevada icons such as the Eureka again.

At the close of the event, the locomotive was sent not back to California, but Connecticut. Before owning Hawaii Railway #5, Dr. May owned an Argent Lumber Company 2-8-0 which he obtained from Edaville. Originally planning to have it restored in Connecticut, he wound up selling the engine to the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association when it became clear that the locomotive needed more repairs than an individually could justify. In August of 2000, the same group offered to pay for the engine’s transportation to their site in Kent, CT. in order to operate the engine for their annual steam show. In September of 2000 the locomotive made its first trip under steam on the East Coast.

Now residing inside a brand new engine house in Kent, CT., the locomotive has recently had its tender decking replaced after a half century absence. A new tender foot board has been installed and the piping has been upgraded. Minor, but important changes have also been made. For instance, the tender journals received new waste. The 1999 restoration saw new oil, but the same waste repacked which included an old T-shirt.

Except for sand dome caps and pipes, the locomotive is complete and in excellent shape. It will run annually at the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association’s fall show and occasionally in between. Two former Denver and Rio Grande hi-side gondolas have been acquired and will be used to haul passengers.

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