Harvey Hawken, owner of Crystal Creek Tree Farm in Maple Valley, spent 18 years fixing a locomotive to transport people around his farm, and it’s still not done.
Hawken said he and his wife purchased the land their tree farm is currently on back in 1967 and then planted their first trees in 1988.
He said when he first had the land, he was raising cattle, but said “they don’t work well here on the west side of the mountains,” so he switched to tree farming.
“We’ve been doing it a long time. We offer trees that are a little different than most people. We have that classic northwest look, layered, it’s called ‘medium density trees,’” Hawken explained.
He said the biggest difference between his trees and competitors is he does not shear his trees and he said his customers like that, which keeps them coming back.
The farm itself is about 23 acres, according to the Crystal Creek website. So, Hawken said he wanted to think of an innovative way for people to get around his farm, without having to put roads in.
“I’d seen a lot of other farms around and when you get a little more acreage, to get people out to the trees you got to put roads in. So you take the average road, it’s about 13 feet wide and then you have a parking area on side so people can get their trees, that’s another 10 feet. You have an area there that’s 20, 25 feet wide and that just gobbles up acreage,” he explained.
He said on top of that, there are the occasional cars that go off the edge of the road, which means he would have to get his tracker and pull them out.
That’s when he decided to get a train to transport people instead.
“I thought, maybe people would like to do a train instead, it’s a little more exciting,” he said.
Hawken said he got to work on his train dream in the year 2000, but 2018 is the first year his train has been in service.
He said the first thing he and his six sons did was they went out and surveyed their property and then they made a big topographical map with contour lines on it.
“Once we got that done, we kind of figured out where the railroad was going to go because you have to have certain radiuses and stuff for the curves,” Hawken said.
After he and his sons got all the measurements figured out, Hawken said they hired a company that does paving to come out and lay crushed rocks on the path where the train tracks were to go and then steamrolled it, which hardened the surface enough to put the tracks on.
The next step was to figure out where to get rail from.
Hawken said he ended up ordering several thousand feet of rail from Japan.
“And then we made all the ties, we made about 4,000 ties (a rectangular support for rails in railroad tracks). Each tie is 42 inches long and there’s two holes in one side and two on the other side of it,” he explained.
According to Hawken, just laying down that rail took about three and a half years to complete.
The next step was to get an actual locomotive, which Hawken said he was able to get from British Columbia.
“I scoured the Internet, wrote letters, everything to try and find that thing,” he said.
The problem was when he got the locomotive, he was told it was operational, but it wasn’t.
To make it work, Hawken said he ordered parts for the train from England because “that’s where locomotives are from.”
Then he hired a mechanic from Puyallup who worked on the train up until two years ago.
“We had the whole thing ready to go, accept the wiring. Then my mechanic died. So here I was, I was stuck with the thing,” Hawken said. “He had already made the coach for me and there’s two cars behind that.”
Luckily, a gentleman who lived in the area volunteered his time to wire the train to get it up and moving.
“He did a beautiful job, just gorgeous job,” Hawken said.
While the train does run well, Hawken said he is still not done.
His goal to achieve within this next year is to get ballasting done.
According to Hawken, Ballasting is where you gravel the tracks. He said he spent a long time getting the right kind of gravel he needs, but he finally got it all this year.
Soon, Hawken said he is going to go out in his “hopper,” which is a type of railroad freight car, and slowly but surely lay the gravel onto the train tracks.
“The reason for (laying the gravel) is that when the sun shines down on a piece of metal there’s a coefficient of expansion. So as (the rails) warms up, it expands. What happens to the track is that as it expands, it starts to move,” he explained.
Hawken said he also wants to add lighting around the tracks so it’s not so dark for riders as daylight starts to drain away.
Everything that gets done with the train is based off of volunteers. Hawken said people come out to volunteer their time to be the engineer for the train.
Looking back over the 18 years of hard work and time, Hawken said it’s all worth it.
“We have a good time. What else would I do with my spare time?”