Fort Missoula locomotive No. 7

In this 2016 photo, 5-year-old Amelia Grant rings the bell on the coal-burning steam locomotive on display at The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula during a summer learning day.

A staple exhibit at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula could probably use some loving care.

Old No. 7, the Willamette locomotive that once pulled log trains up and down the Blackfoot Valley for two Bonner lumber companies and co-starred in the motion picture “Timberjack” in the 1950s, is looking “a little forlorn,” Larry Ingold said.

"You can see by looking at stuff like the smokestack. It's got some dry rot and the metal is getting rusty and holes are getting into it," said Ingold. "It's all weather-related." 

The steam engine turns 96 years old this year and marks its 30th year on display at the Fort.

On Saturday, Ingold will share his thoughts and experience and entertain suggestions on how No. 7 could be spruced up, and maybe even started up again.

His talk includes a PowerPoint presentation of past projects. It starts at 10 a.m. in the conference room at the T-1 Building next to Heritage Hall.

"It's kind of a meet-and-greet to explore ideas and get some input," Ingold said. "Ultimately it's up to the board of directors at the Fort which direction they want to go, whether they want to throw a coat of paint on and call it good or whether to run it on occasions. I'm up for anything."

He thinks the project would appeal to people ranging from the hardcore rail fans, to those with an interest in No. 7 from the logging and historic standpoints. 

“We’d need to reach out to the public for help, photos, records, and, of course, fundraising at some point,” Ingold said.

Engine No. 7 was built in 1923 by the Bingham-Willamette Co. of Portland, Oregon. Railroad enthusiasts will caution you not to confuse it with the similar Shay engine built in Lima, Ohio. The locomotive was first used by the Western Lumber Company of Milltown. It was later acquired and operated by the Anaconda Copper and Mining Co.'s lumber division in Bonner. For years after it was retired, it stood guard over a roadside park in Bonner before Champion International donated it to the Fort Missoula museum in 1989.

Ingold is a relative newcomer to western Montana, but not to steam locomotives and railroading in general.

He moved with wife Jan to Hamilton from California a couple of years ago after retiring as vice president and general manager of Sierra Northern Railroad.

Early in his career Ingold restored an 1880 Santa Fe Railroad locomotive from the ground up for the Kansas Museum of History. Later he built two diesel engines from scratch for Sierra.

Ingold spent 10 years operating Sierra Railway’s Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California. He wasn’t around for “Timberjack” in Montana but he's been involved in roughly 30 of the hundreds of TV and motion picture productions featuring Sierra locomotives.

Ingold played the train fireman in the 1990 film “Back to the Future III.” His engine featured in the climactic scene, Sierra No. 3, is nicknamed the “Movie Star locomotive.” It appeared in films dating to “The Virginian” with Gary Cooper in 1929 and in TV shows such as Petticoat Junction, the 1960s series in which it played the Hooterville Cannonball.

No. 3 is still operating at the Railtown 1987 park.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian