Engine #52 (ex #2), the first locomotive to pull a train on the WP&YR in 1898.
The first steam locomotives bought by the White Pass & Yukon were second-hand engines obtained from other railroads. Some of them were already quite old, soon it appeared that they were insufficient and at the beginning of the twentieth century, the railroad had to buy new ten wheeler and consolidation to increase its fleet. Then many years of slow business followed and the financial situation of the railroad did not allow to buy any new locomotives until 1938. At that time, after the Great Depression of the early thirties, the traffic picked up and the White Pass & Yukon bought its two first mikado from Baldwin. Two other mikado were bought used from the Sumpter Valley Railway (Oregon) in 1940.
World War II and the take over by the US Army of operations on the White Pass & Yukon brought to Skagway dozens of steam engines, of various types and coming from several narrow gauge railroads in the US (Colorado & Southern, Silverton Northern, East Tennessee & Western North Carolina, etc). Particularly 7 K-28 Denver & Rio Grande Western mikado (all of them will be scrapped right after the war) and 11 metric gauge mikado, new and originally built for export to India, but converted to 3ft gauge and diverted by the Army to Alaska.
US Army mikado #195, now on display in Skagway.
Interestingly, none of the engines used by the Army on the White Pass & Yukon were ever on the roster of the railroad, they have kept their US Army identification number throughout their service in Alaska. At the end of the war, most of the engines left Alaska and were either scrapped or sold to other narrow gauge railroads.
After the war in 1947, the White Pass & Yukon bought its last steam locomotives, two mikado from Baldwin, #72 and 73. The last engine delivered, #73, is still operational and is used by the White Pass & Yukon today.
WP&YR steam engines today
Mikado #73, during her overhaul in the WP&YR shops in Skagway.
As soon as 1964, all the White Pass & Yukon trains were diesel powered and the last steam engines were retired. The railroad kept one of its mikado, #73 on display at Lake Bennett. In 1982, as popular demand for steam trains increased, the WP&YR put #73 back into service. The engine became the pride of the fleet and is now used to pull the excursion trains for a few miles out of Skagway and on special steam charter trains.
In 2000, le White Pass & Yukon wished to celebrate the centennial of the completion of the line and leased consolidation #40 from the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a tourist railroad in Colorado, to have two operational steam engines for the celebration. Steam engine #40 was built by Baldwin in 1920 for the International Railway of Central America in Guatemala and was used in Central america until the seventies, then she returned to the USA. She is an outside frame consolidation (2-8-0), meaning that the drivers are located inside of the frame and that only the counterweights and rods are visible outside of the side frames. This type of disposition, occasionally used on narrow gauge engines, allows to have space for a larger firebox, thus making the engine more powerful. These outside frame engines look wide and low on the track, which is somehow unusual for narrow gauge locomotives. Consolidation #40 went back to the Georgetown Loop Railroad in Colorado in 2002.
Consolidation #40, the only steam engine operational on the WP&YR in 2001, in front of the station in Bennett.
Steam rotary snowplow #1, on display in front of the Skagway depot.
Although the WP&YR rotary snowplows are not locomotives proper, because they are not self-propelled, they still fell into the category of steam engines. Operations on the White Pass & Yukon have always been hampered by extremely low temperatures and snow falls, especially in the vicinity of White Pass summit, where several feet of snow accumulate throughout each winter and snow drifts are a common occurence. During the construction of the railroad, wedge snowplows pushed by locomotives were used to clear the track, but soon they were found inadequate.
in 1898, the WP&YR bought steam rotary snowplow #1 from Cooke Locomotive Works. This snowplow is able to work in up to 10ft of snow. Its boiler provides steam only to spin the front wheel, thus the engine is not autonomous and has to be pushed by several locomotives (often 3, sometimes more!). It has been used until 1968, when Caterpillar snow-dozers took over the snow removal on the line. In 1996, snowplow #1 has been renovated and is now again operational. It is occasionally used to clear the line in early spring for the opening of the tourist season, usually pushed by diesels. In spring 2001, snowplow #1 was used to open the line pushed by consolidation #40, constituting a 100% steam powered snow removal train!