How I Became a Volunteer at Camp 6

by Ed Mattison

Everyone has a story of how they became involved the first time at a museum or historical society. I’ve been involved in several organizations over the years. The very first one was the Camp 6 Logging Museum in Point Defiance Park and here is the story of how I became a volunteer at the first museum I worked at.

I was in High School and had always been a fan of trains when I found out about a model train contest that was coming up. Having won many awards in various crafts and ‘trades’, as we call them now, at several fairs through 4-H, I decided to enter the contest. After getting my parents’ permission and filling out the form it was time to come up with a model. I don’t remember how I came up with the idea anymore but I decided to build an Olympia Beer tank car.

After drawing up plans, I took mechanical drawing in Junior High, and starting the build my mom asked where the contest was. All I remembered was Tacoma and that is what I told her. She asked for a few more details so I looked at the flier. It said Point Defiance Park, Camp 6.

Now up to this point I had never been to Camp 6 but I had been to Point Defiance several times. Between Fort Nisqually and the Zoo I was out there several times a year. I thought the event was going to be at what was called at one time the Madrona Day Camp, now it’s a dog park, as the flier said Camp 6 was by Fort Nisqually. This was the old CCC camp location in the park. I was wrong. Next to the Madrona Day Camp was the entrance to Camp 6, right after the stop sign. A lot of times when I was in the park the gate to Camp 6 was closed so I never went in. This time it was different, the gate was open and I went through it.

I saw the camp cars as I entered Camp 6. Camp cars are actually small cabins mounted on flat cars. Each car had four bedrooms and a large common room in the middle. These were the portable bunk houses for the loggers. There was one that was different as it had been converted to a single family dwelling. It even had a small kitchen. This was for a logger that was married and more than likely his wife worked in the camp. The contest was held in the last camp car which was a large open room with a closet or storage area on one end. This one was a small workshop at one time.

I entered my tank car in the contest and was welcomed to the museum and told to feel free to look around. They told me to be back at a certain time and they would give me a tour which included areas normally off limits to the public. I wandered around the museum for a bit, being in awe at all the interesting stuff there. It didn’t take long before I ended up at the steam locomotive. It was a Shay locomotive and I had heard of them but this was this first one I had ever seen. She had three vertical cylinders just in front of the cab that powered a drive line which went to the trucks and powered the wheels through gears. I couldn’t believe it, here was a Shay locomotive, the first I’d seen, under steam and running.

When I think back it might have been the first operating steam locomotive I had ever seen period.

I watched the train go off into the woods and made my way back to the camp car where the contest was. It was about time for the special tour to start. We had a tour of the engine house and one of the bunk houses from Kapowsin that was currently closed as the exhibit was still being developed in it. Thinking back it’s ironic that the tour included the Kapowsin bunk house as in about five years from then I would move to Kapowsin. I lived in a regular house not a bunk house.

We also were guided to some of the other exhibits on display and told their story on how they served the logging industry.

To ride the train was an extra cost but to ride the speeder was free. As I was a student and didn’t have a lot of extra money I took the free ride. For those that don’t know a speeder is a small self-powered rail vehicle used to either haul loggers into the woods or, like this one used for inspections of the railroad. Most were powered by a small gas engine, this one had a Model T engine in it.

I enjoyed the ride, in fact I took several rides on the speeder. The rest of the day was spent looking around at the exhibits and riding the speeder. One of the volunteers, Kyle, noticed my interest and asked if I wanted to volunteer there. Of course I said yes, but would have to check with my parents first. I was still in high school. I later found out that Kyle and I were in the same high school. He was one year ahead of me. My folks said okay as long as my grades stay up and I don’t let it interfere with my other duties. Needless to say I was a happy kid. Oh and the model contest. I won 4th place, of course there were only awards for the top three. But that didn’t matter as I was about to start on a new journey. One that I’ve enjoyed all these years.

Ed Mattison is a beloved volunteer for Tacoma Historical Society. With his wife and fellow volunteer Rose, he was awarded the inaugural Ronald E. Magden Award, recognizing exceptional and continuing service by a volunteer on behalf of the Tacoma Historical Society and its aims of preserving, presenting and promoting Tacoma history.

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