American Steam Engines Waipahu and Virginia at Nikko

Waipahu shows beauty in her rather complex mechanical arrangement Virginia takes a rest in Western Village station
Waipahu shows its beauty in a rather complex mechanical arrangement with auxiliary components mounted on the exterior. Virginia takes a rest at Western Village station, which has the air of a station in the pioneering days of the West.
By Hiroshi Naito

Two American steam engines are quietly spending the rest of their days at a theme park located in the Nikko area of Tochigi Prefecture, which is well known for the Nikko National Park with its scenic mountain views and the historic Toshogu Shrine. The theme park, called the Western Village, features the pioneering days of the American West. It is situated in a rustic location surrounded by woods lying at the foot of Nikko Mountain Range, which is particularly beautiful when covered with snow in winter.

The two engines are a Baldwin and a Poter. Their names are Waipahu and Virginia.

This engine, built in 1897, came from the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in California in 1988. It originally worked at a sugar producing plant on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, where it was used for hauling sugarcane trains. Since it was operating at the WAIPAHU complex near Pearl Harbor, it was so named. It was withdrawn from service after WWII. In 1954, it was purchased by a train enthusiast in California, and was operated at his Cotton & Wood Southern Railway. In 1978, it was transferred to the Roaring Camp R.R. and served as a motive power for excursion trains for close to 10 years until it crossed the ocean to its new home in the Western Village, Japan.

The Waipahu then served for five years in its original form after the park opened. However, as problems due to the effects of age began requiring major maintenance work, a project to overhaul the engine commenced in 1993. The project took about five years to be completed, and involved reproducing most of the components of the equipment. This required intensive work starting with drawing up plans, then replacing the boiler with a newly built one, reconstructing the cab, etc. In fact, engineering work needed almost the same as building a new steam engine. It finally returned to work in the fall of 1998, with proudly displaying its beautifully restored figure.

The Waipahu is a three feet gauge engine, 0-6-2 saddle tank. One of its prominent features is the wheels arranged inside the side frames. The boiler is saddled with a welded water tank, which supposedly used to use a riveted one. An air compressor and its associated piping were added for the pneumatic brake system. A steam turbine-generator was installed on the top of the tank. The fire room, where firewoods or sugar grains might be burnt, was modified to an oil-burner. Nevertheless, it is said that the Waipahu well retains its original form.

The Virginia is a three-foot gauge engine, a 2-4-0 tender built by Porter in 1926. There is a lack of information about this locomotive, but it is known that it was working at the Mission Creek 1894 Theme Park in Minnesota until 1991 before being relocated to this village. It has the form of a typical American type engine, with a large diamond stock and a cowcatcher. The appearance of the Virginia is rather simple in contrast to the Waipahu, because it is not fitted with any extra components on the exterior; the braking device is only a steam brake. This engine employs an oil-burner to generate steam.

One day in December 1998, I visited Western Village. Unfortunately, the Waiphau was not in operation that day. However, I was invited to the shed and was given an opportunity to photograph the engine and to talk to the chief engineer, Mr. Iwao Koyama. He works hard together with his staff to operate and maintain these American steam engines on his three-foot gauge railroad. The Virginia made a vivid impression as it steamed along a 700 m endless track, hauling a coach brought from the Roaring Camp R.R. With the dynamic sounds of the steam blasts and the steam whistle, I really enjoyed this fascinating ambient of American steam engines.

A side view of Waipahu.

A side view of the Waipahu. The arrangement of the wheels inside the side frame is unique.

The wooden cab reconstructed at the time of the restoration.

The wooden cab was reconstructed at the time of the restoration.

The Baldwin builder's plate.

The Baldwin builder's plate, which may have been placed when the engine underwent modifications in 1940.

Virginia pulling out of the station.

The Virginia pulling out of the station. Although it uses an oil-burner, the pillaring smoke is highly realistic. Oil-burning is an appropriate solution, as no fireman is needed and it is easy to prepare the engine for operation at any time.

A side view of the Virginia, showing simple exterior.

A side view of the Virginia, showing its simple exterior.

The powerful sounds of the blasting steam and steam whistle produce real steam railroad effects.

The powerful sounds of the blasting steam and steam whistle produce real steam railroad effects.

From the train

The length of track is about 700 m, with a three-foot gauge. This rail gauge is very unusual in Japan.

The train rolls through a zone called Mexican Land.

The train rolls through a zone called Mexican Land.

The name PORTER marked on the cylinder block.

The name PORTER marked on the cylinder block.

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