Biggest turntable in Tacoma

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

In the early days of Tacoma, railroad defined the economy, identity and geographical contours of our city.

Tacoma literally exists as a city because of the coming of the railroad. Like Tacoma, the railroads have had an up and down history. The “destiny” that framed Tacoma emerged from the railroad and, like every technological breakthrough, railroads did not maintain their supremacy very long.

Trains are still an integral part (on a daily basis in many neighborhoods) of the continuing pulse of life in Tacoma.

Along Tacoma’s waterfront and downtown, you can see rusting and abandoned rails, but one of the most fascinating remaining remnants still on our landscape is the foundation of the Northern Pacific Railroad roundhouse. You can see the base of it at 2211 E. D Street (just off Puyallup Avenue).

Northern Pacific roundhouse, August 2017    Photo by Morf Morford

Northern Pacific roundhouse, August 2017           Photo by Morf Morford

The roundhouse, made of brick, was designed to act as a turntable. Train engines at the time, had no ability to run in reverse. They would drive into the turntable building and then the base of the building would turn to allow the engineer to “park” the engine or reconnect it to another line of cars to go on another run.

Aerial view of the extreme southern end of Commencement Bay, 1947 Photo courtesy Tacoma Public Library

Aerial view of the extreme southern end of Commencement Bay, 1947
Image courtesy Tacoma Public Library

As you can see in the upper right corner of the 1947 photo, the actual building was a semi-circle. Not needed, it was torn down in 1971.

You can see a model of this building (and an extensive reproduction of Tacoma’s rail-based economy) at the model train display at the Washington State Historical Museum.