Neal Wallen photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services
By Emily Smudde, WSU News intern
PULLMAN, Wash. – In the wilderness of Elk River, Idaho, Neal Wallen hunts elk, deer … and a steam donkey.
A steam donkey is another name for a steam engine. The engine was left at an old logging site, Wallen said – one of many artifacts that litter the forest with signs of abandoned human activity.
“My oldest boy and I found some old, rotted logs while we were up there one year,” Wallen said. “Then I realized they were arranged in squares. There were ten squares. It was an old logging camp.”
When hunting season comes around, “We spend the first two days hunting for deer and then search for the steam donkey,” he said.
“I had a friend who said he had found the steam donkey but he wouldn’t tell us where it was,” Wallen said. “He said the mystery was part of the fun. He took that secret to his grave.”
Strong family ties
Wallen, 46, was raised on a wheat farm outside Moscow, Idaho on a road named for his family. He is married, has five children and lives a half-mile from where he grew up.
He has worked as a steamfitter/pipefitter with Washington State University Facilities Operations construction crews for 10 years. He works four 10-hour days at WSU and also logs on his 165-acre property, maintaining the family business.
“My great-grandfather logged all the timber along Wallen Road and would sell the cleared land to create farms,” he said.
In his spare time, Wallen works as assistant scout master for his sons’ Boy Scouts troop – which also gets him outside.
“As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized it’s not the hunting that I love,” Wallen said. “It’s getting to wander around the woods that I enjoy.”