June 24-26, 2004 trip on
Stevens Pass with Scott Tanner
Thursday, June 24, 2004
Train hype day! I leave directly from work
for Scott's house in Edmonds armed with
camera, cooler, suitcase and laptop.
I got to Scott's house around 3pm. We drove
out to Monroe for gas, groceries and dinner.
As we were pulling into the restaurant, I
heard/saw the crossing gates go down!
Our first train was a westbound work train
with a GP30 on one end and a GP38 on other
with caboose and several side dump cars
with huge boulders in them. Didn't get
the numbers as cameras were still in the
Then while eating dinner at the Mexican place,
we saw an eastbound stack train bomb through
town with a Heritage I on the point leading TWO
Norfolk Southern Thoroughbred engines.
After dinner, we moseyed down to a nearby
"depot" (spotted by Scott) which indeed turned
out to be the old Milwaukee Road station in Monroe.
We knocked on the door, walked in and introduced
ourselves to a Civil Engineer who was using it
as an office. We noticed blueprints and old photos
framed on the walls, and the gentleman proceeded to
tell us about them (it was close to quitting time).
He said he had heard the GN depot was moved up on
the hill above Monroe and partly used as a house!
I'm not sure if this is true, but it may lead to
a future hunting expedition.
With a good half an hour head start on the Empire
Builder, we drove out US 2. At Gold Bar siding, we
stopped to take pictures from my truck bed of
GN wood chip car #174379.
From there, it was a short distance east to the
"Spindly Bridge" over US 2. The skies were very
overcast as we waited. On the scanner, we
heard another eastbound take siding at Gold Bar
(on track 3) for Amtrak #8. The freight reported
in the clear and then finally the Empire Builder
came by with Engine #65 on the point. We gave chase.
Our next shot was at Skykomish depot shooting south
and nicely framed with the station, the first unit
and an old Ford pickup. The sun obliged by popping
out at the last minute.
The last shot of the evening would be at Gaynor trestle.
We saw the previously-spotted "P" train with 2
NS units at Scenic with his headlight dimmed, waiting
for the Builder to lead it through Cascade Tunnel.
How they did it was a little bit unusual.
First we heard on the scanner that the Builder would
PULL IN BEHIND the "P" freight and allow a westbound
"Z" train to come through from Berne. Once the Z train
passed Scenic, the Empire Builder would then BACK OUT
of the west end of Scenic and go through the tunnel
ahead of the eastbound "P" train. The female dispatcher
said, "Sorry about that, that's not my plan". The Builder
engineer took it all in stride and said it was OK.
As we passed the East Portal, we saw the westbound
Z train flying into the tunnel. We made our way
down to Gaynor and scoped out our shots.
Due to the above maneuvers at Scenic, we were losing
our light rapidly. While cooling our heels at Gaynor,
we were surprised by yet another westbound (ATSF 611
with stacks and racks) grinding uphill to meet Amtrak
at Berne! Finally about 20:10, the Builder comes by and
gives us a nice highball.
I figured the Builder wouldn't make it into Wenatchee
until almost 2200 the way things were going. Boy, was
We did NOT catch the Builder until Wenatchee! He made up
time and got there about 21:10 (only 25 minutes late).
We saw only the two red tail lights on the last Superliner
ahead of us as we came into town.
That means he averaged around 47 miles per hour from
Berne to Wenatchee. Pretty good considering all the
30 and 40 mph track on that segment. Rocky Lives!
We checked into the La Quinta Inn around 2130. Scott
got us some nice rooms on the top floor across the hall
from each other...at the "corporate rate". Way to go,
Time to hit the hay. Big day tomorrow.
Friday, June 25, 2004
Up at 0600 for breakfast at La Quinta Inn. While pottering
around the hotel, we saw a late-running Empire Builder
passing by at 0645.
By 0800 we are up at Trinidad horseshoe curve west of
Quincy. We tried a spot on the north side of the loop.
Scott hiked up to near the one cut on the curve while
I sayed on the road below. We stayed in touch using
Motorola walkie talkies. At 0825, Scott reported seeing
an eastbound coming up the Coulee. Shortly, a stack
train with 3 BNSF units and 1 ATSF unit passes. The
consist is 7828/9287/7286/6303. The lead unit is a
battered old ex-BN SD40-2 with a huge graffiti painted
on the long hood (must have been left overnight in a
We move to a spot inside the loop with a good view of
the area. Shortly thereafter at 0850 a westbound
Evergreen double stack silently drops down past our
viewpoint. His consist is 5496/6942/853/6407. The
nice, clean Heritage II unit on the point contrasts
sharply with an absolutely filthy 3rd unit, a red and
silver GE. We get some nice shots of the consists
across the valley in the morning sun.
Next, we do a little exploring. In 4 wheel drive,
we head up to Tunnel 11.1 on the east leg of the
loop. The light is wrong (this is more of an
afternoon spot), so we just take some pictures of
both tunnel portals and the old GN grade which used
cuts and fills on the outside of the hillside.
Back down to the main horseshoe curve, another
westbound drops downgrade. It is a long double
stack train with only two GP60 units, ATSF 111
and ATSF 153 passing at 0955.
As this train makes its way down toward Trinidad
siding, we can see the headlight of an eastbound.
At 1005, this materializes into the "Quincy Local"
with BNSF 2734 running long nose forward. He is
pulling a gondola, 2 boxcars and 3 covered hoppers
for the extensive food processing industries up
As he passes, the crew is crowding the cab as I
stand there with my Canon Rebel. One of the crew
returns my wave. As I get back to the truck the
same crew comes on the radio to the dispatcher
to report our presence.
Scott and I decide now might be a real good time to
pick a new location due to the report and also
the fact that it is getting quite warm. (It would
hit 99 in Wenatchee that day and probably in
the 100's on Trinidad).
And now for something completely different. Scott
agrees to try a totally new location well west of
his beloved Trinidad. This is the Wenatchee River Bridge
near Plain, WA between the Swede and Chumstick
tunnels. It takes a while to get to this place, so
you pretty much have to sit there and wait for a
train to come along.
We get there around noon and it is a beautiful
spot along the river. I am able to park the truck
in a cool spot and we set up cooler and camp chairs
in the shade with a commanding view of the
bridge and river.
We watch an osprey circling overhead looking for a
fish lunch. Our scanners tell us they are doing
some track work at nearby Winton which means we
probably won't see a train for a while. Still, it
is a very relaxing place to sit and chat. This is
half of what train spotting is all about: Enjoying
a soda, the view, and good company.
About 1400, we hear a strange clunking noise out
by the road crossing. We are partially hidden
near the trees and look back. It is a BNSF
highrailer taking his truck off the tracks at the
crossing. Scott said he briefly walked over to
look at my truck and then headed off.
Shortly after he leaves, a gent by the name of
Kim ambles by. A very friendly fellow, he owns
a house on the river nearby. We strike up a
conversation and it is apparent he is a rabid
railfan as well! We start talking about various
picture locations and in mid-sentence Kim stops
and says, "Here comes a train now, sounds like
GE's". Wow. Neither of us can hear it.
Still, Scott and I head to our previously picked
out spots. Sure enough, at 1415 a westbound
"Z" train comes cruising across the bridge. His
consist is BNSF 4029/4318/ATSF 642/a Norfolk
Southern GE unit (number not readable). Those
orange Heritage II units on the point really
dress up the picture!
We say goodbye to Kim and head to our final spot
of the day. This is out to White Pine Road which
is just west of Merritt siding. This is a sensational
"afternoon shot" for westbounds with a large rock
face on one side and a burbling stream and trestle
on the other.
We waited here for a couple hours watching the sun
get lower and lower. Finally, at the last possible
moment at 1710, a westbound stack train popped
around the curve. Led by ATSF 660, this was the
train we had seen earlier in the day at Trinidad
with ATSF 111 and 153 trailing the big GE.
As the sun was getting low in the mountains, we
called it quits for today and headed back to
drinks and dinner in Wenatchee. A most productive
and enjoyable hunt today!
Saturday, June 26, 2004
A much more leisurely day. Up at 0600, but
we potter around for a bit, buying more ice and
water, have breakfast and finally head out of town
westbound looking for "morning shots". The railroad
appears very quiet today with no freights in evidence
ready to depart town.
Finally about 0730, we hear of a westbound "Z" train
arriving Wenatchee from the east. We also learn that
the Empire Builder is VERY late and will be coming
along after the Z.
At Leavenworth, we turn up the Chumstick valley and
decide upon a shot with the rails high above us with
a short bridge over the highway. The ex-GN is heading
almost due north here, so the light is good for a east
or westbound. We bait our hooks and wait.
The scanner crackles that there is an eastbound
coming towards us and that he will take siding just
east of us at Leavenworth, making him the first train
we'll see today.
At 0900, a general merchandise train comes slowly
down the tangent, braking for the west switch of
the siding. This train has distributed power with
3 units on the point (753/4785/842) and two
units nose-to-nose midtrain (BNSF 1084/SP 6275).
Also in the consist is wood chip car GN 174301
which is recorded for posterity.
Clipping off the detectors from Wenatchee, the
westbound Z finally arrives at 0930 blasting
uphill at 50 mph track speed. His consist is
4195/4981/MRL 261/ex-Conrail NREX 5473. Nice
pictures in the low, morning light!
We set off in pursuit of the Z train. We pass
him at Merritt, but are held up near Berne for
an "accident investigation" which creates a
2 mile backup on US 2. Finally we get through
and head for our first photo op, "The Cut",
otherwise known as the Bonneville Crossing
just west of Deception Creek. After looking
around, it's apparent the light is not "right",
so we dash back to the west portal of Cascade
Tunnel just in time to see the Z trundle by
at 1100 (but no pictures).
Undaunted, we head down the hill to Skykomish
for a shot of the Z at the depot. Passing
the east switch at Sky, we are pleasantly
surprised to see an eastbound Z in the siding!
Trains are starting to back up. Good deal.
We hear the dispatcher talking to the eastbound
Z. He says they will be waiting for "2" (the
westbound Z and the Empire Builder which is
now right behind).
At 1135 the westbound Z glides by and serenades
us with his air horn at the crossing. I have
to say that the Heritage II paint scheme looks
sensational against the evergreen background
and blue sky. Go Rocky, Go!
While waiting for Amtrak to show up, we bump
into none other than Mike Sharpe of Iron
Goat Trail fame! We chat for a while and
then he heads off. Mike is making arrangements
to bring another GN caboose home to the
Stevens Pass area!
At 1218, the Empire Builder shows up and
hurries by, almost 5 hours late. Scott and
I decide to photograph the eastbound Z at
Deception Creek trestle, so we head up there
and scope out our shot.
While driving up US 2, the dispatcher gives
the eastbound Z the bad news that he is stabbing
him for an eastbound empty grain train that
will OVERTAKE him! I guess they really need
those covered hoppers BAD. The engineer howls
as he realizes this means another hour delay
(half an hour for grain train to go through
the tunnel, half an hour to flush the tunnel).
Of course, these two railfans are delighted.
At 1315, the eastbound grain empties come
blasting upgrade and Scott and I get some
nice vertical shots in the tight canyon
of trees. The lead unit is a photogenic
Heritage II #4770 with a NS unit trailing
and two other units. The grain train is
LONG (I'm guessing 100 cars).
Right after him comes the eastbound Z
chomping at the bit with BNSF 5436 on
the point at 1345. We hear him calling
off the approach signals for Scenic as
he prepares to once again take siding.
Once again, we visit "The Cut"/Bonneville
Crossing, but don't see any trains. Scott
takes the opportunity to hike through
the cut and explore the other side.
We leave about 1515 and start making our
way home. At the little shop near the
east switch at Skykomish, Scott notices
a large GN logo on the building, so we
stop and look at the knick knacks on
The next stop is the Baring store with
its collection of GN calendars and
artifacts. I notice the store is open
from 7am to 7pm and they sell trail passes
(handy if you want to visit or hike the Iron
We depart Baring about 1600 and as we pass the
west switch, I notice the signal is displaying
red over white. We quickly pull over at the
bridge west of there, but after 15 minutes,
decide to head slowly west. Sure enough, as
soon as we leave, we can hear the engineer
giving her location as "coming into Baring".
Quickly, I whip a U Turn and zoom back to the
spot, letting Scott out so he can take a picture.
I go up further and turn around where it is
safe to do so. When I get back, the train is
coming by. I didn't catch the unit numbers,
but they are pulling a solid train of
well cars and empty TTX flats east!
The rest of the drive home is uneventful
(no trains) and I'm home for dinner by
Scott and I had a great time. I was glad
I could show him some "new" spots and I'm
sure we'll be out there again next year.