Stevens Pass 2007
by Lindsay Korst
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Sometimes there just isn't anything running. Today started out
with a surprising dearth of trains on Stevens Pass, but finished
with a bang.
Perhaps I started out too early. As I left Monroe eastbound at
6:22 am, a westbound Z train blasted past on its way to South Seattle.
Out of the sun. Not much of a picture. Out of position. Yada Yada.
A thick, moist layer of marine air had blanketed the west side of
the Cascades with only a few spots where the sun poked through.
It was time to head to Eastern Washington and sunny skies.
The trip over Stevens Pass was uneventful with my scanner revealing
an on-time Empire Builder inside Tunnel #15. The picture at west
portal of Cascade tunnel has been pretty much ruined. BNSF has
installed what looks like a slide detector fence supported by these
huge concrete "lego" blocks on the curve leading to the portal.
Blech...not very aesthetic. Over the pass we go. There were no trains
and dark signals at Gold Bar, Baring, Skykomish, Scenic and Berne.
At least the weather is nicer over here as I roll past Merritt. At
Leavenworth, I break out into the sun. Ahhhh...that's better. Still
no trains, though. Approaching Wenatchee at 8:45 am, I finally see
an eastbound pulling into town. Time to go check out Appleyard.
Ah-HA! THAT'S where all the trains are. Every yard track is packed
tightly with double stacks, auto racks, piggyback and sundry freight cars.
Methinks the hotels are full of BNSF crews getting their rest. I hear
on the scanner (talking to that eastbound) that after some switching,
their train won't leave town until 11am. OK, on to the Trinidad area.
I decide to just poke around at the various spots starting with the
nice set of ex-GN block signals at mp 1622.2. This is my first shot
of the day and also the location of a talking detector.
Heading up inside the horseshoe, I encounter a fellow railfan in a
maroon SUV and we chat about the lack of traffic. He said a very
short Boeing train had gone past eastward with two units and about
10 cars, but that was all. I bid him adieu and set up at the nifty
wooden bridge at mp 1624.9. It's a long wait (about two hours) with
a high, thin layer of clouds slowing rolling in from the west. On
the plus side, temperatures all day were VERY pleasant in the low
70's with a nice cool breeze blowing. Normally it is BEASTLY hot
out here this time of year.
At 12:02 pm, my vigil is rewarded with an eastbound Hanjin stack train
slowly struggling up Lynch Coulee. I trot down under the bridge
for a picture:
I head out Highway 28 eastbound near Quincy. As the train
approaches the west end of Quincy siding, there is this beautiful
lake the tracks follow. With just a Heritage II and a borrowed
Norfolk Southern unit, the train is still struggling to finish
climbing out of Lynch Coulee at 12:38 pm.
Once the Hanjin is past, I head over to Quincy for a look around
the depot. The Quincy Police are out in full force today pulling
people over on 28 and one officer eyes me suspiciously as I am
parked near the depot waiting for a train. My scanner reveals
another eastbound has hit the detector at 1622.2, so I swing around
behind some buildings (and out of sight of said officer) to bang
off a shot of the BNSF 4541 East at 12:46 pm.
There has GOT to be an eastbound to follow home. I'm not hearing
anything on the scanner, but I optimistically head back to one
of my favorite boonie spots at the tunnel at mp 1621. It's a long
wait on the hillside, but at 2:35 pm my patience is rewarded with a
short Z train with 3 units and just 12 UPS, JB Hunt and Schneider
trailers in tow.
I set off in pursuit, throwing great clouds of dust as I bounce
along the access roads on my way back to the pavement. By the
time I reach Highway 28, the Z is long gone. I catch him again
just as the highway meets up with the rails near the Rock Island
The scanner reveals the Z will make a crew change downtown, so I
head to the Amtrak "depot" and wait him out. As I pass Appleyard,
I can see two trains ready to leave town eastward, so the crews are
definitely rested and the railroad is getting busy.
At 3:30pm, I watch the Spokane-Wenatchee crew get off their locomotive.
Shortly thereafter, the Seattle crew boards carrying their grips and
these large orange suitcases which I assume is scuba gear for the
Cascade Tunnel. Once I see the crew board, I skedaddle out of town
for my first shot at Dryden.
As I drive west, I can hear the crew talking to Wenatchee yard about
the condition of the 3rd unit (BNSF 3150 GP50). The unit is apparently
dead-in-train and there is some question of whether the engine brakes
will still work properly. (Yes, functioning brakes is a VERY good thing
to have on Stevens...even with only 12 cars.)
Standing at the Wenatchee River bridge, I can hear a train coming, but
it turns out to be an eastbound. Surprise! At 4:25pm, 3 matched
Heritage II units roll downhill with a long "earthworm" train of brown
BNSF grain hoppers.
Where is my Z train? Finally, someone convinces the crew the brakes
WILL function and he comes blasting uphill at 4:48pm.
It's getting later in the afternoon, but there still should be some
light at White Pines Road. I crawl slowly through tourist-choked
Leavenworth and up Tumwater Canyon. As I come up to Merritt, I still
haven't heard the train set off any detectors in nearby Chumstick
canyon. I come up to the White Pines Road turn off and....a pickup
from Oregon pulls in ahead of me....huh? Yep, he's in no hurry.
Gritting my teeth, I follow him at a sedate 15 mph. The mp 1690
detector sounds off which means I have no more than three minutes.
Mister Oregon is oblivious to the disgruntled railfan two car lengths
behind hurling oaths and unseemly curses at his backside.
FINALLY, we crawl up to the little bridge. Mister Oregon happily
continues on up the road to pick daisies and recreate whilst yours
truly jumps out of his truck and hauls himself up the rock cliff.
Gasping for breath, I don't even know if the train has passed as
I left my scanner on the seat. Fortunately, I hear sweet rumblings
and finally, thankfully, BNSF 1069 comes into view at 5:30pm.
Such drama. OK, let's see if we can grab another shot at East
Portal. I actually see the train as I approach West Berne, but
he's going so slow, I am able to get around on the access road
for a so-so view of him entering the tunnel.
I trundle up and over Stevens Pass with hardly a glance at Scenic
(nothing in the siding anyway). It's very cloudy still on this
side so I head to Skykomish. The Empire Builder is due and
perhaps there'll be a meet there with my Z train.
Sure enough, as I arrive in Sky, the 1725.5 detector goes off
which means my 1069 West is halfway down the hill from Scenic.
At 6:33pm, the Z calls off the "Advance Approach at East Sky"
and he rolls to a stop near the Sky depot at 6:45.
I just LOVE that picture. So artsy. It's my inner
And how about this one?
I like that little ray of sun peeking through
I walk around the depot and take a few shots of my little
Z train. At 6:55, Amtrak #8 announces its arrival with the
engineer carefully allowing pauses between each whistle blast
so you can hear the echo in the valley. Very oochie.
I clamber back in the Tacoma and set off down US 2. OK...last
shot. Index bridge? Nah... Sunset Falls? Too much trouble...
MP 1751 bridge? Did that before.... Spindly bridge? Yeah,
that's it! Never shot a westbound there...
This is my favorite, funky railroad bridge which crosses US 2
near Zeke's Drive In just east of Gold Bar. Remarkably, the
heavy highway traffic on US 2 was nowhere to be seen
when BNSF 1069 passed overhead (I'm standing in the bed of
my truck). At 7:32 pm, I finally called it a day and headed
So that's my Stevens Pass story for 2007. It was a slow
starter, but I was able to get some good pictures in the
afternoon when the trains started running again. All-in-all,
it was a fun day and that's all that counts.