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2004 Stevens Pass Trip Preview

Friday, June 18, 2004

Hi folks...

Time again for another Lindsay trip narrative.

Mid-June traditionally is when Scott Tanner and I head
out for a weekend of train spotting on Stevens Pass and
in Eastern Washington.

This year, I decided to take a "scouting trip" beforehand
and visit some of those spots I've always wondered about,
but never made the time to see. My ground rules
were, no matter WHAT, to NOT worry about chasing trains
or getting pictures of them...concentrate on visiting 
new spots. Uh huh. Sure. Somehow, I saw lots of trains 
despite myself.

I am up bright-and-early Friday morning. Gassed up, fed
and watered, I leave Monroe, WA around 0645. Soon, I
am tooling along on US 2 which parallels the former
Great Northern mainline from Everett to Wenatchee and
points East. Most of the highway traffic is westbound
(commuters) and once past Gold Bar, I have the road
to myself.

Just past Index at 0715, my scanner crackles a "no defects"
detector report at milepost 1740 (west of Baring).
At the Highway 2 overpass, I look down and see a 
Heritage II unit leading a Hanjin doublestack
westbound. As the highway comes alongside the track
west of Baring, I get a great view of the train as
it snakes along at track speed.

Amtrak is due (westbound #7, The Empire Builder) so I
stay close to the tracks and turn in at Skykomish. I
pass the X-228 caboose and notice there is also a 
truck parked nearby with X228 license plates! Very
cool. There is still nothing on the scanner about
Amtrak, so I proceed to my first "project" of the day.

I am trying to see if there is an access road to the
west end of Foss Trestle (east end access to Foss is
well known). Just before the Foss River
Road crosses its namesake river, I take a boonie
access road up to trackside. Nope, no road up to 
Foss trestle. Damn. I park well off to the side, 
roll down my window and listen.

Ha HA!...I hear a downhill train! I get out of my
truck and get the camera ready. Soon, it gets very
quiet. No sound at all. I wonder if perhaps I had
heard trucks over on US 2 instead of a train.

Suddenly, I notice a golden light shining on the
rails up on the curve. Very quietly, ANOTHER
westbound stack train slowly (10-15 mph) eases by
at 0745. Where is Amtrak?

As I head back down the access road towards Foss
River, the scanner comes alive. It is the dispatcher
talking to an EASTBOUND saying he will meet the 
westbound that just passed me AND Amtrak which is
right behind him at Baring.

Now that I know the situation, I head into Skykomish
for a shot of the Empire Builder at the depot (ummm...
I thought I wasn't going to be DOING this today.
Can't help myself).

Lofty Nathan 5-chime air horns announce the arrival
of #7 which rolls through Sky at 0825. I stand in
the bed of my truck and take some "going away" shots
of the Builder with the depot in the foreground.

With a supreme effort, I ignore the eastbound at
Baring and press on with my original scouting plan.

First, I want to time some things. It takes me 20
minutes to drive Skykomish to the top of Stevens
Pass. It takes me 15 minutes to drive from
Stevens Pass down to the Wellington townsite on
the old Cascade Highway. This old road, which
uses some of the old GN switchbacks is partly
paved, partly gravel and in very rough shape. What
strikes me as I drive along is that large animals
appear to be using this road as a toilet with
heaps of dung every 100 yards or so.

I briefly check out the Wellington Trailhead. The
Iron Goat Trail folks have done a SUPERB job 
developing and interpreting this historic spot.
What's left of the townsite has been well
documented (the tunnel, the showsheds, various
foundations) and the trails are solidly built.

Since I didn't obtain the trailhead fee, I don't
hang around long and head back to the summit. I will
definitely have to come back here and spend some

On to the next project. I descend from the summit
on US 2. Near Winton, I pull over and take some
pictures of the old GN depot in a field alongside
US 2. This is a morning shot and I somehow never
bothered to stop before. I stand in the bed of my
truck to get above some pesky bushes for one shot.

On to Leavenworth, I take a picture of the old GN
depot, now the Grange Hall. Even though this is
really an evening shot, my Digital Rebel does an
adequate job taking this backlit picture.

At the east end of town, I turn north up the
Chumstick Valley and just before the GN ducks
into a tunnel, I turn off on Camp 12 Road. My 
mission here is to check out the EAST bank of the
Wenatchee River bridge near Plain, WA (West bank
has easy access). 

The way is rough and I slowly make my way in 
4 wheel drive up a hill through the forest.
Soon, I am over the ridge and descending beside
the Wentachee River. Finally, I come to a spot
about 200 feet above the river and can look down
and see the railroad bridge. I am still a ways
away, so I snap in my 300mm lens and take a 
picture. As I'm getting ready to leave...I hear
a horn! Unbelievable. It is the eastbound from
Baring siding! To make things sweeter, he is crawling
downgrade at about 10 mph (must be a slow order nearby)
so I bang off several shots of the units. Kick!

Back in the truck, the way gets steeper and narrower
with several obvious washouts as I carefully pick
my way along. I sure hope I don't meet someone coming
the other way! Soon, I am high above the portal of
the tunnel and can see the tracks below...hmmm, no
view of the bridge from here.

I continue on and the road turns to gravel, then
pavement. Finally I reach the main road and head
back to US 2 at Leavenworth. I make my way down to
Monitor and explore some possible picture locations
there. No trains. I park alongside the tracks
about noon and eat my lunch. 

As I am sitting there, I notice the newly-installed
rail has something written on it in chalk: "Bogart -
105 degrees - 05-11-03". Almost as if to answer my
question, the scanner comes alive. It is the dispatcher
talking to "Foreman Bogart" (what a great name!) giving
him track and time at the siding in Skykomish with
NO westbounds for at least 3 hours, but several 

After lunch, I head to nearby Wenatchee and take a picture
of the little brick building (former lunch room?) now
used by the signal department at the Amtrak stop. 
The GN depot is, of course, long gone.

At 12:45, I start heading my way back home. Most of 
the next "projects" are afternoon shots. It is a long
drive back to Berne. I turn off the highway (MP 74) and
down a very steep road to the east switch at Berne. At
1400, I park my truck and walk across the narrow flatcar 
bridge over a small creek. I see the east switch at Berne
(MP 1697.3), but the signals are dark. The Gaynor tunnel
is just a half mile down the track, but I elect to head
back and leave that hike for another afternoon.

Coming over Stevens Pass, I look down and see an eastbound
parked at the Scenic east switch. Once I descend to 
trackside at 1430, I pull up to the west portal of Cascade 
Tunnel and see thick, brown clouds of diesel exhaust 
wafting out. That means the train holding the main 
at Scenic is waiting for the tunnel to flush.

Near Deception Creek, there are TWO access roads to the
track - one to the east and one to the west. I take the
eastern one first. This leads me up to the Deception
Creek bridge (MP 1721.8) and a nice rock cut further on. 
A late morning shot. Still, I take a picture for future 
reference and head on.

Now I take the western access road. This is not a Forest
Service road and is very very rough. I take it carefully
in 4x4 and after a good mile drive up from the road, reach
the tracks. Wow...what a spot! This is "The Cut" I've
heard so much about. There is an overhead transmission
line and just east of that is an impressive, just-wide-enough-
for-a-train cut blasted out of solid rock.

I take my obligatory pictures of this cool spot and head
back down the road. I get about 100 yards downhill when the
scanner at MP 1725.5 announces, "No Defects".
eastbound? Can I make it back in time? Somehow, I get
the truck turned around and back up to the tracks. I can
hear the eastbound working hard, but not yet in sight.

I position myself back on the hillside with the transmission
line in the background. Shortly, an old BN SD40-2 leads a
double stack train past my vantage point and into the cut. His
locomotive consist is down on their hands and knees, blasting 
along at about 15 mph.

After the stack train has passed, I head back down to US 2.
My final "project" for the day is to scout out the first
shot Scott and I will take next week. East of Gold Bar,
just before Zeke's Drive In (with it's NP caboose masquerading 
as a GN one), the old GN crosses US 2 on what I call 
"the spindly bridge". The tracks cross US 2 at a very 
narrow angle, so there are three pillars on both sides
of the road which support 4 bridge sections. It is difficult
to get into one shot, even with a wide angle. I content
myself with taking multiple shots and details of the
unusual structure. Next time, I hope to have the Empire
Builder up there in the photo! Neat spot.

That concludes this missive. As this is just a warm up,
I will eventually post the details of my trip this summer
with Scott Tanner to Stevens Pass...and beyond!!! Stay tuned.