Sandpoint Train Hype
June 8 to June 10, 2006
by Lindsay Korst
This summer's railfan trip with Scott Tanner was a real
road show. For some variety, we drove clear across the
State of Washington to chase trains between Spokane and
Sandpoint, ID on the famous BNSF "funnel".
We both had Thursday off, so we left Redmond about noon.
The weather was very cloudy and rainy until we reached
Cle Elum, then the rest of our ride on I-90 East was in
Between Ritzville and Cheney we saw no less than FOUR
westbound trains on the ex-NP line to Pasco. We were
"out of position" for all of them (grumble, grumble).
Cheney was the first stop for a roster shot of the
local power (a former CN GP40-2 safety cab).
We next took the Cheney-Spokane road and saw a
beautifully-lit spot at Scribner, but we decided
to press on to the more famous overhead bridge
shot at Marshall. We were not to be disappointed.
I parked my truck in a nearby quarry and we hiked down
to a spot above the tracks. The sun was out and late
afternoon sun bathed the area. We baited our hooks
After about 15 minutes, there was a low rumble and
a westbound BNSF grain train appeared with a Heritage
II unit (orange, baby, YEAH!) on the point. We banged
off shots from our overhead vantage point in a frenzy
of excitement. Train hype!!!
Scott was trying out his new Digital Rebel camera, a
fine birthday present from his Mrs. He said I had
blathered on about how "I'll never go back to film" so
many times on our trips together, that he had to get
one for himself. I think he made a wise choice.
Next stop was the west end of Latah Creek trestle. The
traditional spot to the south end of the wye has been
neatly fenced off to keep out exuberant railfans, no
doubt. However, you can still drive up inside the
"Y" where the lines split (one to Seattle, one to Pasco).
That's my new Toyota Tacoma which managed to find its way
into the picture. That's also Scott digitizing the scene
Heading into Spokane, a westbound waited and as we
crossed the creek, punched its headlight to bright
and started across. Scott and I took some grab shots
at Sunset Junction.
It was getting on towards 6pm now and time to head for
dinner at a Spokane institution...the fabulous "Frank's
Diner". Their breakfasts and my personal favorite, the
chicken fried steak, is to die for. If you're EVER in
Spokane, you've got to eat here:
After a sumptuous meal, there was still plenty of sunlight
left. Time for some more pictures of the towering Latah
Creek trestle built in the early 70's. Both an eastbound
and a westbound provided the double stack entertainment.
Finally, it was time to head for the hotel and a good night's
sleep (or at least a nice lie down -- I never sleep too
well the first night in a motel). We called it a day
and endured the flabby sort of wireless internet at the
Best Western. Uh-oh...I forgot my camera download cable!
Fortunately, Scott has the same camera I do. Tanner to the
rescue! Thanks for the loan, buddy...
Friday, June 9, 2006
We are up bright and early and so is the sun. It looks like
another beautiful day in Eastern Washington. After a quick
breakfast at the hotel, we are quickly on our way pacing the
BNSF (ex-NP) line from Pines Road east towards Idaho. Just
like yesterday, there is a parade of westbounds into Spokane
running, unfortunately, out of the sun and not worth digitizing.
The yard and fuel depot at Hauser, ID is full of trains including
an eastbound led by a spanking clean Norfolk Southern unit
in gloss black. We choose the Idaho Hwy 41 bridge over the
tracks as the day's first picture.
We follow the mainline and as we approach Silverwood amusement
park, I spot an orange flash a little ways off. I whip a U-turn
and head back to the level crossing, sliding to a stop in the gravel.
After the Z train full of UPS trailers hurtles by, we make for the
big cut at Granite, ID. We're too late. I hear a detector sound off
clearly on the scanner and before we know it, the second section of
the above Z train flashes past before we can retrieve our cameras.
Onward to Sandpoint. Just before reaching the famous US 95 "long
bridge" over Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced "Ponder-ay"), we turn
off on Bottle Bay Road for the classic morning shot of the ex-NP
trestle over the lake. It is still early morning and the fog has
not yet lifted. Scott takes a couple "mood" shots, but were are
not rewarded with any trains.
To our dismay, we can hear the dispatcher handing out time on the
nearby track to maintainers. No trains for a while. A white
hi-rail truck rumbles west across the bridge. Finally, after
watching the fog lift and the sun rise for a long time, an eastbound
makes its way across the bridge.
After the eastbound stack crossed, we stayed behind a while longer in
the hope that we would be graced with a westbound into the sun. No
such luck. We heard on the radio that a westbound was stuck
behind some trackwork at Elmira siding (between Sandpoint & Naples).
Finally, we decided to bag it and head up north towards Naples. JUST
as we were out of position, another eastbound started across Sandpoint
trestle. Curses! At least Scott banged off a few shots, whereas I
didn't even bother. Harumph! Already got that shot. Grumble...
So on to Naples we went. US 95 north winds through the downtown of
Sandpoint and there was so much traffic, it took us a while to get
north of town. Once clear of the congestion we heard the westbound at
Naples talking to the track gang at Elmira. At the east end
of Colburn siding, we spotted this really cool signal
with a funky staircase attached. Hey, that might make a nice
shot, "in case".
"In case" happened around the next curve in the road. Scott spotted
the headlight of our westbound slowly picking his way through
the slow order. There was all sorts of equipment at Elmira so
it looked like an all-day trackwork thing.
I managed to find a side road to turn around in and we roared back
to the funky signal. We didn't have a moment to lose as the
westbound blasted past the camera on a grain train. It even
had distributed power on the end that was working. Train hype!
OK, back to Naples we went. Since the grain train had gone
by, there were many pieces of MOW equipment on the main and
side track at Elmira. Lots of wood ties going in.
At Naples, we parked at the north end of the bridge and
walked out on the overhead roadway. This was the old
highway bridge now used by logging trucks coming and going
to the nearby sawmill. The old Naples GN depot is still
beside the mainline in a field. We cooled our heels for a good
two hours here with not a train in sight. BUT...as we
kept telling ourselves...it sure beats working! Indeed,
it was a fine, sunny day about 70 degrees and blue sky.
Finally, we decided to press on to Bonners Ferry and have a look
around there. We took the scenic route which more or less follows the
tracks including the nifty bridge and tunnel combination just north
of the end of Naples siding. At B.F., there just wasn't anything
happening and nothing on the radio, so we turned around and headed
back to Naples. Heading back on U.S. 95, the radio came alive.
An eastbound was talking to the work crew at Elmira. Would we
make it in time?
Yes, just barely. Fortunately for us, this grain train was just
creeping down the mainline allowing us just enough time to photograph
the units from different angles. We jumped in the truck in the hopes
of getting a shot of it at the east end of Naples with the tunnel,
but he suddenly took off, got it up to 60mph, and left us in the
dust. We turned back.
We pulled in at the rustic Naples General Store for some pop and
snacks. A couple from California left the rat race behind and
set up shop -- and have been happily at that location for 20 years!
Business was good with a steady stream of townsfolk passing through.
Figuring we had exhausted the Naples angle, we headed back to
Sandpoint for a little GN-sleuthing.
We first checked into our Super 8 for the night, then headed west
from there until we reached the former GN tracks. There's still
a small yard there used by (I think) the Pend Oreille Valley
Railroad (POVA) which runs from Sandpoint to Newport on the old
GN mainline, then takes the ex-Milwaukee Road up the river to
A small train was parked at the west end of the yard, but it
was Scott who found the catch of the day. On its own side
track and basking in the sunshine was a pristine GN Big Sky
Blue boxcar! Well, 35 years of sunshine had faded the paint
to a dusty, powder blue. This was great. We took pictures
from every angle. Oddly enough, the car was built in April 1970,
one month AFTER the BN merger. I guess they didn't want to
waste all that blue paint.
Scott also spotted what looked like a depot far down the tracks.
I had thought the Sandpoint depot had been dismantled some
years ago, but I was game to check this one out.
We wound our way through neighborhoods, past an elementary
school just letting out and viola! Wow, that sure looks
like an old GN depot to me -- right down to the rounded
end boards on the side of the building. I took a couple
grab shots for posterity.
Just for the heck of it (and to kill some time before din din),
Scott and I headed west along US 2 and the old GN mainline.
Visions of Western Stars, dancing in our heads. The track
is now torn out between just west of Newport and Dean, WA,
so streamliners on this line are only a dream.
At Newport, the local museum had closed but there were still
decent shots to take including the GN depot and a very funky
Central Kansas/Hudson's Bay switcher in the yard (how's THAT
for a combination?)
On the way back we stopped at Priest River and shot a couple
units shut down on the side track.
It was getting on towards supper time, so we made our way
to the "Powerhouse", a two story, brick building now
used as a bar/restaurant featuring an outdoor deck with
a sweeping view of the local marina AND the BNSF mainline.
We ordered a couple brewskis. It didn't take long. In
about 10 minutes a westbound rolled by and we both snapped
some pictures in the sunshine.
Nice huh? Well, right after that, the sun went
behind a cloud and some ominous black skies rolled in.
The rain began to fall and we headed inside. Still,
we couldn't have picked a better day for railfanning,
all things considered.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Another early start! I enjoyed a waffle with boysenberry
syrup at the hotel lobby (hot bad!). We checked out
and headed west towards Spokane.
The weather had turned positively Seattle-ish. Dark
gray skies and a smattering of rain. As we tooled
down US 95, sure enough, we came upon a unit coal
train going the same direction as us.
As you can see, the pictures turned out nowhere near
as nice as yesterday, even with digital. Still, that's
quite an eclectic blend of road power with the following
consist: BNSF 9216 SD60M, ATSF 8229 SD75M, BN 9547
SD70MAC in "Grinstein Green", Oakway 9051 SD60.
After the last car passed by, we set off in pursuit again.
This time I picked the curve and huge cut at Granite, ID
which we had missed on our way up here.
After this photo stop, there was no chance of catching the train again
on the 60 mph railroad to Spokane. It was a moot point anyway
because the heavens opened up and the rain started POURING down.
We stopped at a Starbucks (the world's slowest) in Spokane whilst
Scott got his morning coffee.
We had intended to follow the ex-GN mainline from about Edwall
west, but it was raining streetcars, so we pressed SW on I-90
instead. Just outside of Sprague, I commented to Scott that,
"I'd always wanted to get a picture here" where I-90 crosses
the former NP line to Pasco. Lo and behold, there was a headlight
on the horizon!
The rain had cleared up reasonably well, so a couple "prairie" shots
were called for.
Encouraged by this sign of train hype (no MOW work on weekends), we
decided to punch north to catch the ex-GN at Odessa and follow it
west. It was a long drive north through endless green wheat fields.
As we descended the hill into Odessa, we spotted a westbound coming
down the hill! Talk about timing. And get this. He was holding
at the siding for an eastbound just going through town.
We chased this train on Hwy 28 until we reached the turnoff for
Marlin/Krupp. Always wanted to check it out. Tore down the road and into
town not a moment too soon.
I didn't think it was possible to catch it again, but we sped on
reaching the turnoff for Wilson Creek in record time. I pulled up
at the crossing for a couple broadsides of the power.
Next we headed into Wilson Creek for a look-see at the X-280 caboose.
Since my last visit, it had faded to a lovely shade of pink. Not
worth a frame. The sun must be brutal out here in summertime.
That would about be it for our day's fanning. Both of us were
ready to call it a day, so we punched south for I-90 and headed
for home. In summary, it was an enjoyable journey. I'm still
tickled about that Sandpoint depot picture as well as the GN
boxcar Scott found. See you next year?!