Stevens Pass 2017
Chasing Trains with Scott Tanner
by Lindsay Korst
Saturday, June 24, 2017
My buddy Scott showed up ready to go at 5:30am. After loading up my Tacoma
truck, we headed out for breakfast at Sultan Bakery. It is going to be a blazer
today. 90 degrees plus on BOTH sides of the mountains with not a drop of rain in
First stop (at Scott's insistence) is at the Money Creek Campground where BNSF
crosses the South Fork of the Skykomish River.
An on-time Empire Builder rolls west through the early morning sunlight.
For the second picture of the day, we backtrack and race madly down US 2 to
catch #7 at Index. The view of the Builder at Index is sublime.
The Empire Builder's Superliners reflect the sun crossing the North Fork of
the Sky River at Index. Mount Index rises up in the background.
Once more heading east, we stop off at Skykomish. Signals indicate there is an
eastbound coming, so we set up at the West Skykomish signals.
BNSF 5327, a GE C44-9W, leads a hot Z train around the curve and into town.
Once the last trailer has passed, we head out onto US 2 and make for the turnoff
at Deception Creek (Forest Service Road 6088). Because of the sun being so far
north this time of year, I try a shot from the opposite side of the tracks as
BNSF 5327 peeks around the corner through the cut and onto Deception Creek
bridge. The lead engine "winks" at us! (caught the sunlight just right). Scott's
grab shot of yours truly.
Traffic jam at Scenic! There are actually 3 trains here. In the foreground is
a work train in the siding. Next door is the Z train, and out of shot behind the
BNSF 5327 is a westbound double stack.
The Z train has a red signal at East Scenic, which means they're flushing the
tunnel for him to proceed. Scott and I decide to press on east and set up for
the next shot. As we cross Stevens Pass and roll over the east portal of Cascade
Tunnel, a double stack train is just coming out of the bore! We have leapfrogged
ahead one train going east. We can still catch this one (if we hurry) at White
BNSF #5187, a GE Dash 9-44CW, leads a double stack train downhill along Nason
Creek. Note the third unit, a run-through Kansas City Southern #4536, GE AC44CW.
The next trick is getting around the congested tourist town of Leavenworth to
our final shot of this train. We are set up and waiting at Richardson's Curve
(Monitor, WA) for no more than 10 minutes when the double stack arrives on the
Scott has the best-composed shot of this stack train, so we'll lead off with
his picture. Scott also gives the train a roll by.
It is almost exactly an hour before the following Z we had been chasing finally
shows up. The sun is getting pretty high in the sky, so "looking-down-onto"
shots are the order of the day.
A six axle quartet of GE's drift downstream to Wenatchee at the Monitor
Scott and I then drive into town and look around Appleyard. Sure enough, an
empty eastbound coal train is just heading onto the Columbia River Sub. We take
off after it, and set up near Columbia River siding.
BNSF # 5497 heads back to the Powder River Basin for more black diamonds. The
lead unit seems to be coughing and wheezing as it starts to climb up into Lynch
The empty coal train is on its hands and knees as it crawls slowly up towards
The dispatcher has run the coal train into the siding at Trinidad as we make
our way up to the horseshoe curve.
After about 30 minutes standing around in the 90 degree heat, the Z train comes
along and sweeps around Trinidad Horseshoe. That's my new 2017 Toyota Tacoma
Limited gathering dust in the sagebrush. As we trudge back to the truck in
the simmering heat, Scott comments, "We suffer for our craft"...
Shortly thereafter, the empty coal train gets a green signal and makes its way
From a different perspective inside the horseshoe, we watch the empty coal train
struggle uphill towards Quincy and points east.
It's early afternoon and with no trains east or west in sight, we head back to
At the east switch of Appleyard, we watch as an empty oil train parks itself on
a side track.
We check into our respective rooms at good old La Quinta Inn and take a quick
nap! (Yes, we're getting to be that age where naps suddenly make sense....)
Refreshed, we decide on an early dinner at the Riverview Restaurant atop the
Coast Hotel in downtown Wenatchee. There's a nifty pair of short line units on
the tracks below (for the former GN Wenatchee-Oroville line).
We head back to the east end of Appleyard just in time to see the empty oil
train heading out.
Heading back to the hotel, we spy a Z train with Boeing 737 fuselages up front
at the yard office making a crew change. I know a little spot up the road.....
BNSF #6015, a GE ES44AC, screams west with airplane parts for the Renton Boeing
plant. Here, the train crosses the Wenatchee River at Dryden in the setting sun.
We had intended to wait at the Wenatchee Amtrak platform to take pictures of the
incoming #8 Empire Builder, but the NRPC app kept telling us it was getting
later and later. It was getting darker and we had both had a long, hot day with
LOTs of great train action. Bag it. Let's pick this up tomorrow.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Once again, #7 is right on the advertised. I had lined up a great shot for us
with the Cascadian Fruit Warehouse as a backdrop BUT --- wouldn't you know, an
eastbound Z train was drifting down the next track over for a spot at the yard
office BLOCKING our shot. How can too many trains be a bad thing?
The conductor takes a stroll on the platform, the new engineer boards Amtrak
#151, and with green signals beckoning westward, the Empire Builder heads toward
With #7 out of town and no trains visible or on the scanner, we hit Denny's for
a little breakfast fare. Appetites sated, we slowly head homeward, keeping an eye
out for any stray trains (Sundays can be pretty quiet). It is Scott who hits upon
the idea of visiting Gaynor trestle just below Berne, WA siding.
This is an excellent choice as late June is one of the few times that the sun
shines on the NORTH side of the trestle making morning shots very do-able.
Reaching the turnoff at Highway milepost 75.7, we make our way down a very rough
4x4 road to the tracks. There already is a camper at Gaynor, but he appears to
be asleep. As quietly as possible, we make our way past his encampment to the
old GN line with a beautiful view of the trestle.
Over the years, railfans have done a terrific job of "logging" the spot making
wide, open vistas of the trains possible. We bait our hooks and wait. Scott has
brought along two folding chairs, so it is a comfortable vigil.
A rumble. By God, it's NOT another truck up on US 2. It is indeed an eastbound
stack train and we can hear it howl through Gaynor tunnel in dynamic braking and
just like that, he's on the bridge.
A Hyundai double stack train drifts downgrade with distributed power crossing
Wow...what a great end to our railfan trip. But wait! Scott has never seen the
east portal of the original 1900 Great Northern Cascade Tunnel! A quick turn off
at Yodelin Place and...
Boonie! Amazingly, the "C A S C A D E" letters above the arch are mostly still
intact. You used to be able to walk through the whole, 2.6 mile thing, but a
roof collapse at the west end has made that impossible.
Scott and I had a great time and both of us remarked this is probably the most
trains we've ever seen on one weekend trip. The weather was great and every shot seemed
to just fall in place. Sometimes you get lucky.
TRAIN HYPE, 2017!
HERE for a one day scouting trip on Stevens I took two weeks previously....