Pre Stevens 2005
Another photo-location scouting trip on Stevens Pass
Saturday, June 4, 2005
by Lindsay Korst
Greetings GN fans young and old! Let's take a quick
day trip on that most hallowed of Rocky ground, the
ex-Great Northern line over Stevens Pass.
0540 - I am out the door and on my way to Monroe to
reach the ex-GN mainline, now BNSF's Scenic Subdivision.
0626 - Fed and watered and fully stocked with munchies,
I proceed eastward along US Highway 2 alongside Jim
Hill's Empire. It is very cloudy today, but no rain...
typical in the western half of the Cascades for this
time of year. It's a damp 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
0640 - Gold Bar - All signals are dark indicating no
trains nearby east or westbound. A quick check of the
Amtrak website revealed #7, the Empire Builder is right on
time this morning out of Wenatchee, so I should meet
him around Skykomish if all goes well.
0657 - Baring - All signals dark.
0706 - Skykomish, Washington.
As I cross the tracks at the depot, I spot a green
signal for a westbound. #7 already? Quickly, I park
the truck and hoof it up to the depot and X-294 caboose.
I can hear a distinct rumble and a triangle of light
appears around the curve in the gloom. It is BNSF 1002
(Heritage I) leading BNSF 5206/4040 on a hot-footing Z train.
0723 - Milepost 1725.5 detector indicates the Empire
Builder is on its way downhill from Scenic.
0737 - #7 with "blue nose" units 47/194 serenades the
Skykomish valley with his melodic chime horns. I bang
off several shots of the Builder as it passes the
X-294 caboose parked by the depot.
Soon I'm giving chase and easily overtake the train
downhill to set up for my next shot.
0800 - The big bridge at Milepost 1751. Part of a
1960's-era line change and featured in a GN produced
video "The Lively World of Great Northern".
The Builder flashes past almost silently as I digitize
him for posterity with the foaming green Skykomish
River at my feet. After #7 passes, I scout down
the trail further...and find a much better spot!
Oh well...next time. I take one picture of the
bridge and river as a reminder and head back to
0816 - As I clamber in my truck, I hear and feel the
distinctive, chugging of BNSF GE units uphill! He must
have been sitting in the Goldbar siding waiting for #7.
I give chase. This is great. It means I have a train
to follow all the way to Wenatchee.
0837 - I am back at Skykomish waiting for the eastbound.
0845 - He sets off the Grotto detector (MP 1735.0) so
I get in position with the Skykomish depot and X-294
caboose as a background. It is BNSF 5294 leading 3
other GE's with a Norfolk Southern as 3rd unit. The
hogger gives me a "shave and a haircut" on his airhorn
in response to my highball.
It is a fast-moving Z train or "Zipper" as I kept
hearing on the radio today. His load of UPS trailers
and JB Hunt containers will have a very fast trip over
the hill as there are absolutely no westbounds in his way.
0927 - I am at White Pines Road near Merritt, but discover
this "just won't do" as a morning shot as the sun is
blocked by that big rock wall there.
Yes, sun. Once I crossed Stevens Pass on US 2, the
clouds magically parted and sunshine and pleasant
70 degree temperatures would be the norm for the
rest of my railfanning.
0950 - Using a very rough access road, I carefully
pick my way along in 4 wheel drive to the west switch
at Merritt. Parking well out of the way, I find one
of the last vestiges of the GN left on Stevens Pass.
It is the full signal bridge spanning both tracks
and it looks great in silver and rivets, basking
in the warm sun. This relic might not be here
forever, so I take several photos just in case.
1002 - BNSF 5294 cruises under the signal bridge,
and once more the hogger greets me with an enthusiastic
highball. The orange units look sensational in the
As I make my way back to Merritt "downtown", I
notice the crossing still has a GN-style
crossbuck on the south side. At least I THINK
it is GN-style, with the narrower angle arms
instead of the more common, 90 degree "X".
Oh well, here's a picture of it. Judge
for yourself. It does look like they re-lettered it.
1032 - I pass through Leavenworth and just outside town
catch up to and overtake the Z train. I'm barely ahead
of him as I pass by Cashmere. In an effort to enhance
revenue, the State Patrol has lined up FOUR cruisers on
a curve near the town. I'm doing 62 in the 60 zone, but
it still gives me a start. One of the cops pulls over
the black SUV that was passing me doing around 70.
1105 - I reach Wenatchee and turn left towards the tracks.
I check out a potential spot (Olds Junction), but can't
find/set up a decent photo by the time the Zipper arrives.
Durn. Can't win 'em all...
No matter. It is a beautiful day today. 70 degrees and
a light breeze. I am heading way east of town to near
Trinidad to check out a couple potential spots.
Neither of which amounts to much. First stop is Crescent
Bar road from the "Trading Post" along the tracks and
downhill from West Trinidad. Eh...so-so.
BUT...as I head up Baird Springs road...a green signal!
It's the Zipper I've been following all morning. Quickly,
I reverse direction and set up to take a picture I've
always wanted to, but never got around to. This is the
"GN-looking" bridge over State Route 28 at West Trinidad.
Neat, huh? It's even got a pole line in the shot! Now
if someone would just stencil a nice, crisp GN logo on that
bridge trestle or the concrete abutment...
<-- If only...
Different crew, but again, I get an enthusiastic highball
and wave from the friendly hogger.
Second place to check out was Spanish Castle Road. Again,
so-so. There's the Columbia River, but the angle is not
too good. I much prefer the Columbia Siding road for
photo ops which is closer to Wenatchee.
1300 - Back to the Big W we go. I stop at Rock Island for gasoline
and have lunch in sight of the tracks. I can hear from the
radio that another Z train is coming westbound - one that I
can follow back across the mountains if all goes right.
1315 - I'm at Wenatchee depot. From the parking lot, I photograph
power on an eastbound stack train (BNSF 5351 East) which is
boarding a fresh crew.
1330 - The westbound Zipper arrives. Quickly the crews change and
I head out of town to stay ahead of him. I should say HER, actually.
The lady hogger repeats back to the dispatcher "BNSF 7738 OK to
proceed west on signal indication".
1402 - I'm at Dryden. The standard shot here in the afternoon is
usually the Wenatchee River bridge east of town. This time, I'm
going to try the Wenatchee River bridge WEST of town. It's a
good choice and one I will add to "my list" in future.
1415 - Passing through Leavenworth. 72 degrees and I've just caught
up to the BNSF 7738 West.
1500 - Back to White Pines Road or "The Slot" as it's called by
some. Wonderful light on the nose of 7738 as she comes uphill for
my final series of pictures for the day.
Back on US 2, I set off in pursuit. The Zipper is so quick, I don't
catch her until she's almost completely inside the East Portal of
Cascade Tunnel. I head over the pass and once again the clouds
appear as I reach the western slopes.
Normally, I'd try for a few more pictures at West Portal and along
the way downhill, but I've got enough fuzzy, cloudy pictures for one
trip. I head straight home seeing only one other train, an eastbound
stack at Sultan. Home at 1640.
Note to self. I saw another "GN-style" crossbuck at the Startup
crossing. Have to check that out some day.
Had a great trip! OK Scott, we're all ready for our annual
Stevens Pass 2005 trip in a couple weeks. Train Hype!