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Return to Sky 2024
written by Lindsay Korst

I last visited Skykomish in February 2022 and in June moved from Washington to North Idaho.

Last month, I got wind of an informal "get together" at Sky of those folks who enjoy watching and commenting on the Skykomish Virtual Railcam.

Shortly thereafter, I realized this was something I really wanted to do and thus I called Henry at the Cascadia Inn to reserve a room.

Friday, May 17

Waukon, Ho!

After a quickie breakfast at Mickey D's, I was roaring west on I-90 to this little hamlet (railroad siding) of Waukon, Washington. This is where I met up with the Columbia River Sub portion of BNSF's ex-Great Northern mainline. No trains. And frankly, not much going on here.

Back roads more-or-less follow the old GN Ry. through Edwall, passing the high bridge through Canby. Headlight!

Whipping a You-E, I returned to the bridge to photograph (backlit-dagnabbit...) an eastbound empty coal train. Still, a good start to the day.

Then along Bluestem Road to Harrington where Coal Coulee Road (gravel) follows the double track for quite a ways. This is the last picture of my truck being clean!

At Downs, I stop to weigh the Tacoma on a grain-elevator scale (5,080 lbs.)

Coming into Odessa, I join SR28 and spot the world's shortest ballast train (2 GEs bracketing 5 cars). Yes modelers, there is a prototype for everything.

From Odessa to Wenatchee saw absolutely nothing. Filled up with gasoline, crossed the Columbia River and headed downstream to look at a Scott Tanner-discovered spot on Kawecki Road where you can shoot a train crossing the massive double bridge over the Columbia at Rock Island, WA.

Incoming! Change of plans. A westbound Z (in this grab shot) racing through Appleyard means I have something to follow to Skykomish. This priority train must have been following me all the way to Wenatchee. The Rock Island bridge shot will have to wait for another day.

Hot trains usually do a zipper change at the yard office downtown. I checked this out and sure enough, the guys with the tunnel scuba gear were boarding. SO, let's head to the first good afternoon shot -- Dryden.

Nice light. The river is running high from the snow melt. "BNSF Detector, MP 1661.6, No dee-fects, Out." Horn from BEHIND me...huh?

Faster than you can say, "James J. Hill", an EASTBOUND Z train is flying towards Cashmere where, presumably, he'll meet the train I'm supposedly following west. Amazon as far as the eye can see. Okay, on to the next spot.

Tourist town Leavenworth is a royal pain-in-the-you-know-what to get through on US 2. Figure at least 10 minutes. Thus, I'm going to try another Scott Tanner-recommended spot and pull over at Winton Tunnel #14, MP 1684, 4064' long, near where it crosses US 2.

THAT'S my Santa! Finally, here comes the westbound Z down on its hands and knees and smoking like the devil as it pops out of the tunnel, gasping for air.

Denied on my 2022 trip - account snow blocking the access road - I head for West Berne to capture this Zippity Z before it heads into Cascade Tunnel #15 (east portal).

A short cut of overseas containers adds a splash of color to the dreary skies.

I need to get to Sky by 4pm or so to check in and thus I forsake shots of the Z emerging from the west portal of Cascade Tunnel. Besides that, it was raining hard at Scenic, WA.

Welcome to Skykomish! As I check in with Henry at the boonie Cascadia Inn, we have him to thank for sponsoring the PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) Virtual Railfan camera for all to enjoy. There's no better place to stay in Sky!

After stashing my gear in Room 10, I snap a few grab shots of an eastbound S train (overseas 20' & 40' containers). That's Carla (who suggested this railfan get-together) beside BNSF # 6599 as it rumbles past Rocky, The Great Northern mountain goat and the Sky depot.

Hey, Carla...Congratulations on making the VR Grab Bag highlight reel! (about the 12:12 minute mark). Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Quite a few people showed up, but I didn't necessarily meet them all. We chowed at the famous Whistling Post Tavern (watch out for those JoJo's!) before setting up for that evening's Amtrak #8 "Empire Builder.

Welcome to Builder Time!

After #8 passed, the VR crowd gathered for a group photo with Rocky. From left to right: Diane, Ben, Alex, Carla, and Donna. That's me (WARNING: May frighten small children!) on Sunday.

It's been a long day. Time to hit the hay.

Saturday, May 18

I'm down at the Sky River Coffee bar jonesing on a hot, black tea and cream cheese bagel for breakfast, when I hear bells clanging and see gates dropping for an eastbound.

Snarfing the bagel, I'm unable to get out the door in time to photograph the head end power of this eastbound, empty coal train, but snag a decent shot of the rear DPU while standing in the middle of 5th Street.

Renovated Skykomish Hotel on the left, Maloney General Store on the right.

This train proceeded up the hill to Scenic and through Cascade Tunnel to Berne. This is the start of a parade of eastbounds.

A following eastbound stops before 5th street crossing. The conductor dismounts and jogs over to Sky River Coffee (from whence I've just come), presumably to pick up some vittles and go juice for him and his engineer.

Thus fortified, he comes down the main and punches up the hill to Scenic.

Passing Barb's tree and bench, note the silver/red Warbonnet scheme unit splitting the Heritage 2 and Heritage 3 BNSF units. He's climbing towards Scenic siding with his Q train.

The inscription on the bench reads, "In Memory of - Barbara Campkin - Railfan & Friend". Barb was a regular commentator on the Sky VR camera who tragically passed away, but is not forgotten.

Here comes the Z! This just might be a train I can follow east into the sunshine of Eastern Washington.

Passing by the Skykomish school, BNSF #7981 leads stacks and trailers into the siding to wait for westbound #7, the hottest of the hot (at least on BNSF), James J. Hill's Empire Builder.

The Z trundles up to the East Sky signals and grinds to a halt. Meanwhile I take pictures of Fred Black's magnificent X-228 caboose being repainted along the old Stevens Pass Highway.

Expecting an on time Empire Builder, INSTEAD, a westbound H train is ahead of the varnish and lined ahead all the way to Monroe. He'd better hustle!

wwwwwwwwWOW! Look what's on the end of this Priority Merchandise! It is ex-Santa Fe #33, Northwestern Pacific - Redwood Empire.

I risk losing an Amtrak #7 shot to get this H at Index on the bridge.

Sure enough, the Builder slips by me, BUT I get back to east Sky and the Z hasn't moved. On to Foss River.

Ah, the sacrifices we make. Now armed with a telephoto lens, I wait at Foss River for the Z to head uphill. I missed the Amtrak, but I can hear the freight GE's digging in for the 2.2% grade to Cascade Tunnel.

And here he comes. I had not been at this location for years -- mostly because the forest has grown up so much from the early days. Somebody log the timber near the bridge! ;p

Well. What better place to capture an eastbound than the east portal of Cascade Tunnel, all 7.8 miles of it. There's nothing like a long lens to get the job done.

A Quandary. Can I make the next shot at White Pines Road (west of Merritt)? It is just 3.4 railroad miles going downhill, but I can go 60mph and the Z is only allowed 30-25mph.

Yeah, baby! In morning light, I capture the container/trailer train along and over Nason Creek, dynamic brakes whining. Martin Burwash named this location, "The Slot".

Once through Merritt, the Z is allowed up to 50mph all the way to Wenatchee. And I have to spend at least 10 minutes crawling through (ugh) Leavenworth. Thus, it is a real challenge to beat Mister Zippity Z to Richardson's Curve near Monitor, WA.

The apple trees are greening up nicely. I've got my shot lined up no more than 2 minutes when the 1661.2 detector sounds off and I hear air horns. Show time.

Wenatchee gives Leavenworth a run for its money in the slow traffic department. Despite having nicely timed lights thru downtown, it's Saturday and everyone is out and about. Getting past the Wal-Mart takes 5 precious minutes.

As I roar along Malaga Alcoa Highway, I can see the headlights of the eastbound Z behind. He appears to be gaining on me. Now I gotta find this Kawecki Road...

I have only a minute or two to select my shot. Here goes. As the DPU passes, I see to my relief that the train is SHORT enough where I can get pictures before it starts across the bridge.

Not bad. A little further away than I expected, but passable. Crossed off my "to-do" list.

Now. Am I crazy enough to drive all the way back to town, cross the river and pursue this hot shot?

I am. I race after this Z all the way to Trinidad (Lynch Coulee) only to see it climbing out of the horseshoe on its way to Quincy. Not the picture I wanted.

Undaunted, I continue up Baird Springs Road, climb up to a high point inside the horseshoe, bait my hook and wait. And wait. And wait.

2-3 hours later, I spy a headlight. It's an eastbound. And Oh, Sweet Fancy Moses, it's an S train (overseas containers) which means lots of colorful boxes to contrast against the pastel desert green/tan background.

Standing in the bed of my truck, I have a 360 degree view of Trinidad Horseshoe curve. The engineer serenades me with a horn salute.

Finally, the two rear DPU appear, shoving for all they're worth. See that little white car at the underpass? I think it was a couple kids adding more spray paint to the already-colorful buttresses.

And I'm spent. Time to head back to Sky with a quick stop at Taco Del Mar for some dinner. I see or hear no trains all the way, save an empty coal with a MRL SD70ACe as 2nd unit at Scenic. Not wanting to photograph it in the pouring rain, I took a screen cap from the Sky camera.

The liquid sunshine had abated somewhat, when I drove down to 5th Street crossing for the arrival of the evening's eastbound Builder. Tonight's leader is #151, a ubiquitous GE P42 wearing the (IMHO) most boring paint scheme ever designed for a passenger locomotive.

Tomorrow IS another day! <VBG>

Sunday, May 19

Homeward Bound! But first, gotta explore a bit as the sun has FINALLY come out.

Rocky stands guard trackside as Skykomish depot looks on in the background. Crawling into the siding comes an eastbound empty oil train to make way for the oncoming Empire Builder. As #7 comes down the hill, I hear him setting off detectors at MP1721, 1725, 1728.

Kick! A Siemens ALC-42 #338 in its flashy paint scheme leads an OT #7 through Sky.

Rocky, meet the new boss!

Time for a hearty buffet breakfast at the Cascadia.

Appetite satisfied, I head over to ride the GN&C Railway. Here I am "having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have"!

After my ride, I walk around examining the locomotive transfer tracks and the engine house.

Time to punch for home. The eastbound oil train is long gone, but I stop at the old GN Winton depot for a snap, then past Leavenworth, I pause to buy the Mrs. some early season Rainier Cherries (Baolu adores them).

No more pictures, but past Wenatchee, I saw the oil train again and container trains parked at Columbia River and Trinidad sidings.

It was a fun trip! Thanks for reading and may all your signal aspects be green...LIN-Z