Saturday, October 2, 2004 was one of those rare, perfect
fall days in the Pacific Northwest. Not a cloud in a
deep blue sky. Fog burned off and warm temperatures
in the low 70's. And a BNSF "traffic jam" on Stevens Pass.
We were up at the crack of dawn. A quick call to Amtrak
revealed the Empire Builder was a couple hours late - just
right for a rendezvous and photo op at Skykomish! This was
Baolu's first chance to take her convertible out for a long
mountain drive with me riding shotgun.
The fog burned off near Sultan and we came upon an eastbound
container train parked in the siding at Gold Bar. We heard
on the scanner that the crew had gone to the nearby cafe
for beans. The morning light looked sensational on the orange
nose of BNSF 4983 with a little fall color in the background.
Also heard, but not seen, was a train taking siding at
Monroe, most likely another eastbound.
Just outside of Gold Bar, the nearby detector went off. Hoping
it was a westbound, we stopped near Zeke's Drive In. After 5
minutes with no train in sight or earshot, we pressed on eastward.
At Baring, the eastward signal was red over white meaning an
eastbound was behind us. We pressed on to Skykomish, taking
the "scenic route" of old US 2 by exiting at Money Creek
campground and following the railroad.
At Sky, we could see a trailer train in the siding. We drove
X228 to the east switch and got a picture of BNSF 6371
with headlight dimmed. The scanner revealed this was an
eastbound Z waiting for Amtrak.
Baolu wanted to do a little shopping, so we pulled into the
old Skykomish Hotel, part of which is now a quilt shop. I
could hear the Builder clicking off the detectors at
MP 1721.2, 1725.5 and 1730.7 as it came downhill from Scenic.
Soon, I could hear the lofty chimes of #7 as he blew for
the crossing at East Sky. Skykomish is deep in a valley and
the horns echo off the surrounding mountains for a very
pleasing effect. I lined up a shot of Amtrak 159 leading
the Builder past the newly-painted Skykomish depot. The
eastbound Z then proceeded to leave town.
A bonus was two private cars tacked on the rear of #7, the
"Mount Vernon" and the "Ohio River" which are currently touring
the west from their home base in New York State.
After #7 passed by, I walked over to the quilt shop to see how
Baolu was doing. As I approached the shop, she emerged and
loudly announced I was "not allowed to come in yet". My birthday's
coming up and I guess she found some GN-related knick-knacks
I grabbed the scanner and walked around taking pictures of the
Sky depot from all angles. The morning light was perfect. As
I took the depot pictures, a headlight appeared from around the
curve at West Sky. It was the BNSF 4983 again which stopped
short of the crossing. The hogger called Fort Worth and found
out that he would be parked there for about an hour as he was
waiting for a westbound Z train that was at Berne (siding east
of Cascade Tunnel). BNSF 4983 had stayed on the single track
west of Sky because he was too long to fit in the siding without
blocking all the crossings in town.
Since we had an hour before the Z would show up, Baolu and I
had breakfast at the little cafe across the street from
the depot. Very good and inexpensive! And you can't beat
that view of the tracks. As we finished up, the scanner
announced the Z coming down the hill past the talking
detectors. Baolu sauntered off to check out the
"Stove Store" just across the street from Sky Hotel.
I sat next to the car and sunned myself. When the
westbound Z tripped the 1725.5 detector (halfway between
Scenic and Sky), the BNSF 4983 punched his headlight to
bright and started pulling forward.
I positioned myself to shoot him with the Sky depot in
the foreground. Very nice shots in the morning light!
The eastbound came to a stop just off the crossing with
the result of leaving the gates down. Cars started to
line up. Within a few minutes, I could hear the westbound
Z whistling for the east end of Sky. I positioned myself
well west of the crossing with the old Sky Hotel in the
As the Z began whistling for the crossing, a pickup truck
bolted across around the lowered gates followed by a
sedan. Idiots. Seconds later, the Z led by BNSF 4855
rolled through with the eastbound now grinding uphill
on the single track to Scenic.
Soon, all was quiet. I rejoined Baolu, she lowered the
convertible top, and we set off for Leavenworth. A great
morning of train spotting in perfect weather!