Winter Sky 2022
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Winter Sky 2022
written by Lindsay Korst

Retired at last!! Hey, this means I can go railfanning any time, even mid-week -- but in February?  Stevens Pass beckons and that means gray skies, wind/rain/snow and fuzzy pictures.  Oh what the hell.  I'll stay overnight at the Cascadia Inn in Skykomish. It'll be fun!

Tuesday, February 15

It's 8:20am as I round the curve into Sultan. Headlight! I lurch off road into the mud and clumsily dismount from my truck. It's an on-time, westbound Empire Builder blurring past, with just enough time for a couple grab shots.

I can hear on the scanner something is heading up the hill eastbound from Gold Bar as he sets off each detector. He is really moving. At Baring, I note the eastward signal is red over red...then changes to yellow over red. Holy smokes! Looks like another eastbound is behind me!

I finally overtake the mystery train at Sky and race to the Old Cascade Highway crossing east of town. It is this morning's Z-SSECHC (Priority South Seattle to Chicago Cicero). Crossing the tracks, I see he has a green signal up the hill to Scenic.

Locomotive consist:
#5535 GE ES44C4 / #4308 GE Dash 9-44CW / #9233 EMD SD70ACe with a #6520 GE ES44C4 pushing as DPU.

At the west portal of Cascade Tunnel, the dispatcher has lined the Z into the siding, so I figure I have a meet happening here. However, after a short pause, #5535 gets a green signal and two flashing white lights (which indicates the fans are blowing fresh air through the tunnel). Slowly the locomotives rev up and he makes his way into the 8 mile long bore.

After a quick drive over Stevens, I reach the East Portal just as the red-striped door begins to open. How about all that dirty snow plowed up everywhere? I saw a lot of that stuff (snirt?) on this trip. OK, got my tunnel pictures. I get back on US 2 and follow the Z downhill. At Berne, I hear the engineer conversing with another train. Sure enough, there's an intermodal of some kind westbound waiting its turn through Cascade Tunnel. I continue downhill as I know that stacker will have to sit there for at least 30 minutes while the tunnel is flushed.

At the Merritt crossing, it is very chilly and windy, but the sun is out and the Z-SSECHC looks great as it trundles toward Wenatchee.

Okay, back over the pass to West Portal. Uh-oh. The access road to the portal is blocked by about 10 feet of plowed snow. Plan B. Back to Scenic siding.

Bonus! The following eastbound has made it up the hill to the siding revealing itself to be an empty coal train. Meet shot coming up!

Locomotive consist:
BNSF #7319 GE ES44DC / UP #5373 GE ES44AC with unknown DPU.

With dynamic brakes whining, this westbound double stack rolls under US 2 and past the unit coal train. Judging by its lading, this is an S train (overseas containers). How about that pony! As prescribed by rules, the conductor is giving our westbound a roll by.

Locomotive consist:
BNSF #8140 GE ES44C4 / NS #4379 GE AC44CW / BNSF #5019 GE with no DPU.

In the siding at East Sky waits another eastbound -- from appearances, an S train. I grab a few shots of the head end power, then continue into Sky to catch a meet shot right out in front of the Cascadia Inn on Railroad Avenue.

Locomotive consist:
#7244 GE ES44DC / #5698 GE AC4400CW / #7226 GE ES44DC with a #5222 GE C44-9W pushing as a DPU.

The two S trains meet and I decide to follow the westbound as far down the hill as Index.

I've never shot the Index bridge from this angle (looking north). This location was inspired by good friends Scott and Jan Tanner who are righteous trainspotters themselves!

It's getting on towards early afternoon, so I decide to take a break from 'fanning and have a chicken sandwich and cup of chili at the Whistling Post! And maybe just one PBR to wash it down...

Appetite satisfied, let's take a tour of the buildings along Railroad Avenue (from west to east).

Skykomish School:

Maloney General Store:

Skykomish Hotel:

Whistling Post:

Cascadia Hotel:

From an earlier day trip visit to Sky (January 9th) is a view eastbound and westbound from 5th Street crossing:

Across the tracks are several "must sees" on any visit to Skykomish. That's the GN EMD SD9 locomotive, Fred Black's X-228 caboose (getting repainted) and, of course, the former Great Northern depot and its miniature railway:

After my tour of the town, I noticed the westward mainline signal was lit up high green. Monitoring the scanner, I heard something tripping the detectors at mileposts 1721, 1725 and 1728. Better go get in position.

Hot shot! Yeppers, it's a Q-CHCSSE (Guaranteed Service Intermodal) train with two units point and two units pushing.

Locomotive consist:
#7166 GE ES44C4 / #9042 EMD SD70ACe with #7712 GE ES44DC / #9192 EMD SD70ACe pushing as DPUs.

Second location to shoot this bad boy, will be the bridge at MP 1751 just east of Gold Bar.

Once more back at Sky, it's starting to get dark and time for the last shot of the day.

While sitting in my truck, watching the Skykomish virtual railcam, (many thanks to Henry at Cascadia Inn for hosting the cam), I am also conversing with the folks on the forum. The mod zoomed in on Old Blue so I started grabbing some screen caps (Egofanning again, I am...)

The H-SPOEVE (Spokane to Everett) came into view with its motley assortment of merchandise. The train stopped right on the 5th Street crossing. I think they were letting someone on or off.

Locomotive consist:
#5033 GE C44-9W / #8182 GE ES44C4 with no DPU.

The lead unit (5033) sounded kind of sick. "thumpita...thumpita" is approximately what it sounded like. Despite that, after 10 minutes it shuffled off towards Everett, gasping and coughing as it went, rounded the curve and was gone.

I knew there were no more trains for a while 'cos the camera mod followed my drive over to the Cascadia to check in. ;p Thanks for indulging me, Mister Mod! Many happy returns of the day!

It was quite dark when I took a much-too-blurry-to-post iPhone video of #8, the eastbound Empire Builder, then went in for supper at the W.P.  Saw eight different trains today, not bad!

Wednesday, February 15th

After #8 went by last night, I did not hear another train until around 11pm. The next morning, I took a picture of this eastbound S train parked outside my window waiting for a meet.

Sky River Coffee was breakfast for me at 6:30am. Located in the Skykomish Hotel -- the downstairs is finished and they are building rooms for overnight use on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Got the souvenir mug, a spot of tea, and a toasted cheese bagel with cream cheese for chewings.

#7 was more or less on time as it rolled downhill at East Sky. #179 and #33, both GE P42 passenger locomotives towed it's usual consist of baggage car, transition sleeper, sleeper, diner, & coach downhill to Seattle.

Spindly Bridge! As I fondly call it, anyways. A 1960's line change on Great Northern through here necessitated this acute angle crossing of US 2. Location is at Zeke's Drive Inn just east of Gold Bar. Zeke's has an ex-Northern Pacific caboose masquerading as Great Northern - Rocky logo and all.

I had an inkling that like yesterday, there might be a train at the Gold Bar siding waiting for #7. Sure enough, just on the outskirts of town I spotted a headlight. Schweet! A hot train to follow all the way to Wenatchee! It was indeed the morning Z-SSECHC.

First shot was from the highway bridge into Index. On a rare, clear day you can see Mount Index looming up in the background. Alas, not today. Too February.

Coming into Skykomish, I could hear the Z calling out "diverging approach" which meant he would take siding for a westbound coming down the mountain. Stabbing a Z, Mister Dispatcher?

Sure enough, the "priority intermodal" pulled into the siding, across the Old Cascade Highway crossing and up to the eastward red signal.  Here he would sit for almost an hour.

Locomotive consist:
#7712 GE ES44DC / #9192 EMD SD70ACe / #9042 EMD SD70ACe with #7166 GE ES44C4 pushing as a DPU.

Wow -- I just realized these are the same 4 locomotives (slightly rearranged) as yesterday's westbound afternoon Q-CHCSSE train. That's cool. I just love looking at those EMD "Aces" ;p

I drove around to use the unblocked 5th Street crossing and bang off a few meet shots. The westbound they held the Z for appeared to be an S-DENTAC (overseas boxes Denver-Tacoma) with a back fill of Schneider domestic containers on the head end.

Locomotive consist:
#7930 GE ES44C4 / #4727 GE C44-9W with #5494 GE C44-9W pushing as a DPU.

At Scenic, I tried a spot on the other side of the crossing as the EB Z blasted uphill and into Cascade Tunnel.

I intended to set up at West Berne, but the access road was not plowed! With no place to park, I settled for this overhead grab shot of a Fed Ex box through the windshield.

Sunny skies and cold, cold wind greeted me at Merritt. Those trackside piles of snow are handy to stand on -- if you don't mind occasionally sinking in up to your knees!

The eastbound had a green indication, but came to a stop once the engines reached the signals. After about 10 minutes, he released brakes and took off like nothing had happened. Odd.

My favorite shot of the day -- well, one of two anyway. Richardson's curve! Near Monitor, this orchard-framed vista looks great for eastbounds in any season.

That last picture was another Tanner-inspired location. What's interesting is the train has actually STOPPED. On the radio I heard the 1654 detector saying, "TRAIN TOO SLOW!". Then the conductor got on the radio and reported to the dispatcher, yardmaster, etc. that they had hit a rock. It was a fair-sized boulder that they knocked off the track. In doing so, they damaged the snowplow and sidesteps and possibly the MU hoses up front. They weren't sure if they could continue east out of Wenatchee.

While all this was going on, I kept going east on Malaga-Alcoa highway. Low and behold, it is today's westbound Z train with a six axle quartet. Kick! A fast train to follow home!

Locomotive consist:
#8125 GE ES44C4 / #4278 GE ES44C4 / #8139 GE ES44C4 / #604 GE AC44CM (ex-Santa Fe) with no DPU.

The former Great Northern Columbia River bridge at Rock Island. Harder than hell to get a decent shot without trespassing. Once again, I was trying to visit a spot Scott discovered last June. This picture was taken off of Kawecki Road. Coincidentally, Scott called me as I was driving to dinner on Friday and confirmed I had the correct location, but because the eastward gate was closed, I couldn't continue to the photo spot. Will try it again on my next trainspotting odyssey.

Well. Time to gas up and grab a burger and get back to 'fanning with the few hours left of daylight.

Fed and watered, I spot some motive power down at the yard office. At the depot, I look down the track westward and see an intermodal on the main track. The chase is on!

It's my westbound Z stopped at the signal for Olds Jct. From the radio chatter, I think he was trying to get permission to pass through a work area (track workers inspecting near the boulder incident possibly). Finally the big GE's start to wind up and I take off on US 2 in pursuit.

The Wenatchee River bridge at Dryden has always been a good afternoon shot. This is my second favorite picture of the trip. Can't beat that low winter sunshine.

Just minutes ahead of him, I turn off at Winton, but discover everything is in the shade. The signals indicate a EB will be taking siding for the Z, but I press on.

The EB materializes into an empty coal train (no picture). I pull off near the Merritt rest area for one final blaze of sunshine on Omaha orange flanks.

My last picture before punching back home. I'm standing on a huge pile of snow and my shadow casts shade on BNSF #8125's lead truck.

Six trains today. I hope you enjoyed my little winter getaway -- proof that there's good railfanning any time of year!


Epilogue: Remember that S-DENTAC overseas container train they held the Z for at Skykomish? Well, on the way home, I spotted that same train in the siding at Gold Bar, apparently unoccupied. I'm thinking they parked it there until the Port of Tacoma is ready for it. Or they have no rested crews to spare.