Monday, September 18, 2006

chasing trains

In case you haven’t noticed, steam trains are a passion around our house. My sweet husband was clued into the love of trains at his 4th Christmas when Santa, in the form of his grandmother, gave him his first Lionel Train set.

The love affair with trains has not ended… and never will.

Of course my husband has his favorites among the steam engines. And the Southern Pacific Daylight #4449 is his all-time favorite.

Southern Pacific #4449
Built in 1941 as a 4-8-4 GS-4 "Northern" type locomotive, she is 110' long, 10' wide and 16' tall. With locomotive and tender weighing 433 tons and a boiler pressure of 300 psi, her eight 80" diameter drivers and unique firebox truck booster can apply 5,500 horsepower to the rails and exceed 100 mph. Retired to Oaks Park in 1958 for display only, in 1974 she was completely restored specifically to pull the 1976 Bicentennial Freedom Train throughout the United States to the delight of over 30 million people.

The only remaining operable "streamlined" steam locomotive of the Art Deco era, this grand Lady of the High Iron pulled Southern Pacific "Daylight" coaches from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the scenic Coast Route and then on to Portland until 1955. She is arguably one of the most beautiful locomotives ever built -- and kept that way by the all-volunteer Friends of the SP 4449.

(excerpt from the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation website

This last weekend, we put 1025 miles on our car - chasing the 4449 all over the Columbia Gorge and down into Bend, Oregon. I’m absolutely beyond exhausted today, and will pay for it trying to recoup my energy levels over the next week, but it was a blast!

It was a rare and very cool event, the 4449 on the rails. ( The journey started Saturday morning in Portland, Oregon, crossed the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington and headed up the Columbia Gorge to a very small town called Wishram. From Wishram, it crossed back over the river and headed down the Deschutes River Valley. Once out of the Deschutes canyon, it continued south to Bend, Oregon for an overnight stay. Sunday they reversed the entire process.

It would have been very cool to have been able to ride the 4449 for this event, but tickets were $650 to $850 per person… and we just couldn’t do it right now. (check the 4449’s website for the fundraiser info and that explains the reason for the steep price)

Instead, we chased the train.

We drove down to The Dalles, OR on Friday night, staying over in a hotel there. Got up early Saturday morning, drove across The Dalles Bridge and to a lovely spot on the Washington side… where we discovered Dan and Leslie, who were camping in their motorhome there. It seems Dan and Leslie are rail fans, too.

We got to chatting and seem to have struck up a new friendship. Lovely folk. It was early morning, brisk and cool with a bit of wind off the water. Leslie was kind enough to give us coffee… and as anyone who knows me will agree, give me coffee and you become my new best friend! I now call her the Coffee Angel.

Pretty soon, a bunch of cars come tearing into the Avery Siding where we were waiting for the train. About 10 minutes later, here comes the train… excellent! Cameras blazing away, and when the engine was past us, waving like fools at the passengers… who were waving like fools back!

Everyone jumps into their cars and we all race away to the next good spot to get pictures. We leapfrogged and chased the train all the way to Bend, Oregon in this manner, meeting folk from all over the country who had come just to do this. Fun, fun, fun.

Highlight of the trip was standing on the abandoned highway bridge over a 300 foot deep canyon taking pictures of the 4449 as it passed on the railway bridge over this canyon… with the Three Sisters in the background. What a glorious place! Unfortunately my pictures don't show the intensity of the canyon depth... but I'm not sure at that time of day anyone's camera would have gotten past how little light was available in the deeper portions.

We met a bunch of really cool people chasing the 4449 from Portland to Bend and back. Exhausted ourselves and will definitely pay a price for it. But it was marvelous fun!

My sweet husband has a lifelong love affair with trains… and personally, I’d rather he chase trains than younger women!

…may there be mercy and rest for those who chase trains.

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