Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad Trip

A view from the train platform of the charming little 1906
Lutheran church in Elbe. Come early, seating is limited.
The first weekend of October did not find me lazily snoozing under my down blanket. No, I was up bright and early with my lunch packed, my layers of clothing and my camera heaped on my arms, all ready to go on the Shipley Senior Center's trip to the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad in Elbe, Washington.

Our group started from the Center just before 8 a.m. because the sunlight, and thus the photo opportunities, fade significantly after mid-day at this time of year. The low-lying fog was burned off by the time we crossed Puget Sound and moved inland.

We had reservations on the 12:45 p.m. trip and we were required to be on the platform by 12:30. The trip from Sequim was estimated to take just under three hours.

Fortunately this trip was not dependent on the U.S. Government being operational, which it still is not at present.
The waitstaff in the restaurant were not happy to be sitting
around with nothing to do since the national park is not
open at present. Some of us decided to eat here to help out.

Although all the national parks are closed because employees have been furloughed by the government's closure, the scenic railroad is a private operation started in 1981 and is run largely by devoted volunteers with some equally committed paid staff.

Our drive took us past Mineral Lake, a milky-grey-green colored body of water. The color is caused by the waters coming down from the Mt. Rainier glacier with bits and pieces called "glacier flour"being moved downstream by the  rivers into the lake.

As we arrived, on the right side of the road are a number of brightly colored cars and a couple of cabooses, which are part of a motel offering sleeping accommodations. Other cars provide an innovative place for pizza as well as a more structured dining option.
I wonder if the sleeping accommodations are improved over
what the railroads might have offered in 1890?
On the left, the post office, a mini store, and the General Store, recreated from the old I.O.O.F. hall, offers fishing tackle, beverages and other essentials.

Just below you can click on the raw video of the train arriving in the station, complete with steam whistles and bells. (Perhaps that is where the expression "all the bells and whistles" came from"...)

Winding through evergreen and deciduous
woods, the train travels slowly past farms
and now-empty fields that once had homes
for the pioneer loggers.
The train leaves from a reconstructed train depot in Elbe, which welcomed the first train for the Tacoma & Eastern Railway in April of 1904.
Looking out from the back of the train.

This town was once a bustling and prosperous lumber center, but is now dependent more on tourism than logs with the 2010 Census showing only 10 households listed for a total of 29 people in the town.

The 40-minute ride to Mineral through the foothills of the majestic sleeping volcano of Mt. Rainier ends with an approximately 45-minute tour of antique logging locomotives in what will one day be a very extensive museum of early railroading.
Old equipment on a spur waiting for a benefactor to restore  it.
The locomotive must be turned around at each end of the line, so I asked if I could get up in the engine area for a photo of the boiler. I was invited up and given some wonderful history of steam engines and a chance to ride up there while they backed up to the cars.
Peeking into the inferno...

The fireman opened the door where, in older coal-fired
engines the stokers would have shoveled in coal.
Although the fall breezes outside were registering about 65 degrees in the sun, the engine area was more like a summer scorcher. I was shown how the water pressure is maintained with the crude oil being burned. Both the engineer and the fireman are volunteers and the engineer said he was inspired by his first trip to go to the University of Washington and get a degree in Forestry.

The engineer works for Weyerhauser for his regular job.
The fireman explained in simple terms how water and oil
are used to create the necessary steam to drive this engine.
There are open cars and cars with windows that open. Seating is not geared for comfort, and since I was hopping up and down to get photos, I don't think I spent much time in my seat. There is an old car with large doors which reminds me of the mail cars of yesteryear where riders can get popcorn, candy, drinks and souvenirs. And two rest rooms.

I imagine the staff would do all they could to make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to be included, but it would definitely be something to call ahead about. I found everyone to be most helpful, although there was a sort of casualness about the train's time schedule, after hearing we had to be on the platform on time.
Watering the train between runs took more time than usual, probably because the volunteers are only to willing to spend a few minutes talking about trains. But if you want to ride up with the engineer and fireman when they are backing up, all you have to do is ask.

During the spring and fall, I would recommend the late morning or early afternoon run because as we were heading back, the lowering sun and cooler breezes made for a cooler return trip. This is very important for children and elderly riders as the cars are not heated.
Mt. Rainier appears to have a fresh suit of snow and the Nesqually River
was running clear on this lovely bright fall day.

As the sun shone down on my face and I listened to the train's whistle as we approached the crossings, I was easily able to recall being about 4 years old, riding with Pat on the narrow gauge train we had in our back yard.
Me, on my first train ride - a long time ago. I think the
photo credit should go to my father,  but finding it for the
blog the credit goes to my younger brother.
The clackety-clack of the steel wheels on the rails beat a staccato melody of memories... riding the Cranberry Express in Carver, Massachusetts on our way to have a vacation on Cape Cod... taking the Long Island Express out to Orient to visit my uncle and aunt... catching the Amtrak from Jacksonville, FL, to visit a friend in Tampa... I still have one ride on my Bucket List: to go through the Canadian Rockies by rail.
Maybe I really am a Hobo at heart...

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I think that the photo of you and Pat was taken by uncle John. It was found amongst his things.
    Annoying Mouse