Facebook Page

Sumpter Valley Railway 6/18/2011

by Chris Guenzler

I signed up for the 2011 NRHS Tacoma Convention last year in Scranton at that convention. On March 4, 2011 the Convention Packet came in the mail and I sent it out the same day. I got everything I wanted which was the SP 4449 to Tacoma, the NW Museum Trip, SP 4449 Stampede Pass Trip and SP 4449 back to Portland. For time sake I flew to Portland on Alaska Airlines. Bob and Elizabeth then offered to put me up during the convention to save me money which I truly appreciate. I decided to do the Sumpter Valley Railway, Washington State Railroads Historical Society Museum in Pasco, Yakima Trolley and the Northern Pacific Museum in Toppenish. For these last two Bob and Elizabeth would join me and Bob Riskie would join me for the Sumpter Valley. With that all set, I would just live, ride trains and write stories until the day of my flight.

6/17/2011 I was up early and after going to the credit union to deposit a check, I had breakfast before getting my mother up so she could drive me to the airport.

Alaska Airline Flight AS 587 6/17/2011

My mother drove me to John Wayne Airport and I walked through Security with no problems. My knees and left lower rib were really bothering me so I had them preboard me. The plane left on time and highlights were seeing the Tehachapi Loop, Yosemite Canyon, Lake Tahoe, Donner Pass, Portola and the former Western Pacific Railroad, and all the peaks of the Cascade Mountains. We had a rather bumpy descent into Portland where I deplaned and headed to the Dollar Rental Car Counter.

The Drive to the Sumpter Valley Railway.

I rented a silver Subaru Impreza and once I got out of the airport, I headed for Interstate 84 which I would be taking east to Pendleton today. The first UP train I went under was while I was on Interstate 205 heading to I 84 East. The next UP westbound was before Cascade Locks. I got off I 84 in Hood River to stop at Rite Aid for a new watch, Coca-Cola and shaving cream. Another UP westbound was passed on the way to the Dalles where I went to Arby's for lunch. I then went to The Dalles Dam Visitor Center to learned what happened to the train that used to take you on the dam tour when I was a kid.

Two views of Mount Hood.

The old train station. In 2003 a couple were married in the power house and when their party was being returned to the station it derailed ending the train tours of the dam.

The Dalles Dam. I continued east until I saw a bright headlight off in the distance.

Union Pacific 8279 West near Rufus. Climbing back over the guard rail I took a fall and ripped apart my little finger knuckle. I must slow down and be more careful. I took a napkin and wrapped up my little finger before I drove into Rufus and went to a Cafe which had bandages. A special thanks to those very helpful people in Rufus. Back on I 84 I continued east to Exit 123 where I pulled off and waited a few minutes hoping for a train.

The spot but no train. Back on I 84 eight miles east here came a westbound UP train. Across the Columbia River I have had 4 BNSF trains on their railroad in Washington. From here I headed east and got off I 84 to see if I could find any trains at the Hinkle Yard.

The DPU UP 6664 was at the west end of the UP Hinkle Yard.

A few minutes later the UP 8306 West came in and changed crews and I left for Pendleton.

A grain elevator along Interstate 84. I drove on into Pendleton and went to find the former UP Station in town.

UP Caboose 25065 was on display in Pendleton.

The Union Pacific Station in Pendleton. From here I went to KFC for dinner before I checked into the Motel 6 for the night.

6/18/2011 I gassed up the rental car and got me some goodies before I drove I 84 over the Blue Mountains to La Grande where I exited for set of pictures.

Views of the Union Pacific La Grande Station. I stopped at Safeway for some more things for this trip before driving onto Baker with no UP train at all. Oregon Highway 7 took me the 22 miles to the McEwen Station where I parked my rental car.

Sumpter Valley Railway 6/18/2011

From here I started looking around the grounds.

A Brief History

In 1971, a small group of volunteers set out to rebuild the narrow gauge Sumpter Valley Railway in Eastern Oregon. Nearly all of today's excursion and museum railroads operate on abandoned rights-of-way. The Sumpter Valley Railway, located 22 miles southwest of Baker City Oregon, on U.S. Highway 7, has a unique characteristic over all of these railroads. We have built the railroad ourselves. Although the road bed and track is mostly on original Sumpter Valley Railway right-of-way, the original track was scrapped in 1947, and nearly all of the original road bed had eroded away. With an all volunteer work force, the SVRy has rebuilt over 7 miles of track, and is still growing.

The restoration railroad began on January 4, 1971, when the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration was incorporated under the laws of Oregon as a non-profit operating tourist railroad. This was only 24 years after the original railway had stopped operations. The people in Baker County never could quite forget the "Stump Dodger". Later the Sumpter Valley Railway district was nominated and accepted for the National Register of Historic Places and the little railroad made a comeback. The new organization made arrangements with the Edward Hines Lumber Company for leasing the old right-of-way westward from the county road near McEwen to Sumpter. The right-of-way was acquired under a ten year lease. Another urgent order of business was to retrieve any part of the old rolling stock. Old locomotive boilers were pulled in from where they had been used as industrial boilers or furnaces. Some cattle cars were found rotting in pastures. These were rescued for restoration. An obvious conclusion was that in order to run a railroad it takes a locomotive of some kind. This being true, the group looked about for a vintage narrow gauge locomotive, hopefully from the Sumpter Valley Railroad. The Boise Cascade Corporation had an old W.H. Eccles Lumber Company locomotive located at its Cascade, Idaho, sawmill. This was the two truck Heisler number 3, purchased new by the Eccles Lumber Company in 1915, and operated on the Sumpter Valley Railroad as a logging engine. Boise Cascade sold the locomotive to the Restoration group.

In the fall of 1971, Union Pacific Railroad transported the 40 ton Heisler from Cascade to Baker Oregon, free of charge. This was the first of many feats of generosity the Union Pacific Railroad would show to our small railroad. The Union Pacific Railroad and its employees of the Portland Division have always been there for us when help was needed. But after many years of disuse the old 3 was not in running condition. Ellingson Lumber Company in Baker City loaned property in town for a repair shed. Keep in mind that the volunteer work crew had very little work experience on a steam locomotive, especially one born in 1915. A Heisler technical manual was obtained from Floyd Carpenter, SVRR member and former general superintendent on the original Sumpter Valley Railway. After four years of sweat and tears, rehabilitation was completed. In 1975, volunteer bulldozing leveled two thousand feet of road bed making it ready for track laying. A location for the Dredge Depot (later renamed McEwen Depot) and parking lot was scraped and leveled. The Union Pacific Railroad donated 2000 feet of rail, ties, spikes, and plates. The first track was laid at the depot, and then the wye and tail track to the future site of the locomotive shed was laid. April of 1976 the Oregon National Guard moved a weather-battered SVRy water tower, tank housing and base, from Bates Oregon to the McEwen depot site.

In June 1976 the Heisler turned her wheels for the first time under steam, onto a low-boy trailer for her ride from Baker to its new home on the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration. After a six year struggle the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration was in business. The official ribbon cutting ceremony opening the railroad was July 4, 1976. During the next several years, the railroad operated on a small stretch of rail of a few thousand feet. But great advances were being made by the all volunteer, poorly funded group. It was learned in 1977 that two original SVRy 2-8-2 Mikado class locomotives were available from the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway, Alaska.

Locomotive numbers 19 and 20 had been purchased new in 1920 by the SVRy. They were sold to the White Pass and Yukon in 1940, and operated there under road numbers 80 and 81 until their retirement in 1960. The SVRR was able to purchase the two locomotives for a dollar each. But the freight costs to haul this equipment from Skagway to Seattle would exceed $25,000. Funds were raised all over the Baker and Sumpter Valleys. The Union Pacific Railroad once again would provide a generous donation, providing transportation from Seattle to Baker City, and the locomotives were home again.

Another big donation from the Union Pacific Railroad came to us in 1977 when the track materials on a 20 mile branch line from Vale to Brogan, Oregon, were donated to the SVRR. The only conditions attached, the removal of the materials had a deadline and they were "as is, where is". It took many months of volunteer work to haul as much of the rail, ties, spikes and plates to the Sumpter Valley as possible. During the 1980's the laying of track continued, albeit slowly, toward Sumpter. More equipment was obtained including the SVRy's only tank car and two cabooses that were built in the SVRy's Baker City shops in 1926, road numbers 3 and 5. In 1985, a Union Pacific branch line between Athena and Weston in northeast Oregon ceased operation. The UPRR offered the rails to our organization if we would dismantle and transport the two and one-half miles of 80 pound rails including spikes, bars, plates, nuts, bolts and ties. In 1988 the railroad received a big boost from the only surviving family member of railroad founder David Eccles. His daughter Emma Eccles Jones, 93, made a generous donation to fund expansion efforts. She wrote the railroad a letter reminiscing about taking a private train to the end of line with her mother to pick huckleberries. Her grant enabled the purchase of a SVRy wooden clerestory coach 20. Built in 1890, this coach had been in revenue service for many years. When the SVRy ceased mainline operations it ended up in the hands of a private individual in western Oregon. After painstaking interior restoration work by SVRR member Eric Wunz the car was placed back into service in 1991. Coach 20 was named "Em Eccles Jones" in her honor. In 1991, the railroad finally arrived in the town of Sumpter and in 2007 moved into its reproduction of the original station. Today the railroad is just over 5.2 miles long, not counting sidings, spurs, and the McEwen Yard. Oregon State Parks operates the Dredge Heritage Area in Sumpter. The 3 YUBA dredge is visible from the SVRR right-of-way and a short walk from the Sumpter Depot. A steam train ride and tour of the dredge is an enjoyable step "back in time" day trip.

The Tour of the Grounds

The covered picnic tables are new since my 1981 visit here.

Track equipment on display.

The Mc Ewen Station.

Sumpter Valley Hopper 672.

Sumpter Valley Hopper 960.

White Pass & Yukon Wooden Box Car 772.

Sumpter Valley Refrigerator Car 108.

Sumpter Valley Caboose 5.

Water Tower and wood loading area for the Heisler.

West Side Lumber Flats 166.

West Side Lumber Flats 145.

West Side Lumber Flats 161.

The Dredge Building.

Sumpter Valley Railway scenes.

Sumpter Valley Gondola 662.

More boilers maybe awaiting their turn to be restored.

Sumpter Valley Cattle Car 2022.

Speeder and water car.

The old engine house with a passenger car in the open bay.

Two more Sumpter Valley Cattle Cars.

Sumpter Valley Tank Car 60.

Sumpter Valley Flat Car 601.

Sumpter Valley Flat Car.

Sumpter Valley Gondola Car 664.

Sumpter Valley Cattle Car.

The old engine house with that car inside of it.

A caboose used as an office.

Sumpter Valley Passenger Coach.

Sumpter Valley Open Air Car 1147.

Sumpter Valley Diesel 110.

W.H. Eccles Lumber Company wood burning Heisler 3.

Sumpter Valley Passenger Coach 1110.

W.H. Eccles Lumber Company wood burning Heisler 3.

Sumpter Valley 2-8-0 19.

Three diesels inside the engine house.

Scene looking out of the engine house.

Sumpter Valley 19.

Sumpter Valley Open Air Car 1185.

Old Sumpter Valley Track Gang Car.

Sumpter Valley Tank Car 0178.

Another diesel was out back of the engine house.

Sumpter Valley Wooden Box Car 352.

Sumpter Valley Flat Car 297.

Sumpter Valley Flat Car 294.

Sumpter Valley Flat Car 277.

Sumpter Valley Flat Car 302.

A small caboose.

A truckless work gang car.

A Sumpter Valley Railway view.

Sumpter Valley Wooden Box Car 352.

Sumpter Valley Tank Car 0178.

Diesel 805.

Sumpter Valley 2-8-0 20.

Another truckless track gang car.

The Sumpter Valley Yard Office.

Sumpter Valley 502.

Click here for Part 2 of this story