Facebook Page

Sumpter Valley Railway 6/18/2011

by Chris Guenzler

I signed up for the 2011 National Railway Historical Society convention in Tacoma, Washington at last year's convention in Scranton. On March 4, 2011, the Convention Packet arrived in the mail and I sent it back the same day, requesting the Southern Pacific 4449 trip to Tacoma, the Northwest Railway Museum trip, the Southern Pacific 4449 Stampede Pass Trip and Southern Pacific 4449 back to Portland. For time's sake, I would fly to Portland on Alaska Airlines and Bob and Elizabeth then offered to put me up during the convention to save me money, which I truly appreciated. I decided to visit the Sumpter Valley Railway, Washington State Railroad Historical Society Museum in Pasco, Yakima Trolley and the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum in Toppenish. For these last two Bob and Elizabeth would join me, and Bob Riskie would join me for 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 had breakfast before getting my mother up so she could drive me to the airport.

Alaska Airlines 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 requested pre-boarding. The plane departed on time with highlights being Tehachapi Loop, Yosemite Canyon, Lake Tahoe, Donner Pass, Portola and the former Western Pacific Railroad, as well as 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 was out of the airport, headed for Interstate 84 which I would be taking east to Pendleton. The first Union Pacific train I went under was while I was on Interstate 205 on the way to Interstate 84 East, followed by a westbound before Cascade Locks. I exited Interstate 84 in Hood River to stop at Rite Aid for a few items then another westbound Union Pacific was passed on the way to the Dalles, where I went to Arby's for lunch. I then stopped at The Dalles Dam Visitor Center to learn what happened to the train that used to take you on the dam tour when I was a child.

Two views of Mount Hood.

The site of the former station. In 2003, a couple were married in the power house and when their party was being returned to the station, the train 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 fell and ripped apart the knuckle of my little finger so took a napkin and wrapped up my finger before I drove into Rufus and went to a cafe which had bandages. A special thanks to those very helpful people. I must slow down and be more careful! Back on Interstate 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 the interstate and eight miles east, here came a westbound Union Pacific freight. Across the Columbia River in Washington, I have come across four BNSF trains on their railroad but nothing on the Oregon side to date. From here I headed east and exited the interstate to see if I could find any trains at Hinkle Yard.

Union Pacific 6664, a DPU, was at the west end of the railroad's Hinkle Yard.

A few minutes later, Union Pacific 8306 West came in and changed crews, after which I left for Pendleton.

A grain elevator along Interstate 84. I drove on into Pendleton and went to find the former station.

Union Pacific caboose 25065, nee Union Pacific 3765 built by Mount Vernon Car Company in 1942 and donated to Umatilla County Historical Society.

Union Pacific station in Pendleton built in 1909. From here I went to KFC for dinner before checking into the Motel 6 for the night.

6/18/2011 I filled the rental car with petrol and bought some goodies before taking Interstate 84 over the Blue Mountains to La Grande, where I exited for set of pictures.

Views of the Union Pacific La Grande station built in 1930. The Oregon Railway and Navigation Company built the railroad through La Grande, completing the line in 1884. The line was built from the west to connect with the Oregon Short Line Railroad at Huntington, Oregon which offered connections with the Union Pacific Railroad, allowing connecting service to points as far as Omaha, Nebraska. La Grande was established as a "division point" for the railroad and a rail yard, roundhouse and other maintenance shops were also established near the depot.

By 1890, both railroads were controlled by the Union Pacific, and it was established on its main line to Portland and Seattle. A branch line was also constructed from La Grande to Elgin in 1890 and extended to Joseph in 1908. The addition of the railroad to La Grande was seen as an "enormous influence" and it was estimated that a quarter of homes in the city were owned by railroad employees in 1925.

The station was primarily served by cross-country trains such as the City of Portland, Idahoan, Pacific Limited and the Portland Rose. These trains provided connections to Portland, Omaha and Chicago, among others. All Union Pacific passenger service ended on April 31, 1971, with the creation of Amtrak. La Grande was originally not on the initial services offered by Amtrak and the closest service was the North Coast Hiawatha, on the former Northern Pacific Railway main line. Amtrak service to La Grande began on June 7, 1977, with the formation of the Pioneer, operating between Seattle and Chicago. Work was previously performed to bring La Grande up to Amtrak standards. The Pioneer served La Grande until a Congressional-funded mandate expired on May 10, 1997, and no deal was worked out between state governments to continue funding. Passenger service has not existed to La Grange since 1997, although efforts have been made to restore the route.

I stopped at Safeway for some more itemss for this trip before driving onto Baker with no Union Pacific trains to be seen. Oregon Highway 7 took me the 22 miles to the McEwen station where I parked.

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 were new since my 1981 visit here.

Track equipment on display.

The McEwen station.

Sumpter Valley hopper 672, ex. White Pass and Yukon 672, nee East Broad Top 1029 built by the railroad in 1919.

Sumpter Valley hopper 960, nee East Broad Top 960 built by the railroad in 1917.

White Pass & Yukon wooden box car 772, nee Colorado and Southern, number unknown, built by the railroad in 1982.

Sumpter Valley refrigerator car 168, nee Denver and Rio Grande Western built by the railroad in 1926.

Sumpter Valley offset caboose 5 built by the railroad's Baker City shops in 1926 using parts salvaged from a Utah & Northern caboose. The original company conveyed the car to the Eastern Oregon Museum in Haines, Oregon when the railroad closed, and the Sumpter Valley Railroad Reconstruction obtained the car back about 1980.

Water tower and wood loading area for the Heisler.

West Side Lumber flat car 1166, builder and year unknown.

West Side Lumber flat car 1145, builder and year unknown.

West Side Lumber flat car 1161, builder and year unknown.

The Dredge building.

A Sumpter Valley Railway scene.

Sumpter Valley gondola/dump car 662, nee White Pass and Yukon 802 built by Pacific Car and Foundry in 1940.

More boilers maybe awaiting their turn to be restored.

Sumpter Valley stock car 2022, nee Utah and Northern, builder and year unknown.

Speeder and water car.

Two more Sumpter Valley stock cars.

Sumpter Valley tank car 60, ex. White Pass and Yukon 60 nee Union Tank Line 13236 built by the company in 1908.

Sumpter Valley flat car 501, nee Crown Zellerbach 47, builder and year unknown.

Sumpter Valley flat car.

Sumpter Valley gondola car 664, nee White Pass and Yukon 804 built by Pacific Car and Foundry in 1940.

Sumpter Valley stock car of unknown identity.

The old engine house with business car 100 which originally served the Bingham & Garfield Railroad/Kennecott Copper Company operations in Utah. It is a standard gauge car that has been placed on narrow gauge trucks for occassional use on the Sumpter Valley.

Westside Lumber caboose 3:2 built by the company in 1939 and became the "Camp 45 sand car" without a number. It was relocated to a campground near Eureka and is preserved at Sumpter Valley Railway.

Sumpter Valley coach, number unknown.

Sumpter Valley open air car 1147 built from a White Pass and Yukon flat car.

Sumpter Valley 10 ton gas mechanical switcher 110, ex. Sumpter Valley Railway Restoration 101 1982, ex. Crown Zellerbach Corporation in Camas, Washington, ex. Atlas Mine and Supply Company in Spokane 1972, nee Nelson Machinery Ltd of North Vancouver, British Columbia built by Plymouth in .

W.H. Eccles Lumber Company wood-burning Heisler 3 built by the company in 1914 for Austin, Oregon. When that line closed in 1926, 3 was bought by the Hallock & Howard Lumber Company in Cascade, Idaho. From about 1950, it was used occasionally as a back-up boiler for the mill there. Hallock & Howard merged with the Boise Cascade Corporation in 1960 and the steam engine later went into storage in a shed on the Cascade mill property.

The locomotive was bought by Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration in 1971, and was hauled to Oregon via the Union Pacific and restored in a donated shop in Baker City. Restoration was completed in 1975 and it became the first steam locomotive to operate on a one mile section of the new Sumpter Valley Railway on 4th July 1976.

Sumpter Valley coach 1110 "Ron D. Brinton", nee Denver and Rio Grande Western gondola 1110 built by American Car and Foundry in 190.

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

Chiquira Land Company and Chiquita Banana 50 ton switcher 720 built by General Electric in 1957.

Sumpter Valley Railway Restoration 15 ton diesel hydraulic switcher built by Plymouth in 1963 as a mine locomotive without a cab for Perini Corporation (American River Project), Auburn, California. It was then acquired by McCormick-Morgan in Auburn then sold to Wyckoff Company in Seattle, Washington in 1985, went to Pacific Sound Resources in Seattle in 1992 and finally to Sumpter Valley Railway Restoration, where a cab was added in July 1996.

Sumpter Valley 20 ton switcher 100 built by Whitcomb in 1930. It was sold to Davenport Besler Corporation in 1937 then to J.R. Simplot and converted to standard gauge and finally to Sumpter Valley Railway Reconstruction, where it was converted back to narrow gauge.

Scene looking out of the engine house.

Sumpter Valley 2-8-2 19 built by American Locomotive Company in 1920 as Sumpter Valley 100. It was later re-numbered as 19 and in 1941, sold to the Pacific & Arctic Railway & Navigation Company in Skagway, Alaska as White Pass and Yukon 80. In 1977, it was sold to Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration, Incorporated.

In 1940, the SVR acquired two 2-6-6-2T locomotives (250 & 251) from the Uintah Railway and 19 and 20 were retired. Shortly after, the Mallets' saddle tanks were removed and the locomotives were mated to the tenders from 19 and 20. In 1941, both locomotives were sold to the White Pass & Yukon Railroad in Alaska with 19 re-numbered 81. After retirement in 1958, they sat in Skagway until 1977 when the WP&Y indicated they would be scrapped unless a home was found for them. The Sumpter Valley paid $1 each for the locomotives and $35,000 to ship them home. Both locomotives then stood outside the McEwan engine house until 1992 when 19 was shipped to Doyle McCormack's Daylight Locomotive Works in Portland to be restored. Work continued for four years costing a quarter of a million dollars, and 19 was formally placed in service on 4th July 1996.

Sumpter Valley open air car 1185, nee White Pass and Yukon.

Old Sumpter Valley track gang car.

Sumpter Valley Fire Train Service tank car 0178.

Southern Pacific 70 ton switcher 5103 built by General Electric in 1949. After retirement in 1975, it became Staufer Chemical 510.

Sumpter Valley wooden box car 1352 built by the railroad in 1919.

Sumpter Valley flat car 297.

Sumpter Valley flat car 294.

Sumpter Valley flat car 277.

Sumpter Valley flat car 302.

A caboose of unknown origin.

A truckless work gang car.

A Sumpter Valley Railway view.

Chiquita Banana switcher 805 built by General Electric in 1957.

Sumpter Valley 2-8-0 20, ex. Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration, exx. Pacific & Arctic Railway and Navigation Copmany (White Pass and Yukon) 80 at Skagway, Alaska, exxx. Sumpter Valley Railroad Company 20, nee Sumpter Valley Railroad Company 101 at Baker, Oregon built by American Locomotive Company in 1920.

Another truckless track gang car.

The Sumpter Valley yard office.

Sumpter Valley flat car 502, nee Crown Zellerbach.

Click here for Part 2 of this story