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Sumpter Valley Railway Fall Foliage Trip 10/9/2020

by Chris Guenzler

We woke up at the Mill Inn and Suites and after checking out we headed to our first official stop of the day.

The Oregon Trunk Bend station. From here we stopped at McDonald's where I had hot cakes and sausage but they did not get Elizabeth's order correct. We then took US 97 to Oregon Highway 126 to US 26 which we took into Prineville and had to make a stop.

City of Prineville caboose 201. We went east on US 26 to Daysville where I turned over the driving to Elizabeth who drove to John Day where we got gas. Oregon offers full service, pumping gas and cleaning windshields. We both believe that this practice should be done in all fifty states to put people to work. From John Day I drove again and saw a sign as we approached Prairie City that said Depot Park, so Elizabeth looked it up and found its location.

Sumpter Valley stock car body 2020.

Sumpter Valley stock car 2020.

Sumpter Valley Railway station located at Prairie City. I drove us next to McEwen and we stopped when I spotted something.

Miniature steam engine out at the Highway 7 entrance. We parked the rental car.

Sumpter Valley Railway History

The railway was incorporated in 1890 by David Eccles. The 3 foot narrow gauge railway's purpose was to haul logs to the Oregon Lumber Company sawmill in South Baker City. The sawmill and railroad remained separate corporations of the same owners for the life of the railroad. The builders of the railway also owned the Grande Ronde Lumber Company in Perry, Oregon, and the railway was financed by Mormons in Utah. The line was built over terrain originally considered as part of a railway from Denver, Colorado to the Pacific coast; but the Union Pacific Railroad opted for a different route to avoid bypassing growing communities which might provide an attractive opportunity for competition by the rapidly growing Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company.

Much of the original equipment came from the Utah & Northern Railway in Idaho and Montana. The Union Pacific owned the line and began converting it to standard gauge around 1887. Eccles owned a significant amount of Union Pacific stock, exerting enough influence to acquire the now-unneeded narrow gauge equipment. The first locomotive to arrive was a small 4-4-0 numbered 285; the Sumpter Valley also purchased a number of the U&N's Brooks 2-6-0 locomotives, along with a large number of boxcars and flatcars. In 1906, the railroad also acquired four locomotives from the Tonopah Railway (later the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad).

By 1891, the line had reached McEwen, 22 miles west of Baker City, and the railroad began offering passenger and freight service. To reach uncut forests further west, the company extended the line in stages. It reached Sumpter in 1896 and continued southwestward to Whitney, Tipton, Austin and Bates. By 1910, it arrived in Prairie City, a ranching and mining community along the John Day River in Grant County. The railroad continued to use wood fuel for their locomotives until converting to oil fuel in June, 1940. Diamond-shaped smokestacks were replaced by cabbage-shaped Rushton stacks after 1916.

Ten years later, the railway began losing business to automobiles and trucks, and in 1933 the 20 miles of track between Prairie City and Bates were abandoned. Scheduled passenger service on the remaining line ended in 1937. Freight service remained, however, and in 1939 the railway purchased two 2-6-6-2T "mallet" locomotives from the Uintah Railway in Colorado. These engines were converted from coal to oil burners and given tenders from two 2-8-2 locomotives. As traffic declined, the railway sold off the other, unneeded locomotives. In 1947, the railroad ceased all operations except for 1.5 miles of track in the Oregon Lumber Company yard in South Baker City. This last section was abandoned and removed in 1961.

The Modern Sumpter Valley Railway

In 1971, a group of volunteers set out to rebuild the Sumpter Valley Railway. Locomotive 3, a 1915 Heisler-type steam locomotive, was restored to operation in 1976, and the new railway opened for business on July 4, 1976, over a track of less than 1 mile. The Sumpter Valley Railway Restoration Inc. was created and 6 miles of track were reinstalled by hand over the next 15 years, to connect the McEwen, Oregon station with Sumpter, Oregon. SVR No. 19, a type 2-8-2 steam locomotive built in 1920, was restored to operating condition in 1996. Sister locomotive 20 is also located at the railroad.

In 2007, the railway opened its reproduction of the original Sumpter Depot, within sight of the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area operated by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The railway operates a number of historic Sumpter Valley Railroad and adjoining 3 foot narrow gauge logging railroad steam locomotives and equipment on the line every summer.

In Prairie City at the western end of the original line, the Sumpter Valley Depot Restoration Committee renovated the Sumpter Valley Railway Passenger Station in the 1970s. The City of Prairie City has used it to house the DeWitt Museum since 1984. Its collections include lanterns, lights, and other railway artifacts, and photographs of train wrecks and of life along the rail line.

Our trip

I walked over seeing a steam engine for the first time in my life under steam.

P>My first picture of Sumpter Valley 2-8-2 19.

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The McEwen water tower.

SVRR flat car 1145.

SVRR flat car 161.

Unlettered box cars.

Two more flat cars.

The engine ran around the train.

Backing to take on water.

Backing onto the train. A short time later we boarded the open car. I learned that they had cancelled the planned photo runby and I later complained to the train crew.

The train left McEwen. Sit back and enjoy the views along the Sumpter Valley Railway.

This is the trip from McEwen to Sumpter. I mentioned the lack of photo runbys to the station agent who remembered Elizabeth from last year.

The Sumpter Station.

The Dredge at Sumpter.

The train backed to the Sumpter siding so the crew could run the engine around the train.

A reflective picture of the Dredge in Sumpter.

The Sumpter Station where I bought a T-shirt and learned a photo runby was scheduled at McEwen. Elizabeth and I were excited.

The train returned to the Sumpter station. Elizabeth and I sat in the back of the open car.

The face all steam lovers love.

The view of the tracks as we headed east back to McEwen where the railroad had a surprise for Elizabeth and I. But alas, that is another story.