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The Idaho Cascadian Passenger Train 8/8/2003

by Chris Guenzler

Dave Arthur, an excellent Metrolink Conductor, e-mailed me about this trip which was something I really wanted to do as I once dated a women who was from McCall, Idaho and told me how beautiful that part of the Gem State was. I sent off for my ticket and once it arrived contacted Alaska Airlines to use my miles to get me to Boise. That would be a flight to Seattle then transfer to Horizon Air to Boise and a return to Portland and the same flight I took back from Portland on the Lewis & Clark Explorer Trip. Mike at AAA got me an Enterprise Rental Car and I set up my hotels through Best Western. The trip was completely planned by early June so I was all set to leave when that day arrived. The day before I went on line to get my boarding pass for my two flights to Boise, Idaho.

Alaska Airline Flight 429 8/6/2003

Bill picked me up and drove me to Orange County Airport. Within five minutes of being dropped off I was at the gate relaxing for my 10:46 AM flight to Seattle. I enjoyed Hot Cakes and Sausage prior to boarding my flight which was a 737-400 plane with me in seat 10A. We lifted off at 11:05 AM and I had a great view of Portola, California with the Feather River Railroad Museum's balloon track visible below on our very smooth flight.

We touched down at Sea-Tac at 1:17 PM and we taxied to Gate D 12. I took the rail shuttle to the North Terminal learning that my 3:00 PM flight to Boise was at present an hour and five minutes late. After a bathroom break, I made a pair of round trips on the shuttle on the north loop only since the connection to the south loop was not open as it was closed for repairs. I stopped by a newsstand for a USA Today and a new Fill In Puzzle book to assist in killing the wait until flight time. While I was gone they switched the gate to N8 and the flight was much later as mechanical problems caused a switch of planes on the incoming flight. "Peter Frampton Live" killed most of the waiting time at N8.

Horizon Air Flight 406 8/6/2003

I boarded the MD80 taking seat 10A at 4:38 PM and we took off at 4:57 PM. Mt Rainier was hidden under the clouds but by the time we reached the Columbia River it had cleared off with the routes of the Empire Builder and the former Pioneer were seen.

I saw Baker, Oregon where I would be staying tonight. The plane touched down at 6:55 PM MDT and arrived at Gate 8 at 6:59 when I got to walk down the stairs out into the Idaho late afternoon heat.

On to Baker 8/6/2003

I got my rental car with no problems until after I made a slight driving mistake and I got pulled over by the Boise Airport Police. I was written a ticket for one thing and warned about two, one which was the rental car not having a current registration. I returned that car for a Mitsubishi Lancer. I drove Interstate 84 into Oregon and as soon as it got dark, the trains showed up. I made it to Ontario, checked out the old Amtrak Station location, stopped by Albertsons for some chicken before checking in at the Best Western Sunrise Inn in Baker for the night.

To the Blue Mountains then east to Ontario 8/7/2003

Stopping at a Texaco for snacks before I took US 30 west out of Baker.

At North Powder I took the road to Union and when I reached Telocaset Hill, a westbound Union Pacific stack train was heading west down the grade. A few minutes later I caught a picture of it.

After driving to Union, I made my way to La Grande photographing an UP eastbound at the depot.

Over in the yard was the Idaho, Pacific & Northern power used on the Joseph Branch. Road construction cost me that stack train so I thought as I had to go all the way to the east side of La Grande to get back on I 84. I headed west into the Blue Mountains and drove to Kalema to wait for some action.

After waiting two and a half hours I clicked a picture of the spot where I had wanted to photograph a westbound. Sometimes in this hobby you have either great luck or in my case at Kamela no luck. I headed east back to La Grande finding that stack train that I had been waiting for which has sat there which is unusual for a hot scheduled train. I drove back to Baker finding an In and Out Restaurant which had no relationship with that great chain back in California. I gassed up and headed east on US 30 where I found an eastbound at Quartz which was waiting for a westbound a mile east. I drove to Pleasant Valley catching another westbound with DPU's on the rear. Behind him was another westbound train. Back onto I 84, I found an eastbound which I drove ahead of to the Rye Valley exit to wait. A westbound stack train with a former Conrail unit in its consist came by. The eastbound later went by me with a double yellow signal so I chased him to Lime caught him again then an eight unit westbound train. Back on the Interstate I decided to go to Weiser, Idaho taking Oregon 201 to Spur 95 across the Snake River into Idaho. On the way there I saw two more UP trains across the Snake River including westbound grain train with three units on the point and four more buried mid train.

At Weiser, I shot the UP Depot there. I drove to Payette to have a look around before driving south on US 95 to Fruitland where I took US 30 back into Ontario. I visited Oregon Trail Hobbies and Gifts before checking in at the Best Western. A visit was then made to Walmart for some more spare camera batteries.

I went to the UP Ontario Station for pictures then to Sizzler for dinner. I returned to my room to relax for the rest of the evening.

Idaho Cascadian 8/8/2003

Up with the alarm at 5:45 AM and following the preparations for my day, I enjoyed a continental breakfast before going to a Chevron Food Mart for snacks for today's trip. I drove over to Payette, found the train and walked down to it. Our train consisted of Idaho, Pacific & Northern GP-40 4506, flat car 58390, coach 2941 Cascade {ex Long Island}, open car 58882 and covered open car 54667. At 6:50 AM, we backed down to the loading area elevation about 1200 feet.

Now a little history of the line we rode today. The line from Payette was built to New Plymouth 11.1 miles in 1906 by the Payette Valley Railroad. In 1910 the remaining miles east to Emmett was added by the Payette Extension Railroad. The line was purchased by the Oregon Short Line Railroad on August 5, 1914. The line north from Emmett was built by the Idaho Northern Railroad and reached Smith Falls on October 29, 1912. The line was sold to the Oregon Short Line on December 30, 1914 and the new owner built the 45.7 miles to Lakeport, now McCall. The line between Cascade and McCall was abandoned by the Union Pacific on May 14,1980. The line was bought from the Union Pacific by the Idaho Northern and Pacific on November 15, 1993.

The official trip started with our train backing down to the junction with the Union Pacific. We headed east and after a few more minutes we went over US 95 passing through Eiffie on a short mile 0.5% climb out of the Snake River Valley to enter Fruitland which is in the Payette River Valley. We would be following the Payette River for almost our entire trip today.

After the local industries we turned east passing through Buckingham with its siding before we did our first Photo Runby of the day about a mile. Once on the move again we passed through Tom Thumb before turning south to reach New Plymouth, a small agricultural town. We turned east, next crossed the Farmer's CO-OP Ditch prior to Falks before running to the site of Little Rock now in the Emmett Valley. Agricultural interest is everywhere as this is the main business of this part of Idaho. The train crossed the Seven Mile Slough then passing through Letha prior to running by a large sand plant, a major shipper on this railroad. I bought an excursion T-shirt as we continued our trek east. The train continued to Emmett Junction the junction with the former Idaho Northern Line from Nampa.

We pulled into Emmett {elevation 2390} for a crew change and we detrained for thirty minutes for pictures of the train, depot and caboose.

I visited an ATM at the US Bank before I had Dave take my picture on the caboose. Heading out of Emmett, we turned and did both crossings of the Last Chance Canal before passing through Plaza. A grass fire was burning across the valley as the train entered Black Canyon the start of the Payette River Canyon. We passed the dam built in 1924 that created the Black Canyon Reservoir then crossed the Gay Canal which plunges into a tunnel built in 1923.

Here we then entered the 486 foot Tunnel Number 2 and upon exiting the train stopped for the second Photo Runby of the day. On the move once more, we followed the Black Canyon Reservoir and crossed Anderson Creek on a 180 foot steel trestle. A few minutes later, all the passengers had to go inside the coach as the train passed through the very unstable 129 foot Tunnel Number 3.

Once again, upon exiting, the train stopped for our third Photo Runby of the day.

We reloaded the train, crossed Cherry Creek before we reached Montour, where the fourth Photo Runby of the day was held. From Montour, we ran nonstop to Horseshoe Bend crossing both Church and Rock Creeks. Right outside of town we made our first crossing of the Payette River on a 215 foot through plate girder bridge. The tracks then made a ninety degree turn to the north before we pulled into the station area of the Thunder Mountain Line, which is the passenger service operation of the Idaho, Pacific & Northern.

Their regular excursion train was sitting ready for its departure time. I visited the gift shop for a video and T-shirt before returning to the train to eat my lunch.

I went outside and had a picture of me taken on the engine. We departed Horseshoe Bend {elevation 2614} as the canyon became more rugged. We crossed Hell Roaring Gulch, whose name comes from its spring thaw flow, then Porter and Calamity Creeks.

We did our fifth Photo Runby of the day at MP 54 which was done twice allowing for different views. Pine trees started to join our route as we crossed Hill Creek, passed through Gardenia then it became really scenic as we crossed Brownlee, Boulder and Dry Buck Creeks on our way to Banks.

Here we did our sixth Photo Runby of the day. At Banks {elevation 2809}, the Payette River splits and our train's route will follow the North Fork of the Payette River towards Cascade. The river turns wild as the tracks climb a 2.2% grade and the trees become more dense. We reached the second crossing of now the North Fork of the Payette River, a 338 foot Warren Truss Bridge section that combined with the girder deck section gives you a 448 foot total bridge which is very impressive.

Here we stopped for our seventh Photo Runby of the day.

After shooting the back up move, one could move to a different location.

Following the first runby, I moved to the other side for this back up shot.

I then relocated down by the water's edge for this shot of the runby. As we headed north, the scenery reminded me and others of the Feather River Canyon back in Northern California. Continuing north, we crossed Highway 55, the main Boise to Cascade road, crossed Howell Creek before passing through Farrell, which is one of the wildest stretches of white water around.

Just before Big Eddy, we stopped for the eight Photo Runby of the day. The more adventurous of our group including me crossed the river on a railroad access suspension bridge which was one of the most incredible things I had ever done before.

I took the now usual back up shot, before I moved for the Photo Runby.

Continuing our climb up the grade on this very hot August day, our train had to deal with a pair of sun kinks in the rail. The train next continued through Tunnel Number 4, a 221 foot affair prior to crossing Beaver Creek and then the canyon opened up as we arrived at Smiths Ferry {elevation 4538}. We are now at an elevation of 4538 feet, Smiths Ferry has a 1430 foot siding and a wye. Here we stopped for a static photo shot of the train or section house or both. Once back on board, free drinks, both alcoholic {beer} or soft drinks to any passengers like myself who wanted them.

We proceeded to the 37 foot Tunnel Number 5, which is the shortest solid rock tunnel in North America.

Here we staged shots, as well as doing our ninth Photo Runby of the trip. This time I decided to take a picture of the photographers taking pictures of our train.

The train proceeded only a mile and a half to the Highway 55 "Rainbow Bridge". This 410 foot highway bridge is Idaho's longest single span concrete arch bridge built in 1933 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here the Highway leaves the Payette River and we did another standing photo.

Here was the ever happy Katie, a member of the excellent onboard staff, relaxing while some of the passengers photographed the train and bridge. The train ran north crossing Round Valley Creek then passed through the former station site of Hawthorn. Our train passed through four more miles of absolutely beautiful canyon to the 200 foot truss bridge over the North Fork of the Payette River for our tenth Photo Runby of our trip which was a double Photo Runby

I climbed the hill for the backup move. I moved for the runby.

That was all before I used my mountain goat skills to gain higher elevation for the final runby of the trip.

We wound a few more miles having left the Payette River to gain access to Long Valley with the beautiful vistas of the North Fork Rang eand the Salmon River Mountains to the east along with the West Mountains in the west. We passed the former station at Cabarton {elevation 4654} before we reached Belvidere whose station was seen hidden back in the trees. The train passed the Cascade Airport then we went by the former Boise Cascade Plant site prior to our arrival at Cascade {elevation 4746}. The train was going to go to the end of the track but the rail conditions only allowed us to go a few city blocks further.

The train backed down to the unloading area ending our rare mileage trip. A special thanks to Bart and his wife Sarah, the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum and the Idaho, Pacific & Northern for an excellent excursion trip and a life time memory.

I shot the 4506 as it was being wyed for my last shot of the day.

Back to Payette 8/8/2003

The buses arrived at 5:50 PM and once it was decided which way the buses would return, we headed north on Idaho 55 to McCall with the beautiful lake, then over the ridge to Meadows and then New Meadows whose Union Pacific Station is under restoration. Here the bus turned south onto US 95 for the trip back to Payette. Along the way at times we followed the former grade of the Union Pacific New Meadows Branch. The bus pulled into Payette at 8:42 PM then I was off in the rental car quickly returning to Ontario. I stopped at Arby’s for some dinner before returning to my room for some Three's Company ending my day of that once in a lifetime, outstanding and unique trip on the Idaho, Pacific & Northern from Payette to Cascade, Idaho.

Coming Home 8/9/2003

Sleeping in late and following a continental breakfast, I drove to Nampa for a picture of the depot there.

It was then east to Boise for gas and a picture of the beautiful Union Pacific Station in this town. I returned the rental car and used an Alaska Airline Ticketing Machine to get my boarding pass. I visited the gift shop for some Idaho post cards, breezed through security and later called Lets Talk Trains before boarding my flight to Portland.

Horizon Air Flight 2582 8/9/2003

I boarded a CRJ700 taking seat 10A. We took off at 12:53 MDT and following a very cloudy Mt Hood we landed at Portland at 12:43 PDT. After deplaning, I went by Gate C1 then on the moving walkways to Cool Happening for a Chocolate Mint Ice Cream prior to returning to C1 to wait for my flight.

Alaska Airlines Flight 348 8/9/2003

After the gate crew tried to solve everyone's seating problems, I boarded the 737-400 taking seat 19A. We took off at 2:50 PM and the interesting thing about this flight was seeing Lake Shasta from the air. We touched down in Oakland at 4:20 PM and I enjoyed a People Magazine left onboard. We took off from Oakland at 5:12 PM and touched down at Orange County at 6:21 PM. I deplaned, no Cliff to pick me up so I had him paged with no result before I called and found him at home. He thought it was Sunday to get me not Saturday which it was. About 18 minutes later Cliff pulled up to pick me up and drove me home ending another exciting rail adventure.

For further information on the regular excursion runs of the Thunder Mountain Line click on the link below.

Train Rides