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Union Pacific 844 and 3985 double heading down the Feather River Canyon

by Chris Guenzler

With Railfair 1991 in Sacramento meant that three big steam moves would be taking place to get the engines there. The SP 4449 would come down from its home in Portland, Oregon pulling an all Daylight train set on a two day trip. I had tickets on the ATSF 3751 trip from Barstow to Bakersfield over the Tehachapi that did not happen because the engine was not finished being restored {That trip did happen in December}. I also had bought a ticket for the double headed UP steam trip pulled by the UP 844, a 4-8-4 Northern type engine and the 3985, a 4-6-6-4 Challenger type engine from Portola to Sacramento. The Central Coast Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society along with the Feather River Rail Society ran the trip and I got my ticket through the FRRS as I was a member of their group at the time of the trip being announced. My ticket included a bus trip from the Sacramento Amtrak station to the Holiday Inn in Sparks. The next morning a bus to Portola, the trip through the Feather River Canyon and the Sacramento Valley to the ex WP yard in South Sacramento and a return bus to Amtrak. I planned my trip to and from Sacramento on Amtrak with a night's stay at the Travelodge six blocks east of the Amtrak station in Sacramento the day of the trip's arrival in Sacramento.

4/26/1991 Very early on that morning my father drove me down to the Santa Ana Amtrak station to wait for the Thruway Bus to Bakersfield and the connecting San Joaquin train for points north. The bus pulled up about thirty minutes late and I boarded to fall right asleep for most of the trip to Bakersfield to the waiting San Joaquin train number 711, an all horizon fleet train which I took to Stockton. On the train I met several other people heading north to ride the train like me tomorrow. At Stockton we all detrained to board buses to Sacramento. I had time there to walk over to Old Sacramento to see the preparations for Railfair 1991. Back at the depot several of my new friends decided on the spot to take the California Zephyr to Reno. I thought about it for a few minutes but realized that the bus would kill the train to Sparks and save me some money that could be used for some other things once I got there. The bus pulled up behind the station and we all loaded into it for the trip over Donner Pass to Sparks. We made a rest stop at Truckee which everyone took the advantage of going into the SP Station there to have a look and a trip across the street to a liquor store for use later in the evening. We made the rest of the trip to Sparks where we checked in and we were on our own until breakfast the next morning. I had an early dinner, walked over to where the Amtrak trains stops in the UP Sparks yard, gambled a bit in the casino winning enough to cover what I spent on dinner and my liquor. I enjoyed the view while I drank before calling it an early night with a 5:00 AM wake up call to start a dream come true, a trip down the ex Western Pacific's Feather River Route.

Union Pacific 844/3985 West 4/27/1991 The Canyon Express

The day started with a shower, a checking out of the hotel and a group breakfast. It was clear and cold as I boarded the first bus to Portola which got us there in time to walk around the Feather River Railroad Museum where I shot the newly arrived ex SP RS-32 Simplot 4004 from their plant in Don, Idaho, an old friend from my visits with my brother Bruce in Pocatello and a Milwaukee Road 5057, a U-25-B. The museum has one of the greatest assemblies of preserved diesel locomotives anywhere in North America. After taking a good look around, I put my stuff in my coach finding a right hand large window seat in the 44 seat UP coach Columbine before heading back outside for a few pictures of the two steam locomotives. Our train consisted of the UP 844, UP 3985, auxiliary water tender, a GE Dash9-40CW 9427, the tool car UP 24336, crew car UP 904304, UP 206 Power Car, Cabarton {crew}, North Platte {crew}, North Platte {crew}, Cheyenne {crew}, Western Lodge {baggage car}, Sunshine Special {coach}, Texas Eagle {coach}, Sun Valley {lounge}, Portland Rose {coach}, City of Los Angeles {diner}, Columbine {coach}, Challenger {coach}, Western Star {museum car}, UP 208, Feather River, Overland, Harriman {dome}, Portola and Arden {observation lounge}. All this made for a twenty-three car train. We all reboarded and our departure then was delayed as some of the cars needed to be watered.

We left Portola twenty-three minutes late but no one cared as the excitement of the trip was in all of us and I was starting to live a dream come true. We headed west by the museum and out the valley to Mabie before passing through the tight canyon before the canyon dropped below us and we crossed Willow Creek on the famous Clio Viaduct, one hundred and seventy-two feet above the stream. We continued west to Blairsdan where the pacers in their cars were waiting for us on Highway 70. Along the middle Fork of the Feather River we traveled through Two Rivers to Sloat where we meet an eastbound UP freight train. Following the meet we traveled two miles into a canyon to MP 299.8 where we did our first photo runby of the day. I climbed up onto a rock and was rewarded with a fantastic shot of the train as it steamed past the photographers.

Once back on board we traveled a few more miles along the Middle Fork before we plunged into the Spring Garden Tunnel. Upon exiting, we were back in the world of the photographers and pacers who were all waiting for us. We passed through Spring Garden siding before making our way to the Williams Loop where hundreds of photographers were waiting for us. We were to have a second runby after we circled the Williams Loop about two miles west but with all of the freight traffic on the line today it was decided to cancel it in order to keep the railroad moving. We climbed high above the Quincy Valley where we went through Quincy Junction where the Quincy Railroad interchanges with the Union Pacific. We curved along the hillside that leads us high above Spanish Creek to the yard at Keddie. A box lunch was handed out just before we arrived in Keddie. We curved out onto the Keddie Wye, the most famous structure on the entire ex Western Pacific trackage. On the hillside along and above the highway turnout every spot had a photographer taking pictures of our double heading steam train crossing the Keddie Wye. We plunged into the tunnel and out onto a shorter bridge before passing under a highway bridge with a horde of picture takers before plunging into another tunnel. Across the canyon was the trackage of the Highline climbing out of the canyon while down on the highway was a traffic jam with the California Highway Patrol making sure no driver did anything stupid, thus no one could get ahead of the train.

At every possible photo location along our route through the canyon there were photographers. We traveled through Paxton and Virgila before passing through the Honeymoon Tunnel along Rock Creek Reservoir. We traveled through Belden, Camp Rogers and at Tobin crossed both the North Forks of the Feather River. The train crossed over the Rock Creek Trestle before it arrived at Merlin where because of not wanting to delay any freight trains another photo runby was canceled. With the great scenery of the Feather River Canyon I could have cared less. Across the river was the Elephant Butte before we arrived at Pulga where we crossed the Feather River under the high Highway 70 bridge. The hills above were covered with people with cameras. We passed through Poe on the way to the North Fork concrete arch bridge where we crossed the Feather River and plunged into a tunnel taking us out of the Feather River Canyon. We came out into daylight briefly at Dark Canyon. We plunged into more tunnels that led our train to the lower level of the Highway 70 bridge over the West Branch of Lake Oroville. Here we then went through James siding which was alive with photographers. We crossed beneath Highway 70 with the bridge jammed with photographers before plunging into the last tunnel of the trip making a 180 degree turn to the lower Highway 70 bridge with most of the same people from the other bridge now there after they had taken a hundred yard walk while we took about a mile and a half ride. We rounded a curve before we stopped to do a photo runby with the train backing beyond the Highway 70 before charging by us standing on a hillside. The crew then did a second runby backing the train even further. Both times the 3985 was obscured by the smoke of the 844 leading our train. We reboarded to just short of Kramm siding where another double runby was performed this time with the 3985 being seen.

The engines were then posed for pictures. We made the fast twenty minute trek to Oroville as I enjoyed a couple of drinks in the lounge car now serving since there will be no more runbys today. We crossed the Feather River for the last time on our way into town. We stopped at the Oroville Depot where we all detrained to pick up our dinners. I walked to the front for a picture of our train surrounded by the mob of town's people before they cut off the diesel helper that had served braking duty. I walked over to the park and had the WP 164, a 0-6-0 on display there all to myself before I picked up my dinner and took it back to my seat to enjoy.

We departed Oroville fifty-five minutes late but no one cared as we were all having a great time aboard this train. I sat in the lounge car having a few more drinks. We made a fast run down the Sacramento Valley through Marysville and by the former WP depot there. At the south end of town, we crossed the Yuba River then through Pleasant Grove to Del Paso where we stopped to wait for an eastbound freight train to clear the mainline. When I bought my last drink of the trip, the lounge attendant gave me six mini bottles for being his best customer of the day. We traveled south into north Sacramento where everyone was waving at our train. UP 844 West then crossed the American River ducked under the ex SP mainline at Haggin before passing through the east side of downtown Sacramento and the ex WP depot. We ducked under Interstate 80 before we arrived at the ex WP South Sacramento Yard ending a wonderful trip and a dream come true. Who says that dreams do not come true. I am living proof that indeed they do! I was bused back to the Amtrak Sacramento Station where I walked to the Travelodge for the night.

4/28/1991 I walked back to the Amtrak Station to board the Thruway Bus for Stockton where I boarded San Joaquin number 708 for Bakersfield. I took a Thruway bus to Los Angeles Union Station to where I boarded the San Diegan number 580 to take me home to Santa Ana. The next weekend I was back in Sacramento for Railfair 1991.