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Sumpter Valley Railroad

by Chris Guenzler

My brother Bruce asked me to come up for a visit and asked if I wanted to go to Sumpter Valley and learn how to be a fireman. I thought why not, so Bruce made my Amtrak reservation and I was all set to come up.

San Diegan 571 and Desert Wind 36 8/21/1984

My mother drove me to the Santa Ana train station and a few minutes later I was aboard the San Diegan to Los Angeles. I did the usual sitting in front of the gate before I boarded the Desert Wind. We left on time and went the usual way out to San Bernardino and over Cajon Pass. I drank from my private stock and stepped off in Barstow for some fresh air on a very humid afternoon with large black clouds to the northeast. We ran through Afton Canyon and out on the Devil's Playground the thunderstorms started. Climbing Cima Hill every wash the train crossed was flooding and above us were great claps of thunder. There is no better place to be in the whole world than on a train during a storm. I had my dinner of a hot dog from the lounge section of the dining car and at Las Vegas stepped off for the liquor store and a few slots. We left Vegas on time and after a few nightcaps, I went to sleep about Rainbow Canyon.

8/22/1984 I woke up about Lakehead and after putting myself together I enjoyed the morning ride into Salt Lake City. We came into town via Grant Tower before we backed into the Union Pacific Salt Lake City Depot where my brother Bruce was waiting for me. We drove to Pocatello stopping at Termonton for breakfast. I then spent the next three nights with Bruce's family and enjoyed my stay.

The Pioneer 25 8/25/1984

Bruce and I got up and drove to the Pocatello Depot. As Bruce always says, "A train has to stop some place in the middle of the night so it might as well be here!" The Pioneer arrived on time with Bruce and I boarding and finding seats to ourselves. I laid down to sleep after the conductor took my ticket. I slept well and woke up on the Boise Cutoff. We ran by Morrison Knudsen with various locomotives sitting outside in many states of rebuilding. We ran into Boise and we both went into the Dining Car for breakfast. The Pioneer ran to Nampa while we were eating and crossed the Snake River into Oregon stopping at Ontario. We re crossed the Snake back into Idaho and stayed on the north side of the river until Nyssa where we crossed back into Oregon for good. We changed crews at Huntington before we started climbing the grade to Pleasant Valley. We passed through the tunnels and went around the horseshoe curve at Oxman before we reached the summit prior to dropping into the Baker Valley. We arrived at the Amshelter, the station for Baker where we both detrained.

The Sumpter Valley Railroad 8/25/84

We were picked up by Joe Beaver and driven up Oregon Highway 7 to the junction of Highway 410 on which we went west. We passed Phillips Lake before we turned down the dirt road which took us to the SVRR Dredge Depot. We went inside and I joined the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration and signed up to become a fireman. We looked around at the group's equipment including the original Sumpter Valley Railroad 2-8-2's 19 and 20 which had been up in Alaska and returned in 1977. They are waiting the time and money to be restored. We looked at all the other equipment some of which are ex D&RGW and walked over to the engine house where we found the W.H. Eccles 3, a wood burning Heisler. I got introduced to the crew and it was decided that I would just observe on the first run. I climbed up into the cab and got an explanation of how to fire the Heisler. We went to the wood pile and loaded the tender with wood. We next filled the tender with water before backing up to couple onto the two passenger cars. The trip to the end of the line would be to pull the train there and push the train back. The passengers boarded the train and we went off on our first trip of the day.

The train run up the Powder River Valley on narrow gauge tracks through the Dredge Tailings from the gold mining that took here in the past. Nature is slowly trying to restore this area. I sat and watched the fireman do his job taking careful notice of everything he did. The engine swayed back and forth as we slowly made our way down the track. As we neared the Highway 71 grade crossing, I noticed our fireman stoking the fire with a great pace and after we reached the crossing he stopped. He told me that the train once across the crossing is now in a National Forest and they can not stoke the engine while the train is moving. Every time the engineer sounded the whistle, you could see the boiler pressure drop. We reached the end of the track and he stoked the engine while the train sat. They hope to restore the track into the town of Sumpter someday in the future. We started to back up and at the highway crossing the engineer blow the whistle and the boiler pressure dropped steadily the longer he blew it. It was a mad rush of stoking wood into the firebox which he did with great style. I got an idea, when it was my turn, I would have wood on the deck ready to be stoked in as soon as we got onto the crossing. The Heisler pushed the train back the depot and that was the end of trip number one and it would be my turn.

We unloaded the first train's passengers and loaded our next trip. It was now my turn. I started first to stoke the engine and got a good fire going. The boiler pressure rose and I blew off the excess steam. We slowly steamed off and headed down the straight track. It seemed quite natural for me to be firing this engine and I knew when to stoke the engine and when to inject water into the engine. It was plenty of work firing this engine and all of your attention is on the job that you are doing and on nothing else. As we neared the grade crossing I stoked like mad and had a really good fire going and my engineer only tooted to whistle enough just to get cars attention not using a lot of my steam pressure. We reached the end of the line and came to a stop. With the wood on the deck, I stoked the engine and we were ready to go. I got the wood ready for the crossing and when we backed there, the engineer really blew the whistle and I watched the pressure drop as I feverishly stoked the engine and within minutes we were running at the perfect boiler pressure. We made our way back and after we dropped off our passengers we went to the wood pile. I loaded the tender and boy was that some of the hardest work that I had ever done. My next job was to fill the tender with water which was easy compared to loading the wood.

We proceeded to the depot to load the next trip's passengers. I had a new engineer and I was told he loved blowing the whistle. We headed down the track with me having a real nice fire going. My engineer was living up to his reputation blowing the whistle freely. That meant I had to work three times as hard which I did as I was really loving doing this. I stoked three times more wood than on the other trip and I really stoked the engine before the grade crossing. It was a good thing I did as he laid on that whistle and the boiler pressure dropped to the lowest point of the entire trip. When we came to the end of the line, I barely finished before we started back. After another extended whistle blowing session at the crossing, I had us back to the proper pressure within minutes. By now, I knew if he blew the whistle to stoke as soon as he was done to equal what he had done. We made it back and after unloading the passengers, it was back to the wood pile and I reloaded the tender again.

My final trip of the day I was just a passenger in the engine and got to enjoy the ride. I watched someone else get worked by the engineer and I had a big smile on my face watching this. On the way back, the engineer had lost his hat on the way out and I was elected to retrieve the hat. When we got near, I climbed down the Heisler's ladder and stepped off down to the ground. I did it perfectly almost steeping on his hat before I grabbed it, ran back to the ladder and climbed up much to the delight of the passengers who all cheered me for doing such a good job of getting the hat. We returned to the Dredge Depot where Bruce and I said goodbye to everyone before Joe drove as back to Baker to catch Amtrak.

The Pioneer 26 8/25/1984

I was tired when I got on the through coach on the Pioneer as my destination was Grand Junction. Bruce and I went to have dinner. I enjoyed a steak before having some after dinner drinks. I went to sleep just inside Idaho.

8/26/1984 Bruce detrained at Pocatello and I slept all the way through it. In fact I was so tired, I even slept through all of the switching moves in Salt Lake City and didn't wake up until after we had left Provo. I enjoyed the climb over Solider Summit and out into the Utah Desert where it was raining. We were running two hours late and I found the conductor who I told I was connecting to number 6 Desert Wind's through car. He said he would call the dispatcher but would most likely put me off at Thompson to connect to it there. When we got near Thompson it was pouring down rain so he said he would not put me off there and I could stay on until either we reached Grand Junction or we met the westbound California Zephyr when I would be transferred. I was thinking Ruby Canyon would be a great spot to switch trains. Well it did not even come to that as I made it all the way to Grand Junction as the westbound train was two hours late which allowed a trip to the liquor store for supplies for the trip towards home.

California Zephyr 5 8/26/1984

Another trip through Ruby Canyon and across the rainy Utah Desert with me enjoying another steak dinner in the dining car. It got dark as we were on Solider Summit and I turned in by Provo still tired from the day before.

Desert Wind 35 8/27/1984

Waking up in Rainbow Canyon is a great way to start one's day. We cruised down Meadow Valley Wash and at Las Vegas I restocked my liquor supply. I enjoyed the trip across the California's Mojave Desert and the trip over Cajon Pass. We made a fast trip over Santa Fe's Second District into Los Angeles where I connected to a San Diegan for the quick trip to Santa Ana and home sweet home.