Parsons interior MT-19
Motorcars, Speeders and Railcars
Don Piercy's M9F1

The Blue Mountain Railroad in Walla Walla, WA is near the Washington / Oregon border.


Inaugural Blue Mountain Railroad Run By Wayne Parsons

The inaugural railcar run of the Blue Mountain Railroad in Walla Walla, Washington took place July 11th and 12th 1998. Established in 1992, The Blue Mountain RR is made up of former BNSF RR (NPRR) and UPRR tracks. Northwest Rail excursion organizer Don Piercy set Saturday as a run south to Weston, OR with Sunday's run north to Dayton, WA. A bonus run west toward the UP interchange point at Wallua, WA is added to the Saturday afternoon schedule. I have flown in for just Saturday and am operating one of Don's fleet of 13 railcars - a former DR&W RR MT-19, and provide a seat for local VIP guests. Nice to fly in and have a car waiting for you! Thank you Don!

Don Piercy with 3 cars on trailer Seventeen cars set on next to the Comfort Inn on Second Street. Piercy introduces BMRR General Manager Steve Kahler and several dignitaries from the Chamber of Commerce at the morning safety meeting. The group departs Walla Walla (mp 47 Dayton Branch) at 9:15 AM following Track Inspector Sean O'Brien in the hi-rail. Due to the age of the track, our speed limit is held to 10 mph.

This part of eastern Washington is rolling farm country with some areas "dry farmed," meaning crops like wheat depend solely on rainfall, and other crops like peas and onions have irrigation. The countryside is a patch quilt of colors that include green alfalfa, golden wheat, green apple orchards, brown earth, chocolate irrigated earth, barley. My first photo is a speeder passing an old wooden grain elevator with brown angular sides and a white tower under clear blue sky; it could be Kansas.

Sterling, Piercy and Parsons at state line The weather is sunny and warm with a light breeze all day. My next photo, taken at mp 41.7 in the middle of a field, is for credit on Dick Ray's challenge game of appearing in The Setoff crossing a state line in a motorcar. Moving again at Spofford (mp 39.9) we scare up a buck deer that takes off through the wheat fields. Crossing the Walla Walla River my passenger explains that two miles above this bridge all the water is captured for irrigation. Our first rest stop is at the Milton-Freewater (mp 36.5) train station now converted into a senior citizen center. The town bills itself as the "Apple Capital of Oregon," and the residents have been expecting us.

Moving again at 11 AM we reach rolling hills and begin a long two-percent grade at Barrett (mp 33.1). For the next nine miles we run steadily uphill through harvest ready wheat fields. The most spectacular scene is a large 199- degree curve between mp 26 and mp 25. Those of us in the lead cars look down several hundred feet across the valley to see the tail end of our group as they pass an old grain elevator, cross a wooden trestle, and swing into the curve behind. The view is pleasant and engaging as if part of a model railroad layout.

Nearing the top of the hill our group leader in a ruby red 1944 former Chicago Central RR Fairmont M9F1 with a five horsepower engine fights the steep grade and strong northeast Oregon wind to keep up with the hi-rail. As we rise above the ridge a short distance from the Oregon Trail, five antelope bucks take off across the harrowed field. At mp 20.67 we reach the end of the line on a steel bridge that crosses over multi-lane Hwy. 11. The rail on to Athena is gone, removed in 1985. Behind the group our escort throws the switch and we back up hill two tenths of a mile and tie up for lunch on the Smith Foods siding at mp 20.48; a large food processing plant owned by U.S. Senator Gordon Smith.

Waiting for us is a church bus with the slogan "Heaven Bound" on the front. The slogan is appropriate for this beautiful, historic setting. The bus takes us half a mile into Weston, OR where we split into two lunch groups; one going to Longbranch Saloon, the other to the Blue Mountain Bar. Marshall Brian Kitto watches us from the bench in front of City Hall. He's dressed in cowboy boots, white hat, white shirt, string bow tie, black vest and is armed with a single action Colt .44 in a tooled western holster. No kidding, he's really the marshal! Everyone in town is very friendly. The library is open for us; it features early photos. We are shown a ledger from an 1890's frontier picnic signed by all the attendees. Each resident listed how they got to Weston, some came across the Isthmus of Panama, and most came by ox team across the plains. Another ledger reveals that in April 1904 the town bank had $187,000 in assets. The group gets a tour of the town including the normal (teachers') school, and a house ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog. We're back on our cars at 2:45 PM.

Mayor Crampton and Parsons Returning to Walla Walla with us are the Marshall's wife and the "Heaven Bound" bus driver with his golden retriever dog. Riding with me is the Mayor of Weston, Tim Crampton. It turns out that Tim is a welder on the Union Pacific. I'm fascinated as he explains the hour-long process of making a field weld on CWR. The cool breeze continues all afternoon; we are comfortable despite the 86 temperature. After stopping to retrieve tie date nails from the twenties we arrive in Walla Walla at 5:30 PM.

Dry farm area of Oregon At 6:30 PM, with sunset over two hours away, fifteen cars start west toward Wallula (from mp 30.7 Wallula Branch). In return for our good and safe operating procedures, excursion coordinator Piercy has talked our host into this bonus run - at slightly higher speed. To get out of town we traverse many small street crossings. Traffic is surprised to see us, but word spreads quickly and soon people are in their back yards waving. We're running on roadbed built in 1874 as narrow gauge and converted to standard gauge in 1879 - some of the oldest in "The Evergreen State". This section of track is in much better condition; average track speed is around 20 mph. The sun is low, the sky has high wispy clouds, and the temperature is cooling off.

We're passing through farm country where irrigation pipes sprinkle the track with water in a few places. In one back yard at mp 28 I see two Lamas! They're just as spooked by the railcars as horses. My notes read: grain elevator at Whitman mp 24 at 7:00 PM, good speed mile 23 to 21, heavy smell of world famous Walla Walla sweet onions at Lowden mp 19.4, rest stop at Touchet market mp 15.1 at 7:40 PM.

Past Touchet are many alfalfa fields with open sided beehives. The bees are "leaf cutter" bees that pollinate the alfalfa. One local tells me they're also known as alkali bees. They don't bite and produce chemicals used in batteries around the world. The sun is low and in our eyes when we turn around at 8:10 PM under the Hwy. 12 overpass at mp 7.5. Just as the last two speeders are about to leave, local resident Don Shute pulls up and begs a ride for his son. The kid changes his mind, but Shute signs the release form and rides with me seven miles back to Touchet. Don is a highway maintenance man who raises some sheep; we see his house from the track. He explains to me the timing of when to shear sheep.

After dropping off my last rider, I follow the group through the street crossings in Walla Walla. In the twilight with our running lights, strobes and flags we have no problems. More people, many with small children, are out waving to us. At 9:30 PM the group is safely tied up behind the Comfort Inn.

Parsons and Piercy at Touchet, WA Our railroad escort is pleased with the group's flagging through out the day and rates our performance as A+. There have been no accidents or incidents of any kind. Everyone had a great time. Sunday's run, to the oldest railroad depot in the state at Dayton, is just as spectacular. A Pasco television crew taped the group at various scenic locations along the way. The general manager of the WATCO subsidiary Blue Mountain Railroad invites us back anytime. Excursion organizer Don Piercy deserves credit for the tremendous success of this inaugural motorcar run.

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