October 1997 - Page 58
MAIN PHOTO: On May 7, 1 997, a westbound grain train-led by a trio of General Electric DASH 9s, threads its way along the Yakima River between Cle Elum and Ellensburg, Washington. OPPOSITE PAGE, INSET: Northern Pa cific's logo-albeit a bit faded-still graces the Ellensburg depot.
ABOVE: In May 1 99G, just before rebuilding began, the Stampede Pass route waits forlorn but not for gotten. Today, there are two main tracks complete with concrete ties and 1 3G-pound welded rail.
J ust t h e sight of t h e gleaming railheads and the brand-new signals is a thri l l . All the little things taken for granted elsewhere seem remarkable here. It is a tremendous kick, for instance, to switch on your scan ner and actually hear something besides meaningless static. I t 's been a long, long time since a di spatcher has spoken names such as Easton, Lester, Cle Elum , and Yakima. Remember, Stampede Pass had been given up for dead. Watching it come back to l i fe-watching it get up off the bed and start to move around the room a lit tle-is a powerful and undeniably affecting expe rience, in part, of course, because the old Stampede, the c l a s s i c S tampede Pass o f the orthern Pac i fi c e r a , meant so m u c h . T h i s w a s not j u s t any r ailroad. It was one of the holy places in the northwestern rail road universe. It i s difficult to imagine a trainwatcher anywhere in the state who didn't feel some sort of personal connection. For one t h i n g , t h e l o c a t i o n i s right: virtually i n Seat tle's backyard on one side of the moun tains, and Ya k i m a 's on the oth er. A l m o s t as soon as a train pul led out of town, it began slicing th rough tall timber, threading deep canyons, coiling up w a r d t o w a rd the s u m m i t . R i d i n g over Stampede i n a dome c a r (still p o s s i b l e d u r i n g t h e earl y A m t r a k year s ) w a s a truly wonderful expe rience, all the more so because passenger trains provided the o nly w ay for the genera l p u b l i c to see much of the western s l ope of the pass, part of a large, severely restricted watershed area owned by the city of Sea t t l e . You can't drive inside the boundaries. You can't even go in on fo o t . According to some s t o r i e s , t h e b a t h rooms o f the N orth Coast Limited a n d other trains were locked while rolling th rough the area . Anyway, a ft e r passenger servi c e e n d e d , and m o s t fre ights had m i grated to other rou tes, Stampede enjoyed a fi nal burst of glory as one of the last redoubts o f Burl ington orthern F-un i t s . Long w i l l t h e fai t h fu l r e m e m ber t h e sight and the sound o f t h o s e aging war horses at fu l l bel low on the 2 . 2 percen t .
Then came the B i g S i lence. But the fans couldn't stay away. Even in a state of suspended animation, Stampede continued to exert a magnetic pull. It didn't hurt, of course, that 1-90 par allels a 20-mile segment of the line between Easton and Cle Elum . If you drove across the mountains, a brief stop or two was irres istible, as was the chance to point your cam era at those famous NP semaph ore masts. Has any group of d e funct signals ever been photographed more? If you l ived in the orthwest and loved trains, it was something you almost h ad t o do-a rai lfan rite of passage. A little time spent communing with the ghosts of railroads past never hurt anyone. Of course, some people enjoy t orturing themselves with tantalizing visions of what might have been, and
S t a mpede S no h om i sh Pa ss M onroe
Lester EasfOrF_ .. Cle Elu m ('''a' E llensburg >. b -''
MAP BY TOM DANNEMAN
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5 8 - October 1 997