Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Welcome to the Northwest! Yakima, October 1976

My first BN train photographed as a Washingtonian: Ellensburg turn returning to Yakima behind GP9 1728 and F7A 704.

I'm sure the jaded railfan in 1976 would have seen the railroading world as getting more homogenous by the day, with mergers and abandonments sweeping away hallowed traditions. Just that year, ConRail (originally with the uppercase "R") consolidated a number of colorful bankrupt railroads in the east (along with Penn Central). Only six years before, the four major northern tier railroads merged as Burlington Northern.

In October that year, my family moved from Salt Lake City to Seattle. I was only 16, so I wasn't jaded yet; my whole railfanning world had consisted of Rio Grande and Union Pacific, so the opportunity to move to a new corner of the country and experience new railroads was pretty exciting to me.

We left for our new home early on October 8th, spending the night in Boise. Any trains I could expect to see would be familar, as southern Idaho is still "Union Pacific," and indeed, we paced a train that afternoon for a few miles near Glenns Ferry behind the usual mixed-bag locomotives I'd seen in Salt Lake City: GP30, SD24B, GP9B, U30C. Dad was nice enough to keep the LTD throttled back so I could lean out the back window and snap a few pan shots, then we scooted off to Boise, where I was given a few minutes to explore the classic Moorish Union Pacific depot on the hill  overlooking downtown. It was largely a corporate showpiece at the time, as there'd been no passenger service to the building since 1971, and regular Amtrak service via the Pioneer wouldn't begin til the next year.

The next day would've been a great opportunity to see more Union Pacific, paralleling the railroad across the Blue Mountains, but if I saw anything, I don't remember it. We overnighted that Saturday in Yakima, the idea to ride the resurrected Portugese trolleys operating on the electrified Yakima Valley Transit, a tourist service restored in time for the Bicentennial year.

After getting the family settled in at the hotel, dad trusted me with the keys to to the car and let me head off and explore the city's railroads. Yakima was served by a Union Pacific branch from the Tri-Cities area, and of course was a division point on BN's former Northern Pacific mainline between Auburn and Pasco. Fruit and lumber were the primary traffic staples, BN had a couple branchlines generating from the Yakima area;Union Pacific was fed by its Yakima Valley Transportation subsidiary, still amazing operating with steeplecab electrics.

I was in luck: I immediately stumbled upon a GP9 and F7A returning from Ellensburg on a BN local, a few carloads of saw logs ahead of predominantly ballast hoppers. Nearby, a Union Pacific GP9 switched in the yard--nothing new there. I followed the YVT trackage imbedded in the street north towards Selah, the current TRAINS magazine handy on the front seat next to me, open to Ted Benson's timely article on the YVT. I parked the car and walked up the short but scenic canyon along the Yakima River, hoping to somehow luck onto a YVT train returning from Selah--no luck, but I did stumble onto eastbound Amtrak "Empire Builder" behind a pair of SDP40F's and a dozen cars including three domes. Pure class!

Heading back into town, I finally found the YVT returning from west of Yakima on Tieton Drive, brakeman riding the front beam of steeplecab electric 298 easing down the middle of city streets delivering interchange to Union Pacific, two 57 foot mechanical cars that dwarfed the little motor up front. The crew worked quickly, picking up a string of cars for Selah, and they soon departed north up North 6th Avenue. I followed them until the sun had set, reluctantly leaving to meet my promise to be back to the hotel in time for us to go out to dinner. What a fabulous introduction to Northwest railroading! And all that in just a couple of hours!

The trolley ride the next day was anti-climactic. But you can bet I was quick to unload the darkroom equipment and process the film as soon as the moving truck arrived the following week. Again, haste made waste--the exposures were largely cooked and the film over developed.

And strangely enough, even though YVT continued electric freight operations until 1984,this was my first and last visit to this amazingly photogenic operation. Shame on me!

 Familiar to a kid from Utah, Union Pacific GP9 300 switches in Yakima yard, VYT's trolley barn in the background.

On-time eastbound Empire Builder between Selah and Yakima behind SDP40Fs.

 Ripping off a similar Ted Benson view in TRAINS: YVT 298 "sneaking up on the motorist" in the streets of Yakima.

 YVT 298, dwarfed by a following PFE mechanical reefer, arrives at the UP interchange.

 End of the day, and YVT 298 delivers to Union Pacific.

1 comment:

Josef Brugger said...

Nice set of photos. Being there, and being prepared, is everything.