Montana By Steam 2002 - Part 1

Remembering Don Wheeler (1940-2002)

An account of Montana By Steam 2002 needs to begin with Don Wheeler, PRPA President from 1994 to 2002, because of his role in preparing us to take on a trip of that magnitude. If you haven't already done so, please read A Tribute to Don by Jim Vanderbeck.

Don bonded with the SP&S 700 at an early age. His father, a machinist like Don, worked in a building in Vancouver right by the SP&S line. Don said that as a boy he would occasionally be at the shop with his father on an evening or weekend and whenever he heard the whistle of a steam locomotive, he would run to a window to see it go by. He claimed that even as a young lad, the 700 was his favorite.

Thus began a life-long love affair with "The Lady". Don also cared for and nurtured the PRPA with the same level of dedication he had for the 700. He will be greatly missed.

Oct 9, Vancouver, WA to Pasco, WA on the SP&S North Bank Road

We made a service stop at Wishram to "shoot the rods". Wishram, originally named Fallbridge, was a "company town" in the SP&S days, but is now just a shadow of its former self. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

"Shooting the rods" means pushing pin grease into fittings on the rods with an air-powered grease gun. It takes one person to hold and operate the gun, another to feed the grease sticks, a "spotter" to watch for grease coming out (generally from below), and one more person to tote the container of sticks. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Waiting for a meet. We expected to do a lot of that, given the end of the West Coast dock strike, but it wasn't that bad. We made Pasco easily by mid-afternoon. Photo by Terry Thompson.

Arnie was towing the PRPA concessions trailer with his pickup and stopped here at a pullout on Washington Highway 14 high above the tracks and river. The location is about 10 miles east of Roosevelt. Photo by Arnie Holden.

This was a ferry move day and a welcome part of the consist was the Bella Vista, a dome car we coupled on at Union Station in Portland to bring to Sandpoint, where it would join the excursion consist. "Crew-proofed" with carpet runners and protective covering on the upholstrey for this leg of the trip, this beautiful car is the result of what appears to be a "spare-no-expense" restoration with gorgeous mahogany paneling. Don't know how much credit for the quiet ride should be attributed to the lead in the floor, but it certainly was quiet. The location of the shot is looking across the Columbia River to the Oregon side somewhere between Hood River and The Dalles (guessing by the terrain). Our thanks to John Kirkwood for allowing us use of this car on the ferry moves. Also, the crew wishes to thank Matthew for preparing a pot of the tastiest chili we've had in some time. Photo by Terry Thompson.

Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Looking towards the head end of the car, we see the stairway to the dome. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

From the same place, looking towards the tail end of the car, which contains the observation platform. A sunny day brings out the gleam in the mahogany panelling. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

An October afternoon in the Columbia Gorge that is windless and warm without a coat is not the usual fare. A nice way to spend such an afternoon is on the observation platform of the Bella Vista. The gauge on a pedestal (Bob Vanderbeck is resting his left hand on it) tells the pressure in the air line. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

There's something soothing about watching railroad ties go whizzing off towards the horizon. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Not a dome car, but actually very comfortable. And besides, it's our natural habitat. A few days before departure, our tool and crew car, the Kenny Prager, was transformed with view windows where baggage doors had been and comfy chairs to enjoy that view. Photo by Terry Thompson.

Operating a steam locomotive means 24 hour coverage and whether your lack of sleep was due to evening spot fire and shutdown, nightwatch, or 4 a.m. startup, one of these chairs and a pair of earplugs was a good recipe for catching up. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Not too many roundhouses left in this diesel-electric world. This one deserves a better photo, but from the train, it's what I got. The Pasco roundhouse is the brick building in the background of this photo. To its left, you can see the upper loop of the turntable. Photo by Terry Thompson.

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