Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chugga-Chugga-Choo-Choo!

We just made it back from a long over due trip to LaGrande Oregon where we visited with our dear friends, the Wildmans! We were spoiled with wonderful food, wine, deserts and fun! We had a great time chatting, playing games and watching our cute kiddos play together. They also took us on a group adventure to ride on the Sumpter Valley steam train!
The suspense was killing us as we waited at the station for the train to arrive!

Annyka and Aspyn spotted the train coming from a half mile down the track!
 
Ben was mesmerized as the bell was clanged, the steam billowed, and the train ch-ch-chugged toward the station!

It was an impressive entrance!
 
The friendly conductor waved to the patrons waiting on the station platform! We had a great chat with him during our ride. He also "clipped up" the ticket Benjamin held out to him so proudly. All the way home to Montana, Ben made sure we still had a hold of his ticket for him.
It was a fun coincidence that the number 3 steam train was the train Benjamin got to ride as a new 3-year old. It was almost like it had his name on it. As an added piece of #3 trivia, it turns out that these narrow gauge rails are only 3 feet across.


The men working on the train are all volunteers who love trains. The original narrow gauge Sumpter Valley Railway operated from 1890 - 1947. According to Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration (SVRR Inc.), "Passenger Service brought the biggest gold boom of all." and "Just north of Sumpter, the longest continuous gold ore vein in the world was mined.". When the railroad came to Sumpter, the population was 200 people. In less than one year there were over 9,000. However, that population rapidly dwindled as soon the gold mines began to lose their yield just over a decade later. The railway, then, supported extensive mechanized placer mining along the river until the war. Since 1971 a volunteer organization has worked together to make the Sumpter Valley Railroad operable again and to share their nostalgic rides with the public.

Once the train had stopped at our station, they unhooked the engine, switched rails and drove it around back to be loaded with wood and water for departure. It holds 1375 gallons of water and 1.5 cords of wood.
 
During our ride, our conductor told us all about the train we were on. It runs on the original railroad right of way. It had been purchased in 1915 as a logging engine used in support gold dredge operations which began in 1912. Between logging and gold mining, all of the natural resources for miles to either side of the track were spent. The view from our passenger car was that of miles of discarded dredgings from a gold-hungry time gone by. The only sparse vegetation, we were told, all resulted from seeding done by animal and bird droppings over the many years.
We visited The Sumpter Valley Dredge too. It was a fascinating contraption-of-a-ship created to scoop and sift the Powder River to claim discarded gold mine remnants from the muddy gravel.
 
It was a chilly rainy weekend, but we warmed our hearts watching our kiddos play together!

Now that we are home, and getting unpacked, Benjamin is reminiscing his epic journey! Thank you, Dave and DeAnna, for such a fun and memorable visit!

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