Thursday, October 29, 2009

Riding the Mt. Hood Railroad–Part 2, the Journey up to Parkdale

The drive back to Hood River, Oregon took us roughly an hour, with the ups and downs of the hills along the edge of the Columba River Gorge.   The weather went from the blue and grey mix of clouds we’d seen in Maryhill, WA to a solid grey with rain mixed in as we reached Hood River. 

With time to spare, we pulled in to the parking lot and paid for our parking and then set about the task of finding a spot level enough to leave the camper for four hours with the fridge turned on. 

After that, it was simply a matter of checking in at the station and climbing aboard the train. 

For our excursion, we chose to pay the extra money and go with the observation deck seats on the dome car that is pulled along at the rear of the train to better see the area we were riding through and also we got to enjoy the rather lovely gentleman that narrates our ride through the Oregon country side in person. 


Another nice advantage of our position and height on the train was the ability to see all the way up to the front of the train at any given time. 


There was one major drawback to our car, though we didn’t learn the full extent of this detractor until the train got moving along the century old, uneven railway that is the Mt. Hood Railroad, was that for some reason our car was listing slightly to one side. 

When the train actually got underway, we quickly learned the reason for the list was the car’s suspension was just about shot.   Now, for those that have rode on passenger trains like the Starlight know that the train cars will move a little from side to side as they go down the track when they’re in good shape. 

The dome car in the Mt. Hood Railroad, has seen a lot of track and a lot of years.  At the time of our trip, the old refurbished dome car had been brought down from Alaska where it had served a number of years for the cruise lines as part of a train tour.   It had gone into active rail service at some point in the early 60s and had continued in this facet till it was finally put into retirement service as part of the Mt. Hood Railroad’s fleet of vintage equipment Smile

Now, for me, I’m rather used to the side-to-side swaying sensation having driven a fair number of miles with and old camper on the back of an old pickup truck.  However, try as she might, poor Dawn just doesn’t deal with the swaying sensation very well and usually requires a couple Dramamine to help her cope with the queasiness that comes with the sway. 

Fortunately, we always travel with some and Dawn soon was able to relax and enjoy the ride. 



Once everyone was finally onboard and our wonderful guide welcomed us and detailed what our journey was going to cover, we at last pulled out the station and began our way up through the hills, following along the shore of the Hood river passing amongst the many fruit orchards that first brought the trains to the area over a 100 years ago. 

As the train climbs slowly up in elevation, we pass through picturesque farms and well maintained pear orchards. 



In case you’re wondering what those are, they’re called “Smudge Pots”.  Fruit growers use them to create a warm thick smoke, usually by burning old motor oil to help protect their crops when frosts hit the area. 

Roughly about half way up the climb to the town of Parkdale, the train makes a stop.  

While their most publicly known trains are the Excursions and Dinner trains, the Mt. Hood Railroad is still an active freight railroad. 

At one time the spur of track that makes up this little railroad was a part of the Union Pacific.   When the Union Pacific decided that the spur line was no longer fiscally reasonable for them to maintain, a group of local businessmen got together and pooled their money to form the Mt. Hood Railroad Company and purchased the old spur line from the Union Pacific to keep it as an active life line for the many small fruit growing communities that are dotted along the tracks. 

So, even during an excursion run, the trains are still doing duty moving the various box cars and lumber cars around to the local businesses in the Hood Valley. 

On our particular trip, the engineer and conductor had stopped, set our brakes and uncoupled from the excursion train to move some empty lumber cars from a storage siding into the local lumber yard to ready them to be picked up later on our return trip. 


Pretty soon, the switching excitement is over and the locomotive recouples to our train and we continue on towards Parkdale. 


Our next point of interest along this journey is the little town of Dee, Oregon.  

The Oregon Lumber Company built a sawmill at Dee in 1906 and named it for Thomas Duncombe Dee, a stockholder and business associate of board member David Eccles.   In addition to the large sawmill, Dee had a privately owned water works and electric lighting system, as well as a general store, shops, and a hotel.  It also had its own railroad station on the Eccles-owned Mt. Hood Railroad.

Dee had a population of 250 in 1915 and 200 in 1919, and by 1940 the population had declined to 100.

In the end, the city of Dee was sold to the Edward Hines Lumber Company in 1958 and they dismantled the town.

Aside from a few crumbling concrete out buildings and this little general store is little else left to mark the long gone town of Dee.

Not too long after making our way through the remnants of the little town of Dee, we finally crested the hill and pulled in to the end of the line, Parkdale, Oregon.

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