- Trish Yerges
- For The Observer
ELGIN More than 100 people gathered near Baltimore Street across from the Elgin City Hall the morning of Nov. 18 to join in the inaugural celebration of the Elgin Launch excursion train and to enjoy its historic ride from Elgin to Vincent.
"I'd like to welcome everyone to this long-awaited celebration," Mayor Carmen Gentry told the crowd. "I am very proud to say that today marks the first passenger train trip to depart from Elgin in nearly five decades. It is a great opportunity for Elgin, and it will bring positive growth to our local economy."
County commissioner Colleen McLeod said she foresees the train stimulating economic growth for both Wallowa and Union counties.
"The railroad has generated a lot of business,'' McClure said. "Maryanne Zinzer of Grand Cuisine caters the line and buys all of her food supplies from local grocers. We will also be booking a lot of motel business in the two counties."
Elgin City Administrator Joe Garlitz reminded the crowd that "this day is about vision. We want to thank our Creator and the people who stood forth in our community to make this happen.''
After performances by the Elgin High School and junior high bands and a ribbon cutting, Bob Keyser, president of the Friends of the Joseph Branch, assisted in boarding 104 passengers including five crew members.
Among the dignitaries boarding the Elgin Launch was Susan Roberts, former mayor of Enterprise and a board member of the Wallowa Union Rail Authority.
"Wallowa could ill afford to lose the connection out of Wallowa County. I was very concerned about preserving the right of way," Roberts said.
The Wallowa Union Railroad is expecting delivery of three additional cars that were formerly used on the Lewis and Clark run. Each rail diesel car is independently powered with a 200-300 horsepower engine. They were purchased with a $533,000 grant from Connect Oregon, said Mary Ann Keyser, excursion train coordinator.
"Union Pacific will bring the new cars as far as La Grande and then the Idaho Northern will bring them from La Grande to Elgin," she said.
Delivery is anticipated in February or March of 2007.
Interest in the excursion train has also been shown by tourism agencies in Portland who proposed to bring bus loads of tourists to Northeast Oregon for the scenic train ride, Keyser said.
One of the more popular excursions is the Two Rivers Run. Adult tickets cost $80 per person, $70 for seniors age 60 and up, and $65 for children ages 2-12.
For charter information, call Mary Ann Keyser at 886-3200 or contact Janet Dodson of the Union County Tourism office in La Grande at 963-8588. Train tickets are available through Alegre Travel in La Grande, 963-9000.