RIDE RAILS THROUGH AUTUMN COLORS

September 24, 2003 11:00 pm
The excursion train winds along the Wallowa River during a trip earlier this year. The Oct. 18 trip will take passengers down the Wallowa River to Minam, then on to Kimmel near the confluence of the Wallowa and Grande Ronde Rivers. There it reverses direction and heads back to Wallowa again.A pair of holiday trips is scheduled for the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28-29. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).
The excursion train winds along the Wallowa River during a trip earlier this year. The Oct. 18 trip will take passengers down the Wallowa River to Minam, then on to Kimmel near the confluence of the Wallowa and Grande Ronde Rivers. There it reverses direction and heads back to Wallowa again.A pair of holiday trips is scheduled for the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28-29. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).

By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

The fledgling Wallowa Union Railroad is looking forward to some busy days this fall.

In October and November the Wallowa County branch sees increased traffic as the non-profit Friends of the Joseph Branch, working closely with railroad officials, sponsor three excursions along the scenic Wallowa River.

On Oct. 18, the group hosts its its first official ride on the Eagle Cap Excursion Train. The maiden trip has been dubbed the Fall Foliage Excursion.

The four-hour journey begins and ends in Wallowa. It takes passengers down the Wallowa River to Minam, then on to Kimmel near the confluence of the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers. There it reverses direction and heads back to Wallowa again.

The train will be run by Wallowa-Union Railroad personnel.

"The trip is planned to coincide with the season's most brilliant show of color," said Janet Dodson, co-chairperson of marketing for Friends of the Joseph Branch, a group that is working for the railroad's success.

An open-air car will be featured. Musicians and historians will interact with passengers along the way.

Excursions continue later in the fall, with a pair of holiday trips scheduled for the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28-29, said Dodson.

They will follow the same route as the Fall Foliage excursion, she noted.

"Riders can expect a festive atmosphere with music, decorations and lots of wildlife viewing," she said.

Tickets are $50 for adults, $45 for seniors 60 and older and $40 for youth 12 and under. The price includes a catered lunch. Additional beverages and snacks are available on the train.

One hundred and sixty seats are available for each run, and they're going fast, said Dodson. Tickets must be purchased in advance through Alegre Travel in La Grande, 541-963-9000 or 1-800-323-7330.

Lodging and travel information is available from the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-585-4121 or Union County Tourism, 1-800-848-9969.

To learn more about the excursion train and Friends of the Joseph Branch, visit the Web site: www.eaglecaptrain.com.

The Wallowa-Union Railroad is owned and operated by Union and Wallowa counties. It was purchased from Idaho Northern Pacific earlier this year.

Mike Bagwell, a career railroad man originally from Mississippi, serves as president.

Bagwell said recently that Idaho Northern is currently running two freight trains a week on the line into Wallowa County.

Wallowa Union Railroad will take over freight operations late this year or early next year, Bagwell said. It will utilize Union Pacific freight cars and tie into Union Pacific schedules.

At present, the line owns two locomotives, three passenger cars, a baggage/generator car, a flat car and a snow plow.

He added that the railroad will hold a conference Oct. 4 at the Wallowa Senior Center in Wallowa for shippers and potential shippers.

For more information, contact Bagwell, (541) 426-9877.