Monday, July 21, 2008

Take a Ride on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad

Finding a train to ride in this area is not a difficult endeavor. Finding one under one of the northwest’s most famous mountain peaks is just an extra step. There are three prominent tourist steam railroads in our area. The Chehalis-Centralia Steam Train presents a look at railroading history in Western Lewis County. In Amboy, the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad offers an excursion from Yacolt to Lucia with a 30 minute stop at Moulton Falls State Park in Northern Clark County.

Thanks or no thanks to the storms of November 2006 and a damaged trestle over the Nisqually River, the Eastern Lewis County community of Mineral is now the full-time host of the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad.

Mt. Rainier looms behind the open air viewing car of the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad's excursion train.

Today, we rode this excursion train because some of our best friends gave the four of us a gift certificate as their guests.

According to volunteer Conductor Brain Brundridge, the Mineral location, although more complicated to find over the Elbe station along Highway 7 in Pierce County, has no shortage of railroad ridership. “We get a lot from the local campgrounds” he said of the lakeside facilities next to the renowned Mineral Lake. It generally runs from about 120 to 140 people per excursion but has been as high as 210. The previous route from Elbe to Morton featured a stop in Mineral, but not an opportunity for all of the guests in Mineral to get on board. There are now two trips scheduled each Saturday and one on Sunday. A 2:00pm trip scheduled for Thursday afternoons is powered by historic diesel power and may be subject to special group reservation.

Volunteer Conductor Brian Brundridge, stationed at the front of the train, is the “eyes” for his engineer as the locomotive pushes the train from behind.

Might I say, there is a lot more scenic in the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad then the Elbe -Mineral Route which featured farms and backyards along much of the route. The new route goes south out of Mineral toward Morton through mature forests, open meadows and adjacent to rivers and wetlands. On the far southern end of the excursion, you are dramatically backed over an impressive, curving trestle that spans a deep canyon of the Tilton River. Regardless, if you had ridden the Mt. Rainier before, the current route should not be missed. The next couple of months may be the last opportunity as the repair of the Nisqually crossing is anticipated to be complete this October.

The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad excursion train crosses the “trestle” between Mineral and Morton.

The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad is a non-profit, preservation organization disguised as a tourist railroad. It is more like a group of steam railroad enthusiasts bent on preserving railroad history and allowing the public to enjoy it. There are about 35 volunteers and four full-time employees that keep the operation running despite taking mother nature’s best punches each year in a time of skyrocketing liability and insurance costs.

To get to the Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad, drive to Mineral on Highway 7 about 14 miles north of Morton. Once there, turn left from Mineral Hill Road, or go straight on Front St. (This is the road that passes the Lions Club campground.). There are some signs pointing the way, and we were glad that we were familiar with the area. About a mile north of Mineral, the train will be in an open meadow on your left. You can buy tickets on site, online or at the station in Elbe off of Highway 7. Adult tickets are $20 with seniors and military receiving a discount. Kids are $15.

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad locomotive #17 is the main power for weekend scenic and historic excursions out of Mineral.

The mix of riders on the train was intriguing! Young families with children, groups of adults and senior citizens not to mention tourists from all over the world that stumbled on to a little piece of Americana in Eastern Lewis County. What is important is that the fares continue preservation of a bygone era display. Not your average weekend adventure!

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