Saturday, August 23, 2008

Goodbye To Some Old Friends

The “Grant County Journal,” Ephrata, WA

May 6, 1971

Some of the grand old names in Ephrata railroading bid goodbye here last Friday and rolled out of town, east and west, into oblivion. Ephrata said farewell to the Empire Builder and the Western Star as they joined the legions of lost trains.

The trains were replaced on Saturday by “Amtrak” trains, the federal governments attempt to rescue the railroad passenger business that was floundering in financial troubles. Part of the Amtrak plans were to eliminate huge areas of the United States from passenger service by railroads at all, and the route from Spokane via Ephrata to Seattle was one of the routes that heard the death knell.

Some leading political figures are already calling Amtrak by a new name—Half Track—and this feeling was echoed in many parts of the nation as attempts were made to sidetrack the Amtrak schedule last weekend and to maintain the regular passenger service for at least another six months. More efforts are expected to try to improve service to areas left stranded.

For Ephrata, loss of railroad passenger service came nearly 100 years after train service came through here, and nearly 80 years after the first passenger service came to the community.

Pioneers in this area have recalled as best they could from memory tat the first train service here was in 1876, followed by passenger service to Ephrata from the east in about 1892 or 1893, and passenger service on farther west to Everett in 1896.

Under the new Amtrak schedule, there will be only one passenger train east and one west each day, and the route selected was fro Spokane down through the Tri-Cities area, Yakima and on to the Coast.

The Empire Builder, the most popular of the “name” trains that have disappeared began service in 1947 but it was really a new name for the old Oriental Limited of the Great Northern that had been a famous east-west train since 1929. Much of the rolling stock the Burlington Northern will operate for Amtrak will be the former Empire Builder cars.

But for Ephrata and the surrounding area…Amtrak will never hold the adventure and excitement for the youngsters, and it will never replace the memory for the oldsters, that was offered by the Western Star and the Empire Builder!

Gus McTigue, the number one engineer for the old Great Northern, was at the throttle of #9854 Western Star on its last trip going west.

Ted Brown, who has a mail service contract for many years at the Ephrata depot, handles one of his last loads of mail at the depot.

Going west Friday, passengers load on the final Western Star Heading out of Ephrata for Seattle.

A final farewell was sounded by the whistle of the Empire Builder engine #9855 on its last trip to Ephrata Friday night before departing east.

A young passenger, one of the last to get off the Empire Builder, steps down at the Ephrata depot on Friday night.

This is progress? An empty Ephrata depot stands mute witness to the blow dealt this area by the termination of passenger train service.

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