Saturday, March 31, 2012

Putt Putts Tour Columbia Basin Railway

This is the text of an article I wrote for the Columbia Basin Herald in November of 2005 after a recent speeder trip on the Columbia Basin Railway.

Do you remember those railroad motor cars you used to see in the fifties and sixties on virtually every line in the U.S. and Canada? They were the little yellow or orange boxes with the characteristic putt-putt sound of a two-stroke engine, sometimes towing a trailer or two loaded with ties and spikes.
An event was organized last Saturday that featured nearly 20 of these railcars, also known as speeders, jiggers or putt-putts. The focus was traveling on the Columbia Basin Railway, the railroad that serves Moses Lake and the surrounding area. The cars came from as far away as Alberton, Montana and from as close as Bruce, Washington. Many came from the Seattle area and the Tri-Cities.
The day started within sight of Monte Holm’s House of Poverty Museum. The cars were set on the rail before a safety meeting was held by event coordinator Steve Healy, of Seattle. A representative of the Columbia Basin Railway would be leading the group all day, and he went over a few items of concern before departure at 9am.
The cars followed the line up through the Pelican Point area, across Highway 17 and then out to Wheeler, where the cars had to change direction for the remainder of the 50-mile trip south to Connell.
A few of the cars were able to turn themselves using a built-in turntable. The remainder had to use a portable metal turntable. The process of turning the entire group of cars consumed about 20 minutes.
The trip continued to Warden, where the Columbia Basin Railway depot was opened for inspection, along with the idle locomotives parked there.
At Connell, the cars were again turned for the trip back to Moses Lake.
Many of the speeders are open to the elements or are not equipped with heaters. So the poor weather that was coming in was causing some concern, but it did not dampen anyone’s spirits.
The private car at Bruce was the focus of the stop there, as the Clyde Andrews’ family is quite proud of their refurbished historic car.
The trip to Wheeler was made quickly, as it was getting dark. Once again, all the cars had to be turned to face the right direction for the tracks to Moses Lake.
All returned to Moses Lake about dinnertime, having completed what Healy called the “3 S’s,” that is, socializing, scenery, and snacks.
Most speeders were scrapped by the railroads as they were phased out, but a few thousand of these vehicles are still around today in running condition and in regular use.
They were replaced by High-Rail Vehicles, which are standard road vehicles with retractable guide wheels that can operate on road or rail.
For years speeder enthusiasts had been sneaking onto tracks for thrill rides, many times with disastrous results. In the 1990s, these operators organized in order to conduct legal, insured rail excursions with cooperating railroads. The North American Railcar Owners Association (NARCOA) represents a group of about 1,500 people who own these railcars.
These cars are inexpensive, costing up to $2000 for a fully-restored car. When the railroads were getting rid of them, the cost was as low as $40 each.
Insurance is needed to run on various railroads and is purchased through NARCOA. The railroad also receives a fee for the use of the tracks. Regional groups conduct various events throughout North America, mostly in warmer weather.
Recent speeder tours in our area include a trip between Cheney and Coulee City in 2003.


Here are the speeders that were on the trip that day:

Our guide from the CBRW brought his kids.

Crossing Moses Lake.

Crossing Interstate 90.

Out at the old sugar plant at Wheeler.

Change of direction at Wheeler was not a problem.

Crossing Interstate 90 again, this time at Raugust.

Leg of the wye at Bassett Jct.

Railroad was shut down on this Saturday, so all the power was tied up at Warden.

Former Duluth, Missabe, & Iron Range, same number.

Former ATSF, same number.

Former ATSF, same number.

Originally NP 328, then BN 1913, then BNSF 1626, and now CBRW 1626.


Former Milwaukee Road track above, Northern Pacific below.

Milepost 1976 on the Milwaukee Road.

This is the old Milwaukee main towards Othello.

NP era watertank at Bruce, painted BN white with green trim.

SR 26 overpass.

Dropping into Connell.

Everybody gathering to turn around and head back to Moses Lake.

Connell depot.

Ready to go to Moses Lake.

Only diamond in Grant County at Warden.

NP era watertank at Wheeler, painted BN white with green trim.