Photo courtesy of Blair Kooistra.
"With five cars and a caboose in tow, the seven first-generation EMD locomotives leading the eastbound CW Local don't hardly even need a notch of throttle to roll into the morning sun on their return trip from Coulee City to the former NP mainline at Cheney on a crisp fall morning, September 27, 1980, seen a few miles west of Hartline, Washington just east of the US highway 2 grade crossing.
"The locomotive leading this mix of GP7 and 9's and a single F9B is a bit of a loner among the F-units BN has assigned to the western end of the system--a former Spokane, Portland & Seattle F3A, #712. Used mostly in passenger service during its SP&S career after delivery in November 1949--one of the last F3's built by EMD as SP&S 802--the unit was numbered into BN's passenger F-unit series as the #9752 and continued in passenger service until Amtrak's creation in 1971. All six of the former SP&S F-units were withdrawn from passenger service shortly afterwards and converted to unpowered power cars for BN's rotary snowplows in July 1972, numbered into the 97255X maintenance of way number series and painted mineral red. All were placed back in freight service by spring of 1974, renumbered to the 9750-series until renumbered one final time into the 700 series worn by the F3s and F7s, and most repainted green at the time. It was the only former SP&S F-unit to return to the Pacific Northwest, though not often used on home rails assigned to Spokane's Parkwater locomotive facility.
"I was living in Seattle at the time, and fellow railfan Tom Carver returned from a trip driving a truck back from Spokane one evening with the too-good-to-believe news that F-units were working the Coulee City branch! We had F-units a plenty in our backyard, but Tom's photos of wheatfields, 40-foot boxcars, grain elevators were that much better with F-units in his photos, and plans were immediately made to head east before such an opportunity slipped away. Calls were made to a contact within BN's regional public relations department, confirmation that an F-unit would indeed lead the Coulee City train on the day in question, and Mike Sawyer and I were off on the first of what would be several trips to see F-units on the branch. Ten years later, I would be living in Spokane, and while the F-units had been gone for a decade, the locomotives and train operations would still demand attention--as it does even today 43 years later!"