With its two turbo-powered train engines unable to run, the Wallowa Union Railroad was forced to both cancel an Aug. 26 excursion and lease an engine from Idaho Northern & Pacific Railroad to haul freight from Wallowa Forest Products Aug. 28.
But, hopefully, the worst is behind them as a brightly painted yellow and blue engine rolled into Wallowa County early in the afternoon Sept. 1 to pack tourists and haul freight until two additional engines on order from Denver arrive. By Sept. 2 the engine, designed to run at the slower speeds mandated on the 63-mile WURR stretch from Joseph to Elgin, was hauling finished lumber out of Wallowa County.
"The new equipment will improve the reliability of our operation and should put an end to the breakdowns and challenges we have experienced this past month," said Mike Bagwell, WURR president and general manager. "We have been very frustrated with the couple of times we have had to inconvenience our customers due to equipment problems."
Wallowa Forest Products, which exports about four million board feet of lumber each month, now utilizes the railroad to transport 90 percent of its product, and mill manager Don Bodewig is pleased to see the newly painted engine at work. Wallowa Forest Products is also aggressively importing logs from outside the area, many from what Bodewig calls "the western side."
The two train engines WURR had been operating are equipped with turbo engines and designed to run at faster speeds. According to Excursion Train Coordinator Mary Ann Thornburgh the turbo engines have had a history of breaking down since the excursion runs began in the spring of 2003. WURR is trading its two turbo engines for three of the engines designed for slower speeds.
Thornburgh thinks there is a correlation between the beginning of school and an increase of train bookings, thinking that the parents of school age kids are now finding the time to take a train trip.
A bus tour from Walla Walla, Wash., filled up part of the train during the Sept. 4 Canyon Cruise and the seven-and-a-half hour Two Rivers Run on Sept. 16 has a full contingent of 161 passengers. A recently scheduled Two Rivers Run on Saturday, Sept. 18, already has a passenger list of 80 persons.
Thornburgh said that WURR has scheduled three Ruby Runs from Joseph to Enterprise and back, a trip of one and a half hours, on Sept. 25 of the Alpenfest weekend.
Other runs scheduled this fall are on Oct. 2, Oct. 23, Oct. 30, Nov. 27 and two Santa Claus runs on Dec. 15 and Dec. 18. As with last year, fare for the Santa Claus runs will be donations to the Wallowa County Food Bank.