Directors of Wallowa Union Railroad are divided on whether to continue the railroad's traditional Veterans Day and Christmas trains - and if they run, it may be earlier than usual.
Most rail board members seemed agreeable after a request by Joe Kresse, president of Friends of the Joseph Branch, at the board's Sept. 2 meeting. Kresse said the nonprofit group would obtain sponsors for the trains as it has done in the past.
Military veterans are given free rides on the vets' train and the "Santa trains" include Santa Claus entertaining children.
Director Mike Hayward, the Wallowa County commissioner, said the trains always have been "well received" by the community.
But Mark Davidson, the Union County commissioner who manages the railroad, was blunt in his opposition.
"Folks, this isn't a charity," he said. "It's just a mistake to go ahead. It is a poor decision, business or otherwise."
Davidson pointed out that sponsorships don't cover the entire cost of running the trains and cold-weather trains cost more to operate.
Director Stephen Adams of Enterprise told the board that the railroad's future is with the children who ride the trains.
Without taking a formal vote, the board tentatively agreed to operate the trains after the regular season of its Eagle Cap Excursion train, which ends Oct. 16, possibly renaming the Santa trains as "Halloween trains." But there is a catch.
The finances must pass muster with Davidson.
"They would run right after the season if the money works and we can get sponsors," board co-chairman Steve McClure said.
The concern over finances comes as the board is about to consider whether to continue the Eagle Cap train, which it has subsidized since its launch in 2003.
Kresse reported that the Friends group is ready to start refurbishing the 1938 "Budd car," a coach that, when operable, would allow the train to expand ridership from about 100 to 150 passengers per run.
The board agreed to share the $12,000-15,000 cost with the Friends, with the nonprofit chipping in a maximum of $7,000. The project is expected to take three to six months, with most work done by volunteers.
The board also indicated that it will wait to discuss how to build an Elgin depot and maintenance shop using a $1 million state grant until after it signs a contract to make the grant official. The board set a tentative meeting date of Oct. 14.
Members also voted to delay consideration of a rail-trail project until after the Elgin project is completed. The trail would run on the railroad's right-of-way from Elgin to Minam and a second trail may be built from Enterprise to Joseph.