"Spirit of the West Special"
With SP 4449
Special Train On the Siskiyou Line  December, 1988

First word of this business train came from a friend, a maintainence worker on the SP, who told of orders to grease the wye at Tolo in preparation for a "large steam engine" movement.  It wasn't until a few days later when official word of the 4449's visit to the Rogue Valley hit the news that I believed the Daylight engine would actually be running on this line.  In what was to become the railroad event of the decade, not only the 4449 showed up, but a couple new diesels, the entire Southern Pacific business train and a couple of former D&RGW cars including a dome.  A dome on the Siskiyou?  Yes, Christmas came early that year to railfans on the Siskiyou Line.
 
 
To the left is the schedule for the Special, and on the right is a timetable map of the part of the route covered on this web site. 

Click on the map for a 107K map of the Oregon Division's portion of the Siskiyou Line.

Friday, December 16, 1988
Easing out of Tunnel 2 in the Cow Creek Canyon between Roseburg and Glendale, Oregon the 4449 just hints at what is to come.  The December weather is perfect, so is the lighting. 
Fully out of the tunnel, the 4449 shows off her classic lines and paint against the backdrop of the steep walls of the canyon.  Note the clean stack and relative lack of steam exhaust indicating engineer Doyle McCormack had the throttle just barely open in order to prevent steam cleaning 40 years worth of soot off the ceiling of the tunnel and onto the locomotive and trailing consist.
All but lost in a ravine of foliage, the 4449 steams on.
The Spirit of the West rolls through Merlin.  Two freshly scrubbed diesels follow: first a Rio Grande SD-50 and then a rebuilt Southern Pacific tunnel motor.  Scores of town folk turned out to witness the passing of the first steam locomotive on this track in decades.  A motorist inquired about the reason for the gathering and, when informed that a large steam engine was coming, quickly parked his car and joined the throng.
The sun has already settled behind the hills as the Daylight brings the Special around a curve along the Rogue River between Gold Hill and Medford. 

Note the ancient wig-wag signal just to the left of the tender.  It is one of several that still exist today on the Siskiyou Line

The sun has just set as the business train pulls into Medford.  Here the SP cars will be separated from the steam engine, the tool car and the Rio Grande cars and continue westward behind the diesels. 

Saturday, December 17, 1988

The morning dawns clear and cold as the consist is pulled backwards out of Medford to the only functional wye in the valley at Tolo, 8 miles away.  SD-9E No. 4429 does the honors as the train approaches the wye.  A lady is overheard to remark how it's too bad such a great locomotive must be towed by a lowly diesel.  If only she knew that the service life of that diesel was twice that of the steamer.
The big northern is walked around the wye with only the tool car.  There just happens to be a highway overpass right over the west switch here and it was elbow to elbow with people as the shadows attest. 
Lower Tablerock is the backdrop, as the 4449 pauses as the switch is thrown.  With a perfect (legal and safe) vantage point and perfect light, I conclude railfanning doesn't get any better than this.
The Daylight paused at the east switch of the wye to drop the tool car.  Then the diesel was cut in and the train reassembled.  All agreed it was too bad the diesel had to accompany the train, ostensibly for braking. 
In this artistic shot taken by Bruce McGarvey at Gold Hill, the steam train forms the backdrop to the other details.  From the backlit steam cloud to the ironwork of the bridge over the Rogue River with birds flying off to the frost on the ties in the forground, this picture is a refreshing departure from the usual three quarters head on shots we are so used to taking and seeing. 
The 4449 stopped at Glendale to take on water.  We have one last chance to savor the Aspen Gold and stainless steel flanks of the Utah and California. 
Signage on the 4449's tool car.    'Nuf said.
All photos Copyright 2000 by Larry Tuttle
 Return to SP+D&RGW Page
 Return to Alpha Rail Net