I really wish I could sleep on a train. Once we entered Utah, the Zephyr picked up speed and the train starts rocking and jolting even more.
It allowed me a little time to explore the AMTRAK stop at Salt Lake City. You would think that a city with a rich history that SLC would have an equally impressive station as Denver’s Union Station. The truth is that the City of Saints has not one impressive train station but two.
The current AMTRAK station is really a double wide trailer. But beyond the station, you can see the red neon sign of the former Rio Grande Station. The Union Pacific also had a separate station a short distance from the Rio Grande. While both buildings still exist, they are no longer passenger stations. The Rio Grande folded in 1987 and the UP no longer carries passengers.
I was looking forward to the stretch break at Reno because it provided enough of a break to get a sketch in (featured sketch). I sketched the Zephyr pointing west towards California as a east bound fright passes on the next track.
One place I wanted to visit on the Oregon Coast is Florence. Why? It’s the setting of the exploding whale.
In 1970, an eight ton, 45 foot long, sperm whale washed ashore on South Jetty Beach near Florence. While this must have been a local attraction for a short time, the dead whale began to smell. And the stench began to turn heads. The breeze off the Pacific Ocean was blowing the stench of the rotting whale right into downtown Florence.
How do you get rid of an eight ton whale? Well the Oregon State Highway Division had an idea, a very optimistic idea for a very large problem.
First they had to discount other ideas. Burying the whale meant the constant wave action would expose the copse before too long. To tow it out to sea by boat would be costly in diesel fuel because you would have to tow the whale far enough out so it would not be returned again by the tides to South Jetty Beach. The whale could be cut up and then buried but that would require a very large chain saw and a lot of labor. So of course they went with the cheaper solution: dynamite.
In fact, half a ton of dynamite.
So on November 12, 1970, dynamite was placed under the whale with the intention that it would be blown into smithereens and what was left of the sperm whale would be taken care of by gulls and other scavengers.
Locals came out as if they where going out on an afternoon picnic to watch the spectacle. The dunes to the east of the whale provided a natural sloped amphitheater. Some spectators were a little too close and they where moved a quarter of a mile away from the dynamited corpse.
Then the countdown began and the dynamite was detonated sending sand and fire and whale bits, 100 feet into the air. What blows up, must come down and flaming whale parts began raining down on the spectators who were now where running for their lives. One large piece of sperm whale landed on a parked Oldsmobile, crushing it.
What was left of the whale, once the sand cleared? Well a whole lotta whale.
The Exploding Whale of Florence, Oregon has now become part of folklore. It is the type of story, when retold, the listener grows incredulous, doubting that this could really ever happen. But it did.
The town of Florence has embraced it’s erupted cetacean past. In 2019, the Exploding Whale Memorial Park was established along the northern tidal banks of the Siuslaw River.
The setting of the scene of the exploding whale still exists and I headed out to South Jetty Beach with my sketching chair and started to sketch the beach facing north (featured sketch). And parts of the eight ton sperm whale still exists in the the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. In the museum, in a glass case, are bones, including vertebrae, of the failed dynamiting of the sperm whale. Included in the sketch is the whale’s vertebrae in the left side of the featured sketch before I headed out on my South Jetty Beach sketching adventure.
Soon after the earthquakes started in March of 1980, Harry Truman was urged to leave the lake and lodge he loved.
Harry R. Truman was born on October 30, 1896 in West Virginia. When he was a child, his family relocated to the state of Washington and settled in the eastern part of the state on 160 acres of farmland.
Harry first came to Spirit Lake in 1926. He then ran a shop and gas station that also rented boats. Over the years he built up Mount St. Helens Lodge which was on the shores of Spirit Lake and at the base Mount St. Helens. He ran his lodge for 52 years with the help of his third wife Edie.
Sprit Lake was a summer paradise, ringed with many camps, resorts, and lodges. Visitors enjoyed swimming, canoeing, and fishing on the cold waters and enjoyed stunning views of the mountain that loomed over the lake. Harry was looking forward to visitors for the upcoming summer season (being a curmudgeon, perhaps he was not so optimistic). But then the mountain started shaking.
Residents close to the mountain where evacuated but Harry refused to go. He had lost his wife five years previously and he had been wedded to the lake, the resort, and the mountain for fifty years. He was not going to leave.
Truman became a media darling and a folk hero. Many reporters where flown in to interview him. Truman often had his favorite drink in his hand, Coca-cola and Schenley whiskey. Harry once told a reporter that he hates to drink but people drive him to it. He also told another reporter, “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Sprit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.”
He could not have been more wrong. Just like the government officials, the press, and some members of the USGS who underestimated the incredible power of the sleeping giant that is Mount St. Helens. They certainly found out at 8:32 AM on May 18, 1980. But for Harry, he had little time to reassess his situation.
It has been estimated that Harry had about 22 seconds from when the landslide started to it’s arrival at his lodge. Harry must have heard and felt it coming but could do nothing to save his life.
He would become the first of the 57 causalities of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. And his body has never been found but is buried under 300 feet of the landslide that was the northern flank of Mount St. Helens. The mountain that Harry had loved and hiked upon now was his earthen grave.
For some time I wanted to visit the filming locations of Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General, if any of locations still existed. (One location used in the film is now underwater!)
The film was made during the summer of 1926 in and near the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon. The forested backgrounds and the tracks of the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad made Cottage Grove an ideal filming location to fill in as Georgia during the Civil War.
But was there anything still recognizable? Probably not too much but with the help of the book Silent Echos: Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton by John Bengston, I could find a few reminders of those days in the summer of 1926.
The General has long been considered a masterpiece of the silent film era and one of Buster Keaton’s best. In the Sight And Sound list of The Greatest Movies of All Time, The General comes in at number 34, the highest ranked silent comedy on the list. Orson Welles (whose own masterpiece, Citizen Kane, comes in at Number 2) once described The General as, “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made”. Now that’s saying something!
The film is loosely based on a real incident known as the Great Locomotive Chase which occurred during the Civil War on April 12, 1862 in northern Georgia. It involved the theft, by a northern raiding party, of the locomotive The General and the pursuit by the locomotive The Texas for about to 90 miles.
Many of the train scenes were filmed on a pair of parallel double tracks that ran for about half a mile on the former Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad. These tracks were appealing to the film crew because two trains could run parallel to each other, one train with the camera and crew, the other train, the subject of the shot and the actors (including Keaton). The tracks are now gone (the railroad was scrapped and removed in 1994), but you can now explore the former rail right of way by either foot or bike. The former railroad is now the Row River Trail.
The section with the double track runs behind a Safeway. While the area is completely changed since 1926, the hills in the background (Hansen Butte and Know Hill) are still the same (see featured sketch). I did walk down the path and did a sketch of the former filming location.
The Row River Trail has a rich Oregon film perigee. I have previously posted about the railroad being used in Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General. This location, then the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad, was used again in the summer of 1985 for a classic coming-of-age story.
But first, to really explore the trail, I needed a bike. And so it was that I stood before Rainy Peak Bicycles, five minutes before 10 AM, waiting for the shop to open. The shop, on Main Street, is a mere five blocks from the start of the Row River Trail. The shop mainly repairs bikes but because of the popularity of the Row River Trail, they have a side hustle renting bikes.
But before I go on any great, or not so great, undertaking, I draw a map. In this case, the first ten miles of the Row (rhymes with “cow”) River Trail. Here I have noted milage and some of the locations I wanted to see, such as the location collapse of the train trestle from The General, which was the single most expensive shot in silent film history. Unfortunately getting to the spot requires trespassing on private property so I was not able to sketch the scene (and I did not want to get shot in the attempt).
I started off on the trail and it was easy going because it was a railroad grade and relatively flat. The first mile or so was used for a large number of the shots in The General. The next landmark I was looking forward to seeing was at milepost 3: the Mosby Creek Bridge.
The Mosby Creek Bridge was where the adventure begins in Rob Reiner’s classic film Stand By Me (1986). Back when the movie was filmed, railroad tracks spanned the bridge that crosses Mosby Creek and the four boys walk onto the the tracks here, and cross over the bridge on their journey to look for the body of Ray Brower (the film is based on Stephan King’s novella The Body). The bridge looks very much the same as the day when production occurred here in the summer of 1985. Today the rails have been replaced with asphalt and it is now a popular hiking and biking trail.
After crossing the bridge, the Row River Trail heads east in a straight section. It was along this straight section of the railroad that the first train dodge scene was filmed in which the character Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) attempts to dodge an ongoing freight train.
I pulled over and pulled out my sketchbook and pencil bag. I stood in the middle of the the trail, assuming the perspective (and camera angle) of Teddy Duchamp, played by Corey Feldman. In 1985, he was looking down the rails to an oncoming steam freight train. The locomotive used in the shot was a 2-8-2 #19 which was built in 1915 and at the time was leased from the Yreka Western Railroad in Northern California. Luckily Teddy was pulled from the tracks by Chris, played by River Phoenix.
I returned to the former McCloud River Railroad to find an abandoned relic from it’s railroading past.
To get to this railroad relic, I had to travel 13 miles east of the town of McCloud. I parked off the Highway 89 and I hiked a quarter mile west on the former right of way of the McCloud River Railroad. The rails and ties have now been removed and the right of way is now the Great Shasta Rail Trail.
I did have assistance in finding this relic from author Jeff Moore, who is the expert on the history of the McCloud River Railroad. He is the author of two books about the railroad, including the definitive The McCloud River Railroads and he was very generous in helping me find the Red Goose and telling me the history of the lumber camp at Kinyon.
Kinyon was built as a lumber camp in 1951 by the McCloud River Lumber Company and it was the last lumber camp the company built. The tract of trees they where harvesting at the time did not have logging roads to access the trees but there was the railroad which was how they transported the loggers from the camp at Kinyon to the trees they were harvesting.
When the McCloud River Lumber company was bought by US Plywood in 1963, Kinyon was abandoned and all the building were destroyed. But they did not know know what to do with the Red Goose so they put it at the very end of one of the camp spurs and left it and so it remains to this day. Now I had to try and find it.
The path began to curve to the left and once the trail straightened out again I would be looking to my left, through the trees for a reddish hotdog-shaped vehicle on wheels.
After walking on the on the trail a short time I spotted The Red Goose through the trees. I headed down the embankment and followed a trail for about 50 yards I stood before the rusted railroad relic!
The Red Goose was built in the early 1930s at the railroad shops at Ponderosa. The Goose was powered by the engine block of a Caterpillar 60 gas powered tractor. She was built as a rail car to transport loggers to from logging camps out to the forested areas where they were harvesting lumber.
The Red Goose now sits alone and abandoned in the former logging camp of Kinyon. She sits on track that barely extends beyond her front, isolated in time and space from the former line that would had taken her to the headquarters of the railroad, 13 miles west, in McCloud.
After sitting out in the open for 60 years, you can still see some of the red paint that gave the car her nickname. Surprisingly the car’s exterior is really devoid of graffiti and the body seems to be in fair shape, except for the rear roof that is caved in from carrying snow loads for 60 winters.
The roughly 100 hundred miles that separates Denver, Co, and Cheyenne, Wy is the currently epicenter of Union Pacific’s monster steam locomotive the Big Boys, not because they routinely ran between these two cities but because three of the eight existing Big Boys can be found along Highway 25 in the cities of Denver and Cheyenne.
Cheyenne was the operational headquarters for the 4-8-8-4, freight locomotives that were designed to tackle the Wasatch Mountains between Cheyenne and Ogden, Ut. These were the largest steam locomotives ever built.
Overall, 25 Big Boys were made, currently two are found in Cheyenne and one in Denver. No. 4004 can be seen on display in Holiday Park in Cheyenne. Local residents petitioned Union Pacific to donate a Big Boy to the city of Cheyenne when they saw the rapid disappearance of stream locomotives from the rails in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Big Boy No. 4005 had a much more colorful history than 4004. 4005 was only one of two Big Boys that were converted from coal to oil (more on that other converted Big Boy later). 4005 tallied up 1,043,624 road miles in a 20 year career. The giant is also the only Big Boy to ever be involved in a major accident. On April 27, 1953, 4005 hit an opened siding at 50 miles per hour causing the train to derail and the Big Boy fell on it’s left side (the damage is still visible today). The engineer, fireman, head-end brakemen were all killed in the wreck. The locomotive was later repaired in Cheyenne and returned to service.
The 4005 is now on display in Denver’s Forney Museum of Transportation in northern Denver. This is where I returned, this time with Steve, to do a few field sketches of the Big Boy (the featured sketch and the sketch below of 4005’s tender.)
The other Big Boy that was converted to burning oil is perhaps the most famous Big Boy: Union Pacific’s 4014. 4014 is the largest operational steam locomotive in the world. It was on display for many years in California and was shipped, by rail, to the steam shop in Cheyenne and fully restored to working order.
Union Pacific 4014 has proven to be the most illusive Big Boy for me. You would think the largest operational steam locomotive in the world would be easier to see! I have seen the Steam Shop in Cheyenne and the doors have always been closed, hiding 4014 and the Living Legend No. 844. A west coast steam tour was planned for this summer but was cancelled because UP’s rails are crowded with freight traffic to ease the supply chain issues. Yet another opportunity missed to see 4014 under steam.
The California Zephyr Train # 5 was early coming into Denver’s Union Station. And we departed from the Mile High City, right on schedule.
We climbing up into the Tunnel District, so named because the Zephyr passes through 28 tunnels. The king of all tunnels in this stretch, if not any stretch in North America, has to be the Moffat Tunnel. The tunnel is 6.2 miles long and crosses under the Continental Divide meaning that once we come out of the west portal of the tunnel, the waters will be flowing to the west coast and behind us, the water flows east. At 9,239 ft, the tunnel is the highest point anywhere on the AMTRAK system.
On the western side of the Moffat Tunnel is the stop of Fraser-Winter Park. The next stop on the western route is the small Colorado mountain town of Granby. The conductor told us the little story of Marin Heemeyer and his Killdozer.
Heeymeyer was from South Dakota but moved to Colorado where he became a popular member of the community and one of the best welders in the area. He opened a successful muffler business in Granby. Over the following years Heemeyer feuded with the city and others over zoning, building permits, sewage lines, and entry roads to his business. Over that time many in the community crossed Heeymeyer, which was a big mistake because Marv can really hold a grunge.
He bought a Komatsu D355A bulldozer and he sold his business and property and then rented a building on his former property from the new owners where he secretly modified the bulldozer. For over a year he worked on his bulldozer by fortifying it with steel and concrete creating an indestructible machine of destruction. On June 4, 2004 at about 3:00 PM Heemeyer put his plan into action.
During the two hours and seven minute bulldozer rampage, Heeymeyer destroyed 13 buildings (including the city hall, police station, the former mayor’s house, and newspaper offices). The killdozer caused seven million dollars of damage. The police where helpless to stop the bulldozer and the rampage only ended when the killdozer got stuck while destroying Gambles hardware store and Heeymeyer ended his own life.
While I would have liked my 500th post (an amazing milestone that I can scarcely believe) to be about a positive subject I have learned never to turn away from the difficult, the complex, and the sorrowful. While school shootings still happen, we as educators and citizens must not turn our collective backs on the causes and reasons these shooting continue happening. What is it about our county and our values and the way we fund and support mental health and the ease of availability of high powered weaponry that lets these killings happen at an astounding rate?
What have we learned in the 23 years since Columbine? I will let you answer that question for yourselves but I do want to share a few statistics: according to the Washington Post, since Columbine, there has been at least 554 victims in school shootings. It is estimated that 311, 000 children have been exposed to gun violence in a school setting.
I returned to the Columbine Memorial in Littleton, Colorado this time with my mother, a former educator , Steve and Sharon. Since my first visit I am convinced that every educator in the land (if not every resident) should come to this shine of death, destruction, and renewal.
I had visited the memorial in April of 2021, when there was still snow in the deep shadow areas that will not see sun for another few months.
We visited Clement Park, the park behind Columbine High School, and we could not find any parking near the memorial because, and I’m not making this up, of a Unicorn Festival.
Sharon dropped us off and we walked up towards the memorial to the 13 killed and the many injured and changed forever by the acts of two Columbine High seniors on April 20, 1999.
To me, this should have been a clarion call for major reforms in gun controls, mental health, and school protocols. Sadly the killing in schools just keeps happening. What have we really learned from Columbine?
On Friday morning I made my third visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in almost a year. This time I was with mom and Steve and their friend Sharon.
At this time of year, in the summer, visitors have to reserve an entry time (this is a very popular National Park). Our time was between nine and ten AM.
Our first stop, just west of the Fall River Entrance, was Sheep Lakes. Here we scanned the meadows and lakes for bighorn sheep, moose, and elk. We saw none. So after a sketch (featured sketch), we moved on.
We then climbed up Trail Ridge Road towards the Alpine Visitor Center. A few miles up we encountered many cars pulled off the road and people looking off to our left. This meant only one thing: large mammals. In this case a moose cow and calf!
Some of our party got fair to no looks at the moose, as the world’s largest deer disappeared into the trees. We continued climbing up towards the highest point of the road at 12, 183 feet. But before we got there we pulled over at Rock Cut to see my favorite mammal of the Rocky Mountains.
This is not a black bear, elk, moose, bighorn sheep or even the yellow-bellied marmot. This is the endearingly cute if not edging toward extinction pika (Ochotona princeps). The pull out at Rock Cut did not disappoint, we saw marmot and pika.