Drove from Santa Cruz to McCloud on saturday and spent the night at the Stony Brook Inn (Bed with Breakfast). Got up bright and early on sunday (too early for breakfast at the BwB) and at 7:00am headed over to the McCloud Railway depot where our train of three restored IC passenger cars and an open observation car was waiting for us. About 100 people were milling about as McCloud staff checked names and passed out tickets for the days' excursion. At about 7:20 am, McCloud #39 (SD-38) and #25 (Alco 2-6-2) backed into the station and coupled onto the train. Boarding began at 7:30 (about 10 minutes late) and we left the station about 15 minutes later and proceeded into the yard.
A brief manoeuver added an ex VIA rail coach and the McCloud's unqiue double-deck open-air observation car to the end of the train. With #39 on the point we departed the yard and headed east on the mainline toward Lookout. The consist was #38, #25, open-observation (converted flat car), diner ( Siskiyou), diner ( Shasta), diner (????), coach (VIA), open-observation (double-deck).
Leaving McCloud we passed numerous freight cars and seemingly derelect equipment on sidings adjacent to the main. A surprise for me was spotting the remains of the ex-Sierra, ex-Rayonier 2-6-6-2 rusting away in pieces.
The tired but very friendly and accommodating car staff served up a continental breakfast of home-baked cakes and breads with juices and the usual coffees and teas. Apparently the car staff had worked a dinner train the night before and between cleaning the train after the dinner and re-stocking the train for our excursion most of the folks only had a couple of hours's sleep. Once breakfast was underway we were encouraged to take advantage of the rest of the train.
We traveled east through the pine forests and lava at 20-25 miles per hour (est). About and hour into the trip the SD throttle back and the ALCO belched out a huge cloud of smoke and took over pulling the train up the grade toward McIntosh. Cyndy and I were on the top level of the double-deck obs looking forward and had a great view over the entire train. Being a converted flatcar the obs rides on freight trucks and the ride was not nearly as smooth as the dining cars. But the view truly was worth the bumpy ride. Cyndy likened the experience to the shots in Titanic were the lead characters were perched on the bow and facing into the headwind.
About the time that the conductor shooed us off the upper deck (low trees ahead) lunch was served. A very nice turkey salad on a croissant with pasta salad and grapes distracted us a while until the stunning views of Mt Shasta from McIntosh View passed our window. Passing McIntosh our pace slowed somewhat as we continued on to Hambone. At each grade crossing a dedicated band of train-chasers were on hand with video and still cameras recording on progress along the line. At Hambone the train stopped for water (a fire service tank car had been spotted on the siding there) and we detrained. A somewhat disorganized photo runby (or as Steve Lee calls them 'a drive by shooting') was set up. The SD pulled forward and out of sight. The ALCO backed the train up and then pulled forward with the obligatory smoke, steam, and whistle for all assembled. I don't know if the engineer had a larger/heavier train than normal or what but both in reverse and forward he spun the drivers repeatedly getting the train moving.
Since we were running late everyone hurried back onto the train and we again headed east toward Lookout. This section of track is apparently maintained by the BNSF although there was ample evidence of recent and/or ongoing maintenance our speed was restricted to about 10mph (est). I noted that mileposts from McCloud to Hambone count up ( 0 - 33) and then from Hambone to Lookout count back down to zero. I assume the mainline west from McCloud probably counts up as well. Interesting...
The scenery changed from dense pine forest to pine forest and open meadows with grazing cattle and deer. The weather was spectacular, probably in the high 70s or low 80s and the sky was a nice deep blue with the only clouds in sight ringing the peak of Mt Shasta. The SD and the ALCO swapped train hauling a couple of times on the way to Lookout where we arrived at 12:50pm or thereabouts.
Upon arrival, most folks detrained and another runby was held. Cyndy took video of the runby from the train's point of view, getting good shots of the foamers falling over each other trying to get the best angle. With the runby complete we stared intently north up the BNSF mainline trying to catch any glimpse of activity.
Prior to the trip I had read several postings on the Internet regarding 4449 and her scheduled BNSF employee specials. Some of these noted that she had been painted black and lettered 'BNSF' on the tender. I was expecting to see her in this livery. Pleasantly surprised, she steam into view at 1:20pm in the beautiful red, orange, and black Daylight paint scheme. 4449 was pulling an auxillary water tender ('Willamette & Pacific'), a bright shiny and clean BNSF diesel of some sort, a couple of very clean BNSF box cars, a flat-car loaded with a three truck shay (Mt Emily?), a couple more box cars, Daylight baggage, Daylight coach, Great Northern coach, Daylight round-end observation. The internet postings had listed Lookout as a water stop for 4449. This too was false. Maybe I should stop believing the 'net?
The two trains were staged with the locomotives side-by-side and the photo frenzy ensued. After about 20 minutes 4449 whistled off and continued her journey south toward Keddie and ultimately Old Sacramento.
Everyone re-boarded our train and then we were off around the balloon at Lookout and heading west again on the main. We were treated to oatmeal cookies and many folks caught a quick nap after the 45 minutes in the sun at Lookout. Unfortunately, the most comfortable seats for dozing were in the ex-VIA coach which lacked air-conditioning. It was like a sauna in there...
The return trip was much like trip out, we made a water stop at Hambone and were met by a crew from McCloud who loaded dinner onto the train. Kind of like when the Food Service trucks restock airliners at the gate between flights! We swapped talk over a nice meal of roast beef, salad, corn-on-the cob and cheesecake.
We arrived back in McCloud, cut off the two cars we had added at the beginning of the trip and returned to the depot. Arrival was at about 8:00pm. Surprisingly after 12+ hours on the train Cyndy still said she had a great time and didn't regret the trip. We left McCloud at 8:30pm and got into Boulder Creek around 2:00am after a very long day.
I'd never ridden the McCloud before and was very impressed with everything I saw. They've done a beautiful job of refitting the interiors of the exIC cars and the double-deck observation was a blast. Everyone was very pleasant and seemed to enjoy their work, tired as they were. I hope the engine crew was appropriately rested!
The excursion cost $69 which I thought was reasonable considering the meals involved and the amount of staff involvement required. They sold out trip (98 seats) with the first 50 going in the couple of hours following a post to the internet! Unfortunately, the original impetus for the trip didn't pan out: 4449 was supposed to be returning a car from Oregon that belonged to the McCloud Railway and interchange it at Lookout. For whatever reason, that car didn't make the trip.
All in all a very nice weekend. But tiring... (I'm not as young as I used to be...)