Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2017

Birthday 2017

This is the week I usually take my vacation, but this year paying down old debt was more important than incurring new. And within a 100-mile radius of the house are all the scenic and recreational opportunities I might reasonably desire, so I could do something nice for my birthday. I decided to take a ride on the Mt. Hood Railroad excursion train from Hood River to Parkdale. I saw the train on a previous trip to Hood River, but the schedule didn’t work. Departure is at 1100 four days a week for a four-hour tour of the Oregon orchard country. I sprung for the top-tier dome car ticket at $55. Besides getting to sit in the dome car, the other perk is that someone will deliver your drinks and food, rather than having to schlep them yourself.

I treated the day like a vacation, and went my vacations one better: I unplugged. I had my phone, but I didn’t know from text/email/voice. Everything went to the ‘Tomorrow’ bin. Like my vacations, I found myself rising earlier than I do most work days to go ride something.

Breakfast at the local Sheri’s:

2017Bday Spring Garden Omelet

The Spring Garden omelet. Not a bit of meat on that plate, but a good omelet. I ordered the salsa on the side but didn’t really need it. And on the road for the two-hour drive to Hood River. I-84 is the usual route, but the eastbound lanes have been closed for a couple of weeks due to fires in the Gorge. The alternate is Washington State Road 14 running on the North side of the river. I’ve driven this road a few times, but not past Camas the last ten years. It’s a nice drive, and not too crowded with diverted traffic.

The Hood River bridge connects Hood River to southern Washington, and the toll is $1 for cars. The two lanes are 9 feet wide with an open metal grate deck, so large vehicles tend to drive slowly. The speed limit is 25, and even at that rate a car will ‘walk’. The lanes are 9 feet wide. It’s not a fun bridge.

The Hood River RR depot and headquarters are located in downtown Hood River next to the Union Pacific tracks. Built in 1906, the railroad follows the Hood River through the Cascades before entering the Hood River valley and serving several agricultural communities, terminating in Parkdale 22 miles distant. While there are a number of fruit packers alongside the tracks, they all ship by truck now. The only rail-served industry I saw was Hood River Lumber: excursions provide most of the revenue these days. As well as the $5 parking charge, I guess.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot exterior2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot interior

The men’s room has an anteroom:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot mens room

When I made the reservation I was informed that there would be a train robbery. Apparently everything on the railroad, including crime, runs on schedule. I figured it would be fun to download and print images of 1860’s currency so I’d have something for the robbers. When you check-in you’re given some railroad currency. The two efforts:

2017 Bday fake money

My ride. I hope Santa is listening.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car 2

Lower level:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car lower level

Upper level:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car interior 12017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car interior 3

Seating is first come, and most of the passengers were in the dome. There were a few families that rode in the coach cars. It turns out there are two bathrooms on the coaches, while the hoighty-toighty in the dome only have one. Hmm.

The train runs backwards (locomotive in rear) the first three miles along the Hood River. Along the way is a defunct powerhouse:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR power house

A large supply pipe runs along the river from a reservoir a couple miles upriver. When built the powerhouse supplied electricity for Hood River. The structure is being slowly dismantled as the power needs of the area are supplied by somewhat larger structures on the Columbia.

Presently the train arrives at a switchback, one of only four used by standard-gauge railroads in the US. The train gains 136 feet of altitude in only one track mile over the switchback, and grades generally through the mountains are steep, with some in excess of 3.3%. Between Hood River and Parkdale the railroad gains 1600 feet. The power on the train was a 2000 hp locomotive, but I imagine steam locomotives must have struggled. Track is well-maintained, but Class I it ain’t. The ride is very much like a boat, and folks subject to motion sickness may want to take precautions.

Heading uphill from the switchback:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot leaving switchback

The ride is not fast, either. The schedule is about 90 minutes to cover the 22 miles. But this is strictly about the journey, and riding a slow train through the mountains and valleys is very relaxing. Nothin’ to do but enjoy the view. To aid in that enjoyment:


2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Session lager

The Sun was not yet over the yardarm, but, birthday.

Hood River:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Hood River 1

At one point the Sheriff and his girlfriend Ms Lulu entered the car and informed us that there wouldn’t be a robbery today. Much disappointment. There’s some scenery. Hills on the East side of the valley:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR East hills Hood River valley

Not long after entering the valley there was a commotion.

A damsel in distress!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR damsel in distress

Sheriff to the rescue!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR sheriff to the rescue

It’s a trap!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR its a trap

The Sheriff is down!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR sheriff down

Ms. Lulu is distraught!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Ms LuLu to the rescue

Everyone expected the robbers right away, but nothing else happened. The train pulled away, Ms. Lulu stayed with her man, and the trip resumed.

Looking North up the valley. The railroad enters around the hill to the left.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR looking North up valley


2017 Bday Mt Hood RR robbed 1

Some time later, the robbers made their move. They didn’t know what to make of my money (“Must be savings bonds or something!”), but they took it anyway.

Dr. Who keeps these behind a warehouse in Odell, OR:

2017 Bday London call boxes in Odell

Approaching Parkdale:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Mt Hood and vineyards

Just outside Parkdale and bout 10 miles NE of Mt. Hood. It’s already snowed a couple times this year on the mountain. Snowline is around 6000 feet. The valley has a climate well-suited for agriculture, but is geographically isolated. Prior to the railroad, there were no easy ways in or out.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR approaching Mt Hood

The train arrives in Parkdale next to the Huston Museum for a 45 minute stop. Museum entrance is $1, but I was more interested in food. Nothing in Parkdale can be too far away:

2017 Bday downtown Parkdale 2

The engine runs around the train just outside of town, then backs the train in.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR locomotive runaround

I stopped for lunch at Apple Valley BBQ.

2017 Bday BBQ sandwich

2017 Bday Hutson museum

Soon enough it was time to leave.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR train at Parkdale

It was Saturday, but time, tide, and harvest wait for no man:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR orchard workers

A gambler makes an appearance and entertains with card tricks:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR gambler

The return trip also features audio describing some of the history of the area and railroad. The audio isn’t well-synched with the train, but informative nonetheless.

Four hours after departure the train arrives back in Hood River. A very pleasant and relaxing four hours where I didn’t have to do anything but sit on my butt and eat, drink, and enjoy the view. It was nice.

Pro tip: Use the bathroom prior to leaving the train. The depot is locked.

Even though westbound I-84 was open, I went back to WA 14 because I’d seen some things I wanted a look at. Particularly this:

2017 Bday flume 1

A closer look:

2017 Bday flume 2

The structure is located between Tunnels 2 and 3 on WA 14 directly above Tunnel Lake. I didn’t know what this was other than a bridge for something. I thought it might be the remains of one of the many logging railroads that ran through the Gorge in the early part of the last century.

After I got home I looked at maps of the area back to 1911, and no road or railroad was present. What was on the maps was a flume. The structure is one of the last remnants of the Broughton Flume, which carried logs nine miles from Willard to the mill at Hood, WA on the SP&S railroad. The flume was the last to operate in the US, ceasing operation in 1986. So that was a fun bit of history.

I made shrimp cocktail and seafood Alfredo for dinner, with German chocolate cake for desert. Then to the bar to watch some football. It was a great day.









  1. Blair–
    Good stuff. Highly enjoy your travel Adventures.
    You ever sell these Tales to your local Tourism Council? Or better still– compile them into a book, then sell them individually.

    Reference the FS Beer— 11 ounces? The 5.1% is a plus, but 11 ounces!
    How much did that set you back?
    Tangentially– In Michigan it looks like we’ve finally reached a saturation point for craft brews, just had 2 go bankrupt (locally) in the last year. (There’s practically 1 per Country.)

    (Happy Birthday dude!)


  2. Wayne-

    Thank you for the birthday wishes. It was a nice, relaxing day doing things I like to do. And no work AT ALL!

    Food and drink pricing on the train are comparable to airline prices. I hadn’t noticed that Full Sail is shaving the bottle size until you pointed it out. It’s a good lager, but yeah, a 12 oz bottle should be standard (and was). I didn’t try the food, but other people did, and it looked better than Amtrak’s efforts. As mentioned, there’s service in the dome car, so at least I didn’t have to walk to get my over-priced beverage.

    Finding out about the flume was about as fun as anything else I did. On Google Maps Satellite view you can just make out the line through the trees. Someone who likes to walk might enjoy following the path. I’m happy to know what it is, but may take a hike up to it before it completely disappears.

  3. Blair-
    Yes– my Policy is to not work on my B-Day, if I can help it.

    Again, good stuff. You always pack a lot in, so I try to read it more than once.


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