Chelatchie Prairie Railroad pays tribute to local history, moms

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Chelatchie Prairie Railroad

What: Heritage train rides through north Clark County from Yacolt to Moulton Falls.

Where: Diesel trains leave from Northeast Railroad Avenue, just south of Yacolt Road, in Yacolt.

When: May 12 and May 13, leaving at noon and 2:30 p.m. Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure.

Cost: $15 for adults, $14 for seniors 60 and older, $10 for youth ages 5-12, $8 for children age 2-4, free for children under age 2.

Information:http://www.bycx.com/ or (360) 686-3559.

Historic trains hold a special place in Tammy Auburg’s memory.

The 70-year-old, who is station master and treasurer of the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, remembers staring in awe at the steam and diesel engines hauling logs into Vancouver when she was a young girl. They were just so powerful, she said.

“It was really exciting for me,” Auburg said. “We’d sneak up and put pennies on the rail and wait for the train to come by and flatten them. I don’t know that my parents knew what I was doing. They wouldn’t have approved if they did.”

The line was built in 1887 by Clark County businessman and pioneer L.M. Hidden to haul timber, wheat and possibly coal. Ownership of the line passed through several hands before the line started to decline in the 1950s. It was put up for sale in the late 1970s, and was all but abandoned by the mid-1980s.

Clark County bought the railroad in the 1980s, and in 1998 a group of citizen volunteers came together to restore track and service for historic scenic trips from Yacolt to Moulton Falls. Eventually, the group hopes to restore service on the line to Battle Ground and to the community of Heisson.

The line shuts down in the winter but reopens on Mother’s Day weekend every year.

“We give roses to the mothers and do a run to Moulton Falls,” said Larry Landgraver, president of the railroad group. “We try to make it as special as we can for the mothers.”

The trains bring back a part of Clark County history that Auburg and others of her generation remember well. It’s wonderful to reminisce and watch the 1941 diesel switcher train haul tourists back and forth from the falls, she said.

“For a lot of us that are in my age group, many of our parents worked on part of the railroad,” Auburg said. “It was fun early on because it was still the steam trains, and then when they switched to diesel the sound was just completely different.”

Steam trains are more expensive to operate, so the volunteers mostly just use their diesel locomotive.

The citizen group usually gets about $15,000 in grants from the county each year for operations and improvements to the line, but that funding wasn’t available this year. The plan this year was to extend the line to Heisson, a small town with a winery and some other historic points of interest, but that will likely not happen until next year, Landgraver said.

“It’s a difficult year because of our budget, but we’re excited about eventually getting there,” Landgraver said. “Once we get to Heisson, the train -- instead of running in reverse (back from the falls) -- will be able to turn around and go forward. We’re also eager to start doing wine trips.”

There’s a winery at Moulton Falls, and the railroad will do its first special winery trip on Memorial Day weekend. The hope is to eventually do trips to both the Moulton Falls Winery and to the Heisen House Vineyards, the vintner in Heisson, once the track reaches the town.

“We’ll have guests on board that will give presentations on wine etiquette, wine tasting,” Landgraver said.

As a mother, Auburg suggests bringing children along for the Mother’s Day opening weekend.

“I found when we were raising our kids it was a great way to teach history,” Auburg said. “Without the railroads, this town wouldn’t be here -- many towns wouldn’t be here. It was the main transportation before the highways came in after World War II.”

The ride takes about an hour and a half to two hours to complete, with the train traveling about six miles through farm land and wooded areas on the way to the falls.

Trains can carry up to 150 people, and Landgraver said he hopes to see between 75-100 passengers on each trip this weekend.

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo.