Monday, March 4, 2013

Today's Train Of Thought- A Black Widow in Wintertime, March 4th, 2013

When somebody mentions 'Washington' (the state, at least) any number of images pop to mind right away- the Space Needle, rain, coffee, Dr. Frasier Crane dishing out advice over the radio, grunge bands, massive forests, insufferable hipsters, ferries, soaring mountain ranges, the aerospace industry or even tossing fish around Pike Place Market.

But east of the Cascade range it's a different story- in fact, it easily could be mistaken for another state. With a fairly arid climate and much sparser population, the Eastern part of Washington is considered that state's breadbasket. In addition to its reknowned apples, eastern Washington also grows potatoes, cherries and wheat.

To bring that wheat to market in the late 19th century, the Northern Pacific, Union Pacific and Milwaukee Road predecessor Washington, Idaho & Montana all constructed lines through eastern Washington's Palouse Hills as well as some branches. Many of lines would be included in the 1970 formation of the Burlington Northern, but by 1996 most of those lines would be sold off the WATCO and operated as the Palouse River and Coulee City.

However, within a decade WATCO would abandon the lines around Palouse, WA and by 2007, the State of Washington ended up purchasing the rail line between Marshall, WA and the Washington/Idaho state line between the college towns of Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID. The contract to operate the line had been awarded to the newly-formed Washington & Idaho Railway.

The W&I operates with a motley assortment of EMDs, including a GP30 from predecessor Palouse River and Coulee City and a leased FP9. Even with the recent downturn in rail traffic nationwide, the W&I was able to take advantage of some lightly used branchlines by using them for freight car storage. Normally traffic on the W&I consists of grain, fertilizer and lumber products as well as the occasional high and wide load.

Here, contributor Mike Bjork caught Mid America Railcar Leasing FP9 #6304 tying down at the end of a long day in the setting sun on a frigid December 2008 afternoon at Wilson, WA. Despite being lettered for the Southern Pacific and painted in that railroad's 1950s era 'Black Widow' livery, the SP never actually owned this unit. Rather, it started off life on the Canadian National and was purchased from VIA Rail Canada.

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