Saturday, June 1, 2013

Baker, OR

Day 14: Saturday, June 1, 2013
Sumpter to Baker: 31 miles

So here's the real reason I wanted to go to Sumpter: the gold dredge. The Sumpter Valley, 130 years ago, was a typical agricultural valley, nourished by the Powder River. Then gold was discovered.

My 1981 post describes the upheaval caused by the three dredges that turned the landscape topsy-turvy in the search for gold. The last dredge, much of whose hardware came from the first dredge, remained in operation until 1954, by which time the attempt to separate gold from rock was no longer profitable. That dredge was left in the last pond it mined, just outside of Sumpter, and slowly deteriorated over the years. Around 1995, it was declared a historical treasure, and is now an Oregon state park. Extensive repairs have been made to the hull and superstructure, and more repairs need to be done. Some of the hardware had been stripped for salvage, but enough remains to give an idea of how the dredge operated.

Sumpter dredge #3
Sumpter dredge #3, sitting in its final pond

dredge buckets
The buckets on the business end
scooped up topsoil, gravel, and rocks

dredge power train
Some of the massive belts and gears
that powered the dredge's machinery

panning for gold
Kids can pan for (but not keep) gold.
The tanks are seeded with an ounce of gold each year.

My 1981 post also describes the Sumpter Valley Railroad: how a handful of enthusiasts were trying to resurrect it as a tourist railroad in the Valley. They had found one of the original Heisler steam engines, being used to power a wood products plant, and had obtained and restored it. They also had purchased some narrow-gauge Mallets from the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, and had laid a mile of track.

In the past 32 years, the railroad has had modest growth. It now operates on weekends and holidays over about six miles of track, running from Sumpter to McEwen, where its yards are. I bought a one-way ticket to McEwen, and loaded my bike and gear on board for the ride through the mounds of tailings.

Waiting for the train
Waiting for the train at the Sumpter depot

original Heisler
One of the original Heislers used on the SVRR

back end of Heisler
The rear half of the Heisler.
Mr. Eccles owned the lumber company and the railroad.

engineer's view
The engineer's view of the business end

Do you remember the fireman on the steam engine in the movie version of The Polar Express? The SVRR fireman looked remarkably like him, except that he had no beard. He said he's from Portland, and volunteers several weekends a year to help run the train.

it's a woodburner
Yes, it's a woodburner!

inside the firebox
A glimpse inside the firebox

At McEwen yard, we watched the crew run the locomotive around to the other end of the train for the return trip.

switching the engine
Switching the engine for the return run

inside the passenger car
A view inside the passenger car.
The seat backs simply flip over.

After reloading my bike and departing McEwen station, the gentle downhill ride to Baker was quite pleasant, the smells of pine and sage mingling in the wind. Dark clouds were gathering in the mountains behind me, and I was faced with the possibility of a wet night. (Not another one!) At a motel that permitted camping, the clerk said, "Yup! That sure looks like rain!" So I opted for a motel room. Of course, it didn't rain.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see the updates! I hadn't seen any for awhile then realized my bookmark was to the May volume of your blog. I'm happy to be catching up now.


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