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Touring the county by locomotive 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

September 24, 2005

It’s 10 a.m.

The Mount Hood Railroad Excursion Train is supposed to begin its hour-and-a-half trek to Parkdale right now, but because passengers are still trickling in, the departure is being delayed.

It’s a decent sized crowd, though, according to head engineer Jimmy Guthrie, who said that walk-in numbers were up this year.

As the train is waiting to go, a Union Pacific freight carrier barrels by on the adjacent tracks, no more than five feet from where it is sitting. Passengers “ooh” and “ah” and cover there ears for what seems like five minutes as the relatively long train passes.

At 10:11, a call comes over the radio from brakeman Carl Gregory informing Guthrie that he is clear to go. After three blasts of the horn — the signal indicating forward movement — the train slowly begins to creep down the track.

“I just sort of fell into this job,” said Guthrie, who never who has never had a college education. “But I could buy a house and I can pay my bills and I love my job,” he said.

Guthrie has been around since the conception of the Mount Hood Railroad in 1988.

“I’ve been here for 18 years, and in 12 more I’ll have 30. I look forward to retiring at 60,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else, so I’ll do everything in my power to keep the railroad going.”

It’s 10:25 as the train completes its initial three-mile journey up to the switchback to the east of the Hood River.

This switchback is one of only five standard gauge switchbacks still in use in the United States, and it has been in operation since the 50s.

When the train has completely stopped in the switchback, Gregory changes the switch and the engine — which had previously been pushing the train up the hill — is now able to pull it.

Because the engine has been pushing the cars up the hill, they have become compressed and very close together. It is important to start out slowly and get the slack out, or the passengers will get thrown about, Guthrie said.

“The fun part is knowing how to run it smooth. If you start jerking the passengers around, they let you know real quick,” he said.

After throwing the switch, Gregory joins Guthrie in the engine, and the conversation revolves around travel, apples and concerts.

Guthrie checks the time and mentions that the train is still behind schedule. Because of the type of track that the Mount Hood Railroad is run on, the engine can run no faster than 15 mph between the depot and Pine Grove. If caught speeding by the Federal Railroad Association, engineers can face personal fines as well as license suspension.

“My motto is as long as no one gets hurt, it doesn’t matter how long it takes,” Guthrie said. “Safety first on the railroad.”

At 10:37 the locomotive passes through Pine Grove, and can now go at 20 mph. So Guthrie pushes the lever and kicks it up a notch.

“We’re going 20 now,” he says. “There’s not much else you can do when you get out late.”

A few miles down the tracks from Pine Grove is Odell, where the train passes through lumberyards and packing houses. Today, on the return trip, the Mount Hood Railroad will carry freight from these places back down to Hood River.

But for now the train just rolls on through at a leisurely pace, allowing the passengers to get a good look at the type of business that made Hood River what it is today.

The children at an Odell Head Start facility wave at the train as it passes, and all the passengers and crew wave back.

As Guthrie is waving, he blows the horn, like he has done so many times in this trip alone, in a specific order of bursts — two long, one short, one long — to signify that he is entering a crossing.

With around nine miles of travel left and nearly 1,000 feet in elevation still to climb, Guthrie blows the horn at Bloucher Spur as the clock turns 11.

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