A tale of 7 trains

By Terry Douglas
Photographs courtesy of Terry and Cynthia Douglas

My wife Cynthia and I decided to go on the Summer Hurricane Turn in it's first week of 2014 (Well! OK, I wanted to do it, and Cynthia was gracious enough to agree).

So on the afternoon of Friday May 16 we jumped in our RV (Freddy) and drove up to Talkeetna, parking her in the Talkeetna camper park for the night. Anyone familiar with Talkeetna will know that the the camper park is very, very, handy for the summer ARR depot.

The next day we walked over to he depot, and booked a trip on the Hurricane turn. The Turn train was usually one of the highlights of our trips to Alaska, but this was the first time traveling as Alaskan residents (and Cynthia as an ARR employee!). While there we were told that there would be 7 Passenger trains coming through in a period of about 2.5 hours!

The Northbound Denali Star was the first, Then what I'd have to say was likely the shortest consist running that day. A lonely McKinley explorer car (Teklanika), hauled by an SD 70 MAC! A pretty good power to weight ratio there!

We were then treated to what I suspect was a rehearsal session for the Arctic Thunder air show, at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in July (http://www.alaskaairshow.org/2014-arctic-thunder-air-show/) . The WWII planes were doing formation flying and landings at Talkeetna airport. The airport is just across the tracks from the ARR summer depot.

Train # 4 was of course the Hurricane Turn itself, this year sporting a Vista Dome car # 521. Warren the conductor related to us how he had been working on getting a dome for some years. When he did figure out how to persuade ARR management to assign the dome to the Hurricane turn, he was given an award for the innovation, as it solved another problem they had at the same time!

As with all ARR conductors, safety is Conductor Warren's prime concern. So when he spotted a "dangerous" bear in the dome car, he "tagged" the bear as a safety precaution.

After a later than previous years departure (new Schedule to accommodate all these trains), we pulled into Deadhorse siding to allow train #5 to pass us. Yet another southbound cruise train. We waited a bit longer than the crew  like for clearance to proceed north, however while we waited a black bear made an appearance up past the North Siding Switch. Train crew member Steve doesn't seem very concerned by the bear, as he handles the switch.

Eventually we proceeded north, then after the usual series of stops to drop off/pick up campers and locals, we pulled into Chulitina siding to let the southbound Denali Star pass (a "Meet" as the train crews refer to it)

Then, on to Hurricane, and into that siding. We cooled our heels there for quite a long time. Eventually train # 7 another northbound Cruise Train came into Hurricane, picked up some tour guides and other folks, and went by us. Warren hustled everyone back aboard (I had spent the time picking up spikes to add to Warren's box), and we went out to the Bridge at Hurricane Gulch.  

Then Warren was granted working time for the entire stretch back to Talkeetna, and the southbound leg. Nothing too spectacular, nice view of swans at a few points, but no major wildlife. Then for us, into Latitude 62 (also convenient to the depot) for beer and dinner!

The next day we went into downtown Talkeetna, and took Hector the Moose to visit his Momma! In 2009 we visited Talkeetna and purchased Hector from "Mostly Moose", and exported him to Virginia. So now that we have moved up to Alaska, we thought Hector needed to visit home! Hector was my co-pilot on the 4493 mile trip from Virginia to Anchorage, in Freddy!

His Momma was thrilled to see him!!! He is pictured sitting in the very chair where we first saw him! (The ugly one is Terry).

I hope that the very busy day on the railway is typical of this season. There are many challenges for the ARR this year, and a good passenger season will be very helpful.

- Terry Douglas

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Air show rehearsal Another southbound cruise train at Deadhorse
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Black bear at Deadhorse NSS Conductor Warren tags bear in Dome
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Freddy at Talkeetna Camper Park Hector back in Talkeetna
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North Denali Star Number 7 another northbound cruise train
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The shortest cruise train SouthBound cruise train
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SouthBound Denali Star at Chulitina The Hurricane Turn with dome


© 2014 Terry and Cynthia Douglas