Chapter VII: Healy

Monday, June 26th, Healy.

We began the day with bread and peanut butter, one of the few remnants of the cabin's kitchen  We loaded 10,000 pounds of camera gear into the car and headed for the Healy yard.  We removed my railroad crossing sign, put it in the trunk and headed for Garner.  We turned onto a gravel road and cringed at the sounds of big rocks hitting the undercarriage of our car.  With a sense of relief, we finally arrived at the Garner maintenance shed, milepost 355.8.  Many years ago,  railroad employees lived in section houses and maintained the track in the area.  The Garner section house was torn down years ago and now only a storage shed remains.  We walked to milepost 356.2 for a gander at Garner tunnel.  The old tunnel uses huge 12 inch wooden support beams and contains a small cache of tools.

WindyRandy drove us to Windy bridge in hopes of getting some good photos of the southbound passenger train.  We slid down the steep embankment beside the bridge and walked the short distance to Windy tunnel at milepost 353.6.  From here we also had an incredible view of the Nenana River winding its way through the canyon.  Randy chose to stay put and catch the train as it snaked its way through the canyon.  I returned to Windy Bridge to catch the train of passengers as it emerged from Moody Tunnel.  It was pretty spooky standing on this bridge high above the river.  At one point, a semi pulling two large fuel tanks came rumbling by making the bridge sway precariously.  Four rafts passed far below me, their passengers squealing with delight at the rough ride.  The magic moment finally came as the train, pulled by a beautiful blue and yellow SD70MAC and GP40, roared out of the tunnel.  I clicked off a half dozen photos and then crossed the bridge to catch the train on the other side.  It was an incredible sight watching the long passenger train winding around million dollar curve and further down the canyon.

Million $ Curve

SuntranaThe next item on our "to do" list was the Suntrana coal tipple.  Turning off the paved road, we passed the Healy Clean Coal Project building where coal is burned to create electricity for the city of Fairbanks.  After driving on several miles of well maintained gravel road, the tipple came into view.  The Suntrana tipple was the original site for Usibelli, but was abandon in 1979 or 1980.  Some of the surrounding hillside was bare due to the strip mining.  We walked down the slope to the Suntrana tipple and found it to be in relatively good condition.  The train rails into the tipple were totally covered with dirt and plants and were impossible to find.  Peeking into the tipple, we could see some vandalism had occurred.  Overall the building seemed in good shape and could be made operational again with a little bit of effort.  We tried to look into some of the other buildings surrounding the tipple, but the entire area was now very swampy.  It was sad to think this valuable piece of history is slowly turning into rust and decay.

Riley Creek TrestleWe grabbed some lunch at a local restaurant and then headed into Denali National Park.  Randy stopped the car on a steep section of the park's road and we walked a short distance back to an incredible view of the Riley Creek trestle.   In several minutes, the northbound passenger train crossed the bridge and our cameras began clicking away.  We drove to the depot and photographed locomotives SD70MAC 4001 and GP40-2 3010.  We spoke to a very friendly engineer, Frank Sheppard, who spoke of his satisfaction with the new SD70MACs.  When the passenger train departed, we headed down to the Riley Creel trestle.  We  clicked off a few pictures at one end and then took the spooky walked across the 97 foot high bridge to shoot it from the other side.

Returning to the car, we made a mad dash for Ferry to catch the northbound passenger train as it crossed the bridge.  The town of Ferry has one unique feature.  It is split in half by the Nenana River.  Some of the residents leave their cars on one side of the river and transport their groceries and other necessities via a four wheeler across the bridge.  When the river freezes over in the winter, Ferry residents will actually drive their cars across the frozen water.  We waited on the other side of the river for almost an hour, fighting misquotes and hoping to catch the northbound passenger train as it crossed the double span bridge.  Unfortunately, it never appeared making us assume we had arrived after it did.

We stopped at the Chevron in Healy to take showers and make phone calls.  Returning to the cabin, we packed up our belongings in anticipation of our departure to Fairbanks in the morning.

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