Trains and especially steam engines are a magical fascination for many children and adults. A local volunteer group out of Yacolt, Washington is playing a huge role in putting several beautiful, vintage trains back on local tracks. The volunteers are painstakingly making the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad restoration efforts from the Battle Ground, Yacolt and Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Association (BYCX).
The BYCX is staffed all by volunteers, with four of the crew serving as fully qualified engineers. This allows the group to not only support restoration efforts but also follow all federal safety regulations as they offer passenger train excursions.
There are currently two engines being worked on and operated by the group. First is the favorite steam engine, the CW #10. This engine started it’s career in use in lumber yards in Crossett, Arkansas. The lumber use went until the CW #10 was retired in 1965 and sent to Balboa Park.
The majestic engine sat in retirement for many years, until a private collector in Washington state bought it. The train was relocated to Shelton, WA to be used for several years in early 2000. In 2007, the BYCX bought the train to restore it again.
Besides the popular CW #10, the group has also restored an ALCO S-2. This is a diesel engine that was initially built in 1941 for the Los Angeles Junction Railway. The engine was used in California until the 1970s when it was retired from service.
Once it was taken out of service, it was sold to a leasing company that operated out of Portland, Oregon. This is how the engine made its way to the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, the engine was used for another 20 years.
When it came time to retire the engine for the second time, the leasing company donated it to the BYCX. The small volunteer staff restored the engine and use it as the primary power source for passenger trains.
Both of the engines routinely connect with restored passenger cars to entertain crowds of guests. Their restoration projects are on-going. Many families return year after year to ride their holiday trains to see the latest upgrades.
From the time they bought the CW #10, the locomotive became the most popular train they owned. It is often paired with vintage passenger cars and open-air cars to shuttle passengers along the scenic seven miles of track they are licensed to operate passenger services on. Kerry Barton with the BYCX shared the group is hoping to extend the distance they can travel into the full 15 miles of track they currently lease.
The group not only focuses on restoring trains but also honoring the long-standing history of the railroad in the area. They are also responsible for upgrading the tracks to be able to provide passenger service between Yacolt and Chelatchie Prairie.
Services along with the tracks in Clark County date back to the first sets of tracks being built in 1888. The initial project was to connect Vancouver to Yakima but fell short. The investors ran out of funding and sold the railroad in 1897.
In 1902 the Yacolt Burn changed the focus of the railroad build. At that time, locals needed tracks to carry burnt timber and new lumber. Using the tracks for both lumber and passengers helped to support the build of a route from Vancouver to Yacolt. The use of the line for profit increased as it was sold to the Harbor Plywood Company in 1948.
The tracks were used for commercial purposes until being abandoned in 1984. This was when Clark County came to own the tracks that one day was leased to the BYCX. There is still a significant amount of commercial traffic on some of the routes that are operated by the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad.
Operating the passenger service out of Yacolt takes a great deal of time and effort on the part of the volunteers of the BYCX. They are always looking to add to their dedicated team of active volunteers. For more information about volunteering or making a donation, please contact BYCX president Randy Williams at 360-836-0669. The group can also be reached via their Facebook page.
The restored engines and passenger cars play a crucial part in the recreational train rides the group operates from May to December each year. A variety of train rides run every other weekend during this time.
During the winter, the group runs Christmas Tree Trains that are by far their most popular rides. They also offer Halloween themed rides and even one for families that want a bit more adventure that re-creates train robberies.
Beyond the family-focused trains, the group has recently paired with the Moulton Falls Winery to offer a unique wine train. This partnership has proven to be tremendous support for the fundraising efforts of the BYCX.
The BYCX has also partnered with several community groups to offer special train rides to children in need. This includes working with CASA in the area and even special needs families for sensory friendly train afternoons.