We had such high hopes for a busy and successful 2020 season! But COVID-19 stepped in and everything changed. To protect the health of our volunteers, crew and passengers, we decided not to run the train at all.
The Friends of the Joseph Branch board of directors was determined to make the best of the situation by working with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority to get long overdue equipment and track maintenance accomplished. WURA leaders were successful in selling their railroad tax credits and acquired a $50,000 grant from Oregon Department of Transportation to repair the bridges at Howard Creek and Water Canyon, and to complete other track improvements. The $160,000 project was contracted to LJH and Wallowa Union Railroad track crew helped. The Friends paid for the locomotive fuel and several members put in quite a few volunteer hours to run the work train to the construction site on four different occasions. The bridge projects are nearly completed, opening up the possibility for the train to return to serving the lower Wallowa County when we are up and rolling again.
A highlight of the project was the method used to get the concrete trucks and construction equipment to the bridge at Howard Creek – which is in the backcountry and not accessible by road. A staging area was created at Minam and the trucks were loaded on the flatcar and hauled down to the construction site by rail. (See photo.)
Also this season, David Arnold and Sundae Woods started work prepping and repainting the entire train! The huge project was completed this fall and the train looks wonderful. Other maintenance work was completed on the engines and passenger cars, making them ready for what we hope will be a great season in 2021!