Grant's Getaways: Railriders on the Joseph Branch line

Grant's Getaways: Joseph Branch Rail Riders

Last summer, we showed you where the cars don't roll in a roadless stretch through the Wallowa and Grand Ronde River canyons.

The people of Elgin, Oregon hold on to that heritage and make you feel right at home when you visit the Elgin Depot and step aboard the Eagle Cap Excursion Train.

Dave Arnold is the engineer at the controls of the "GP-7 Diesel Electric" and he loves to brag: "I get the best seat in the house and I just love the view too."

Arnold said the train's engine produces 1500 horsepower and travels on the historic Joseph Branch Line that was built in 1884.

"It is never the same trip," noted the longtime railroad engineer. "I think rolling along on a historic line that's still intact is exciting."

The Eagle Cap Excursion Train is a one of a kind rail trip where the Wallowa or Grande Ronde Rivers are always by your side.

It's also a railroad saved from ruin by local folks who believed there was value in holding on to their heritage – so they bought the railroad line in 2003. 

Stephen Adams, a member of the Wallowa-Union County Railroad Authority, said that the scenic qualities are only a part of the railroad's appeal:

"This is the only line in the country where a substantial amount of the track is in roadless terrain. That means this railroad is the only means for visitors to really explore this country. – and we love visitors."

It turns out that 63 miles up the same line, another group has given new life to an old, out of use rail section.

But you won't find a diesel electric engine here – instead, it's a helmet for your head, a seat belt to keep you tight and pedals you have to push when you join in the fun of the Joseph Branch Railriders.

Photos: Joseph Branch Railriders

Kim Metlen, a former cycling store owner, designed the cars (or are they bikes?) two years ago. 

Last year, he launched a business that shows off the countryside on a 12-mile stretch from Joseph to Enterprise.

"You are gliding down the track; there's no resistance and it's awesome. You don't have to steer, just peddle so everybody's looking around at the mountains, and the wildlife. The riders all get the same silly little grin and it's worth coming back for the silly little grin."

Metlen added that the business has really taken off. So far this summer the line has seen 4,000 passengers – four times last year's traffic.

"A third of those visitors told me this has brought them to Wallowa County for the first time and that they will be back. We are making a difference to the local economy."

Once you reach Enterprise, it's turnaround time and that's an easy effort because the all-aluminum frame and axles and polyurethane wheels weigh a mere 100 pounds.

The return trip requires more peddling effort due to the 1-1/2 percent grade. But the scenery is so pleasing you hardly notice and the trip speeds by.

The towering Wallowa Mountains provide a stunning feature that's always by your side.

It is the sort of ride that puts a smile on your face and the sort of setting that keeps it there all day.

The Joseph Branch Railriders continue operation through the first weekend in October.

If you would like to explore more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my new book: "Grant's Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon."

You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by "Grant's Getaways" photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field.

The stories offer detailed directions and promise to set you on your own path of discovery across Oregon. The new book is also available as e-book download so you can take my new book with you on the road.

Visit Travel Oregon for an extended version of this story and to see past versions of Grant's Getaways.

 

Grant's Getaways is produced in partnership with Travel Oregon, as well as:

Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.

Oregon State Marine Board

You can learn more about many of Grant's favorite Oregon adventures in his new book: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures"


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