Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mother's Day Celebration on the Lake Whatcom Railway

Every mother aboard was handed a long-stemmed rose by the conductor today during the annual Mother's Day ride on the Lake Whatcom Railway.
Billed as "the friendliest excursion railroad" in all of America, it was an obvious labor of love as Mr. Culp, the conductor and owner of the railroad, and other volunteers greeted each passenger as they boarded his old passenger train.
Steam generated from a one hundred year old steam engine in the storage shed was piped over to heat the old Northern Pacific Railway passenger train used for today's ride creating a very moist, warm climate in the cars as we boarded and took our seats. Now powered by a diesel engine, "for political reasons," Culp says can no longer use his steam engine to power the train along the tracks.
The hour and a half train ride left Wickersham Junction shortly after noon and traveled slowly along the tracks. Passing through a dense, marshy, mossy forest and on past great views of Mirror Lake, we saw several fishermen sitting very close to our tracks as they looked up to see our train pass as others fished from the opposite shore. Once we reached the switching tracks, the engine was disconnected and driven on the switching track to the other end of our train, and then the caboose disconnected and the train cars slowly pushed along the tracks in order to reconnect with the caboose so we could make the journey back to the Wickersham Junction.
Stopping at a park area along the tracks on the way back, some passengers enjoyed the picnic lunches they had carried with them and others mingled around the park to more closely examine the train cars used for today's ride.
Others rode the hundred year old hand car.
Others yet trekked through a field and into the woods to view the magnificant waterfall as it cascaded down a weathered sandstone cliff.
On our return trip to Wickersham Junction, a banjo player sang and played bluegrass music as he strolled up and down the isle of our train car.
Back at the Wickersham Junction, there was plenty of time to wonder around and get a good look at the many other ancient train cars and old relics on display in their storage shed and around the grounds.



The Lake Whatcom Railway is a dedicated living preservation of the Pacific Northwest Railway heritage. The passenger cars date back to the early part of the last century and were originally used for many years on the Northern Pacific passenger trains out of Seattle. Ancient wooden freight cars from the Great Northern Railway are also on the grounds. More information about the Lake Whatcom Railroad and their passenger schedule is available on their website at


My photos highlights from the 2008 Mother's Day train ride on the Lake Whatcom Railway.



Information leading up to the "political reasons" why Mr. Culp can no longer use his old steam engine to power his Lake Whatcom Railway runs as origially published by Safety Department of the Northern Pacific Railroad, Saint Paul, Minnesota, in their publication, The Tell Tale, on April 3, 1998:

CULP UPDATE - Train May Be At End Of Line Safety: Valentine's Day Train Ride Canceled Over Safety Concerns.

Wickersham--Lake Whatcom Railway has canceled today's Valentine's Day train ride after safety concerns raised by the Federal Railroad Administration shut down the train indefinitely. Berwin Culp, whose son Frank owns the historic 1907 steam engine, said they may close the ride permanently. ''He's so upset,'' Culp said of her son. ''He ran that train
for 25 years and never had a problem of any sort.'' The train offers around 25 rides a year, on holidays and on Saturday afternoons during the summer. The train carries up to 200 people in antique passenger cars on a privately owned rail along state Highway 9. In December, Federal inspectors threatened to shut down the train just as riders were boarding for a three-mile ride accompanied by Santa. The ride was allowed to commence, but after a full inspection on January 6, inspectors told Frank Culp the train couldn't be run again without repairs, said David Bolger, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration. Inspectors said a wheel of the locomotive was rubbing against the firebox, where coal and firewood are burned to heat the steam engine. A crack in the firebox could result in an explosion or derailment, Bolger said. ''It's 91 years old and with the condition it's in, it's a cause of great concern,'' Bolger said. Berwin Culp, who runs the train gift shop out of a box car, said the 200 people with reserved
tickets, including 150 from a Canadian Tour group, have been notified today's ride was canceled. None of them had paid for tickets yet, she said. Train owner Frank Culp, planned to lease a diesel locomotive for a year from Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad to replace the steam engine, his mother said. But the locomotive couldn't be sent by flat car in time. ''I don't know if he's even going to do it now,'' Berwin Culp said. The Culps contend the wheel has been in the same position since the 1930s and a steel plate on the fire box protects against any cracks. Re-engineering the locomotive to the federal inspector's specifications would be either impossible, or dangerous, Berwin Culp said. ''Frank's ready to give up and not run the train at all,'' his mother said.

-Erica Pizzillo, Bellingham (Wash.) Herald, 14 Feb 1998, via Don Hanley, 31 Mar 1998

I have heard a number of stories about the pop inspection by the FRA, and though I like revenge as much as the next guy, sufficed to say none of the stories will do anything but aggravate and already bad situation. One item I was happy to hear was that the FRA inspectors are reportedly to fed up with local shenanigans and if their good graces are further abused, they may crack down on all operations equally. You heard it here first folks--work for safety and community--or else.

-John Phillips

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