A Special Trip on the WP&YR Railway

It doesn’t matter how many times I ride it, I never get enough of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve ridden it – 30 perhaps. Yesterday, though, was very special – a long-time friend was being honoured by the company for 20 years of promoting the railway on his private Web site, and for his efforts to preserve White Pass history.

The day required a fairly early start, and just before 07:30 I stopped at the Emerald Lake viewpoint to take a few photos, including this one of the fresh snow on Montana Mountain.
Fresh snow on Montana Mountain, Yukon
In another week or so the Fall colours on Bove Island should be at their peak.
Fall colours on Bove Island, Yukon
The weather across the White Pass summit was very bad, and it was a much slower drive than I’d hoped for, but I met a few friends and White Pass employees at the depot in Skagway at 08:00 (09:00 Yukon time). We all walked over to “the Junction”, and at 08:17, our train, pulled by a pair of 45-year-old Alco 251D locomotives, arrived from the dock.
WP&YR train at Skagway, Alaska
Right behind the locomotives was our car, a luxury Club Car which I didn’t know existed. Even the car’s name is unique – the other passenger cars are all named for northern rivers and lakes, #400 honours Michael J. Heney, the railroad contractor who made the White Pass dream possible.
WP&YR Club Car 'Michael J. Heney'
We quickly boarded and got settled, and the train continued north. Yes, the chairs are as comfortable as they look 🙂
WP&YR Club Car 'Michael J. Heney'
Passing Shops on the way out of town.
WP&YR Shops at Skagway, Alaska
After the car’s attendant served drinks and snacks, Allison Haas, Marketing Manager for the railway, presented Boerries Burkhardt with some material to thank him for his work with Whitepassfan.net, which he started in 1994, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Fan Mailing List, which he started in 1998 and which currently has 465 members around the world. Included was a 20-year pin, usually presented to employees for service of that length – presenting it to a railfan is unique, and I’m extremely pleased to see the company recognize the priceless PR work being done.
Allison Haas and Boerries Burkhardt
Boerries then introduced the group to a series of presentations that he’s making to museums during this trip from his home in Germany. The gem is this original map of the British Columbia Yukon Railway (part of the White Pass), from the White Pass Summit to Bennett Lake. It is signed by Michael J. Heney, and at a scale of 400 feet to 1 inch, is 21 feet long! The detail is wonderful and it’s truly a work of art. Another map from the series, the one showing the line from Skagway to the summit, went up for auction on eBay at the same time as this one, and went to a private collector for some $7,000. I Would really like to see this map rolled out and be able to study it for a while!
Original map of the British Columbia Yukon Railway from the White Pass Summit to Bennett Lake
Boerries “preaching to the choir”, sharing his passion for the railway and its history.
Boerries Burkhardt in the WP&YR Club Car
The weather was cool and wet, so the large covered deck at the front of the coach got little use.
White Pass Club Car #400
Though hidden by the fog, we reached Summit Lake (which is a few hundred feet north of the international border, in BC) at 09:40, and the locomotives were run to the other end of the train to pull us back down the hill.
Summit Lake, BC
As is usually the case, we met another train at Summit Lake, and its locomotives were also moved to what would become the downhill end.
White Pass train at the foggy Summit
WP&YR train at the foggy Summit
One more manual switch at the south end of the Summit siding, and at 09:55 we were on our way back to Skagway. The border monument can just barely be seen on top of the rock bluff on the left.
Switching at the foggy White Pass Summit
Looking especially eerie in the fog, this is the long-abandoned cantilever bridge, bypassed when heavy ore hauls started in the 1960s.
WP&YR cantilever bridge in the fog
Exiting the tunnel at Tunnel Mountain.
Tunnel Mountain, Alaska
A more distant look at the tunnel.
Tunnel on the White Pass railroad
Bridge 15B (the second bridge north of Mile 15).
Bridge 15B on the White Pass railroad
The photos of construction crews working to cut the grade at Slippery Rock in 1898 are among the most impressive railway construction photos ever taken (see this illustrated article.
Slippery Rock on the WP&YR line
Bridge 15A.
Bridge 15A on the White Pass line
Boerries has started making books of photos from his huge White Pass collection (not for sale, just for fun) – this one has some 50 photos of the railway operation at Whitehorse.
A White Pass historic photo book
The weather may have been dull outside, but it was certainly bright in the rail car 🙂
WP&YR Club Car #400
The Skagway River. This is a pretty typical early-Fall day in Skagway.
The Skagway River on a rainy Fall day
Back in Skagway, there’s a great deal of work being done to expand the car storage yard.
Railroad car storage at Skagway
Back on the ground at 11:10, retired Whitepassers Carl Mulvihill and John McDermott modelled the old and the new of White Pass jackets for the group.
Retired Whitepassers Carl Mulvihill and John McDermott model the old and the new of White Pass jackets
A shot of the ticket window in the depot before heading out for lunch and a walk around town.
White Pass ticket window in Skagway
It’s End-of-the-Cruise-Season 80% Off Sale time!! Get your baubles now before they’re all gone!! 🙂
Sale at a Skagway jewellery store
Looking south on Broadway. The temperature hit 56°F (13C) but the dampness made it seem cooler. At the Summit, it was 41°F (5C).
September on Broadway, Skagway
Okay, just a couple more train pictures and I can move on 🙂
White Pass train in downtown Skagway
I took a walk out on the breakwater to get some photos of the Grand Princess. In 9 days, Cathy and I will be flying to Vancouver to board our next cruise ship, the Celebrity Solstice, to Hawaii!
The Grand Princess at Skagway
Before leaving Skagway, I walked over to the car storage area for a closer look at the yard expansion work being done.
Railroad car storage yard at Skagway
After many more miles of driving through thick fog, it was great to get back into the rain shadow of the coastal mountains, and then the Fall colours – this was shot at Dail Peak, right at the BC-Yukon border. I have a very busy week coming, but I hope to be able to make one more drive down for the peak of the colours.

I got home at about 4:00, extremely happy to have been able to spend a few hours with people who are passionate about what they do. It’s pretty impressive to see a company in the modern world that can attract not only workers, but fans, with the kind of enthusiasm and loyalty that Whitepassers have. I’m proud to be one of them – my RailsNorth site has now been running for 17 years (and some day soon I need to take an inventory of the material in the White Pass part of my collection) 🙂


A Special Trip on the WP&YR Railway — 6 Comments

  1. Hi Murray,
    Good post. I have to wonder if the WP&YR created the Michael J. Heney for this event? Looks really nice in there!
    I doubt it’ll happen, but that map Boerries was holding up is one I could scan at work to digitize it for preservation sake. I would be honoured to do that work, but can understand if he wants to hang onto it!

    • I don’t know much about the car except that it was used about a dozen times this year. It’s a new build, and isn’t available for charter (yet). Boerries does, as I understand it, have plans to have the map digitized but don’t know the details – I’ll pop him a note, as he’s in the Yukon for 3-4 days yet.

  2. Well deserved recognition to Boerries for all his dedication and hard work.
    Excellent photos, as always, Murray.
    What exactly are Carl and John doing in that photo? Not what it looks like, eh?

  3. I am always fascinated to see how quickly summer turns so quickly (and usually w some finality) into fall…

    Thanks for sharing and enjoy your boat cruise!