The shortest train excursion ever.

Brad and I are in Salt Lake City, Utah for their annual convention of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS).

Amongst the various activities offered was a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad, about an hours drive from Salt Lake City. The NRHS had chartered a train to leave the Heber Valley train station around 10:00 for the roughly three hour round trip. The train offered a choice of accommodations in historic and carefully restored train cars. There were regular chair cars, then also what is referred to as “table cars”, a dining car and finally a former Denver and Rio Grande Western heavyweight business car. This car had an observation platform at one end, a conference room, small kitchen, sleeping rooms and originally was intended to carry about 10 or so of the Denver and Rio Grande Western’s muckety mucks. The NRHS had offered about 20 tickets for this car. Brad and I decided to splurge on this, even though they were not particularly inexpensive.

We boarded our car about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. As luck would have it we were able to get ourselves two seats in the observation “lounge”. This car was the first in the consist, so we also had a view of the locomotive.

The “conference room” in the car. Photo by Ralf Meier

The observation lounge. The door to the viewing platform is open and the locomotive can be seen. Photo by Ralf Meier

Waiting for the departure in the business car observation lounge. Photo by Ralf Meier

Ten o’clock came around and with a short horn blow from the locomotive and lots of anticipation we set off.

It was not to be.

Within seconds of our departure the locomotive started to lurch and our car began to wobble a bit and jolt. Almost immediately the brake air was dumped, the locomotive gave a long horn blast and we came to a sudden stop.

The ensuing silence was deafening, until somebody said quite matter of factly: “I think we derailed!” And sure enough we had. One would think that this would be great cause for anxiety. But we are dealing here with some really hard core rail fans. The mood was more one of guarded excitement than worry.

Most of the train had not even cleared the boarding platform. It appears that upon leaving the station the locomotive and the first car (ours) had encountered a turnout were the point blades had not been properly aligned, causing the wheels of the locomotive and the first car to leave the track. The locomotive and the business class car were, in railroad parlance, “on the ground”. To add to the bad luck, the locomotive also blocked a railroad crossing.

Railroad personnel quickly uncoupled our car from the engine. A few minutes later a truck appeared with “rerailers”. An attempt was made to get the locomotive back on the track using those, but it made it only worse. The locomotive was clear of the railroad crossing, but was also now totally on the ground with the plow scraping the pavement and the locomotive listing to the right.

This is not looking good! Photo by Ralf Meier

Our car on the ground. It destroyed quite a few feet of cross ties. Photo by Ralf Meier

More views of the stricken car’s trucks on the ground. Two photos above by Rob See (

Us folks in the business car had a ring side view of all the excitement. Cameras and smart phones and even some vintage camcorders were recording every minutiae. Somebody must have called 911: a county sheriff and the local town police showed up.

Law enforcement, bystanders and a somewhat befuddled looking railroad employee. Photo by Ralf Meier

Fortunately only railroad equipment was damaged. No injuries to any passengers.

A note from the author:

Brad and I are still in Utah and will be going to Yellowstone National Park tomorrow. As usual I have my iPad with me on my travels. (I do need to get a proper laptop!) Until this blog entry I had never attempted to write a blog using an iPad. I found that my blog platform (WordPress) has an app for iOS, which I downloaded today. There is a bit of a learning curve. Mobile platforms do have some limitations. I have yet to figure out how to link URLs and how to get video on my blog. Also, all photos by me are from my iPhone. Not sure yet how to get the photographs and video from my Sony A6500 to my iPad. So stay tuned. The continuation of the “Heber Valley Railway Derailment” will, hopefully, appear very shortly.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Evans says:

    At least this time I wasn’t the jinx. On WordPress and the app, it works quite well but can’t really handle some of the more advanced block features, such as galleries. However, I now often edit in Safari on the iPad and it is quite effective. I still find sourcing and inserting images a pain compared with the easy drag and drop on the Mac, but it’s getting there. I’d also recommend Ulysses as a very effective plain-text editor. You can drag images into Ulysses (although only individual pictures, not galleries) and then upload the whole lot in one easy “publish” operation. I tend to use this even when working on the Mac — all my posts are created in plain text rather than directly in WordPress.

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