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Steam & Excursion > March 24, 2002

Date: 03/24/20 18:57
March 24, 2002
Author: burlingtonjohn

18 years ago today on 24 Mar 2002, 4449 headed made the return trip from Bend back to Portland.  I spent the night in a room with several of the crew, we had several roll-aways and I think I ended up on the sofa. After a fine meal at a local restaurant, lots of storytelling and general BSing, we all hit the rack at a decent hour as we knew it was going to be a long day the next day ….
We arrived back at the Bend depot at an early hour; I want to say it was around 0600. There was frost on the ground and it was COLD that morning. I reported to the “Better Idea” where we made sure the shelves were restocked and ready to go for our passengers. 
Departure from Bend was right on the advertised (as I recall) ….  We made our way to our photo stop for the day, a trestle over Willow Creek ( part of me wants to say Madres, but I honestly don't remember). Again, I received permission to go foam and have fun.  There were to be two runbys. First one used 4449’s steam whistle, second one used the air horn. That was something I had never heard before and wished I had a video recorder capture the moment, but at least the Pentrex DVD caught both runs.  I picked out “my” spot and got ready. Man, I had the shot of a lifetime. Perfect angle, sun was good, sky was good, camera was primed.  Bring on 4449!
At that moment, somebody tapped me on the shoulder from behind and asked if I could move about a foot so they could shoot over the top of me.  I was not happy. I rose up, preparing to rip somebody’s head off when I recognized Jack Wheelihan, 4449’s regular fireman standing behind me with a big grin on his face. His reputation preceded him and I was only too happy to move for someone of his stature!
After two epic runbys, we re-boarded the train.  I remember standing in the doorway of the “Better Idea” calling my bestest bud John back home in Missouri. I said something along the lines of “eat your heart out” and stuck the phone out of the door so he could hear the symphony that was 4449.  His reply probably isn’t fit for repeating here, but suffice to say, it was colorful!
We crossed the Columbia River and made another short service stop in Wishram before making the last leg home to Portland.  On our trip the day before, there weren’t huge crowds trackside as I suspect most of the locals had grown used to 4449 running through their area on a regular basis. But on this Sunday, things were different. The news of the American Freedom Train scheme brought people out in droves. American flags were everywhere.  I think we were coming out of a siding after letting an eastbound pass us when I spotted a young man standing there waving an American flag with a salute. I came to attention and returned his salute as best I could. I think I had a few problems with water leakage around my eyes as we sped out of site. I’ll never forget that young man.
I had made arrangements to leave the train at Vancouver to make it easier for my brother-in-law to pick me up at the depot. But not before I had quite literally bought at least one over everything in the souvenir stand. T-shirts, sweat shirts, pictures, memorabilia, etc. I had quite a haul!  We got back to the in-laws and the Boss asked if I bought any souvenirs. Uhhhh, yup. Next question was how much did it cost. Uhhhh, I can’t find the receipt!  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I owe it all to the great 4449 team, they are real professionals and it certainly showed this weekend.  I’ve encountered 4449 several times since, but this was the only time I saw her in American Freedom Train colors since the bicentennial.  The Oregon Rail Heritage Center is an amazing place to visit not just 4449, but Portland’s other locomotives.  I remember talking to Doyle on one visit and he said ‘hear that’?  Uhhh, it was pouring down rain and making a ruckus on the roof.  He then said look at the floor. It was bone dry.  He grinned and said ‘this isn’t Brooklyn!’
I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to attend the reunions of the crew of the American Freedom Train where I’ve been able to meet some of the great people who pulled off what I consider to be the largest railroading accomplishment in my lifetime.  Talk about an “E” ticket ride!

Burlington John

Date: 03/24/20 20:59
Re: March 24, 2002
Author: train671

I was able to be a part of that great trip.  Those two runbys were just amazing.  I was
living down in California and an older friend of mine liked the 4449 and was interested
in joining up for the trip up to Portland.  We got seats in one of the dome cars and as I
recall it was the first dome of the consist and we were in the first seat.  Talk about being
lucky.  It was so impressive seeing all those folks along the way waving flags and in
some instances some folks made a big deal of it setting up chairs and coolers and just
waiting for us to pass by as they enthusiastically waved their flags.

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