Got snow? Throughout most of its history, the White Pass & Yukon Route was a freight hauler that did some passenger business. Back in the day, they operated year-round and used a pair of steam-powered rotary plows to keep the high terrain open during the winter. The present-day White Pass is a different animal. It's a tourist line that caters to cruise ship business, operating from May through September and pretty much going into hibernation for the other 7 months of the year. In the spring, when the railroad awakens from its winter sleep, there's still tons of snow up in the high country, as this LATE APRIL (!!!) photo clearly shows. Most years, the railroad goes to work with large Caterpillar Bulldozers, because that has proven to be the most economical way to remove the 15 FEET or more of "Canadian Concrete." In 2011 however, the railroad elected to bring back a part of its heritage, in order to train some of the younger members of their team in the use of the rotary plow. When you run a tourist railroad with ridership in excess of 250,000 per year, you can afford to maintain and occasionally run a rotary snow plow.
Although 2011 wasn't a particularly snowy year, and those of us who made the journey to Skagway were a bit apprehensive as to whether or not there would be much snow to plow, the railroad assured us in advance that it would not be a problem. As you can see from this photo, they did have just a bit of snow to remove at White Pass Siding. In this particular scene, the crew of Rotary #1 has cleared much of the main line at White Pass Station, and is standing by as a shoveling crew furiously works deep in the snow canyon to dig out the south switch.
In all, the 2011 Rotary Run took 4 days to clear the line from White Pass all the way to Bennett, BC. It took two solid days of work just to clear White Pass Station and get through Canadian Shed, about a mile north of here. Those were two very hard days, making very slow progress and running the 113 year-old plow every bit as hard as it ever ran back in the day. It was also difficult to photograph as the plow train was often deep in a snow canyon, charging forward, stalling out, backing up and charging forward again. Many of the photos just show black smoke and flying snow. Once clear of Canadian Shed, the snow depths slowly fell to more manageable levels....and we could finally see something that looked like a plow train.