It's a good day for plowin', eh?. Looking a bit like a giant whale surfacing, the White Pass Rotary Fleet climbs out of a deep cut, about 3 miles north of the US/Canada Border, en route to Fraser, BC. Rotary Engineer Dave Hunz can be seen gazing up at his stack to see if his fireman has the mixture properly set. From his seat, he can't see either the fireman or the fire.
As many viewers know, the White Pass & Yukon Route closes down every fall when the last of the cruise ships leaves Skagway. The railroad does not run again until May, when the cruising season begins anew. A week or two before the railroad officially opens, they need to clear the tracks of a whole season's worth of accumulated snow and ice. This is normally done with bulldozers, but in 2011, the railroad elected to fire up old Rotary #1, an 1898 Alco-Cooke product that is as old as the railroad itself. Pushed by Steam Locomotives #73 and #69, and with old Sumpter Valley Combine #211 as the "caboose", this train cleared the line from White Pass Station to Bennett, BC in 3.5 days....with a little help from a couple of bulldozers. The operation was very expensive. Several work trains were needed to supply fuel and water for the three steam engines, and Caterpillars were still needed to trim the tops off the 15-20 ft drifts at Canadian Shed, and to soften up some of the "Canadian Concrete". Why would the White Pass undertake an operation like this, when using the "Cats" alone is much more economical? The short answer is because they could. They consider the rotary to be a part of their heritage, and they intend to maintain the ability to use it once in a while. In the case of the 2011 operation, the primary focus was crew training. Many of the experienced rotary engineers and pilots were either retired, or would shortly be retiring, and this was an opportunity to pass the knowledge and skills on to some of the younger troops. During the 4 days of operation, the WPY folks ran Old Number 1 just about as hard as they ever ran it back in the day, and they didn't break a single thing!