Alcos lead the southbound train at Glacier 8/3/02 White Pass & Yukon Route
Skagway, Alaska

Text and photos by Wayne Parsons

Someone said to me "I never knew anything about this!" The speaker was a long time rail buff and he was referring to the motorcar hobby.  It's hard to miss us lately with the increasing number of events and an article last year in Trains magazine.  But his surprise can be excused particularly since he came upon 20 narrow gauge cars at the depot in Skagway, Alaska.  Only one of the speeders here was an original narrow gauge car.  All the rest were "narrowed" or custom built to 3 foot gauge.

Parsons on his Rio Grande car.

Past Shops the grade starts to climb at mp 4.

In this web page you will find photos of the

Motorcar Operators West

Trip to Bennett

on August 3, 2002

This day on the rails started with the 8:30AM safety meeting followed by 9:00AM departure from the Skagway depot.  There's lots of traffic today with three cruise ships in port.  Two trains have already left for White Pass and one for Bennett.  We're going to meet all three.  We'll "go in the hole" on sidings and let the southbound traffic by as we work our way north to Bennett station at mile post 40.6. 

We arrive at Glacier, mile post 14.1 at 10:10AM and take the siding to wait for the two trains that went ahead of us to White Pass.  This 1,332 foot siding allows work and passenger trains to pass.  Today it's a perfect place for us to wait.
Wayne and his mother Anne Parsons at Glacier.  Only this box car (used as a maintenance of way shed) remains from the station that was once home to a gang of track men.  Telephone communications dispatched the men to their duties at all hours. 

Southbound train leaving Glacier.

Waiting at Glacier we spend the time socializing, admiring the scenery, reading, and just generally enjoying being here!  Above the passenger train makes its' way down hill on dynamic braking.  No one is in a hurry to leave this magnificent place!


Some people don't know that 99 percent of rails have the size (measured in pounds per yard), foundry, and year of manufacture embossed in the steel.  Here at Glacier the main line is 115 Sydney 1997 and the siding is 85 Algoma Canada 1970.


The second train is lead by General Electric locomotive #91. Along with #90, these are the original two diesel engines on the White Pass.  They  have been in service since June 1954.  Their six cylinder engines were built by Alco Products LTD and are rated at 800 horsepower.

The three custom cars above were built by Mike Crainer from Cincinnati.  That's Mike operating the third car.  The motors are Onan "P" series 20 HP.  They use a Fairmont transmission and are chain driven.  The roof is a metal frame with removable canvas for that "open air" effect.


Terry Borden aligns the switch for the main.

As we leave Glacier, Terry Borden lines the switch for the main.  Note the bridge number 15C in the photo at right.  This means it's the third bridge (the first two were A and B) in the 15th mile.

Motorcar on trestle just above Glacier.

Our modern day approach to the original tunnel is a beautiful  sweeping curve framed by  rock faces and summer greenery.  Time has hidden the struggle in the cold winter of  1898-99 to punch a 245 foot hole in this mountain with only hand drills and black powder. 

 Break through happened Jan 29, 1899.

Mile post 16

Old Gulch bridge 18A

Getting across the White Pass Fork of the Skagway river posed quite an engineering problem for Michael Heney.

New 18A bridge opened in 1969

The first solution, before there was any bridge, was a switchback going up the creek in the view above.  This was used until the original Gulch bridge number 18 A at left could be built in 1901.  This trademark bridge, seen on the company's logo, was abandoned in 1969 when heavier trains started hauling lead-zinc.  The new 18A bridge leads to a 675 ft tunnel. 

On the siding at Log Cabin waiting for the Bennett train.

South bound train at mp 33 Log Cabin

The Chilkoot and White Pass trails converged at Log Cabin where the North-West Mounted Police had a detachment.  Log Cabin is situated on a plateau 28 feet higher than the White Pass itself.  Here in August 1898 men could choose to go north to the original gold strikes near Dawson or east to closer new fields near Atlin.

The church was shared by all religions.

Wayne and Anne Parsons

The church at Bennett has been stabilized with heavy wooden beams inside.  Above is the view north across Lake Bennett in the direction of Carcross, Whitehorse, and Dawson.  What did the men waiting for the winter ice to break up think of this view? 


Bennett has been the site of much rail building activity.  Operations here were busy even after the gold rush ended.  Just south of the station was a large yard used to make up the ore trains in the 70's.  The yard has been removed now.  So, at Bennett there is a variety of rail.  1898 Illinois Steel 1898 72LB.  Cambria 72LB 1912 Ohio.  LI&S Co SW 5 Scranton 1900.  LI&S Co SW 7 Scranton 1900.  This LI&S Co rail marking appears to be saying which furnace SW 5 or SW 7 the rail came from. 


When doing these reports on motorcar trips I try to select photos that show the sights and include other people.  As it turns out this was my 78 year old mother Anne Parsons' third motorcar ride with me.  She's in great health and I'm lucky to have this time with her.  So, Mom this page is dedicated to you.  Thanks for coming with me to one of my favorite places in the world, the White Pass & Yukon Route.

Bennett station at mile post 40.6 and 2156 feet above sea level.

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