illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

Summer of Steam and Smoke

10. building up steam“Decide what the theme of your story is.”  This excellent writing advice sometimes applies to life, too. Summer began with an impromptu trip to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, to talk about my locomotive engineer great-grandfather and the role of the railroad in the US Civil War.

steam launch ImagineA couple of months later, after we re-thought our
plans for going to British Columbia by boat, we encountered the Northwest Steam Society Annual Steam Meet at Cathlamet, WA. Dozens of steam-powered boats filled three docks at the marina. One of our favorites was the beautifully restored steam-launch Imagine: more good advice for a writer. And, if you play around with the letters, “imagine” includes the word “enigma,” with an extra “i” left over.

Snoqualmie Steam Railway-almost time to board_20150815

Traveling by car, less thantwo weeks later, our second stop was Snoqualmie Railroad Days, where we rode in the last car.

whistle blower 8-15

As the train backed its way down the tracks for the first half of our excursion, we  watched the engineer’s assistant blow the whistle at each crossing . He sat on the platform where I could imagine a politician, in ‘the olden days,’  greeting crowds and making speeches on a ‘whistle stop tour.’ There was a haze in the air, even then, from forest fires in Washington’s Okanagan Valley, near Lake Chelan.

Port Alberni steam donkey_20150823

Fast forward, past the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria and a couple of days in Uclulet–where we’d expected to clear customs when we arrived by sea–to a stop at the steam sawmill in Port Alberni. First, we watched the ‘steam donkey’ haul logs. In actual practice, ‘steam donkeys’ brought logs from several kilometers away to a clearing where they could be loaded on wagons or trucks.

Head Sawyer

Inside the mill, we watched the ‘head sawyer’ cut logs into boards. He was the highest paid man at the mill because it was he who determined the yield of every log. This visit, too, reverberated with family history. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a French Canadian who started the first steam sawmill in Chateaugay, NY. He spent many years as ‘saw filer’ at the big mill in Plattsburg, NY. That, too, must have been an important job.

peak to peak 8-25

No steam, really, at Whistler. The ski resort there only dates back to 1965–within our adult lifetime. But the 4.4 kilometer ‘peak-to-peak’ cable car ride was quite a thrill’

From there, on to Okanagan Lake and wine tasting. We were lucky: the air was clear the afternoon we arrived. Yesterday and again today we can hardly see the other side of the Lake.

hazy Lake Okanagan_20150829

Lake Okanagan steamboat_20150828

We stopped to look at steam tugs and a steam boat on our  way to wine-tasting. The steam boat is a museum–which wasn’t open. It was put in service to bring passengers and cargo from the Canada Pacific station at the north end of the lake down to Penticton before there was rail service across southern British Columbia. No working engines, though; no rides.

We’ve taken long walks everywhere we’ve stayed. And I’ve had several days on this trip to get back to my writing, more on that, maybe, next time.


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