Lewiston man rides rails into retirement
LEWISTON – He’s getting better. Retired railroad man Jim Morefield occasionally pries his eyes off the rail and takes in the scenery from the driver’s seat of his bright yellow 1977 MT-19 speeder car.
“But I still look at the rail a lot more than I gawk around,” Morefield, 60, says, reclining on his sofa in his Lewiston Orchards home. Faded pictures of two of the tunnels cut through the rugged hillside above Culdesac hang above the television, a modest testament to his 41-year career mending track and fixing bridges.
Morefield retired a year ago from the Camas Prairie Railroad, ending a 99-year legacy for the Morefield family. He retired three months shy of his family giving a century to the iron rails and wooden ties that linked the wheat fields of the Camas Prairie with shipping outlets to the rest of the country.
But he hasn’t given up railroading completely.
Much to his surprise, he has taken to the little 5-foot-square car that used to serve the maintenance crew on the Royal City, Wash., line. It was a retirement gift from the Motorcar Operators West group, which Morefield led across Camas Prairie’s lines numerous times over the years. Although Morefield led the group in a modern vehicle as a serviceman of the railroad, the bond was still created.
“I think they kind of considered me one of the group even though I was in the high rail,” he says.
When news got out of his retirement, it coincided with a tourist line run by the preservation society at the Port of Royal Slope being shut down. The motorcar members quickly grabbed the speeder and offered it to Morefield with one caveat – he had to use the vehicle.
“I didn’t have any idea that something like that would interest me,” he says.
More than that, he was humbled, he says, that the members would think of him. The car came ready for use.
“It was perfectly ready to go,” he says. “Now a few thousand dollars later … ” he says, with a gentle grin at the confession that he just couldn’t leave the machine stock.
He designed metal toolboxes, installed a custom brake handle, calibrated a bicycle speedometer to gauge his travels, and repainted the car, adding insignia of the Port or Royal Slope and the Northern Pacific, as well as adding his call sign HR-7 (high rail 7) and CP-7 (Camas Prairie 7) to the front.
“There is a little bit of vanity in that.” Although he carried the number seven throughout his career, Morefield was the fifth in his family to join the Camas Prairie Railroad family. His grandfather, Jim, retired in 1962, just a year shy of the youngest Morefield taking his first job with the company.
He did work with his dad, Ray, and uncles Fred and Earl.
Morefield’s first railroad job was for Joe Lux, of the Nezperce and Idaho Railroad, a spur line from Craigmont to Nezperce. Morefield lived with his dad above the depot in Nezperce. The elder Morefield worked on the Nezperce line for a short time because of cutbacks on the Camas Prairie Railroad in 1958. Morefield stacked ties for Lux. But it was the summer before he graduated from Lewiston High School that Morefield earned a paycheck from the company he would serve his entire career.
Morefield’s first motorcar trip was on his own line as Motorcar Operators West brought its tour to the Camas Prairie lines as part of the annual Northwest tour. Morefield led the caravan of cars.
“I got to run the lead on all my old railroad,” he says modestly. It was a test for his machine and both he and the sturdy car passed.
They ran the line to Jaype, which hasn’t seen rail traffic for three years following the closure of the mill. The weeds are overgrown and the track uncertain.
“You would just have to wait until the car pushes the weeds out of the way to see if the bridge is still there,” he says.