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Vintage steam train continues journey through Spokane

Rail fans converged on downtown Spokane on Monday with the arrival of a historic steam locomotive on its westward journey to its home in Portland.

The locomotive is pulling a train of 16 vintage cars with names like the California Zephyr Silver Solarium.

“When it comes to trains, I’m a basket case,” said Ronald Dirksen, of Bellingham, who came to Spokane to film the locomotive’s arrival at the downtown Amtrak station about 4 p.m.

The historic Southern Pacific Daylight No. 4449 was scheduled to spend the night in the BNSF Railway yard at Havana Street south of Trent Avenue before returning to the Amtrak depot at 7 a.m. today for an 8 a.m. departure. The downtown depot is at First Avenue and Bernard Street.

The train arrived from Whitefish, Mont., on the last leg of an excursion to the Midwest and back that began last summer.

“Big canyons, hills, rushing rivers and lakes – it was a great day,” said Rod Fishburn, of Los Angeles, owner of one of the Pullman sleeper cars in the train.

Justin Tracy, a fireman on board, said the engine “ran great. Perfect. No problems.”

Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF, said the excursion has been “generating a tremendous amount of excitement.”

The train is expected to pass through Ritzville and other small cities and arrive in Pasco at 11:45 a.m. today before continuing to Portland.

The excursion is returning from July’s Train Festival 2009 in Owosso, Mich., and is carrying about 300 passengers. The return was planned for October to take advantage of fall leaf color.

Steve Kern, of Spokane, stood on the platform Monday videotaping the crew as it began four hours of maintenance to get the locomotive ready for today’s leg.

He said his father worked on the engine when it ran passenger service up and down the West Coast in the late 1940s.

Promoter Jason Johnson said the train has a Global Positioning System linked to the Web site at to allow fans to track it in real time and see it at various crossings and vistas.

BNSF’s Melonas said, “We encourage the public to take a look, but please keep a safe distance.”

Constructed in 1941 in Lima, Ohio, by the Lima Locomotive Works, the GS-4 locomotive served on the Southern Pacific during its working years and then pulled the American Freedom Train for the national bicentennial in 1975 and 1976. It came through Spokane in 2000 as part of a BNSF excursion for employees.

A small number of walk-on tickets should be available at the train at 7 a.m. today, Johnson said. For more information, visit