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Wild West is still kickin' in Washington wilderness

King City Travel Club enjoys ride on Chelatchie Prairie Railroad
by: Barbara Sherman GOING BACK IN TIME — During the King City Travel Club’s adventure on the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad on July 23, Therese Lyons hitches a ride on a horse that earlier in the day was used by train robbers.

A full contingent of King City Travel Club members took a trip back to the Old West on July 23 when they boarded the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad for a ride through scenic areas of northern Clark County in southwestern Washington.

Everything was authentic - the tracks have been used since 1888, and the 90-year-old coaches were pulled by a 1941 ALCO S-2 diesel locomotive.

Travel club members boarded a charter bus in King City and drove up I-5 and through Battleground to the tiny Yacolt Station to board the train.

Scenery on the 1 ¾-hour trip included farms and grazing cattle, waterfalls and the Lewis River. Also, the train ride featured dense forests and a 330-foot-long tunnel carved through solid rock.

In addition to the scenery and box lunches enjoyed by everyone, some of the passengers were 'shocked' when a band of horseback-riding robbers armed with guns rode up and demanded that the train stop.

Wearing handkerchiefs across their noses and mouths to disguise their identities, some of the robbers moved through the coaches demanding valuables from the passengers. Luckily, as passengers boarded the train, they had been given strings of beads and/or coins that looked enough like the real thing to fool the robbers.

After the robbers got off the train, a security guard/cowboy on the train armed with a rifle shot and "killed" one of the bandits, leaving him "dead" on the ground.

But miraculously, all of them survived as later in the trip, when the train stopped at Moulton Station so passengers could walk to nearby waterfalls, all the robbers had a change of heart and offered rides on their horses.

"I thought the whole thing was great," said Therese Lyons. "The train robbery was interesting. Getting to the falls was a little bit of a hike for some of us.

"The highlight for me was riding a horse. I think I was the only one in the group to do it. I probably last rode a horse about 10 years ago, and that time I had to get up on a picnic table to get on.

"This time they found a stepladder, and someone helped me throw my leg over the horse, so it was three-person effort to get me on. I'm willing to try anything once. I was the only one to ride an elephant when we went to Wildlife Safari."

Summerfield resident Maxine Leach said she really had been looking forward to the trip because years ago her son had taken her young grandsons on a Chelatchie wintertime train trip, when they got a Christmas tree as part of the experience.

"I always wanted to do it," she said. "It was very interesting - fascinating, actually. What a shock it was to be held up! I thought it was a wonderful trip. I like the King City Travel Club!"

King City resident Verna Wyatt, who was one of the travel club hosts, said, "I thought the shoot-out was great! The falls were OK, but the path down to them was so steep and rocky.

"I thought the scenery was so beautiful when we got back into the forest and saw all that greenery. I was asked if I wanted to ride a horse, and I said, 'No, thank you!' I didn't want to break a leg. Everybody seemed to enjoy the trip."

King City resident Nancy Mann, who took the trip with her daughter Jenness, said, "We hadn't done the trip before, but we always like train trips, especially through beautiful scenery, like the waterfalls.

"A surprise for us was the new restaurant across from the Yacolt Station where most of us ate breakfast. We were all hungry, and the food was good. Since we arrived so early, we had time to eat."

Mann said she also enjoyed the "fake hold-up."

"You just had to suspend all belief and enjoy the experience," she said.

King City residents Isabel and Larry Torrey enjoyed the many opportunities for photography, with Larry adding, "We're old enough that we have ridden trains before, but we did have a lot of fun."

They rode in the front car that was open to the sky to be able to get good photos but had the sun beating down on them for much of the trip.

"I think the next time we might sit under cover," Isabel said. "I enjoyed going through the woods and the old tunnel. When I take photos, I like to just get the scenery and not the telephone poles and other signs of civilization.

"I think we all enjoyed it. It would not have been as nice if it had been raining."

King City resident Lila Harmon, who was the other trip co-host, said, "I certainly enjoyed the trip. The scenery on the bus trip was good. The train robbery was fun - it was cute. The walk to the falls was very pleasant, and the weather was wonderful.

"I think everyone thought it was a good trip. We were looking for something different, and we hadn't done anything like that before. I enjoyed it."

Jim Kirk, who took the trip with his wife Bev and even wore a train-pattern shirt given to him by his daughter, was in his element.

"I love trains - I am an addict," he said. "I am a train buff. I am on the travel club board, and I am going to push for at least one train trip a year.

"I enjoyed everything about the trip - it was beautiful. The scenery was wonderful. As long as you put me in a train, I'm happy."

For more information on the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, visit www.bycx.com or call 1-360-686-3559.