Joseph Branch Railriders

September 18, 2015 (Updated July 24, 2016)

Last summer, we showed you where the cars don’t roll in a roadless stretch through the Wallowa and Grand Ronde River canyons. The people of Elgin hold on to that heritage and make you feel right at home when you visit the Elgin Depot and step aboard the Eagle Cap Excursion Train.

Dave Arnold is the engineer at the controls of the “GP-7 Diesel Electric” and he loves to brag, “I get the best seat in the house and I just love the view too.”

Arnold said the train’s engine produces 1500 horsepower and travels on the historic Joseph Branch Line that was built in 1884. “It is never the same trip,” noted the longtime railroad engineer. “I think rolling along on a historic line that’s still intact is exciting.”

The Eagle Cap Excursion Train is a one of a kind rail trip where the Wallowa or Grande Ronde Rivers are always by your side. It’s also a railroad saved from ruin by local folks who believed there was value in holding on to their heritage – so they bought the railroad line in 2003.

Stephen Adams, a member of the Wallowa-Union County Railroad Authority, said that the scenic qualities are only a part of the railroad’s appeal.”This is the only line in the country where a substantial amount of the track is in roadless terrain. That means this railroad is the only means for visitors to really explore this country. And we love visitors.”

It turns out that 63 miles up the same line, another group has given new life to an old, out-of-use rail section.But you won’t find a diesel electric engine here: instead, it’s a helmet for your head, a seat belt to keep you tight and pedals you have to push when you join in the fun of the Joseph Branch Railriders.

Kim Metlen, a former cycling store owner, designed the cars two years ago. Last year, he launched a business that shows off the countryside on a 12-mile stretch from Joseph to Enterprise. “You are gliding down the track; there’s no resistance and it’s awesome. You don’t have to steer, just pedal so everybody’s looking around at the mountains and the wildlife. The riders all get the same silly little grin, and it’s worth coming back for the silly little grin.”

Metlen added that the business has really taken off – 4,000 passengers during the summer – 4 times last year’s traffic. “A third of those visitors told me this has brought them to Wallowa County for the first time and that they will be back. We are making a difference to the local economy.”

Once you reach Enterprise, it’s turnaround time and that’s an easy effort because the all-aluminum frame and axles and poly urethane wheels weigh a mere one hundred pounds. The return trip requires more pedaling effort due to the 1 1/2 percent grade, but the scenery is so pleasing you hardly notice, and the trip speeds by.

The towering Wallowa Mountains provide a stunning feature that’s always by your side. It is the sort of ride that puts a smile on your face and the sort of setting that keeps it there all day.

The Joseph Branch Railriders continue operation through the first weekend in October.

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.