The Okanagan Express


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The Okanagan Express at Spences Bridge, British Columbia - 1983 Philip Mason.

 Internal link   Introduction

 External link The Okanagan Express was a special excursion train that appears to have operated, if the news article included with this story is correct, beginning in 1982. There are photos of runs in 1983, 1984, and 1985 but there is also one photo dated 1986 showing the train at Vancouver's Canadian National station. The train operated between there and British Columbia's Okanagan district in the interior of the province.
There was a fleet comprised of 13 cars belonging to the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) or their members but not all the equipment was used together on a trip. For example, only 6 cars were on the 1983 train. The cars were painted green with yellow trim and black roofs but contained no lettering above the windows to indicate any railway. During the 1983 trip, except for the BNSF trackage out of Vancouver's CN station, the entire journey to Penticton and return followed Canadian Pacific Railway lines. Power was supplied by two freshly painted red GP9 units with the CP Rail multi-mark.

The majority of the photos with this article show the 1983 trip but five photos were taken in 1984, all along CPR lines. The photos were taken by Philip Mason, a retired Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive engineer with 33 years of service. Like many engineers before him he recorded historically significant railway operations through the medium of photography over several years.
In 1985 the trip followed Canadian National lines to Kelowna and back. The consist was comprised of 8 cars, sometimes pulled by two Geeps, a single SD40, or a SD40-2 wide-cab unit with a Geep trailing. There are 5 photos included from 1985.

 Internal link   The Photo Trips   By Philip Mason
 Link to image The British Columbia Chapter of the NRHS ran a series of excursions from Vancouver to the Okanagan in the 1980's. Two excursions operated over the former
Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) route from Spences Bridge on the mainline Thompson Subdivision to Penticton.
Over the Victoria Day weekend in 1983, the train made a three day trip behind two freshly painted Canadian Pacific GP9's.
The NRHS cars are of mixed heritage. The tail-end car is an ex-Southern Pacific (SP) lounge observation car. I think the round roof coaches may be former SP "Harriman" commuter cars.
Railroad east (south on a map), the Princeton Subdivision followed the Nicola River for many miles.
Beyond Merritt, in the days prior to building the Coquihalla highway in 1986, the Kettle Valley went through some very remote country, including the town site of Brookmere, a Division point until the closure of the Coquihalla Subdivision in the 1960's.
The train made fairly good time, and I caught up with it in the Tulameen Canyon west of Princeton.
Once the "Okanagan Express" arrived at Penticton, the passengers were treated to a day long bus tour of Okanagan wineries.
During that time, the train made two trips, a daytime turn from Penticton to Princeton over Osprey Lake summit, and because that excursion sold out, and evening Osprey Lake turn.
For some of the passengers who were riding the train from Vancouver, this was an opportunity to take trackside images. I recall there was a van full of passengers pacing the train.
In the 1980's, there wasn't really a road parallelling the KVR, and to reach Princeton involved taking Highway 3 which followed the abandoned route of the Great Northern Railway (GNR).
At one point we managed to get a shot of the "Princeton Turn" on Trout Creek bridge near West Summerland, just north of Penticton, and then set off the long-way-round to Princeton.
East of Princeton, the KVR made two great loops in pasture land to gain elevation from Belfort to Jura. A visual feast, but hard to photograph because the loops were so large, and KVR trains were typically small.

At the top, there is a pond called "Separation Lake". In the spring, it was one large oblong lake. As summer came along, and the water level dropped, it becomes two round ponds.

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Some of the NRHS cars have popped-up in various places.

Once we photographed the Princeton turn at Separation Lake, it was back along Highway 3 through Princeton and Keremeos to Penticton in time to get the Princeton turn passing through Westbench, a Penticton suburb. This location is now completely built up with very little evidence the railway ever ran through there.
In some of the last light of the day we caught the evening Osprey Lake turn passing the station at West Summerland.
Although there are now cordial relations between the current Kettle Valley Steam Railway, and the town council of West Summerland, this wasn't always the case. The station was already a museum when these pictures were taken, but the council insisted that it be demolished as it restricted access to some very valuable homes. Once the steam railway was up and running, there was a storm of NIMBY's (Not In My Back Yard) concerned about a steam train operating near their million dollar homes.
Somehow, that hatchet has been buried, and West Summerland appreciates their steam train now. It may have been a "character conflict" between early Kettle Valley Steam Railway management and the local council.
Finally, on the last day of the Victoria Day weekend, the Okanagan Express headed back to Vancouver. Images show the train on the Belfort loops above Princeton. On the last image, the late Dave Wilkie showed me how to get an image showing both levels of the loop.
Kingsvale is in the Coldwater Valley south of Merritt. Now, it's right beside the Coquihalla freeway, but then it was on a remote dirt road. The cavalcade of pacers arrived just as the train showed up, hence the dust. Kingsvale still had a section dwelling at that time.
Finally, several views are shown along the Nicola Canyon. The last image that day was of the Okanagan Express crossing the Fraser River at Cisco on the Thompson Subdivision.
Two Penticton excursions were operated in consecutive years, and two excursion were operated to Kelowna from Vancouver using the CN.
They seemed popular, all of the excursions included extra trips during the layover of the equipment in the Okanagan. Curiously, after this brief flurry of activity, the NRHS equipment has been in storage for the last 20+ years. I've heard different reports as to its condition in storage. The observation is a car of some historical significance in the US.
The Okanagan Express gave many an opportunity to see the former Kettle Valley Division of the CPR before it was abandoned in 1989.

 Internal link   CP Rail Timetable  (1981 Pacific Region Employee Time Table 92)




 Internal link   Passenger Car Consist

 Link to external website The Okanagan Express fleet was numbered as follows:
301 - Combine
302 - Combine
601 - Observation Mount Cascade (Built by Pullman in 1930 as an observation, rebuilt into Southern Pacific Rules Instruction car 112, then again into SP Observation-Lounge 2914.)
681 - First Class Coach
741 - Buffet Observation
801 - First Class Coach
802 - First Class Coach
803 - Tourist Coach
804 - First Class Coach
805 - First Class Coach
901 - Tourist Coach
902 - Tourist Coach
981 - Coach
Craigflower - Parlour Car
First Kettle Valley Railway passenger train arriving Penticton - 1915 Penticton Museum Archives.

 Internal link   News Article
11 Aug 1984 - Okanagan Express to Roll Once Again in B.C.

 Internal link   Bibliography

Brown, Kevin M.
Quintette Tunnels on the Coquihalla Subdivision of the Abandoned Kettle Valley Railway, The
Government of British Columbia Parliament Buildings Victoria BC V8V 1X4
Cerlox bound
8.5 x 11 inches 21.5 x 28 centimetres
206 pages 46 photos 3 drawings 10 maps
Description of condition as of 1981 with some history and construction photos. Proposal to either preserve tunnels as heritage site with interpretive center or relay track and run steam train excursions. Direct access from Coquihalla Highway would be denied by Ministry of Highways.

Garden, J.F.
Crow and the Kettle, The
Footprint Publishing Co. Ltd. PO Box 143 Cowley Alberta T0K 0P0
Hard cover
11.25 x 10.25 inches 28.5 x 26 centimetres
313 pages 380 photos 0 drawings 6 maps
Oversize book. Excellent photos of mostly diesel operations on the Kettle Valley lines.

Government of Canada
Act to Authorize a Subsidy for a Railway Through the Crow's Nest Pass, An
Government of Canada Parliament Buildings Ottawa ON
6.75 x 9.75 inches 17 x 25 centimetres
7 pages 0 photos 0 drawings 0 maps
Historic agreement that fixed grain rates in exchange for Crowsnest Pass railway construction.

Hill, Beth
Exploring the Kettle Valley Railway:  By Car, Foot, Skis, Horseback or Mountain Bike
Polestar Press Ltd. RR 1 Winlaw BC V0G 2J0
Perfect bound
5.5 x 8.5 inches 14 x 21.5 centimetres
108 pages 10 photos 16 drawings 6 maps
Describes Kettle Valley Railway route in its abandoned condition in 1989.

Matheson, George
Vader's Caboose, The
Kettle Valley Publishing Inc. RR 2 Site 2 Comp 19 Lumby BC V0E 2G0
Perfect bound
6 x 9 inches 15 x 23 centimetres
223 pages 7 photos 24 drawings 1 map
Sometimes gritty short stories about life and the Kettle Valley Railway.

Riegger, Hal
Kettle Valley and its Railways, The
Pacific Fast Mail Publications PO Box 57 Edmonds WA USA 98020
Hard cover
8.75 x 11.25 inches 22 x 28.5 centimetres
289 pages 451 photos 4 drawings 20 maps
Oversize book. Excellent coverage of Southern BC operations.
* See corrections to this book by the late David Wilkie.

Sanford, Barrie
McCulloch's Wonder
Whitecap Books Ltd. 351 Lynn Ave. North Vancouver BC V7J 2C4
Hard cover
6.25 x 9.25 inches 16 x 23.5 centimetres
260 pages 33 photos 0 drawings 10 maps
Construction of the Kettle Valley route. $20.00 last known price.

Sanford, Barrie
Okanagan Express
Mission Hill Vineyards Inc. Okanagan BC
Soft cover
8.5 x 11 inches 21.5 x 28 centimetres
30 pages 46 photos 1 drawing 1 map
National Railway Historical Society souvenir tour book.

Smuin, Joe
Canadian Pacific's Kettle Valley Railway
Canadian Railroad Historical Association 120 Rue St. Pierre St. Constant PQ J5A 2G9
11 x 8.5 inches 28 x 21.5 centimetres
36 pages 34 photos 0 drawings 1 map
Photos and captions.

Smuin, Joe
Kettle Valley Railway Mileboards - A Historical Field Guide to the KVR
North Kildonan Publications Box 99 Stn F 355 Henderson Highway Winnipeg MB R2L 2A5
Plastic spiral bound
8.5 x 11 inches 21.5 x 28 centimetres
212 pages 103 photos 1 drawing 93 maps
Plus 6 graphs and 3 timetables. All photos are black and white. This book details the physical layout of the KVR with a certain amount of pertinent historical detail added. The book is reminiscent of Roger Burrows two "Railway Mileposts British Columbia" books.

Turner, Robert D.
Steam on the Kettle Valley
Sono Nis Press 1745 Blanshard St. Victoria BC V8W 2J8
Perfect bound
9 x 7.75 inches 22.5 x 19.5 centimetres
120 pages 75 photos 3 drawings 2 maps
Contains previously unpublished photos.

White, John
Driving the Kettle Valley Railway Field Maps and Notes
Publisher unknown
Spiral bound
8.5 x 11 inches 21.5 x 28 centimetres
282 pages 60 photos 0 drawings 155 maps
Mainly topographical maps of Kettle Valley route plus crudely drawn maps by author.

Williams, H.K.
Kettle Valley Railway, the Coquihalla Pass, and Tragedy in the Canyon, The
Carleton Press Inc. New York NY USA
Hard cover
5.5 x 8.25 inches 14 x 20.5 centimetres
32 pages 7 photos 0 drawings 0 maps
A wreck which occurred 5 September 1926 in the Coquihalla Canyon.

Williams, Maurice
Myra's Men
Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society Sandhill Book Marketing Ltd. Unit 4 3308 Appaloosa Road Millcreek Industrial Park Kelowna BC V1V 2G9
Soft cover
6 x 9 inches 15.25 x 22.75 centimetres
168 pages 60 photos 0 drawings 5 maps
An overall description of the Kettle Valley Railway with emphasis on Myra Canyon plus a description of the labourers and construction camp life.

 Internal link   Associated Web Sites

Canadian Pacific
Canadian National
National Railway Historical Society
Kettle Valley Railway


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