Welcome to PNWR's Washington Travelog - The Hatton Coulees!

The Hatton Coulees

      While I have always enjoyed going to Providence Summit on BNSF's Lakeside Subdivision between Pasco and Spokane, WA, it has always been the area west of Hatton that has fascinated me. Eastern Washington is for the most part flat. A layer of topsoil covers the volcanic basalt flows over much of this part of the state. Long after numerous great floods scoured deep channels across the basalt resulting in the Coulees, a French word meaning "to flow" and is basically a deep steep sided ravines, the Northern Pacific built their line west from Spokane to Pasco thru these coulees, a twisting mostly 1.0% climb for eastbound trains.

      With most remnants of the Northern Pacific gone, it is nice to know that the old concrete bridges built by the NP still remain carrying trains over the many washes west of Hatton just as they did in the days of the Northern Pacific. There are 4 to 5 of these bridges in each mile for the first four miles west of Hatton. The angles to photograph them are endless.

      So on Tuesday Jan. 24, 2006 I set off for Hatton from Seattle for a day of scouting out some of these old bridges in new locations I had not photographed before. It was a very foggy drive over Snoqualmie Pass all the way to Ellensburg and I did not break out into the sunshine until topping Ryegrass Summit. After Othello I heard the dispatcher talking to the BNSF 5516 West giving them some bad news. Pasco could not take them until 1600. They were going to be held at Cunningham for awhile. I arrived at Cunningham at 10:30am, just as the 5516 did. It was a Potash Train out of Canada and as it stopped at the end of the double track I headed west towards Hatton to start scout out the area.

      Hatton is Milepost 101 on the railroad. Finding a road down to MP 103 I located some nice bridges that would look great with a westbound crossing them. But none were coming at the moment. Soon I heard the first of four eastbounds approaching. The first was an intermodal with 3 SD40-2's. Light was too poor for photos. After that was the Z-PTLCHC but again no photos. The third train had EMD SD60 9080 leading the BNSF 907 on a stack train and this sparked my interest. Poor light and all this was worthy of a photograph as the train approached my location at MP 103 at 12:31pm.

      Hoping the light would be better at Providence I quickly drove up to the Summit Cut but found the nose was heavily shadowed here as well. Following the stack train was an all autorack train with 2 NS C40-9W's up front. But I was hearing rumbling of the BNSF 5516 getting the OK to leave. The Potash train was at least headed the right direction for better photographs. I quickly drove back to Hatton and in a few moments caught the BNSF 5516/CP 9615/CP 8624 headed west for Pasco at 1:43pm. Running in DPU mode on the rear was BNSF 720/1014.

      Nice but still no concrete bridge shots. Coming up behind the BNSF 5516 and about to stop at Cunningham was the BNSF 4343 West. The Z train was following and about to run around. Another photo I had in mind for today was a field just east of Cunningham. I decided to wait for the Z-CHCPTL there. It raced west at 2:19pm with the BNSF 1110/788/4495. I was quite pleased with the location.

      I knew the BNSF 4343 would be next and I was determined to get at least one shot today with a concrete bridge in it! Back to MP 103 I caught the BNSF 4343/4381/4690 crossing Bridge 103.6 at 2:43pm.

      Satisfied I headed to Cunningham and waited a bit to see if anything else was coming. The scanner stayed quiet so I was pretty sure nothing else would be along for awhile and started west for home. Moments out onto the highway I heard the detector at Beatrice go off. OK, time enough for one more shot. I got back to Cunningham just in time to photograph the BNSF 4076/NS 6696/CSX 7374 headed west at 3:50pm.

      It was nearing sunset so I knew it was time to head for home. While I did not photograph many of the concrete bridges I at least found many good locations to photograph them. If nothing else it was a great day for scouting out new locations for a warm Spring Saturday. And after 20+ days of rain in Seattle the sunshine of today was quite welcomed!