Recently Seward played host to a group of distinguished visitors who arrived by railroad, yet not by train. The Motorcar Operators West (MOW) chapter of the North American Railcar Operators Association (NARCOA) made Seward the last stop of its 2021 tour of Alaska, a nearly 1,000-mile trip that began in Anchorage with stops in Talkeetna, Healy, Fairbanks, Girdwood and finally Seward, before returning back to Anchorage. Over ten gasoline-powered railcars dating from 1944 into the 1980s were brought to Anchorage and piloted by their owners up and down state railways, with an escort from Alaska Railroad hi-rail vehicles.
“The Alaska Railroad has treated us unbelievably well, and we appreciate everything they have done for us, and they have gone out of their way to make a good trip for us,” said MOW President and Excursion Coordinator Dave Balestreri, who also praised Alaska Travel Connections Director Isabelle Bornemann for her help navigating all the necessary arrangements to make the excursion possible amid complications introduced by ongoing coronaviris concerns.
“Last time I did this, it was relatively easy,” Balestreri said. “This time I was knocking my head against the wall, trying to make things work, trying to get restaurants lined up for our dinner meals, and it was very difficult. I’m not trying to blame anybody; it’s just the condition of the world at this time.”
The MOW club has previously come to Seward in 2018, 2011 and 2005. In past years, club members would drive their railcars to Anchorage from the Lower 48, but Canada’s pandemic lockdown has forced the club to have their cars shipped to Anchorage for this year’s excursion.
On the way to Seward, Craig Kent, who owns the oldest car on the Alaskan excursion, experienced a breakdown and required a tow from the car leading his in the lineup. Once in Seward, he was sourcing parts locally and making the necessary repairs in time for a Sunday morning departure. Kent said that because the cars are so old and scarcely anyone has any knowledge of their inner workings, everyone in the hobby must also play the role of mechanic.
“The hobbyists, we have to really get into this because there’s nobody but us to service these things,” Kent said. “If we break down, you have to know how to fix it yourself or hope that there’s somebody in the lineup that’s got the knowledge, because there’s nobody we can call to come and help us.”
The club would like to thank Alaska Railroad’s Gene Lewis for his commitment to safety in providing an escort throughout the 960-mile journey. MOW’s next excursion will be along the rim of the Grand Canyon from Oct. 12-15. For more information visit narcoa.org or mowonline.org.