In years past, speeders — small railcars — zipped along the railroads, transporting tools, spikes and workers to perform various maintenance tasks at a time when economic growth rode upon the rails. Even after railways become one of many transportation options, it was only recently that these small, maneuverable railway “go-carts” were eventually replaced with high-rail adapted vehicles.
Though these motor cars disappeared from the rail yard, they have not been forgotten. Historic speeders are now owned by hobbyists who maintain and refurbish the gas-motored vehicles. They’re used mostly for private excursions, but on rare occasions — ones like this weekend — the cars take public passengers.
“It’s a unique opportunity,” said Jim West, executive director for the WI&M Railway History Preservation Group that coordinates the fundraising event. All proceeds go toward renovations of the Potlatch depot.
On Saturday, certified drivers will carry anywhere from two to six passengers in around 10 cars for round-trip rides that last nearly an hour. Rides eastbound to O’Reilly Road are at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; rides westbound to Wellesley Road are at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
“Railroad is always in the neatest spots, along rivers and pastoral areas,” West said. “It’s an interesting perspective even for people who live in the area.”
With only 120 tickets available, people are encouraged to reserve tickets in advance, especially if they are in a group or want to ride at a certain time.
In addition to the speeder rides, attendees can explore local railroad and logging history through photographs, artifacts and a video on display at the depot. Model train layouts will be set up by the Lewis Clark Train Club and food and beverages will be available for purchase.
Potlatch was established in 1906 as the company town of Potlatch Lumber Co. and boasted the largest white pine mill in the world.
“The town was an experiment,” West said.
Potlatch investors found that family men were the most reliable — and thus, more profitable — employees, West explained. The company set up the town to attract and keep these workers who might seek a better life in a dry town with good accommodations and educational opportunities — early on, its teachers were the highest paid in the state. However, lumber production decreased over time. The mill closed in 1981 and the railway now sees only occasional use.
If you go:
What: 11th annual Potlatch Depot History Day and Speeder Rides
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Potlatch Depot at 181 Sixth St. in Potlatch
Cost: $15/children ages 5 to 12, $30/adult. Due to insurance requirements, children younger than the age of 5 are not permitted to ride. Tickets can be purchased at the station or in advance at BlackBird in the Potlatch Depot or call (208) 875-1357.
Additional information: Riders are encouraged to wear sturdy leather shoes or boots.