Middle school students from the Powell Butte Community Charter School recently toured the freight depot to learn about the railway

by: JASON CHANEY - City of Prineville Railway Operations Manager Matt Wiederholt (RIGHT) tells students about the inner-workings of the freight depot.

The rain took a break last Thursday morning, leaving Dale Keller and Matt Wiederholt of City of Prineville Railway the perfect weather to host a field trip.

That morning, bright and early, 50 middle school students from Powell Butte Community Charter School bused over to the railway’s recently completed freight depot where Keller, the railway’s business development manager and Wiederholt, its operations manager, awaited with an economics and history lesson complete with the sights and sounds of a live, functioning railroad.

The Thursday session was the latest in a string of school field trips the railway has hosted over the past several years.

“We started with the first and third graders,” Keller said, “and we started this trying to do this community outreach.”

He explained that a teacher approached the railway staff in hopes they could take his class for a train ride. Keller saw an opportunity and decided to not only oblige, but expand the service to other classes.

“What we try to do is we take them on rides and try to give them a little bit of history.”

What started in 2005 has since been given an upgrade. Wiederholt said that in the last nine months, they have tried to reach out to even more classes and even homeschoolers. He explained that the effort works in concert with Prineville City Council goals, which include strengthening local, regional, and educational ties, and enhancing and maintaining council public relationships.

Whether they realized it or not, the Powell Butte students were participating in a test run of sorts.

“In the past, we have done it primarily with the train and it has been a younger crowd,” Wiederholt said. “This was the first group of kids we brought out to the freight depot. They want to learn about economics. How do the train and the freight depot tie into local economics and how does it help the local people?”

The class was greeted right away with a history lesson courtesy of Keller just outside the entrance to the freight depot. He boasted how the railway is the oldest continually-operated, city-owned outfit in the United States, and he and Wiederholt highlighted the variety of commodities the facility helps ship by rail on a regular basis. During part of the field trip, the students were led into a freight depot building where a string of rail cars sat on tracks running right through the building.

“Wow, perfect timing,” Wiederholt remarked.

Jeff Baisch, the middle school social studies teacher at the charter school booked the field trip because he thought it would be useful for his students to actually experience the railway.

“Any time you can see something and be kind of hands-on, it’s better for them,” he said.

Baisch was told later by some students that they did not look forward to the experience going in, but changed their tune on they set foot on the grounds.

“Once they got there, they really liked learning about the trains and looking at the cars up close.”

This wasn’t the first time Keller and Wiederholt have received good reviews. Cecil Sly Elementary Principal Jim Bates recalls a time when one of his second grade classes visited the railway during a storyline project.

“Any opportunity for our community agencies to connect with our kids is the best of the best,” Bates said. “When we are learning a life experience, that is our goal here.”

But for the hosts, the most endearing responses usually come from the kids who always take the time to express their gratitude.

“We have stacks and stacks of absolutely precious thank you letters,” Wiederholt said. “It’s a little bonus for doing it. Dale and I just love working with the kids.”

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