Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Crater Wreck

Photos of this wreck were recently posted here.

File Number
Accident Type

AUGUST 26, 1917.

On August 26, 1917, there was a derailment of a mail train on the Great Northern Railway near Crater, Wash., which resulted in the death or one employee and the injury of one employee. After investigation of this accident, the Chief of the Division of Safety reports as follows:

The part of the Great Northern Railway on which this accident is a single-track line, over which train movements are governed by the time-table and train orders, no block signal system being in use. Approaching the point of accident from the east there is a curve to the right, followed by 4,226 feet of tangent track, a 4-degree curve to the right 599 feet long, 360 feet of tangent track, a 4-degree curve to the right 200 feet long, and then there is a 10-degree compound curve to the left, 1,520 feet long. It was 468 feet west of the eastern end of this last mentioned curve that the accident occurred. The grade approaching the point of accident is 1 per cent. descending for westbound trains but on the 10-degree curve the gradient reduces to .45 percent descending. The point of accident is in the center of a deep cut, the walls of which are 35 feet in height. About is a “slow” board intended to call attention of the engine man of approaching trains to the 10-degree curve. The word “slow” is all that is painted upon this board. the speed of passenger trains between Crater and Vulcan, which includes the point of accident, is restricted by special time-table rule to 35 miles an hour, while the speed of freight trains on this division is restricted to 30 miles an hour. The weather at the time of the accident was clear.

The track in the vicinity of the point of accident is laid with 90-pound rails, 33 feet in length, laid in 1912, with about 20 pine and tamarack ties under each rail, six-inch spikes, Goldie tie plates on both inside and out-side of rail, while an anti-creeping device attached in the center of all rails is used to fasten the track. The track is ballasted with 4 feet of gravel and the curve on which the accident occurred has 4 inches elevation. The track was in good condition with the exception of a slight variation in the degree of curvature.

Westbound mail train No. 27, consisting of locomotive 1009, 2 baggage cars, 1 mail car and 1 baggage car, in the order named, en route from St. Paul, Minn., to Tacoma, Wash., was in charge of Conductor Coleman and Engine-man DeRush. It left Spokane, Wash., at 2:10 a.m., 8 hours late, arrived at Wilson Greek, 98.8 miles from Spokane at 4:16 a.m., having made up 34 minutes in time. It left Wilson Greek at 4:21 a.m., stopped at Adrian, 13.1 miles west, at 4:37 a.m., left Adrian at 4:39 a.m. and stopped at Naylor, 15 miles west, for time, as per train order No. 14, which reads as follows:
“Run 7 hrs. 10 minutes late Wilson Creek to Quincy. 7 hrs. 10 min. late Quincy to Monitor. 7 hrs. late Monitor to Leavenworth.”

Train No. 27 left Naylor at 5:04 a.m., 7 hours and 20 minutes late, passed Quincy, 11.2 miles west at 5:19 a.m., and at 5:30 a.m. was derailed on the 10-degree curve previously mentioned at a point 2 1/2 miles west of Crater, or 7.46 miles west of Quincy, while traveling at a speed, according to the speed recorder, of 42 miles an hour.

After leaving the track the locomotive ran 287 feet before coming to a stop, going through the cut and a short way out on to a high fill. The locomotive, first baggage car and the forward tracks of the second baggage car were derailed. The locomotive came to rest down the side of the fill about 25 feet below the tracks, was partly turned around and lay on its left side; the tank rested close behind the locomotive. The first baggage car was partly on the roadbed in a tipped-over position. The second car remained upright on the roadbed with its forward trucks off the rails. The locomotive was badly damaged, the tank practically destroyed while the first baggage car received serious damage. The second baggage car sustained but slight damage while the remaining portion of the train sustained no damage. No marks were found on the rails to indicate that the locomotive jumped the track. The evidence and the position of the wreck indicated that the short distance which the train ran after the derailment was partly due to the fact that the locomotive turned crosswise after coming out of the cut and that the head baggage car was grinding against the north side of the out.

Engine-man DeRush died soon after the accident. Fireman Ellis stated that the train slowed down near a tunnel located about 1 1/2 miles east of the point of derailment but that the train again picked up speed after leaving the tunnel and he thought the speed at the time of derailment was about 20 or 35 miles an hour. He was looking back toward the train just before the accident occurred and Engine-man DeRush called out to him. He also stated that there was a service application of the brakes on the train at the time it was derailed.

Conductor Coleman estimated the speed of the train at the time of derailment to have been 30 to 35 miles an hour and he stated that he did not consider this speed unsafe when entering upon the 10-degree curve. He was familiar with the location of the curve but on the night of the accident did not realize when they came on to it; however, he was not alarmed at the speed of the train at any time. He also stated that he did not consider Engine-man DeRush a fast runner; in fact of the three engine-man who handled this run he considered Engine-man DeRush the slowest. Conductor Coleman further stated that he did not interpret the special time-table rule restricting the speed of passenger trains to 35 miles an hour between Crater and Vulcan as applying to this mail train. He stated that he did not notice any emergency application of the air brakes at the time of derailment but thought that a service application was on at the time. He also stated that after the accident he did not notice any defect in the track or any obstruction of any kind on the track that might have been the cause of the derailment and he had no ides as to what was its cause.

Head Brakeman Murphy and Rear Brakeman Herman both stated that on the night of the accident they did not notice any unusual rate of speed; they recalled going through the tunnel east of the point of accident and were familiar with the location of the 10-degree curve on which the accident occurred. Rear Brakeman Herman stated that it was customary to slow down for this curve and he estimated the speed at the time of the derailment to have been about 35 miles an hour while Brakeman Murphy estimated it to have been between 30 and 35 miles an hour.

Superintendent Gavin stated that the slow board east of the 10-degree curve is a land-mark to indicate this curve and the speed around the curve is left to the judgment of the engine-man. He said that it is not the intention of the Great Northern Railway to run passenger trains around a 10-degree curve, with 4 inches elevation, at 35 miles an hour and that it is not being done. He also stated that the special time-table rule covering speed restrictions for passenger trains between Crater and Vulcan does not apply to train No. 27. He stated that there are no instructions in effect regarding the speed of the train but that the oldest engine-man are used on it and it has been customary to allow them to use their own judgment as to the speed at all places. He said that curves are elevated for speed at 35 miles an hour, which they figure is the maximum speed for safety at any time on curves, but that on straight track between Crater and Vulcan train No. 27 exceeds the rate of 35 miles an hour. He stated in conclusion that he thought this accident was due to high speed.

Section Foreman Schrupps stated that he arrived at the scene of the accident shortly after it occurred, made a careful investigation of the track and found everything in good shape.
A careful investigation was made to ascertain whether or not any obstacles, such as rocks or foreign substances had been placed on the track; also to ascertain whether or not this accident might have been caused by a broken rail or sun kink. There was no evidence to indicate that the accident was due to any of these causes.

The last record on the tape of the speed recorder showed the speed of train No. 27 to have been 42 miles an hour, but there is some question as to its accuracy. On the trip in question it registered 1 1/2 miles short between Hillyard and Naylor, a distance of 131.8 miles, while between Naylor and the point of accident, a distance of 18.6 miles, it registered 2 miles short. On a previous trip, made August 22d, the recorder on this locomotive registered .2 mile short in a distance on 23.2 miles, and checking over the tapes of the recorder on this locomotive for 30 days prior to the accident, it was found that on July 30th there was some discrepancy causing doubt as to correctness of the tape.

The direct cause of this accident could not be positively determined, but in the absence of any other contributing factors, it is believed to have been due to excessive speed on the sharp curve. Owing to the inaccuracy of the speed recorder there is some doubt concerning the speed of train No. 27 at the time of the accident. Taking into consideration the testimony of the crew and the position of the wreck, as well as the distance run after the derailment, is would appear that Engine-man DeRush was not running his train at a speed as high as 42 miles an hour. It is believer, however, that the speed was sufficiently high to cause the derailment.

While Engineman DeRush probably used poor judgment in operating his train at an unsafe rate of speed on the curve where the derailment occurred, he violated no rule, as it appears that there were absolutely no speed restrictions in force which applied to this train; in fact there were no special speed restrictions on this curve for any train.

The statements of Superintendent Gavin and Conductor Coleman indicate that the rule restricting the speed of passenger trains to 35 miles an hour between Crater and Vulcan does not apply to train No. 27, a mail train. Mr. Gavin stated that they did not intend to permit trains to run around the curve at a speed as high as 35 miles an hour, but according to his interpretation of the speed rule, together with the absence of any definite speed restrictions on the slow board, the rate of speed is left entirely to the judgment of the engine-man.

In its reports covering the investigation of accidents, the Commission has frequently said that it in the duty of railroad officials to promulgate safe rules for the guidance of their employees and to see that they are enforced. Under the practices shown to exist on this part of the Great Northern Railway, it is evident that as long as accidents fail to occur, engine-man may run at least 35 miles on hour around such curves without encountering censure. This is a condition that demands immediate correction in the interest of safety.

Big Bend Area Abandonments

I present to you a list of lines in Eastern Washington, including parts of North Idaho, Oregon, and British Columbia abandoned by the railroads.
This is pretty near a complete list, though I do not include the Union Pacific owned lines. I suspect there are errors of some sort. Please let me know if you find any.

Steven’s Pass Switchbacks, 1900
Boyds, 1917
Peshastin-Winton, 1928
Scenic-Berne, 1929
Republic-Boyds, 1941
Newport-Boyer, 1972
SP&S Connection-Ft Wright, 1972
Havermale Island, 1972
partial Fairchild-Geiger Spur, 1981
Spokane Bridge-Post Falls, 1982
San Poil-Republic, 1983
Post Falls-Coeur d’Alene, 1984
Newport-Dean, 1984
Hillyard, 1984
Old Leavenworth-Leavenworth, 1984
Mansfield-Columbia River, 1985
Dover Jct-Newport, 2002
Danville-San Poil, 2006

Eureka Gulch Branch, 1917
Granby Smelter-Columbia Jct, 1920
Grand Forks-Granby Smelter, 1920
Kilgard-Cloverdale, 1929
Molson-Oroville, 1931
Bookmere-Princeton, 1933
Curlew-Molson, 1935
Hedley-Princeton, 1939
Keremos-Hedley, 1955
Keremos-Chopaka, 1985
Chopaka-Curlew, 1985
Danville, 2006

Liberty Lake Jct-Liberty Lake, 1930
Spokane-Mt. Hope, 1952
Vera-Dishman, 1963
Manning-Colfax, 1967
West Fairfield-Fairfield, 1972
Seabury-Oaksdale, 1972
Crabtree-Grinnell, 1972
Viola-Estes, 1972
Coeur d’Alene, 1977
Dishman-Spear, 1978
Oaksdale-Crabtree, 1978
Rosalia-Manning, 1978-83
Fairbanks-Seabury, 1980
Balder-Manning, 1980
Spring Valley-Fairbanks, 1983
Grinnell-Palouse, 1983
Mt. Hope-Spring Valley, 1983
Palouse-Viola, 1984
Estes-Moscow, 1984
Palouse-Grinnell, 1984
Atlas-Coeur d’Alene, 1984
Colfax-Balder, 1984
Greenacres-Post Falls, 1984
Estes 1984
Balder-Rosalia, 1984
Carders-Greenacres, 1985
Balder-Spring Valley, 1986
Spokane-Carders, 1987

Hillyard-Wayside, 1900
Boundary-Rossland, 1922
Northport-Boundary, 1923
Grand Forks Jct-Grand Forks, 1930
Marcus-Boyds, 1941

Lakeside Jct-Ainsworth Jct, 1988

Klickitat-Goldendale, 1992
Lyle-Klickitat, 1993

Pasco-Columbia River, 1888
Sunnyside-Granger, 1938
Ronald-Lakedale, before 1939
Monumental-Riparia, 1965
Monumental-Riparia, 1970
Sagehill-Basin City, 1983,
Cle Elum-Ronald, 1986
Zillah-Granger, 1999
Mesa-Basin City, 1996

Belmont-Farmington, 1961
Pullman Jct-Genesee, 1984
Moscow-Arrow, 1996

Connell-Hooper, 1978

Adrian-Odair, 1978

Wheeler-Adrian, 1983

Spokane-Eleanor, 1900
Eleanor-Davenport, 1983

Moxee City, 1984
Brace-Tieton, 1999
Granger-Parker, 1994
Fruitvale-Naches, 2006

Milton Freewater-Umapine, 1943
Walla Walla-Milton Freewater, 1985
Yellow Hawk Branch, 1985
Baker Langdon-College Place, 1985

Tracy-Walla Walla, 1970
Tracy Jct-Tracy, 1972
Eureka-Pleasant View, 1981
Walair-Dayton, 1984
Walla Walla-Dixie, 1984
Smeltz-Athena, 1985
Attalia-Walair 1986
Attalia-UP Connection, 1991
Zanger Jct-Pendleton, 1991

West of Stites, 1984
Stites-Kooskia, 1985
Revling-Headquarters, 1985
Spaulding-Grangeville, 2003??
MP 3.5-Revling, 2004

Spokane-Medical Lake, 1922

Cheney Jct-Cheney, 1922

Bovill-Harvard, 2001
Palouse-Harvard, OOS

Miles City, MT-Othello, 1980
Royal Jct-Renton, 1980
Warden-Tiflis, 1980
Tiflis-Marcellus, 1980
Tiflis-Seiler, 1980
Beverly Jct-Hanford, 1980

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Protecting Odair

Part of a longer piece written by L. R. Keith.

Reprinted with permission of Mr. Keith.

The railroad junction of Odair was never a major population center, but it was an important place for those people who were building Grand Coulee Dam back in the 1930s.

“Roy Ramey graduated from the University of Idaho in 1940 with a teaching degree. Unable to locate a teaching job, he went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad as an agent-telegrapher, a skill he had learned from his father. This was before people worked a forty hour week with vacation, sick pay, and other benefits. He started out on the Extra Board as there were no regularly assigned jobs available in the midst of the Depression. Extra Board meant he substituted for people who could not work that particular day. Since money was so scarce, people were very reluctant to fore go a day's work except for illness or a death in the family. Roy usually got jobs for only one or two days at a time. He earned sixty-five cents per hour only for the hours he actually worked, although he traveled over an area stretching from Toppenish, Washington to Paradise, Montana. He received no allowance for room or board, or any expenses, although he did get free travel on the trains.

“On one assignment he left his home in Kendrick, Idaho at four p.m. on a Monday, rode the train to Toppenish via Spokane, worked his eight hour assigned job, and then was bumped by a person with more seniority. He slept that day in a city park at Toppenish then rode a train home, arriving a two a.m. on Wednesday. For that eight hours work, plus all the time he spent traveling, he earned five dollars. Clearly, things were really tough working on the Extra Board. He was gone so much there was no thought of marriage until he could get a regularly assigned job.

“Finally that happened in the fall of 1941. Roy and his college sweetheart Maxine were married in early November that year, just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. When they married, Maxine lost her teaching job, since the rule that had prevailed during the Depression was still in effect. That rule said a family could not hold two jobs, since so many men with families were unemployed. The young couple's first home was in an outfit car at Odair, Washington.

“Odair was a large railroad siding about a mile out of Coulee City, Washington. It was there that all carloads of freight going into the construction site at Grand Coulee Dam were interchanged from the Northern Pacific to the Government Railroad.

“The war effort was just beginning to pick up after Pearl Harbor. There were many fears about what Japan and Germany might do, so the Air Raid Program was started all over the United States. Air Raid Wardens volunteered to watch the skies for airplanes. They were given a number to call should they spot any suspicious aircraft. They were to report a description of the plane and state the direction it was seen to be flying. Due to the expectation that Japan would attack the West Coast, towns all over Washington had Air Raid Wardens to watch the skies and also keep an eye on homes to make certain they had their blackout shades pulled at night to prevent artificial light from shining out, light which might provide a target for enemy planes.

“Since Grand Coulee Dam was considered a high risk for enemy attack, the siding of Odair represented more importance than its population might indicate. At the time Roy and Maxine lived there, there were only four people in the community, a total of four, Roy and Maxine and two other people. Roy Ramey stepped up and volunteered to serve as Air Raid Warden in Odair.

"’We kept good watch on the sky,’ smiled Roy. "Nothing got by us!"

"’There were usually one or two planes a day,’ added Maxine, who, as in all their sixty years of life together, was right there with Roy, watching the skies of Central Washington.

“Roy had been rejected by the military because he only has hearing in one ear as a result of a mastoid operation when he was an infant. However, his job was considered vital to the war effort, so he was frozen on the job for the duration of the war, as were all railroad employees. His work assignment during those years was nine hours a day, Monday through Saturday and eight hours on Sunday, all on straight time. He worked that schedule for nearly six years without a day off.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Railroad Tracks to Waterville

A citizen of Waterville received a copy of the below letter:

Re: Waterville Railway Co.

Office of


Waterville, July 24, 1909

To Land-owners in the vicinity of Waterville:

Dear Sir:

The enclosed circular, read in connection with this letter, will explain
a situation that is of direct interest to you.

The Great Northern is building a line up Moses Coulee into the Big Bend
country. They come up Moses Creek, follow the Douglas draw as far as the old Hetley place where they swing to the northeast seemingly pointing toward the head of Grand Coulee. They will build as far as Mansfield this year, which is up the East Foster Creek country. Where they will ultimately go is not known to the Public. There are some indications that they will proceed down Foster Creek by way of Bridgeport, connect with the line building south from Oroville, and postpone for a time the building of a line from Wenatchee up the Columbia River. In that event the Moses Coulee line will become a very important branch of the Great Northern. It is to be operated from Wenatchee.

Naturally, the people in and about Waterville did all they could to
induce the railroad people to swing their line far enough west to reach
this place. The Great Northern surveyors ran in here on two or three
different routes; but, owing to the topography of the country, it was
found impracticable to bring the main line around by Waterville, and the
only solution of the problem was found to be the building of a branch
from Waterville to the Moses Coulee line to connect at Douglas, a
distance of four and a half miles without switches.

The Great Northern declines to build this branch for the accommodation of
the people in the Waterville county, because it is plain we will have to
haul our grain and other freight to and from the Great Northern anyway.
So the only way for us to get help is to help ourselves.

With this in view a movement was started here to build our own line from
Waterville to a point near Douglas. We have met with vast gratifying
results. Fifty thousand dollars was pledged the first day. The responses
from the farmers and towns-people are more nearly unanimous than we
expected; still, here is a situation that is going to crowd us to the
limit, and we feel that every man that is to benefited ought to help to
the extend of his benefit.

Your own land lies in such a way that it will cost you more to haul your
wheat to the Great Northern than to Waterville. It goes without saying
that this will affect the price and saleability of your land. Remoteness
from market depreciates the value of land, while nearness thereto always
increases the value. Besides nearness to a thrifty, growing town will not
only increase the value of your land, but render it much more salable
should you ever desire to dispose of it.

Taking these matters into consideration we feel sure you will be as
willing as others are to help in the struggle for better accommodations
and the general advancement of this particular locality. You can afford
it, for you outlay will be returned to you in benefits to you property,
while without these benefits it will at least stand still as to value,
while lands nearer the railroad are advancing.

Respectfully submitted,

G. P. WILEY, Chairman of Committee

The citizens of Waterville eventually built their own railroad, the Waterville Railroad, which connected with the GN at Douglas. The GN helped out with the manpower, rails, and motive power and the Waterville was in business by July 1910.

The tracks were removed in 1954 after getting permission to abandon the line. Seems there were many washout a few years earlier that the little railroad was never able to recover from.

Very few parts of this line are visible today. You can make out a little from the satellite view. US 2 runs next to the old alignment and you can see it followed a gully of sorts that could provide enough water during spring runoff to wash out the tracks.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Central Washington Railroad Stock Certificate

As part of my collection, I have this stock certificate.

The Central Washington was backed by the Northern Pacific to build a line in competition with the eastern division of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern (SLS&E). The SLS&E was starting to build a line that was supposed to cross the state, and connect with the western division at Everett.

The Central Washington (CW) started building west out of Cheney, WA, while the SLS&E was building west out of Spokane. The SLS&E ran out of money near Davenport, though it had some grading completed all the way to Coulee City. The CW was much better financed and was completed to Coulee City in 1891. The residents of Davenport gave the SLS&E enough money to complete a line to their town, but then the Northern Pacific bought the SLS&E in 1890.

The SLS&E became part of the CW and the section between Spokane and Medical Lake was abandoned right away, as it had some pretty steep grades cominp up past Garden Springs.

The remaining section of the SLS&E out of Davenport survived until 1983, when Northern Pacific successor Burlington Northern (BN) abandoned it.

The CW had a few name changes between construction and today. It became the Washington Central, then the Northern Pacific, then the BN. BN sold the branch to the Palouse River and Coulee City in 1996. The state of Washington bought the line in 2007 and it is now operated by the Eastern Washington Gateway.

It is still referred to as the CW.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Little Postal History of Post Offices On or Near the GN Mansfield Branch

This tidbit of history is interesting in that the Great Northern breathed life into many towns it touched, or enlarged those it came across. While the post office dates to not coincide with the dates the railroad built through the area, it does give you an idea of how the population ebbed and flowed over time.

Established November 1, 1887
Waterville had mail service from Wenatchee which was daily as early as September 14, 1894, and a Star Route from Coulee City provided additional mail daily on a circuit which made mail available to the small post offices of Baird, Spencer, and Farmer. Waterville’s own Star Route was opened in 1896 to take mail over Badger Mountain to make contact with the Great Northern at Columbia River Siding, and return the following day. This route ran until about 1915 or 1916.
From 1908 to 1911 before the Great Northern Railroad became the carrier of the mail, a steamboat service from Wenatchee dropped mail off at the foot of Corbaley Canyon near the present town of Orondo and from there it was brought by stage coaches to Waterville.
There was activity at the post office only at mail arrival time. It arrived at most any hour of the day or night.

Established February 14, 1888. Discontinued July 12, 1968-mail to Waterville.
The town name honors Stephen Arnold Douglas, Illinois statesman after which Douglas County was named.
The first mail service to Douglas was provided between Coulee City and Waterville. In 1911 the GN branch from Wenatchee to Mansfield provided mail service. A local dray man, performed messenger service between the depot and post office.
In 1918 the GN reduced its daily service to tri-weekly which immediately proved unpopular so it became necessary to find other means of bringing the mail to Douglas.

Established April 22, 1892. Discontinued August 31, 1943-mail to Mansfield.
Leahy might have had a more important place, and might even have survived to this day as a post office, had the GN carried out their intentions to extend their branch as far as Delrio, passing through Leahy.

Established September 27, 1904. Discontinued September 30, 1943-mail to Mansfield
Delrio’s close proximity to Grand Coulee and the opening of a Star Route from that point aided in Delrio’s downfall. It might have endured had the GN built its planned extension of the Mansfield branch.

Established February 1, 1905
Mansfield stared at a point 1 ½ miles northeast of its current location, but when the GN halted construction of its branch in 1909, the town moved literally building by building to the railroad. The right-of-way had been surveyed to go through the original town of Nelson, Leahy, and Delrio. Failure to do so spelled eventual doom to those three post

Established April 18, 1907. Discontinued March 15, 1912-mail to Mansfield
Located 5 1/2 miles west, 4 1/2 miles north of Mansfield. It was named for the postmasters hometown in Nebraska.

Established September 10, 1908
Palisades post office actually started about 4 miles northeast up the coulee on what was known as the “Upper Ranch.”

Established March 4, 1910. Discontinued December 29, 1967-mail to Waterville.
Withrow originated with the GN.

Established June 27, 1910. Discontinued March 31, 1911-mail to Palisades.
Located 6 miles north of Palisades, 15 miles southeast of Douglas.
On December 12, 1916 the office of McCue was opened at this location.

Established January 23, 1912. Discontinued February 28, 1927-mail to Palisades.
Located 6 1/2 miles southwest of Palisades.

Established May 21, 1912. Discontinued April 30, 1914-mail to Mansfield.
Located 5 miles southwest of Mansfield. The railroad siding is named Tuohey but when entered on the post office application it was misinterpreted. The office did not operate long enough for the error to be corrected.

Established May 9, 1913. Discontinued June 15, 1934-mail to Waterville.
Located 5 miles south of Douglas.
The land hereabout was owned by one Al Rogers, who also had a store and thought it could hardly be called a town at the time, it did acquire the name of Al’s Town.

Established December 12, 1916. Discontinued June 15, 1920-mail to Palisades.
Former location of Hopewell.

These post offices were not located on the Mansfield branch, but were nearby on the Columbia River.

Established September 8, 1902. Discontinued January 31, 1914-mail to Malaga.
This office was at a GN flag stop about 2 1/2 miles southeast of Rock Island.

Established April 18, 1906. Discontinued August 15, 1908-mail to Buhela.
Located on the GN 12 miles south of Rock Island and the opening of Moses Coulee.
Mail was supplied by the railroad and a route from Vulcan to Jameson and Mansfield served early Moses Coulee settlers. The route was abolished when the GN built the Mansfield branch. This spelled doom for the Vulcan post office. The Vulcan depot was moved to Rock Island at the time the dam was under construction.

Established July 20, 1907. Discontinued February 15, 1908-mail to Hammond.
Reestablished April 16, 1908. Renamed Columbia River December 19, 1908
Located at the lower end of Moses Coulee, 3 1/2 miles south of Rock Island.
This is the same site as the former office of Dutcher and the later one of Columbia River.

Columbia River
Established December 19, 1908. Discontinued October 30, 1926-mail to Appledale.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RPOs through the Big Bend

Railroads used to be the primary means of getting mail from one town to another, with an ability to get the mail to its destination with a speed not rivaled today. Any town along the railroad in the Big Bend region of the Columbia Basin owes its livelihood to mail service by rail.

An excellent description of the railway post office (RPO) can be found here:


As the public viewed railroad travel as old-fashioned and took to the automobile, railroads found it harder to maintain branch line service to every remote place. This made it harder to deliver the mails to those places. The United States Post Office canceled mail contracts with the railroads, and moved the mail to truck.

The list below shows the length of time RPOs operated in the Big Bend.

Mansfield & Wenatchee (endpoints of RPO)
Great Northern (railroad RPO operated on)
7-9-1911 to 1-18-1925 (start and end dates of RPO)

Oroville & Spokane
Great Northern
1907 to 4-1-1925
Note: This train did not operate via Wenatchee

Oroville & Wenatchee
Great Northern
7-10-1914 to 2-19-1954

Spokane & Seattle
Great Northern
11-1-1893 to 10-14-1934

Williston & Seattle
Great Northern/Burlington Northern
10-14-1934 to 4-30-1971

The below dates are all for the same track, with the end point changing to Adrian for a time, and then Coulee City changed its name to Coulee and back. The gap of 3 years in service is unexplained.

Spokane Falls & Almira (line not complete to Coulee City yet)
Northern Pacific
5-1-1890 to 6-30-1890

Spokane Falls & Coulee City
Northern Pacific
7-1-1890 to 1891

Spokane & Coulee City
Northern Pacific
1891 to 2-15-1904

Spokane & Adrian
Northern Pacific
2-15-1904 to 6-28-1925

Spokane & Coulee
Northern Pacific
6-28-1925 to 4-11-1937

Spokane and Coulee City
Northern Pacific
2-25-1940 to 1-31-1954

Town of Bacon

Post office established December 20, 1911 and discontinued June 15, 1916. Mail was then handled out of Adrian.
Location on the Northern Pacific, 9 miles south of Coulee City, in Dry Coulee (SE-SE, NE-SE Section 8, T23N, R28E for those of you who really want to find it).
At the time the post office opened, many homesteads in the area were being registered. The demand for supplies at the Ross store were so heavy that the stock was exhausted, except bacon. Consequently when the time came to name the post office which was being put in the store, Bacon seemed to be the most appropriate name.
A train from each way daily brought and received Bacon's mail. There was a siding, a section house, railroad worker's bunkhouse, but no depot. In the summer of 1916 Mormon crickets overran the country and people deserted their homesteads. That spelled the end of the Bacon post office. Those who had held on had to go to Adrian, a distance of about 12 miles south, for mail.
When the section of railroad between Adrian and Coulee City was abandoned in 1979, the station sign for Bacon supposedly went into the Monte Holm collection in Moses Lake, who also did the scrapping.
In the photo, Pinto Ridge Road runs between Coulee City and SR28 near Stratford. Not shown among the roads is the one to Summer Falls State Park which starts at the intersection of the old railroad line (in black) and Pinto Ridge Road. It goes into the coulee just right of center.

Coulee City to Ellensburg?

The below letter describes a through route from Coulee City to Ellensburg that never was completed. The drawn map does not survive, to my knowledge. The route was partially built as the Adrian cutoff, from Coulee City to Crab Creek.

C.C. Van Arsdol, Assistant Engineer, Northern Pacific Railroad, Tacoma, Wash., to
Charles S. Bihler, Division Engineer, Northern Pacific Railroad, Tacoma, February 4, 1900.

I beg to hand you herewith a sketch map, and profile of grades from
reconnaissance of proposed lines from Coulee City, via Crab Creek and
Johnson Canon to Ellensburg; and from Lind via Lind Coulee to connection
with above line from Coulee City.

From Coulee City it would be impracticable to follow the Grand
Coulee, which a few miles below Coulee City falls abruptly about four
hundred feet with no ground for supporting. The bench on the west side
disappears about opposite of the head of the lake, and the bench or
table on the east for a distance of three or four miles back from the
coulee, is broken by frequent short side coulees.

The route I have outlined follows a comparatively even scab rock
country between the breaks of the Grand Coulee and the breaks of Crab
Creek to the east; supporting down on easy slopes to Crab Creek at a
point a few miles east of Adrian (on the G.N.Ry); thence via Willow Lake
Coulee, and smooth table lands to Lind Coulee. From this point I have
indicated two lines, one via Lind Coulee and Crab Creek; the other
supporting up the south slope of Lind Coulee to a saddle between Lind
Coulee and the head of Dry Coulee, and down Dry Coulee to Crab Creek.
The distance and approximate cost would be about equal by these two
lines, abut taken in connection with the proposed line from Lind, the
latter would give about 12 or 14 miles shorter line between Lind and
Ellensburg. From the junction of Dry Coulee and Crab Creek the line
would follow the smooth valley of Crab Creek, then crossing of the
Columbia about 3/4 mile below Crab Creek; thence up the Columbia Valley
to Johnson Canon and via Johnson Canon to Ellensburg.

There is a possible alternate route between the Columbia and
Ellensburg, via Harrison Canon and the heads of Squaw Creek. This
however has a summit 150 feet higher than Johnson Canon and apparently
less favorable slopes for development or support, on the Columbia side.
East of the Columbia there is a coulee about 6 miles north and
parallel with the lower Crab Creek, which may prove feasible if a
suitable connection can be found between the head of this coulee and the
mouth of Lind Coulee. This point I have not examined.

At the crossing of the Columbia indicated on the map a rock ledge 4
to 6 feet below high water, projects out to the waters surface. The
channel at low water is about 1200 feet wide, and at high water about
1800 feet wide. The western bank is coarse gravel and boulders
indicating that the bedrock may extend across or nearly across the

Following is a statement of approximate distances.
055 miles -- Coulee City to common point at head of Dry Coulee
070 miles -- Head of Dry Coulee to Ellensburg
006 miles -- Development Johnson Canon for 2 1/2 percent grade
west bound and 1 1/2 percent grade east bound
131 miles -- Total Coulee City to Ellensburg

021 miles -- Lind to head Dry Coulee
070 miles -- Head Dry Coulee to Ellensburg
006 miles -- Development of Johnson Canon
097 miles -- Total Lind to Ellensburg

Following is approximate cost of grading and bridging.
340,000 -- Coulee City to head Dry Coulee
559,750 -- Head of Dry Coulee to Ellensburg exclusive of
Columbia River Bridge
210,000 -- Columbia River Bridge

073,500 -- Lind to head of Dry Coulee

[1,183,250 total]

The above estimate is based upon the use in Johnson Canon of 1 1/2
percent grade west bound and 1 1/2 percent grade east bound. If a
lighter west bound grade were adopted, the mileage would be
proportionately increased and the cost per mile for grading the lower 8
miles of Johnson Canon would be considerably heavier. Increasing or
decreasing the rate of grade west of the summit of Johnson Canon would
proportionately increase or decrease the distance, but would not very
materially affect the cost per mile on that portion of the line.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Last Day of Operation on the Mansfield Branch

This day was bound to come. The curves were so numerous and sharp the railroad never ran jumbo covered hoppers up there, making it one of the last places to handle grain in box cars. The line had heavy grades and it tended to flood. Several flash floods wiped out the dozen or so bridges crossing Douglas creek. It was a very expensive-to-maintain branch, as the track had to be kept up to a very high standard or cars tended to derail on the curves

It did have its good days:

The main grain shipper on the line, Central Washington Grain Growers responded by building a unit train loading facility on another branch line in Coulee City. That line would survive.

The fateful day was announced to the train crews by this notice.

The local newspapers covered the last day as well.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Coulee City Railroad War

There were lively times in Coulee City during the summer of 1888. The Central Washington, backed by the Northern Pacific Company, and the Seattle, Lake Shore, & Eastern were each striving for the supremacy, sparring for position. Approaching from the east there were scarcely two equally accessible points of entry, and going out on the west side the task was still more difficult for parallel lines, and at a point about one and one-half miles west of town the problem was most discouraging for two to "pass through the gate at once."
Each company had a large crew of men at work and considerable ill feeling arose during the grading at the east side of town--each company striving all the time to hold the right of way on the best ground. At one point, just outside the yard limits the Seattle, Lake Shore, & Eastern graded squarely across the other track, raising their roadbed some six or eight feet above that of the Central Washington. It looked as if a collision was certain to come whenever the S. L. S. & E. filled up the gap over the other track with either earth or trestle work. That time of trouble was postponed owing to the forces being hurried forward to the more inaccessible spot west of the town of Coulee City. There a rocky barrier arose in the form of a ridge which the lines must pierce, while there was one low gap just beyond an opening in the rocks, scarcely wide enough for two lines to be laid parallel without one, or both, being forced to excavate a cut on one or both sides, well into a rock wall ten to fifteen feet high. There was room for one track which would require only a shallow cut. Both companies hurried forward with feverish haste, each striving to gain the gap, and pre-empt the passage, and the superintendents of the work took no greater interest in the race than did their men. White man and dago each felt a personal interest in the outcome, and each crew of workmen looked upon the other as an interloper--an antagonist to be beaten by any means, fair or foul.
The Central Washington line runs direct from town to that rock cut, while the route of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern swung around from the north side and approached the cut at an acute angle, coming from the northeast. As the two grades approached closer together and nearer the objective point, the feeling grew intense; the situation became critical. Each part sought to gain possession of the whole ground, and neither dared vacate for a moment. Each worked a double shift night and day. There was only a narrow backbone of rock left between the two cuts and soon the S. L. S. & E, would strike into the other which had kept a slight lead. The work in progress was on ground inside of Senator Dan Paul's homestead and the time was just in haying season. Senator Paul was making hay in the field close by, and he and his men were witnesses of performances daily for some time which fall to the lot of few to see in a lifetime. Each crew was doing all in its power to interrupt the labors of the other, and watching for an opportunity to take possession of the whole ground. One would drill a hole, tamp in a shot of giant powder, light the fuse and shout "fire!" Of course everybody had to run, but they all scrambled back before the rocks had scarcely ceased falling, and the other fellows had their shot in ready to fire before very much work could be accomplished. That kind of work could not long continue, of course, but the climax came without culminating in a general riot, though it missed it only by a hair. Much of the excavated rock was carted back and dumped over the low wall into the lower ground--in fact the Central Washington Company completed the fill and trestle clear back over the swamps, and track was laid nearly to the cut.
When affairs had reached an extremely high tension a man named Malone, working with the S., L. S. & E. gang, backed his horse and cart against two or three of the Central Washington workmen, and pushed them over the little hill. The foreman of that side stepped up quickly, catching the horse by the bridle and remonstrated with Malone, telling him that he was taking an unfair advantage. The foreman's action was the signal for a big rush of dagos and whites from the S., L. S. & E. cut, all brandishing picks, shovels, and other improvised weapons and all chattering angrily. The Central Washington foreman was just as quickly backed up by the workmen from his side, and for awhile at looked like war. Everybody was ready for a fight, but somehow the crisis was passed without bloodshed. After consideration convinced the foreman that further operations were dangerous in the present humor of the men, so they reported conditions to headquarters at Spokane, but as the only means of communication was a messenger on horseback, they called a truce and sat down to await orders. Neither dared vacate, so the day and night shifts of the two companies sat in their respective cuts and held the fort. The haymakers down in the field could hear the men telling stories and singing songs any time of the night. Plenty of rest, three meals a day and wages drawn regularly put the men all in good humor, and animosities were all forgotten. After weeks of waiting and guard duty, the camp was vacated; all the men were called off. The companies had arrived at some kind of a compromise; work was suspended and remains so to this day. The rock cut is just as it was when those men were pushed off the grade and marks the peaceful ending of what came perilously near being a bloody riot.

The first photo shows how close this location is to Banks Lake, and the second shows how close it is to Coulee City.

This shows both lines headed into the cut. The Central Washington is above the Lake Shore.

This shows the view from the cut towards Coulee City. The Central Washington is on the right, the Lake Shore on the left.

This shows the narrow cut. It could have been widened with more blasting, but was never done. The Lake Shore goes off to the right, and is very incomplete beyond the photo.

Both lines had grading done up the west side of the coulee, and their lines can still be seen today. More on them later.