Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Coulee City to Ellensburg, but this time via the LONG way

December 2, 1898
Charles S. Bihler
Division Engineer

To: Edwin Harrison McHenry
Chief Engineer
St. Paul
I beg to hand you herewith estimate of cost of lines in accordance with your letter of October 20th. I also attach reports of J.M. Dixon concerning his reconnaissance of Okanogan Valley, also his report concerning river crossings and freights handled on the
Columbia River and report of F.J. Taylor of his reconnaissance of the Peshastin Range, and the following plats:
General map showing lines under consideration
Condensed profile, Coulee City to Bridgeport
Map of Peshastin country accompanying Taylor's report
Map of Peshastin country showing Clark's preliminary

Following is a summary of the estimates:
Grand Coulee to Moses Coulee 26.5 miles $10,066, $280,000

Moses Coulee to Sec 16 T 2 R 23 22 miles $13,000 $286,000

Moses Coulee to Bridgeport 21.2 miles $16,792 $337,600

Bridgeport to Chelan Ferry 33.5 miles $30,450 $1,020,000

Chelan Ferry to Chelan 5 miles $29,800 $149,000

Chelan Ferry to Wenatchee 38.5 miles $20,000 $770,000

Wenatchee to Mouth of Swauk 60 miles $27,000 $1,620,000

Total $4,462,000


This line was located in 1891 and placed under construction. The line ascends the westerly slopes of the Grand Coulee with a two percent compensated grade, making a summit elevation about 880 feet above Coulee City. From there it runs to the head of Moses Coulee, which it crosses at an elevation about 335 feet lower than the summit. The westbound adverse grades are one percent maximum; while the eastbound grades are 1.1. By some minor revision the westbound grade can be reduced to 0.5 virtual and the eastbound grades to one percent.

The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern located a line about the same time. This line makes a summit several miles north of the Northern Pacific summit, at an altitude of about 60 feet above ours. The line is likewise located on a two percent for the rise out of the Grand Coulee and from the summit to Moses Coulee has one percent maximum each way. In general the grades are more broken and though located considerably further to the north, the line does not find ground materially higher than our line. Its length is slightly in excess of the Northern Pacific line. In order to show the general features of both lines relative to each other, I attach condensed profile of both lines. Construction was commenced on our line in 1891 and about four miles of grading have been finished, and three miles more about half completed. No bridging has been done on this line. The country through which the line runs, though the land is generally taken up, is very sparely settled and very little is under cultivation.The appearance of the soil and character of vegetation is in general same as through the eastern part of the Waterville district, which is more or less under cultivation. There is perhaps a little more scabland, but on a whole the absence of settlers, I believe, is to be accounted for by the scarcity of water for domestic purposes.

It seems improbable that any considerable amount of additional traffic can be obtained by an extension as far as the head of Moses Coulee. The line will draw some wheat from the country between Foster Creek and the Columbia, which now goes to Bridgeport, but will be too far away from the heart of the present wheat district around Waterville to come in competition for the traffic of the latter as distributing point. Several townships of wheat land, which would be tributary to the terminus of this line, have been selected by the state under its grant and are at present not on the market.


In order to make the extension from Coulee City profitable it would be necessary to extend the line from Moses Coulee to the west a sufficient distance to make it more profitable to the farmers to haul there wheat to the railroad than to the river. A the present time the principal wheat shipping point is Orondo, from where about 600,000 bushels are shipped by boat to Wenatchee. At Chelan Ferry about 100,000 bushels are shipped and smaller amounts at Bridgeport and the mouth of the Methow. The present wheat product of the district around Waterville, north of Badger Mountain and west of Moses coulee, is about 800,000 bushels. When all land capable of raising crops is brought under cultivation the district is capable of producing about 2,000,000 bushels annually. By summer fallowing and methods of farming adapted to the climate a crop of twenty bushels to the acre can be counted on with a fair degree of certainty. On the basis of present production, the earnings and charges of the branch line would compare about as follows:

24,000 tons wheat at $4.25 for $102,000
5,000 tons merchandise at $10.000 for $50,000
Passengers, $200 per road mile for $10,000
total $162,000

Interest on cost, $566,000 at five percent for $28,300
Maintenance, 48.5 miles at $400 for $19,400
Operation, daily trains at $25,000
Maintenance of equipment at fifteen percent for $3,750
General expenses at ten percent for $2,500
Total $50,650

Cost of Interchange Business
80 trains times 108 times 2 for $12,528
30 trains times 256 times 2 for $15,360
40 trains times 128 times 2 for $10,240
33 trains times 108 for $4,752
22 trains times 350 for $7,700
Total train miles 50,580 at $1.30, $65,754
Total expenses $144,704
Surplus $17,296

I have not figured the cost of interchange business according to average cost per net ton mile, the result appearing unreasonably high. The average has been converted into equivalent train mileage and cost calculated according to average cost per train mile. As the bulk of the freight will be moved in car loads of more than double the net tonnage than the average, this method would appear to be more correct in this case.

Nevertheless, the proposition is not sufficiently attractive to justify construction for the present traffic. With the tonnage doubled which may not unreasonably be expected in the course of a few years, the branch would be paying a surplus of $100,000 per year. In case construction to Moses Coulee should be undertaken for the purpose of reaching the Columbia River, the spur from Moses Coulee west would make a valuable feeder. In making the estimate for this extension, I have assumed that the character of the work will be similar to the Waterville line, which was surveyed in 1891 and believe the estimate will be found quite close.


The line after climbing out of Moses Coulee crosses the divide between the Coulee and Cottonwood Canyon, following the later down to Bridgeport with a maximum grade of 2.2 compensated. The line has not been rerun but the original estimate has been revised in detail.

A preliminary was run last month for a revision of line to eliminate the flat spot in the vicinity of Cottonwood and to gain the top of the bench with an unbroken maximum grade. The preliminary shows this to be feasible, though at an increased cost for construction. The total fall from head of Moses Coulee to Bridgeport is about 1,280 feet, the fall from the top of the divide being 1,430 feet.

Bridgeport is a small town, the only industry being a flouring mill, serving local consumption, the town being the unloading point for the settlers to this vicinity. The north bank of the Columbia opposite Bridgeport is within the Colville Indian Reservation. With railroad facilities at Bridgeport would become the distributing point for the Okanogan country. About 3,000 tons of wheat are shipped from Bridgeport to Wenatchee and about 150 tons per annum will cover the shipments of merchandise to Bridgeport.

The Okanogan country at present time furnishes an inbound traffic of about 2,000 tons of merchandise. Its product is about 3,000 head of stock, of which about eight percent comes to our line at Coulee City, balance going to Wenatchee. At the best we can only obtain the twenty percent in addition to what we have now. There is considerable mining in the upper Okanogan country and on some of the mines a fair amount of development work has been done. The ore is of low grade and cannot stand the wagon haul to river. These conditions would probably not be changed materially by the construction to Bridgeport.

According to the U.S. Engineer's report the Okanogan can be made navigable for a comparatively small amount for a distance of 75 miles and the development of the country will undoubtedly force this work within a short time. in that case the wheat lands along the Okanogan would also stand a chance of being brought under cultivation.

It is quite evident that present traffic will not support a line from Coulee City to Bridgeport. In connection with the western spur from Moses Coulee it would pay interest and operating expenses, as this combination would permit a reduction in train service corresponding with the amount of traffic offered.

24,000 tons wheat a 4.25 $102,000
7,150 tons merchandise at 10 $71500
Passengers 200 per mile $13800
Subtotal $187,300

Interest on cost of $903,600 at five percent $45,180
Maintenance 69.7 at $400 $27,680
Operation daily trains $25,000
Maintenance of equipment twenty percent $5,000
General expenses $2,500
Subtotal $105,360

Cost of interchange business
80 trains by 108 by 2 $12,528
30 trains by 256 by 2 $15,360
40 trains by 128 by 2 $10,240
64 trains by 108 $6,912
32 trains by 360 $11,200
Total train miles 56,240 at $1.20 for $73,112
Surplus $8,828


The line is located on the south bank of the Columbia to a point opposite Virginia City, about three miles below the mouth of the Okanogan River, where it comes to the north side. The river at the point of crossing is about 800 feet wide at lower water, about 1,500 feet wide at high water and range between high and low water is about 50 feet. I have estimated a permanent structure, steel spans on concrete substructure, pneumatic foundations for the channel spans. The bottom is gravel and boulders, no rock being in sight. Cost of the structure is about $350,000, including traffic charges. Comparative estimates would probably show longer spans than estimated for, more economical and would permit some reduction of the estimate. Outside of the Columbia River crossing there will be the crossing of the Methow for which 2,150 foot Howe truss spans have been provided on temporary piers.

Two small towns are located on the line, Virginia City, consisting of a few house and two stores; and Ives, at the mouth of the Methow, which forms the supply point for the Methow Valley. About half-a-dozen orchards comprise all of the cultivated land along the river.

The whole country is sparsely settled and vies the impression of being exceedingly backward. There is some bench land along the river but no extensive farming country. Fruit does well and does not require irrigation.

The Methow Valley, from the small amount of merchandise shipped, does not appear to be, as yet, a freight producer of any importance. About 2,000 head of stock are shipped out annually, most of which goes to Coulee city. The mines, some of which show a considerable amount of development, are not shipping to any extent. Practically nothing comes out except sample lots.

The passenger business done by the Columbia River boats at present time amounts to about $6,000 to $7,000 per annum. With better communication and the country becoming better known, the passenger travel to Lake Chelan should, in time, become a feature.

The Chelan River, which above Chelan widens out into a lake of an average width of one and one-quarter miles and 70 miles long, located about 360 feet above the level of the Columbia, drops from this lake to the river through a narrow canyon, forming in its lower course a series of low falls. The line was located through this canyon on a 1.2 compensated, which holds the line a considerable distance above the river at its mouth and necessitates a long and expensive descent on the slopes of the Columbia River, increasing also the cost of the canyon work itself. The estimate was made on a revised line following the bottom of the canyon more closely. The grade on this line would be about 2.5 percent maximum.

Chelan is a town of several hundred inhabitants. The lake has considerable attractions as a summer resort and along its banks are a few scattering ranches. No farming land of any extent is found along the lake; if this region should ever assume importance as a traffic producer it would be on account of mining, which is yet in its infancy, none of the mines having advanced beyond the prospect stage.

The annual freight shipments to Chelan amount to about 250 tons, nothing coming out. The boat running on the lake does a business of about $8,000 per annum, about half of the receipts being passengers.


The estimate of the cost of this line is based on the average cost per mile for the line between Chelan Ferry and Bridgeport, after eliminating special features and adding the expense of river crossing at Chelan, Entiat and Wenatchee rivers. No local traffic could be expected on this line.


In accordance with your instructions a hasty exploration of the Peshastin Range was made by Mr. Taylor, whose report I enclose. The exploration settled chiefly the fact that now low pass exists at the head of Wilson Creek as reported. The range is lowest immediate east of Mount Stuart, the lowest elevation found being about 4,100 feet. By tunnel this elevation could practicably be reduced to 3,800 feet. East of this pass the range rises to an elevation above 5,000 feet and then runs without any marked depressions and a general slope towards the east, its lowest altitude being 3,250 feet at the head of Johnson Creek, nearly due east from Ellensburg. A line to utilize any of the eastern passes would have to follow the Columbia and make the rise in one of the side creeks, making suchdevelopment as the ground would permit.

D.D. Clark made an examination of this range in 1867 and ran a preliminary up Teanaway, crossing the divide over to the Swauk and then up Swauk Creek to main divide and across down the Peshastin. As his reports give a good idea of the country in general, I attach his report in full. [Not included.]

It appears that a line with three percent maximum grades is the best that can reasonably be expected on this route. Any lower grade would require a supported line for nearly the entire distance. The estimate is based on this preliminary, the line being considered in sections according to their general features.

From Clark's report it appears that even as early as 1867 this country was settled to some extent and that some local traffic might be expected on this line. It would differ in this respect from the Columbia River route, which would be entirely barren.

The length of the line via Columbia River and Quille Desmenes Creek would be about 75 miles in connection with the main line east of Ellensburg, and its cost about $17,000 per mile, or $1,275,000. This line would make a summit elevation of about 3,670. The pass at the head of Johnson Creek appears to be too far south to be considered in this connection. The distance from Coulee city to mouth of Swauk, via Foster, Creek, Columbia-Wenatchee and Peshastin is 180 miles. Via Cheney the line is 378 miles. Distance from Cheney to Swauk is about eighteen miles longer by the new route than by present line.

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