Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The "New" Depot at Coulee City

FACE LIFTING BEGINS—Work has already begun on removing the second story from the Northern Pacific depot at Coulee City. In two months it will be a stronger, modern building, ready to face a new era and play and important role in the building of the third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam.

“Grant County Journal,” Ephrata, WA
May 12, 1966

Coulee City’s second oldest structure is getting a face-lifting—which some observers interpret as an indication of a new era of activity and prosperity to this old community—once considered the typical cowboy town of ‘the old west.”

The Northern Pacific Railroad depot, built in 1884 (I believe this to be in error), is being completely rebuilt. The second story of the structure is being removed and the bottom floor is being strengthened and modernized. A seven-man crew headed by C. W. Phar has started the rebuilding job, which is not expected to be completed until about July 1.

The demolition crew at work removing the second story of the old structure has removed hundreds of “square” nails, ranging from small shingle nails to some five inches long. The square nails date the building as one built prior to the turn of the century, when Coulee City was one of the outposts of the west.

With only three freight trains a week running into Coulee City, what’s all the excitement about?

It doesn’t take much figuring to assume that Northern Pacific is getting ready to handle the big bulk of material and equipment that will be necessary to construct the $400 million third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam. The legislation has now progressed so far in congress that it is considered a certainty to pass. With $3 million in preliminary engineering and construction funds included in the bill, the project should get underway soon after July 1.

Northern Pacific is the only railroad that can serve the Grand Coulee area and its closest and best unloading point is Coulee City. The federal government still owns a shipping yard with unloading facilities two miles east of Coulee City. With heavy crane facilities, it is considered a certainty that this will be the principal unloading point for material and equipment that will be needed to build and equip the new powerhouse planned at the big dam. Giant generators and turbines will be coming. And it is estimated that nearly 5,000 carloads of cement will be required in the new powerhouse structure and dam alterations.

During construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the thirties, Northern Pacific ran a spur line to the dam. The track ran from Grand Coulee up the bottom of the Grand Coulee to the damsite. The old track bed now lies at the bottom of Banks Lake, the storage lake for water used in irrigating the Columbia Basin Project. The country between Coulee City and the damsite is so rugged that it is not considered feasible to construct another spur line. So most of the material and equipment will be trucked from Coulee City to Coulee Dam. This should create a new era of prosperity for Coulee City and the Northern Pacific.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Great Northern Rock Ovens Between Quincy and Trinidad

Back in 1892, the Great Northern was trying to complete its mainline for transcontinental traffic. Part of the hold-up was trestles in Lynch Coulee and also just down the line at the Rock Island bridge.

In order to complete the line, the GN had up to 4000 men working in Eastern Washington, specifically in this area.

It takes time to build trestles and bridges, so you can expect the men to have to camp near the work site. In this area, very near the old station of Crater, there are many ovens, built of rock. They would have had a large fire built inside of them to heat the rocks. Then the fire would have been removed and the ashes swept away. The heat in the rock would then cook any food placed in the oven.

The following newspaper article sums up most of the story:
THE SEATTLE TIMES, Sunday, October 22, 1967

Rock Ovens left by Railway Builders
by Leonard Ekman

Several ethnic groups contributed their sweat and muscle power to making grades, boring tunnels, scattering ties and laying steel rails when the nation's transcontinental railroads were built to the Pacific Coast. Among them the Swedes, Irish and Orientals will be remembered for their role in railroad history. Some of them left physical marks along the way which now identify the nationality of the men who made them.

One national group, the Italians, left beehive ovens made of rock, in which they baked bread, along the rights of way of the nation’s newly constructed railroads. One group of these ovens, of which only one or two are semi intact, can be seen at a Great Northern tunnel construction site near Trinidad, 25 miles east of Wenatchee, and one in the Tumwater River Canyon west of Leavenworth.

George Smart, retired Great Northern engineering employee, recalls seeing ovens built by Italians in construction days along the Great Northern right of way. They were made of the rock material at hand and sometimes were plastered with mud. An opening at the top served as a chimney, and a hole on the side provided an opening for firing. Since they were intended only as a temporary convenience and were loosely held together, most of them long since have been destroyed by the weather, or were removed when land along the railroad was cleared.

Many Italians employed by westwardbound railroads were new arrivals from their homeland, and brought with them their love for bread, a particular kind, made with a special flour. To satisfy this need the flour was stocked aboard construction trains where bread-hungry Italians lost no time in turning it into bread. Smart remembers one inventive crew which fashioned an emergency oven out of scrap metal and mud in a tool car on a construction train. The oven produced quality bread but the constant jarring of the tool car, as it moved back and forth on the project, caused the bread makers to make almost daily repairs.

The ovens near Trinidad and in the Tumwater River Canyon apparently are the only ones remaining. The single oven in Tumwater Canyon is about 100 feet from the grade once used by the railway in crossing Stevens Pass, and is now slowly being surrounded by second-growth timber and brush. If mud was used to plaster the outside of this one, it has been washed away by rain and melting snow. The Tumwater oven and those near Trinidad are similarly constructed. It appears, therefore, that the same workmen built ovens at both sites as they moved along.

A pioneer woman, living in Moses Coulee, along the railway's Mansfield branch, relates that a beehive oven once stood near the mouth of this coulee, but that it has collapsed and its parts are scattered.

The Great Northern tracks reached Wenatchee in 1892. The site where one sees the ovens was once a camp of considerable size, at a place where a series of deep cuts were made in basalt rock. The job was to bring the railroad off the Columbia Plateau to water grade at the Columbia River. Because workmen were stationed there for several months while the cuts were excavated, there was time for building ovens and for baking the bread they relished.

In 1891, when track workers labored on the rock-bound grade near Trinidad, no power equipment was used for drilling or for moving rock. Hand-held drills, struck by burly, maul-swinging laborers, made the holes for blasting powder. After each round of blasting, the loosened rock was hauled from the cut in wheelbarrows, where it was dumped over the side of the coulee near the project. Pay for this arduous work was $2.00 a day, for a ten hour shift.

Included in the large work force was a group of 250 Italians. Although the contractor's bunkhouse provided board and room for the workmen, the Italians lived in a separate camp. This stemmed from the fact that after deductions for board and room were made at the end of the month, each workman had only a small part of his salary left. The independent Italians lived in makeshift tents, shacks made of whatever material could be found and crudely made stone huts.

Among the Italians was Peter Janni, a boy of 17, who had gone from Italy to Butte, Montana, where his father was working on the famous copper hill. Peter's job consisted of carrying steel drills from the drill crews to the shop where they were sharpened, and back to the drillers when the steel had been reconditioned and tempered. At times, when no steel needed sharpening, he took a turn on a wheelbarrow, hauling rock from the diggings to the dump on the rim of the coulee. Although he was not required to haul rock, he was afraid he might be fired if caught not working. Since his father returned to Italy shortly after Peter's arrival at the Trinidad camp, the thought of being unemployed and alone in a strange land was indeed frightening.

Now 93, living at Northport, Janni still has vivid memories of his experiences at Trinidad. He is no doubt the only person still alive who worked at the camp, Janni recalls that the men slept on sagebrush boughs covered with blankets, and that at times when the men awoke in the morning they would find that several rattlesnakes had moved in.

Janni explained that the Italian men divided into groups of up to ten each. Each group constructed an oven for bread. Besides the economy factor, their love for bread doubtless was one of the reasons for living in an independent camp. Each group hired a cook whose salary of $2.00 a day was apportioned among its members. One can surmise that a talented breadmaker was much appreciated among men whose standard of living can be classed as bare existence.

Baking bread in a beehive oven was a relatively simple process. Dough was kneaded on a flat piece of driftwood found along the Columbia River. Meanwhile, a sagewood fire was lit in the oven and tended until the bottom and rock walls were well heated. Then large pieces of dough were placed on the rocky bottom of the oven with. a wooden paddle also made of driftwood. In imagination one can sense the aroma of baking bread, mixed with the spicy odor of sagebrush, drifting through the camp of the hungry men.

In a nostalgic mood Janni said: "The bread was so hard that if a man had been struck in the head by one of the loaves it would have killed him." Then he added, "But it was real bread."

Fresh meat was often scarce or unobtainable. Jackrabbits were plentiful, however, and rabbit stew was often part of the menu.

Asked if wine was consumed at their meals, Janni replied: "No wine-we hardly had any water!"

Water was hauled three miles from the Columbia, and rationed in camp. If a man wanted a bath, or to wash his clothes, a hike of three miles across the parched, rattlesnake-infested country to the Columbia was the price paid for cleanliness.

I found evidence of at least 5 ovens. A clue for the ones that have fallen into rubble was rock that had turned reddish due to the head of the fire.

There were lots and lots of old rusty cans of varying sizes. Many were larger gallon sizes that had corrugated sizes. A few had the ends with writing still visible:

There were many rock foundations, that would have been around the edges of tents. There were about 2 dozen or so that I could recognize:

In the satellite picture below, the road in the bottom left is SR28 as it heads down the big hill to Trinidad. The black line is the current railroad grade.

The oven near the east industry switch down at Trinidad proper has been partially bulldozed in. Here is a photo taken a few years back of it:


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Notes on the Milwaukee Road Moses Lake Branch

Stations on this branch were Tiflis (where it had a junction with the Marcellus branch), Jardine, Sieler, Scalley, McDonald, Goodrich, and Moses Lake.

The line generated pretty good money, $2.6 million in 1972, $3.2 million in 1973 and $2.7 million in 1974 (from total revenue traffic of $4.1 million).

The big station was not Moses Lake, but Scalley.

Moses Lake was a $339,000 station in 1972 and grew to $619,000 in 1974, but Scalley was a $1.4 million station in 1972, $1.7 million in 1973 and $1.3 million in 1974. McDonald generated between $780,000 and $1 million each year. Most of the freight off the line was $1,100/carload freight probably sugar to Minneapolis since the Milwaukee was using air-slide hopper cars. (Milwaukee's average carload revenue in 1974 was $401).

Scalley was the only community Milwaukee listed on that line as being
served by another railroad, but Milwaukee did pretty well there anyway. What is interesting is that Scalley had a lot of terminating tonnage.

Compared to 735 carloads outgoing, it had 1,482 carloads of terminating tonnage. It was only $152/carload business, however, which looks like very local traffic of some sort, but a lot of it.

The rest of the line total only had 300 carloads of terminating tonnage: feed, seed, and implements, so Scalley was atypical. Milwaukee listed no population at all for that station.

Scalley was U&I Sugar (built 1954). It was never a community, just an Northern Pacific name for the industrial area south of Wheeler. There were a few houses in the area but not a community so to speak. The Milwaukee had access to the U and I plant by a 4 1/4 mile spur which originated west of Seiler.

Milwaukee got the U&I traffic because their service was superior to Northern Pacific/Burlington Northern's. The NP/BN would trundle the U&I loads down to Connell, then they would go on down to Pasco, then be sorted, then get on a train to Minot, then be sorted again, then get on a train to Minneapolis. Very slow service.

Milwaukee's Mosey Local would take the sugar loads to Othello during the night where they would be picked up by train 264 or 2-262 the next morning and go straight to St. Paul. Very good service.


When the Milwaukee Road was in its bankruptcy period, traffic on the Moses Lake branch was considered very lucrative and was highly considered as part of keeping the railroad afloat.

In 1979, a potato shipper operating both "Moses Lake-Othello" facilities was attempting to commit Milwaukee to shipping an additional 1,000 refrigerated
piggyback trailers long haul to Chicago and another 1,000 refrigerated trailer shipments were committed from the Pacific Northwest Shipper's Association long haul to points east from "Moses Lake -- Othello."

American Potato was identified separately as guaranteeing 232 carloads of long haul through Chicago. U&I sugar promised 426 carloads from Scalley to Minneapolis if equipment was available.

This was all long-haul and represented an additional $2 to 3 million in revenue available to the Milwaukee if it elected to upgrade its tracks and not abandon them.

The Burlington Northern saw a good deal when the Milwaukee abandoned its tracks west of Miles City, Montana in 1980. The BN purchased the Moses Lake branch, plus the Milwaukee mainline from Warden to Royal City Jct and Royal City.

BN tied in its NP branch with the Milwaukee mainline at Warden, where the NP had crossed over the Milwaukee, with a small piece of new track, getting rid of the overpass.

The section of the Moses Lake branch from Warden to Seiler was abandoned (along with all of the Marcellus branch), but the section of the NP connecting to the Milwaukee at Scalley was used to access the remaining Moses Lake branch.

New Telegraph Line to Mansfield

From the "Coulee City News."

Friday, March 7, 1947

Under the heading "Mansfield News" comes this tidbit:

A crew of Great Northern workmen are setting new poses for the telegraph line. The old ones have been in service 17 years.

Coulee City Long Ago...

Found this old photo of Coulee City. Don't have a real good idea what year it was taken, but things sure have changed since then.

A noticeable feature is the railroad grade in the lower left hand corner. It is the old Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern. This spot was probably well bulldozed in preparation for what is now US 2 and Dry Falls Dam.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old Railroad Grades in Eastern Douglas County

I found a map that shows the old Central Washington Railway grades as they were climbing up the Grand Coulee outside of Coulee City. To my knowledge, there were no rails laid beyond Coulee City, but the grade did make it up to the top of the Coulee.

This shows the satellite view of the current SR 17, where an old section of SR 17 joined US 2.

Now the map from Douglas County:

There are more township/section/range maps in this area showing both grades of the Central Washington and the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern:

All of this can be followed with satellite images, or even getting out in the brush.
This photo shows the Central Washington between the current US 2 and the old US 2:

It was evident there was some heavy grades for trains to climb:

Here is where there would have been a large curved trestle, located just uphill from the Dry Falls Interpretive Center:

Another satellite shot with elevation place marks charting the Central Washington from Coulee City up the Coulee:

Unfortunately, there is no evidence of remaining grades beyond the crest of the hill. This could be due to heavy farming of the whole area where the grades would have gone. There is evidence that there could have been further grading, as evidence of this 1895 map:

So the search continues...