Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Wenatchee Southern

From “History of Wenatchee”

by John A Gellatly, 1958

During the years 1920 and 1921 the Wenatchee area was producing large crops of apples and the Great Northern Railway Company was having trouble in being able to supply sufficient refrigerator cars to promptly move the fruit to market. At that time, there were not enough cold storage plants available to house the fruit at this end of the line, making for a situation where it had to be shipped immediately to eastern points where storage was obtainable.

Conditions at certain times aroused grave concern for fear that heavy losses might result if more cars could not be had. This condition reached a point where a number of growers felt that if a connection could be made with the Milwaukee Railway at Beverly, some fifty miles below Wenatchee, that the competition which would result would insure or make certain our getting refrigerator cars as needed.

Sentiment for the new railway connecting reached a point where a company was incorporated and the active sale of stock followed. I never knew how much money was subscribed, but the new company did purchase considerable right of way for the proposed railway. This being quite a large undertaking for community of this size, progress towards an accomplishment naturally did not move very fast. The committee in charge headed by H.A. Saunders, a large fruit grower, got a little ahead of proper procedure, as a the newly organized company started spending money for right of way before permit had been issued by the ICC, a most important requirement. When an application was filed for a permit, a public hearing was arranged for by the officers of the ICC to be held in Tacoma, where the pros and cons could be heard. while the major portion of the people to be effected were enthusiastic, there were others who felt that instead of another railroad to be maintained, all we actually needed was more refrigerator cars, as the roadbed and the rails on the Great Northern could handle an unlimited number of cars if they had them. The Great Northern Company officials were able to convince the government officials that their company would use every human effort possible to get the necessary cars and that the whole situation would be resolved just as soon as this was done. In the end the permit was denied and the plans to build the new line had to be abandoned, resulting in considerable financial loss to the promoters and, of course, a great disappointment as well. Be it said to the credit of the Great Northern, however, there has never been since that time, much difficulty in getting all the cars necessary to move the crop as fast as it was ready for shipment. Additional cold storage warehouses at this end has materially helped out.


It is generally know that this section of the state has never had any railway service other that the Great Northern system. As the fruit production of the area reached large proportions, that company in certain seasons had difficulty in supplying the necessary cold storage fruit cars and, as this district did not have sufficient cold storage warehouses to properly care for this fruit, many growers became quite concerned about the matter. Several growers and businessmen under the belief that another rail outlet would assist in curing the situation with the result that on March 20, 1920, a new corporation named the Wenatchee Southern Railway Company was formed, the idea being to construct a railway line down along the Columbia River from Wenatchee to as far as Pasco. Such a line would make available the facilities of the Milwaukee, the Northern Pacific, and the Union Pacific Systems. It was understood, however, that the first big effort would be to build as far as the Milwaukee. The corporate papers included the names of Ed S. Russell, H.A. Saunders, Harry I. Shotwell, R.T. Burkey, L.D. Merritt, H.G. Bohlke, W.S. Gehr, L.L. Matthews, A.L. Morris, W.S. Batterman, A.N. Corbin, H.N. May, N.I. Neubauer, A.Z. Wells, W.T. Powell, T.L. Ross, T.H. Atkinson, Guy C. Browne, C.E. Chase, Conrad Rose and Wm. H. Little.

Officers for the new company were immediately elected and instructed to proceed as rapidly as possible in seeding finances with which to buy right-of-way and to do all other necessary operations to get the ball rolling for a new railroad into Wenatchee. Some funds were made available immediately and considerable right-of-way just south of Wenatchee was purchased.

These men were very conscientious in their belief that another railroad built into our valley would materially benefit the entire North Central Washington district. Before a new line could be built, it developed that the Interstate Commerce Commission would have to give its sanction. In an effort to obtain this approval, a hearing was held in Tacoma where witnesses in favor of the new line could present their reasons and where any other with contrary views could also be heard.

The ICC after hearing all the evidence presented from both sides decided that the new line was not really needed, provided the Great Northern Company would furnish more freezer cars, as the railroad tracks that company maintained were capable of hauling ten times the tonnage that could be produced in this area. This decision by the ICC obviously put an end to this well intended enterprise, and those who had invested money in it took a considerable loss as there were not enough assets to pay out the costs when the project was abandoned.

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