Thursday, December 31, 2009

1912 Creston

From "The 1912 Standard Atlas of Lincoln County."



For a current peek, here is a link to Google maps.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Part of a Letter From JP Morgan to JJ Hill About the Northern Pacific

New York
November 23, 1898

James J. Hill, Es.
C/O Great Northern
St. Paul, Minnesota


...Referring now to a point of criticism originally stated in your letter of September 27, viz: "a disposition to buy or build lines which cannot be operated advantageously as a art of the system, and c." Your favor under reply, while dwelling on various details concerning our schedule of new construction or new acquisition by the Northern Pacific, does not, it seems to us, indicate any basis for this criticism, unless perhaps the purchase of the Washington and Columbia River, for which purchase, as indicated further on, we understood we had your approval...

...Three. Seattle and International.
Undoubtedly if this property had been bought earlier, money could have been saved, but if we remember aright, you and we had one or two conversations about it and we both felt that it was undesirable to disclose undue anxiety. Later, the aggressive attitude of the Canadian Pacific, as you remark, led you to advise us to make the purchase at a relatively high price, which we did, entirely concurring in your own opinion.

Four. Washington and Columbia River.
Of course, we should much regret anything in the notice to the Navigation people which could give just cause for complaint, but we think you err in your recollection of the date when you advise Mr. Coster to acquire that road was _before_ [emphasis in original] the date of the so-called protocol. The protocol was made in August, 1897. If we remember correctly, your advice to purchase the road was given about the end of 1897 or early in 1898, shortly before the purchase was made...

...Eleven. Central of Washington.
You will observe that this being one of the lines leased to the old company was a proper acquisition by the new company. As to its possible extension Mr. Coster wrote you fully a while ago and will discuss this matter with you on some future occasion. It does not seem to be one that requires hasty consideration, although as matters stand the Northern Pacific is badly handicapped...

...Thanking you for the trouble you have taken to lay your views before us, and always at your cal, we remain, very truly,
J.P. Morgan

Monday, December 21, 2009

Part of a Letter From JJ Hill to JP Morgan About the Northern Pacific

St. Paul, Minnesota
November 8, 1898

Messrs. J.P. Morgan and Company
Number 23, Wall Street, New York City, N.Y.


...It was considered by your legal advisers the part of wisdom to get all claims for rental and leased lines against the old Northern Pacific out of the way. This applied to the Seattle and International and to the Washington Central as well. Earlier action in regard to the Seattle and International would certainly have saved the Northern Pacific a large sum of money. When your house advised me as to the plan of the Canadian Pacific for buying it, I wired at once advising its purchase and offering, if necessary, to join the Northern Pacific in such purchase.

The Central of Washington, being leased to the old company, the same conditions apply to it as to the Seattle and International, and it rightly came under the lines covered by the London Agreement which we were to discourage, etc.

As regards the Washington and Columbia, I think it was unfortunate that Mr. [Edward Dean] Adams [interim president, Northern Pacific], or whoever was to notify the Navigation as to the Northern Pacific’s desire to purchase it, did not do so in a manner to avoid any cause for complaint of not fairly carrying out the terms of the protocol, which has unfortunately existed from that time to the present. The business of the Washington and Columbia was always turned over to the Northern Pacific at the junction, and Mr. [A.L.] Mohler [of Navigation] assured me more than once that he did not intend or expect to disturb the relations in that regard. On the whole, I am sure that the Northern Pacific has suffered much more loss than it gained, because of the uneasy feeling of distrust and want of confidence created in the minds of the [Navigation] and Union Pacific people. I have always endeavored to heal this breach, as I felt sure that unless an agreement was reached, both lines would suffer, and, in the end, it might result in our being compelled to build both into the Palouse Country and to Portland, where there was already enough lines to do the business and more railroad capital invested than can be maintained in such an event as I have described. As to my advice to Mr. Coster to acquire control of the Washington and Columbia, kindly bear in mind that this was before the date of the protocol under which certain agreements were made as to that property.

The object of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific joining in the purchase of the [Navigation] Preferred share was to secure harmony and avoid building unnecessary lines in that territory. The Great Northern, after building to Spokane, has no lines of its own into the Palouse, Snake River, and Walla Walla territory, and in giving up the construction of such lines, made, as I view it, the greatest concession, as it left the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific in peaceable possession of that territory, and, at the same time, gave all its traffic to the [Navigation] at Spokane, thus securing to it a large revenue. Mr. Mellen has repeatedly proposed that both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern should sell their respective holdings in [the Navigation], and build from the mouth of the Snake River, on the north side of the Columbia, to Portland, and this wile both our companies were a party to an agreement to do otherwise. As to Mr. [Charles] B. Wright’s connection with the Washington and Columbia - - he furnished a sum of money to a local party named [George Washington] Hunt to build the road and sell it to the Northern Pacific at a profit. While we were selecting a line over the Rocky Mountains, we considered a line by way of the Lo Lo Pass and the valley of the Clearwater to Lewiston; thence down the Snake River, and, pending the survey, I had an option on the Washington and Columbia at a lower price than was paid for it by the Northern Pacific. When we decided to adopt our present line, Hunt asked me to help him to sell it to the Northern Pacific by not making public our intention of going north. He expressed great fear that Wright would squeeze him out and sell the property to the Northern Pacific, making the money for himself, and this seems to have been the course actually pursued, both as to Hunt and the sale to the Northern Pacific...

...The extension of the line of the Central Washington.
I have already written in regard to this quite fully, both from the standpoint of the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern, and I trust my statement of the situation was such as to dispose of any further extension of that line in any direction. In order to help the Northern Pacific on any grain or other commodity it wishes to ship from that line to the Pacific Coast we will, if desired, join in giving it a connection about thirty miles west of Spokane, and vive it a division of the through rate, which will allow the Northern Pacific more profit on the business that it can make by hauling it over its main line, or by any extension...

...But a few days ago, Judge [Wiliam D.] Cornish, of the [Vice-President] Oregon Short Line, told me that Mr. Mellen had made strong efforts to get control of the Union Depot property at Spokane, which is now used by our company and the [Navigation], giving as his reason for desiring such control, that while the "Northern Pacific did not want the property, he knew that we did want it, and he was going to make it cost us the highest price he could." I do not usually pay much attention to such statements, but Judge Cornish is a man of undoubted character and veracity, and Mr. Mellen’s statement to him certainly was unwise; and not such as our relations to the Northern Pacific entitle us to expect. The attempt to overreach us in the matter of our land at Seattle was shortsighted, the only effect of which, as far as we are concerned, was to destroy any reliance with might place in his professions of friendship, or wish to preserve good feeling and harmony with our company.

J.J. Hill

Thanks to John Phillips III for filling in the names.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Milwaukee Road Grade Crossing Wreck at Moses Lake

From the "Wenatchee Daily World."

January 5, 1955





A tattered and torn pocket Bible found among the wreckage along a railroad track where E.R. Zirker of Mae met death in a crossing smash at noon Tuesday provided a funeral text.

The Bible was carried 500 feet down the track from the point of impact and came to rest with its pages open. At the top of the right hand page was this verse: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1st Corinthians, 55th verse, 15th Chapter)

The Bible was first noticed by Howard Light, Arden Farms truck driver, who called a reporter's attention to it.

The accident occurred at 12:02 pm Tuesday at the Milwaukee branch line crossing on PSH 18 about 10 miles east of Moses Lake. It was the first traffic fatality of the year in North Central Washington.

Zirker, 49, driving a 1954 flatbed truck with 10 head of calves on the truck, drove right into the front of the diesel locomotive and ten freight cars.

Zirker was thrown clear from the cab and hurled about 45 feet, and apparently was instantly killed. The truck, which was reduced to a splintered mass of wreckage, was carried 775 feet down the track before the train could be stopped.

Engineer Walter Krause, Malden, and Conductor H.R. Freeman, Malden, said the train was traveling about 26 miles an hour at the time of the accident. The crossing is protected by flashing light signals and visibility is good in both directions. The road was dry.

The train was going south and Zirker, driving a truck belonging to his brother, John E. Zirker, was driving east.

Members of the train crew and State Patrolman Larry Linnell who investigate the accident were at a loss to explain the cause of the accident.

Coroner Robert S. Campbell Jr. and Deputy Coroner Paul Klasen of Ephrata also assisted in the investigation.

The truck was totally demolished, $100 damage was done to one of the railroad signal lights, and $300 damage to the locomotive.

Zirker's brother, John E. Zirker, who lives about two miles from the scene of the accident, was called to the wreck and identified his brother. The body was removed to the Eccleston and Coy Funeral Home in Moses Lake.

Zirker is survived by three children at the home, and by two brothers, John E. Zirker, Moses Lake, and Julius Zirker, of Mae Valley.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ephrata Depot to Improve

From the "Grant County Daily Journal," Ephrata, WA

May 30, 1920

Sam Doran, the popular agent of the Great Northern at Ephrata, announced today that the company has decided to put in electric lights and install a telephone for the convenience of the patrons of the railroad company.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Coulee City Street Scene 1909-1917 Era

Compare to the shots seen in the Difference of Decades post.


Great Northern Oriental Limited Wrecked at Wilson Creek

From the "Grant County Daily Journal," Ephrata, WA

August 6, 1920

The Great Northern Oriental Limited, westbound, ran into an open switch and collided with a work car standing on the siding when pulling into Wilson Creek at 10:15 Monday. The baggage car left the track and the work car was wrecked but the engine and remaining cars stayed in place.

Eight were injured in the accident and were brought to Wenatchee by special train. All were taken to the General hospital and none found to be fatally hurt. Dr. L.S. Easton and wife of Seattle happened to be driving through Wilson Creek at the time of the accident and they helped to give temporary aid to the sufferers. The injured who were brought to Wenatchee were;

Edward Campbell, conductor, Spokane, sprained ankle, arm and wrenched back; M.E. Barrett, Spokane, breakman (sic), leg and back injured; Louis Arbogast, roadmaster, Wilson Creek, internal injuries; George Pegouis, laborer, leg bruised; Nick Mikos, foreman, head and arm bruised; Sam Asheros, laborer, broken leg; John Dama, laborer, internal injuries.

A passenger, J.W. Stetson, pulled the bell cord which applied the air brakes as soon as the collision occurred, which kept the cars on the track.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Railroad Brings Fire to Ephrata

From the "Grant County Journal," Ephrata, WA

July 18, 1955

The Ephrata volunteer fire department had two fires delivered to them shortly after 11 o'clock Sunday night.

Two hot boxes developed on a boxcar of wood pulp and a flat car of lumber, 15 cars apart, while an eastbound freight was switching the Ephrata yards. The Great Northern freight crew did some fast switching, cut out the two cars and shunted them down the main line to a spot near the depot, just across the street from eh Ephrata fire station.

Flames from the overheated journal on the lumber car had licked up to chips below the load of lumber and were crawling up the side of the stacked lumber. "The fire was shooting six feet above the top of the car by the time we got here," a trainman said.

Employes at the depot saw the flames and called the fire department as the cars were brought down the line. The hot boxes were on opposite sides of the two cars. The fires were extinguished with only minor damage to the two cars, which were later sidetracked for repairs.

A passenger train scheduled for 11:15 was late. Otherwise, traffic would have been delayed for about half and hour.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Liberty Bell at Wilson Creek

The Liberty Bell traveled through the area on its way to Seattle back in 1915. See photos of it in Harrington and Ephrata.





Photo of the bell being rung while at Wilson Creek.




Photos courtesy of Wilson Creek Mayor, Kathy Bohnet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Northern Pacific Ownership Near Taunton

From the "Standard Atlas of Adams County."

1912



Of note is the railroad being the Chicago Milwaukee & Puget Sound, but land ownership by the Northern Pacific dated back to the checkerboard land grant which gave the NP alternating sections of land for 40 miles in each direction of its line.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Puget Sound, Spokane, International Railroad Co?

From the "Grant County Daily Journal," Ephrata, WA

August 3, 1920



Anyone shed any light on this one?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Railroads of Grant County 1989-1999

The 1990s were busy for railroads, nationally and in Grant County. Consolidations of large roads continued, as well as continued reduction in miles of track operated by those same large roads.

Railroads look to mergers to help promote their competitive position in relationship to other railroads and trucking companies. As a product of mergers, the Burlington Northern had most of its respective lines put together and was looking around for ways to stay ahead of its closest rival, the Union Pacific. In order to do so, BN looked for another railroad that would compliment its traffic base, and not need too much government interference to make it work.

On June 30, 1994, the Burlington Northern and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe announced plans to merge; they were respectively the largest and smallest by mileage of the "Super Seven," the largest of the then-twelve U.S. Class I railroads. The two systems complemented each other with little overlap. The BN had a major source of traffic in its coal lines out of Wyoming, and the Santa Fe had the best intermodal program of any line. After much wrangling with the Union Pacific for the Santa Fe, BN bought the Santa Fe, and on September 22, 1995, the railroad’s holding companies merged. On December 31, 1996, the railroads were combined as the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF).

Both the Santa Fe and the BN had been ridding themselves of branchlines since 1980, with the Santa Fe side being much more aggressive with their removals. So now the combined road, the BNSF, looked hard at the remaining BN lines.

A few of the remaining unprofitable lines in the Palouse were ripped up in the 1990s, along with the last remnant of the Northern Pacific Wahluke Branch between Mesa and Basin City in 1996. BNSF sold its Central Washington branch, which ran between Cheney and Coulee City, on September 19, 1996. The new shortline railroad which started operations on the line was called the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad (PCC). The Palouse River part of the name was for another BNSF line that it purchased at the same time.

A section of line that the BN had sold back in 1986 was purchased back by the BNSF, and then turned over to a new shortline. The Washington Central (WCRC), which served the Moses Lake area, also operated a former Northern Pacific/Burlington Northern mainline from Kennewick through Yakima to Cle Elum. BNSF wanted it back, to add capacity to freight being transported from the west side of the state. BNSF bought the WCRC on December 4, 1996. Since the BNSF was not interested in operating the line to Moses Lake, it was turned over to the Columbia Basin Railway (CBRW), also on December 4, 1996, which was owned by the same people who had run the WCRC. No changes were made in day-to-day operations, because the same locomotives were used between the WCRC and CBRW.

The BN had been an industry leader in the number of grain hopper cars it operated in the 1990s, and it looked to any source to increase its fleet. But there were still shortages. The BN/BNSF earned more money hauling grain from the Midwest to ports in the Pacific Northwest than they could through shorter-distance trips within Washington. This reduced the supply of empty grain cars for Eastern Washington grain shippers.

The first “Washington Grain Train” was a joint effort between the Port of Walla Walla and the Washington State Department of Transportation. This train was purchased in 1994 with money Washington State received from the Washington State Energy Office. These federal funds came from money awarded to the government as a result of successful litigation against oil companies, who had overcharged consumers. The first train operated near Walla Walla, and generated enough revenue to pay for another train.

The second train, serving the Moses Lake area, was unveiled in April 2000, and was established as a partnership between the State, the Port of Moses Lake, and wheat farmers in Grant and Adams Counties.

There is now a third train operating in the Whitman County area. These cars are bright yellow in color, and the ones serving the Moses Lake area are lettered for the CBRW, along with the large Grain Train graphics.

As the 1990s closed, major railroads were facing boom times and struggling to handle the traffic, but shortlines were facing a lack of traffic, and their decisions were to initiate major changes in the 2000s.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern in Spokane

From "He Built Seattle, A Biography of Judge Thomas Burke," by Robert Nesbit

"Meanwhile, the rumors and predictions of an ambitious extension of the SLS&E were coming to fruition despite the (money) troubles. The "Seattle Daily Press" noted one day that the mayor of Spokane Falls and the secretary of the Walla Walla Board of Trade were in town to talk subsidies with the railroad for an extension to their cities. Burke had been carrying on an encouraging correspondence with a number of men in eastern Washington, assuring them that the SLS&E was their best hope for release from the monopoly operations of the Northern Pacific or Oregon Rail and Navigation Company. The new road would come their way, he said, as soon as those who were providing the "sinews of war" should give the signal.

"Paul Mohr, the new general manager of the SLS&E had been a resident of Spokane for some time; he was therefore the logical choice to negotiate with the people there. He was carrying on this work during March and April, 1888, while Burke was busy harmonizing and explaining in the the quarrel between Gilman and the New York bankers. An arrangement was worked out by Mohr whereby the citizens of Spokane Falls pledged a subscription of $175,000 to the railroad's capital stock, in exchange for which the railroad people promised to begin construction from Spokane westward within thirty days..."

"...With the invasion of Spokane Falls, the SLS&E aroused to a more acute sense of peril powerful rival. This was to endanger their plans as much as were their current financial difficulties. The Northern Pacific had been caught napping when the SLS&E  raised the Spokane subsidy and got control of desirable terminal properties there. On his own initiative, the judge had threatened a Northern Pacific branch line, the Spokane and Northern, by putting a surveying party into the field and having a few graders put to work in strategic spots to hold them. This was on a route which would connect Spokane with the Canadian Pacific. Burke considered it the legitimate territory of their railroad and spent some $10,000 on this attempt to outmaneuver the Northern Pacific, but this project had to be abandoned.

"Burke claimed that the Northern Pacific had been contemplating a drive for a subsidy from Spokane Falls which the SLS&E had successfully undercut. This may have been so, but the Northern Pacific had more important competitors at the time in the Oregon Rail and Navigation Company--backed by the Union Pacific--which was building a network of lines in the inland empire.

"The bold action of the SLS&E compelled the attention of the Northern Pacific. It shook into life another subsidiary line, the Washington Central Railway, and began to match the Seattle road mile for mile on a parallel line westward from Spokane. The SLS&E built more than 40 miles of line out of Spokane in the summer of 1888 but was considerably harassed by the Northern Pacific. At one point, the Northern Pacific branch tried to appropriate the SLS&E roadbed but was enjoined by the courts on Burke's appeal and did not contest the matter. The Northern Pacific's activities in the Spokane country cannot have been reassuring to prospective bondholders of the Seattle promotion.

"Most of the Seattle and Eastern Construction Company's remaining financial resources, in the summer of 1888, were used in building the cheaper mileage out of Spokane Falls. By December of that year, Burke said that the construction company had disbursed $525,000 on that part of the line and owed another $150,000 on the forty-five miles built that season."

"The branch out of Spokane, until it covered a few hundred more miles, was simply a feeder for the Northern Pacific. What business there was along it was competed for by the Northern Pacific subsidiary, the Washington Central. In 1888, a line from Spokane to Coulee City was a dubious commercial venture."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Map of Columbia River and the Start of the Mansfield Branch

From the "1915 Standard Atlas of Douglas County."

Note the little spot called "Moses Coulee Siding." Up to the point where the branch turns up Douglas Creek was once part of the original GN mainline.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern in Wenatchee?

From "He Built Seattle, A Biography of Judge Thomas Burke," by Robert Nesbit
..."The line from Spokane Falls ran almost due westward into the Big Bend country, far north of the line originally projected. After surveys and a proper interval, the promoters announced the abandonment of the Snoqualmie Pass route in favor of a mountain crossing further north over Cady Pass. This route would use the line of the Wenatchee River on the east side, crossing the Columbia near the Wenatchee's mouth. This move relieved them of the necessity of paralleling the Northern Pacific's Cascade division which now was in use down the Yakima River. But it was announced that the original line would be pushed as far as the summit of Snoqualmie Pass to reach the iron mines there, in order to serve the Kirkland works.

"Before the announcement of the new route, a syndicate of Seattle men including Burke, Gilman, and Haller quietly bought up the site of the present city of Wenatchee where the expected Columbia River crossing was to be. The Columbia was navigable for some miles above this point, and a mining boom in the Okanogan country promised to make this an important connection. Although the SLS&E did not survive to reach this crossing, this stroke of business was not lost; the site became the crossing and division point on the Great Northern after the Hill road was cut in for a one quarter interest in the townsite.

"Wenatchee was the most ambitious townsite plan for which Burke and others connected with the promotion got up syndicates. The judge also had in interest in such a site a few miles west of Spokane, which they christened Logan to honor the general. The site of Logan was not a success; Burke had it rented as a wheat field for many years after."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dam Large Load at Odair

From the "News & Standard," Coulee City, WA

August, 9, 1973

Unloaded last week at Odair by Weilhelm Trucking, Portland---One section of main generator shaft---The largest shaft ever built, this section is 18 feet long, weighs 240,000 pounds, has an inside measurement of 8 feet and inside walls 8 inches thick. It bolts together with two other sections, using 26 bolts weighing 500 lbs each and 26 nuts weighing 150 lbs each. An ingenious method had been adopted for tightening the nuts. Each bolt and nut is preheated before being placed in position, the nut is then threaded and turned a pre-determined  number of turns. The bolt is then allowed to cool drawing up the nut so tight that the only way it can ever be loosened is to reverse the preheating process.

The hollow shaft is built of special steel which allows the shaft to flex. According to Mr. Reekie, West Coast General Manager of Westinghouse Electric Corp., the water wheel attaches to the bottom of the generator shaft and when the water from the 40 ft water tubes hits the wheel there is so much force that the lower  end of the shaft twists and begins turning before the top end starts. The flexible feature then allows the top to catch up with the bottom in revolutions.


Burlington Northern Inc. handled the shipment from Portland and from Cheney to Odair, speed was limited to 15 mph because of the weight. The special 16 wheel deep well flat car with the shaft weighed 447,000 lbs. Shown in the picture is Skip Connor, BN Agent and John Reekie, Westinghouse Electric West Coast Manager.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Proof of The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern Plans to Cross Washington

From a letter by Judge Thomas Burke, a principle in the SLSE to Captain A.B. Wycoff.

December 20, 1888

..."North Yakima is and will be, a good interior town. It will never be a very large place, but it has a good country to support it, and is likely to remain an important place. I should hesitate, however, to put much money there. The reason why I should, will be obvious to you, if you will take note of the towns in the interior of Illinois for instance. I was in Springfield last summer, and I took pains to inquire the price of city residence property, and I was surprised to find that there was hardly any market for it at all. Three or four cities with Chicago, of course, in the lead, seem to absorb everything. Is not the same thing likely to happen in Wash. Ty.(territory) ? There will  probably be one or tow large towns in Eastern Washington. One of these, I think, will be Spokane Falls; and North Yakima, Ellensburg, and a town at the mouth of the Wenatchee where the S.L.S.&E. Ry. will cross the Columbia, will contend for second place;--and which, will capture the prize it is hard to tell..."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

1932 CW Dry Falls View

From the book, "The Grand Coulee," by J. Harlen Bretz

1932


My fascination with this picture is the Central Washington Railroad grade out of Coulee City is more visible than in recent satellite views. Highway construction in later years obliterated parts that are visible in this view.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Difference of 10 Decades Ephrata


Image taken from Beezley Hill. The only thing still standing in the photo today is the depot, about 5 cars behind the steam locomotive.


Ephrata has seriously grown in the last 100 years. Of note is all the trees and the development on the hill above the depot.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Ritzville Branch Valuation

As done by the Northern Pacific in 1922.

Maps and information can be seen here and here.

RITZVILLE BRANCH

May, 1922
Branch Line Data, Pasco Division
Ritzville Branch, Bassett Junction to Schrag, Washington, 12.54 miles

DATE BUILT OR ACQUIRED
This branch, extending from Bassett Junction to Schrag, a distance of
12.3 miles, was constructed by the Northern Pacific for account of the
Connell Northern Railway Company between August, 1909, and July, 1910,
and operated by the constructing company for the Connell Northern from
the date of completion to June 25, 1914, at which date if was
purchased by the Northern Pacific, who has continued operation.
Present length of branch 12.54 miles.

PHYSICAL CONDITION
Ties. In good condition. About 44 percent are treated and 74 percent
tie plated. Renewals in 1922 6.7 percent.
Rail. About one mile of 72 pound laid in 1910. The balance of 85
percent laid in 1913. All in good condition and sufficient for the
traffic.
Ballast. Earth surfaced and satisfactory for the present traffic.
Banks. In good condition except at various points where some widening
would be desirable requiring about 1,750 yards of material.
Ditches. In good condition and no work with ditcher is necessary.
Buildings. In good condition and adequate for the business.
Bridges Two pile and frame trestles; one 199 feet long, the other 194
feet long. In good condition and will not require attention for some time.

AUTHORIZED WORK AND CARRYOVER
None.

BUSINESS HANDLED
The only commodity of any importance originating on this branch is
grain, carload shipments being as follows:
1917 90
1918 95
1919 30
1920 94
1921 45

REVENUES
Estimated revenue accruing on traffic to and from this branch were as
follows in 1921:
Freight forwarded 12,248
Freight received 2,085
Outbound passenger and baggage 89
Milk and cream 43
Mail 769
Grand total 15,234

EXPENSES
Estimated operating and maintenance expense during the year 1921 were
as follows:
Maintenance-of-Way and structures 10,444.29
Maintenance of equipment 3,242.12
Traffic 393.49
Transportation 6,270.74
General 742.23
Grand total 21,092.87
As our accounts do not show expenses of individual branches, the above
estimate has been made on basis of car and road mileage.

TRAIN SERVICE
Tri-weekly mixed service between Bassett Junction and Schrag. This is
also sufficient during the period of grain shipping.

PROSPECTS
Under the present conditions, business is fully developed along this
branch, which is affected by the same conditions as those affecting
the Connell Northern Branch.

EXTENSIONS
This branch is a portion of the proposed Ritzville-Ellensburg cut-off,
on which work was suspended in the fall of 1910 after track had been
laid to Schrag. Grading was finished into Ritzville. The line that has
been located between Bassett Junction and Ellensburg will shorten the
distance between Ritzville and Ellensburg about 86 miles.

IMPROVEMENTS TO CAPACITY
None [needed].

CHARACTER OF BUSINESS [TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT]
Grain, sheep, wool.

PROSPECTS [TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT]
Because of varying amount of moisture and depletion of the soils, this
district has declined in production during recent years until it is
barely profitable to farm. Can see no prospects for business
development without irrigation.
There are deposits of silica and infusorial earth in the vicinity of
Wheeler, Washington, and Bassett Junction; dolomite rock near Adrian,
Washington. Possible future development of these deposits would
increase our tonnage considerably.

GRADE AND CURVE DATA
Ruling grade westbound .6 percent; eastbound .3 percent.
Total degrees of curvature right 93 degrees 30 minutes; left 30
degrees 57 minutes.
Not included seven degrees 30 minutes 89 feet long at Bassett
Junction; five degrees 999 feet long at Bassett Junction.

CORPORATE HISTORY AND DATES OF CONSTRUCTION
This is a single track line from Bassett Junction on the Adrian Branch
to Schrag, Washington. The [Milwaukee Road] crosses overhead at Mile
Post 1.3 east of Bassett Junction.
This branch was constructed by the Northern Pacific for the Connell
Northern in 1909 and 1910. The grade was completed and bridges partly
constructed between Schrag and Ritzville but no track was laid.
The Northern Pacific operated this branch without formal contract
until June 25, 1914, when it was conveyed to the Northern Pacific.

SOURCE
Northern Pacific Railway. _Branch Line Data, Western District, 1922_.
St. Paul [Minn.]: Northern Pacific, 1922.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Early 1960s Coulee City Depot

This undated view is before the remodel back in 1966.

Currently on this site is a large concrete grain silo and memories...




Sunday, October 4, 2009

Railroads of Grant County 1979-1989

The 1980s were a time of great changes in railroading in general, and Grant County in particular. The railroad industry was anticipating the great changes to be brought about by deregulation, which removed a great amount of control from the Interstate Commerce Commission. The Milwaukee Road, in its final bankruptcy, declined then disappeared. The Burlington Northern continued to downsize its holdings and prune many miles out of its tracks in the county.

When Amtrak formed in 1971, it bought the 1950s-era passenger cars and locomotives from other railroads canceling passenger service. By the 1970s, the cars were old, getting more expensive to maintain, and still steam-heated and cooled. When money was made available for Amtrak to acquire new cars soon after, plans were made to acquire bi-level cars based on ones built in 1956 for the Santa Fe Railway (these were purchased by Amtrak when it started up). The initial order of 235 Superliner cars was placed on April 2, 1975, later being increased to 284 cars for $241 million in total. The first coach was delivered in October of 1978, followed by a full complement of coaches which debuted on the Chicago-Milwaukee service on February 26, 1979. It wasn’t until a full eight months later that enough other types of passenger cars had been delivered to make up a long-haul train; the westbound Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, via the old Great Northern mainline through the county, carried the first full consist of Superliners in the nation.

When the Milwaukee Road was in its bankruptcy period, traffic on the Moses Lake branch was considered very lucrative and was thought to be an important part of keeping the railroad afloat. In 1979, a potato shipper operating facilities in both Moses Lake and Othello committed to shipping an additional 1,000 refrigerated piggyback trailers long haul to Chicago if the Milwaukee agreed to maintain service; another 1,000 refrigerated long-haul trailer shipments to points east of this were committed by the Pacific Northwest Shipper's Association as part of the reorganization of the Milwaukee. American Potato separately guaranteed 232 carloads long-hauled through Chicago. U&I sugar promised 426 carloads from a place called Scalley (which the locals would eventually call Wheeler) to Minneapolis if equipment was available. This was all long-haul and represented an additional $2-3 million in revenue available to the Milwaukee if it elected to upgrade its tracks and not abandon them.

Milwaukee Road Historian Micheal Sol has this to say about the Milwaukee Bankruptcy:
“It had the lowest-cost operation of its peer railroads, it was the most profitable and fastest-growing part of the Milwaukee System – and yet the abandonment of Lines West was said to be the most important priority when the bankruptcy court Trustee took over the Milwaukee in 1978. After he positioned the line for abandonment by driving off traffic and withdrawing service, his receipt of a consulting report, stating that the only realistic likelihood of a successful reorganization of the Milwaukee Road had to include Lines West, led to his abrupt resignation. Certainly, the large Seattle newspapers saw that Washington State’s governor at the time was entirely reliant on a Burlington Northern vice president for her political position and her opposition to efforts to save the Milwaukee may have proved fatal to the effort. The Seattle P-I remarked in an editorial April 27, 1986: ‘We let rail competition across the Northern Tier states slip away six years ago, thanks to a disinterested Governor Dixie Lee Ray and a less-than-aggressive port. Their lack of action spelled the end of the Milwaukee Road.’"

Milwaukee Road trackage in Grant County that was abandoned outright on March 1, 1980, included the following: the mainline to Warden eastward to Miles City, Montana; from Royal Junction westward to Easton; from Warden to Sieler on the Moses Lake Branch; and from Tiflis to Ruff and beyond on the Marcellus branch. On August, 21, 1980, Burlington Northern bought the section between Warden and Othello, and the remaining branch to Moses Lake, since there was great traffic still to be had in those areas. BN had been providing service over these lines due to a March, 18, 1980, ICC order to continue service. Cash price averaged $52,500 per mile. Up to this time, the BN had crossed over the Milwaukee mainline at Warden on a bridge, but to make a better connection between the two lines, BN created a single-grade connection, getting rid of the expensive-to-maintain bridge. Part of the Moses Lake branch was abandoned between Warden and Seiler, with the spur track from Seiler now connecting to the BN track at Scalley, the old location of the U&I sugar plant. This is the current arrangement today.

The Milwaukee Road depot in Moses Lake was torn down in the fall of 1981, after standing empty for a time, because of the general decline of the railroad.

Not long after all these changes, the major eruption of Mt. St. Helens caused the railroads some measure of grief. The westbound Amtrak Empire Builder, which had been held at Spokane until the next day, picked up over 140 stranded I-90 motorists at Cheney, Ritzville, Lind, and Sprague, and brought them to Seattle. An eastbound train also carried emergency breathing equipment on May 21 to several law enforcement agencies in Eastern Washington. Everything northeast of the Cascade Mountains on the BN was covered with up to six inches of ash as far east as the west side of the Rocky Mountains at Essex, Montana, in Glacier National Park. The Railroad coped with this fallout by changing all locomotive filters daily, and was able to continue limited transcontinental mainline operations under considerable delays. In addition, it was necessary to cancel all train operations for several days on the Portland-Seattle via Tacoma mainline due to flood-threatened bridges over the Cowlitz and Toutle Rivers in the vicinity of Centralia, Kelso and Longview. In an odd twist, the NP (and later the BN), because of its land grant dating back to the 1860s, owned the land that formed the top of Mt. St. Helens. The BN deeded the summit back to the United States, minus the 1,314 feet that had blown away, for inclusion in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in 1982.

On October 14, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the “Staggers Rail Act” into law, significantly deregulating the American railroad industry. Among the many changes it allowed, those that affected Grant County the most were the streamlined process allowed for abandoning unprofitable branch lines, and the right given to shippers to make rate increases, rather than the previous across-the-board increase.

The BN acquired the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway on November 21. This merger removed many of the remaining GN and NP people in management, allowing the Frisco to control the newly-enlarged BN.

Closer to home, the Ephrata depot, which had been expanded in 1944 to 41x 204 feet, was now shortened to 48 feet long in 1981; Amtrak didn’t use the building, and the BN didn’t need the full space.

In October of 1981, the Empire Builder returned to the former GN line at the request of the BN, who was trying to close its line over Stampede Pass. The new executives from the Frisco thought that having three railroad lines across the state was one too many, so they chose to close the most expensive to operate the other, the line over Stampede Pass. When Amtrak at its inception took over the Empire Builder, it had chosen to operate the train via Spokane, the Tri-Cities, Yakima, Auburn, to Seattle; now it would operate via Spokane, Wenatchee, to Seattle.

The effects of the Staggers Act finally hit the area hard in 1983 when last of the NP Wahluke branch between Sagehill (near Mattawa) and Basin City was pulled up. Part of the NP Connell Northern branch between Wheeler and Adrian was also let go. Long-standing buildings were closed too. The Krupp/Marlin depot on the old GN was retired in 1984, due to age and consolidation of depot agents in a centralized calling center, instead of in the communities the railroad served.

Grant County was not the only one losing rail during this time period. The Palouse area saw the bulk of its rail let go during this time. Discussion of abandonment of the branch in Douglas County, from Columbia River to Mansfield, caused the Central Washington Grain Growers to expand their facilities in Coulee City to take over grain shipments if the line to Mansfield was abandoned. Construction of a new 210,000-bushel grain storage and speedy grain-car loader was started in 1984 and completed a few months later.

The Mansfield branch was finally closed in 1985. The “Wenatchee World” had this to say about it:
“Central Washington Grain Growers, the primary wheat cooperative in Douglas County, fought for years to keep that line open. Now that the line no longer is in use, most of the grain is being trucked from various locations in the county to Coulee City. It costs about 8 cents per bushel more to ship grain to Coulee City. But with rail charges from there 4 cents per bushel less, growers now pay a total of just 4 cents per bushel more.”

The BN sold a large part of its Grant County operations to the Washington Central Railroad Company (WCRC), which started operations on October 13, 1986. While the bulk of the new WCRC operated in the Yakima area, a busy section was operated out of Warden. One part was the old Connell Northern branch of the NP that ran from Connell to the end of track at Wheeler. There was also the spur track off this line at Bassett Junction to Schrag. It also included parts of the Milwaukee Road that the BN had purchased after the Milwaukee had pulled out; these tracks involved part of the mainline between Warden and Royal Junction, and part of the Moses Lake branch from Seiler. BN was selling off many of its branch lines over its network; the sale of lines to the WCRC allowed the BN to retain the long haul of freight, but disposed of the expensive operation of the branch line. The new short line had lower costs and would help retain freight traffic on the branch.

Derailments at Quincy capped both ends of the decade. While the one in 1979 was pretty small, the 1989 one saw locomotives on their sides, railroad cars accordioned into a pile. The train had hit a car trying to cross the tracks, which was then dragged into a switch in the track. The only fatality was the driver of the car.

The 1980s were one of the biggest eras of change, while the 1990s were to see the era of mega-railroads. Many people were upset by the loss of Milwaukee, but those outside the fracas didn’t seem to notice the railroad’s existence. All railroads were generally considered invisible to all but the interested few by the time the next decade rolled around.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Treasure at Downs?

From "Treasure Hunters Guide to Washington #2"

Published 1973

"(A) story of this area was told...by a former deputy sheriff of Chelan County. About 15 miles southwest of Harrington is a siding called Downs, on the (Great Northern) Railroad. Near this end of a double track at one time there was quite a large community. It was a complete little town, and had most trading establishments including a bank. A lone robber rode up on horseback one day and took away the total assets, mostly gold. He rode away to the southwest across the scabland, following a natural slope. Just upstream from Trinidad was a posse which had preceded the robber and tried to nab him. He escaped by jumping into the Columbia River. This was a bad try, the robber escaped, was drowned. The sheriff and posse looked for the loot; they went over the body and searched saddle bags, but found none. They tried to backtrack his trail from Downs, but the scabland, made up of sage brush and rock outcroppings, had hundreds of places for a cache. They found nothing. The loot is still missing."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beverly Rock Oven


I have written a lot about the rock ovens used on the Great Northern, but I was forwarded a photo of a rock oven on the Milwaukee Road at Beverly, circa 1950.

Anyone have any history on it?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

1981 Big Bend Railroad Map

While researching for the latest Centennial story I am working on (for 1979-1989) I came across this map.

Differences from today is there is no line between Adrian and Wheeler, the branch to Mansfield is gone, and the line from Mesa to Sagehill is gone. There are many other changes as well. Can you pick them out?

Map courtesy WADOT.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Railroads of Grant County 1969-1979

The 1970s marked the continued decline of the railroad industry, as the chokehold of the Interstate Commerce Commission never let up. Railroad companies tried many ways to stay financially afloat, including merging with rivals or parallel lines. This was done to reduce overhead expenses and redundant tracks. Another tactic was to continue reduction of passenger trains which had previously been mandated to continue by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC); this major effort culminated with the formation of Amtrak to remove passenger train losses from the railroads.

Railroads in the northeast United States were in worse shape. In an ill-fated merger, the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad were allowed to merge in 1968 as the Penn Central. They were forced by the ICC to take on the bankrupt New Haven railroad as well. The resulting mega-railroad was not successful, as these railroads were in poor shape. Penn Central declared bankruptcy on June 21, 1970. It was the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history up until that time.

Some railroads did not fare well during this decade. The Chicago Rock Island & Pacific (The Rock) was trying to merge with the Union Pacific (UP) starting back in 1964, but the ICC took its time in studying the idea. During this time, the Rock was floundering and was unable to keep up on maintenance. The UP backed out of the deal and the Rock went into bankruptcy. In January 1980, it was determined the Rock could not be successfully reorganized and it was ordered by the bankruptcy court to be liquidated and sold; the resulting action made the Rock the largest bankruptcy liquidation in U.S. history at the time.

All eyes were on the newly-formed Burlington Northern (BN), which was allowed to merge on March 2, 1970; the Great Northern (GN), Northern Pacific (NP), and Chicago Burlington & Quincy were thought to be strong railroads, but they too were in a slow decline. When the government instituted regulations on smog and acid rain, the low-sulfur coals being mined alongside tracks in Wyoming and Montana became of great financial importance to the BN.

The Milwaukee Road benefited from the BN merger since the ICC forced the BN to grant use of its track to key cities such as Portland, Oregon. Changes in the way it was allowed to interchange freight with the BN allowed it to become a formidable competitor to the BN, which had some marketing challenges in its early days. The Milwaukee gained traffic and was able to make more money than it ever had on its line to the Pacific coast.

Previously, the Milwaukee had sought a merger with the Chicago & Northwestern, as both lines had many miles of marginal track in the Midwest, with the hope of making one strong system out of the two. This stemmed from the resignation of the Milwaukee president in 1957, and his replacement by an inexperienced successor, so the board of directors thought the best course was to get rid of the railroad somehow. The ICC had asked for terms that the Northwestern was not able to accept, and so this merger did not happen. Right after the BN merger, the owners of the Northwestern offered to sell their railroad company to the Milwaukee Road, instead of merging. Their offer was rejected, even though the Milwaukee had sought nearly this very same thing over the last decade. Management had decided that a merger with a larger road was their only salvation. Right away, they petitioned for the Milwaukee to be included in the merger with the UP and the Rock.

In 1973, the Milwaukee then sought reopening of the BN merger proceedings, to be included into the railroad that now surrounded it. This was rejected because the ICC felt it had already granted numerous concessions to the Milwaukee in the BN merger to strengthen it. The BN was clear that they had no interest in this petition.

In February 1973, and against the advice of studies conducted by both the railroad and independent groups, the Milwaukee decided to scrap its electrification scheme. The board of directors considered the electrification scheme an impediment to its merger and consolidation plans, and believed that the money required to maintain it would be better spent elsewhere. The high copper prices of the time, and the resulting $10 million the railroad estimated it would get for selling off the copper overhead wire, contributed to the decision.

The surveys found that an investment of $39 million would close the electrification gap between Avery, Idaho, and Othello, and provide the finances to buy new locomotives and upgrade the electrical equipment all along the line. Furthermore, the displaced diesel locomotives could be used elsewhere, reducing the requirement to purchase new, dropping the true cost of the plan to only $18 million. General Electric even proposed underwriting the financing because of the railroad's poor financial position.

Rejecting this, the railroad dismantled its electrification just as the 1973 oil crisis took hold. By 1974, when the electrification was shut down, the electric locomotives operated at half the cost of the diesels that replaced them. Worse, the railroad spent $39 million – as much as the GE-sponsored revitalization plan – to buy more diesel locomotives to replace the electrics, and only received $5 million for the copper scrap because prices had fallen over the course of the year.

Power agreements written when the railroad was young had been very favorable to the Milwaukee, amounting to nearly the free use of electricity to operate its trains. With the discontinuation of electrification, there were no agreements, and the railroad was seen as a regular industrial user of power. The Milwaukee discovered that it now had large electrical bills for the operation of stations, signals and equipment.

The badly-maintained track, which was the part of the system most in need of renewal, was never touched.

Despite slow decisions by the ICC, railroads continued to try to reduce underperforming branch lines. At the time, branches were seen as very important to the survival of any town of significance; now they were seen as a liability to the railroad, because of the lack of traffic and the upkeep of the tracks.

In our area of the country, some railroad expansion was still happening. The laying of track on what would be called the NP’s Wahluke Branch to the Mattawa area began in July of 1969. The first 31 miles of the line were to be finished by year’s end, but soon stopped. The branch was about 55 miles in length, as measured from Mesa, but rails never reached any further than mile 21. Bridges of heavy design were built to the end of the prepared grade. The railroad left the line unfinished because business conditions changed and felt that there wasn’t enough agricultural development in the region to justify completion; it had been anticipated that water from the Bureau of Reclamation would increase productivity of the area.

Railroading changed in Grant County in a big way on March 2, 1970 with the formation of the BN from the GN and the NP. This merger meant that most of the railroad track in the county was now controlled by one railroad. Not much changed operationally, as there was the old GN mainline, plus the NP branch lines.

The formation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971 brought even greater change. While branch line passenger trains in the county were long gone, the GN/BN was operating the Empire Builder and the Western Star, pretty much as it had been running it separately since the 1950s. When Amtrak took over passenger service from the mainline railroads, it used fairly erratic criteria for deciding which lines to service; some routes were chosen based on the need in the area for service, others for their population centers, and others by the influence of congressional members vying for the nostalgic service to continue in their own jurisdictions.

Under this plan, it discontinued the two remaining NP mainline trains, and the GN Western Star. The Empire Builder was to continue to run, but would no longer operate via the old GN line through Grant County, instead being rerouted using the old NP mainline through neighboring Adams county as part of its new route between Spokane and Seattle. This move was seen as a way to tap the larger passenger markets of the Tri-Cities and Yakima versus Wenatchee and the comparatively smaller Grant County towns.

The Grant County Journal lamented in its May 6, 1971 edition, “Amtrak will never hold the adventure and excitement for the youngsters, and it will never replace the memory for the oldsters that was offered by the Western Star and the Empire Builder!”

This prediction wasn’t entirely true. In Coulee City, The News-Standard reported that a late January 1972 trip of cub scouts from Coulee City to Hartline and back was well received. Trips such as this had been arranged from time to time for the scouts, and there never seemed to be any lack of enthusiasm from either the children or their adult chaperones, no matter which line of locomotives they rode.

Not long after this, the BN depot in Coulee City was burgled and a small amount of cash stolen in the few hours the railroad agent was away. Two years later, a car loaded with John Deere drills headed for Jim Jess Implement was found to have defective brakes after it rolled under its own power through Coulee City, stopping 30 feet off the west end of the tracks. While incidents such as these were not too uncommon in railroad history, it was another example of the many frustrations that small-town stations endured during the decline of the railroads.

Another Amtrak casualty was the end of railway post office service on the old GN line. The service had been running from Williston, North Dakota, to Seattle since 1934. Now the mail would either go by truck or by a new train offered by the BN, but no sorting en route would be done. Railway post office service had offered speedy delivery of mail at first-class rates that even express or priority service cannot achieve today.

In 1972, the Milwaukee Road ended electric locomotive service on its Coast Division mainline between Othello and Tacoma. This decision was anticipated, since diesel locomotives had been found to be easier to use on this section of line and faster than the old electric locomotives. The overhead wires were maintained in working order for a time to keep copper thieves at bay.

When the Milwaukee Road began to make noises that they had no desire to operate their own line anymore, and petitioned to reopen the BN merger proceedings from three years earlier, they found hope in the possibility of being included and thus selling off their company. As part of this attempt, BN officials made an inspection trip of that line in 1973. In Moses Lake, they noted:

“The Moses Lake Port District is actively attempting to attract new industries to their facility, which is the former Larson Air Force Base at Moses Lake and is served exclusively by the Milwaukee Road. To date they have not attracted any major accounts; however, they are embarked upon a very extensive campaign and we are hopeful that this will result in a major development that will be mutually beneficial to Moses Lake and our railroad.”

At the Milwaukee station of McDonald, near Moses Lake, the officials were equally positive. “This area has enjoyed a very substantial growth in food processing plants. Major developments of importance have been the location of the American Potato Company’s dried potato plant at McDonald and the continued expansion of Chef Reddy Foods at Othello.”

Further south at Royal City, they found similar patterns of growth and development. “The Milwaukee Road Land Company has an industrial park area located at Royal City which is in the development stages. Several small industries have located in this park and our Industrial Development people and Sales Department are continually working with various parties to attract new industry to this industrial park.”

None of these positive appraisals resulted in BN’s acceptance of the Milwaukee’s proposal, though. Already it was apparent that there were too many repairs to be made on the Milwaukee’s track, and the BN wasn’t interested in the large number of Milwaukee branchlines across the Midwest.

Two years later, in 1975, the Milwaukee Road conducted a traffic study of its light-density lines. It found that the line to Royal City generated over 450 cars of freight, but that it might retain all of it using “substituted service to Smyrna or Othello.” The branch line from Tiflis to Marcellus generated 2326 cars of freight, but it was thought all of this traffic would be lost to the BN if abandoned; however, it was noted that “additional grain possible in the future as improved irrigation is planned for this area with completion of a second Bacon Siphon Tunnel by 1980.”

On the other hand, changes in railroad needs caused the removal of the 1898 Wilson Creek depot in 1975.

At the Air Base Spur to the west near Ephrata, a large scrap yard had been established by the Purdy Company. While a couple of cabooses escaped from there and are in private hands in Grant County, most railcars were scrapped. A brakeman for the GN/BN gave this account of his perspective on operations there:

“The dismantling of freight cars went on for quite some time. I remember working it and the conductor was named Don. I guess the scrap yard operator and Don had words about the way cars were spotted or something like that to make him one mad conductor. When I worked the job west bound, we cut the train off in the bottom of what they call the ‘Soap Lake Sag,’ we would then run light engine [no cars] to the switch and drop the conductor off, then return to train, by this time the swing man had bled the brakes off the cut to be dropped into spur track and was back at the cut. We would couple up, give him the pin [set the couplers for release] and away we would go, wide-open up hill. At around 20 MPH the Engineer would give me the pin, I would pull the cut-lever on the engine [pull the lever to release the pin], and away we went again, wide-open. After the engine passed over the switch, the conductor would line the switch for the spur track [change from the mainline to the spur track]. The cars that we dropped into the spur, went sailing around a curve and they either ran out of track or would hit cars already in the track. The dust cloud that followed was best described as mushroom, going maybe 7 or 8 stories in height. I often wondered if we ever put any workers in danger, but I never questioned the conductor.”

Another piece of railroading disappeared when long-time railroad agent C.W. ‘Skip’ Connor, BN agent for Coulee City, retired June 1, 1977 after 40 years with the railroad. The railroad decided to not replace Connor in Coulee City and the depot closed at the end of the work day.

The Milwaukee Road filed for bankruptcy for the third time on December 19, 1977.
An ICC audit later discovered that, for some reason, the railroad had been double-entering expenses for its line to the Pacific coast during most of the 1970s. Far from the unprofitable boat-anchor the railroad and the bankruptcy trustees said it was, the ICC found that the line had been returning a profit to the railroad even through 1978, at which time traffic was severely down because of the road's decision to not maintain the track and because of claims of damaged shipments due to derailments.

That year also saw the abandonment of the former NP branch from Odair to Adrian, known as the Adrian Cutoff. There had been no shipments on this stretch of track since completion of the Dry Coulee Siphon by the Bureau of Reclamation. The NP had not operated over the line much before that, save for cement shipments for construction of Grand Coulee Dam, handed off by the GN for shipment to the dam in the late 1930s to early 1940s. The BN hardly used the line at all, save for some car storage.

The BN held permission from the ICC to complete the old NP Wahluke branch as late as July 1978. Beyond the mid 1970s, the line was not used beyond Basin City due to a slide in the vicinity of milepost 11 or 12, though the rail was good beyond it.

In 1979, the Coulee City Women’s Club became aware of plans to dismantle the Coulee City train depot and asked the BN for permission to use it as a senior or community center. It was donated to the Women’s Club, who in turn gave it to the Coulee City Senior citizens, provided it be moved to another site. Former resident Tom Price donated land so the depot would be permanently positioned. A total of $2500 was donated by the Coulee City Women’s Club for the move and renovation.

The seventh decade of Grant County’s history was bleak, but a light had begun to grow at the end of the tunnel. Plans were emerging to deregulate the railroad industry and even the Basin saw a bright future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Demise of the Ephrata Train Bulletin Board

A recent devastating fire at the Grant County Historical Society Museum here in Ephrata saw priceless artifacts destroyed. Amongst the railroad items destroyed were baggage carts and the Arrivals and Departures board, of which only this photo, I believe, is all that is left:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Difference of 12 Decades Coulee City



The weather and my schedule finally coincided to provide a sunny day last week to take the modern photo. The only thing that has not changed is Main Street in the background.

The depot in the 1909 photo had its upper story removed in 1966 during a remodel. It is now located just out of view in the 2009 photo, still being used as the Senior Center.

In the place of the depot now stands a couple of very large grain silos. The plans for building the silos included details of how the soils contained debris from the depot. It would have been fun to check the site out with a metal detector before they started building!

The tracks in the 1909 photo were realigned to fit the unit train grain loader, just out of site to the left of the 2009 photo. The large silver colored pole with the wire connected to the next pole is for connection of a harness system, so elevator employees have some protection from falling off grain hoppers when loading.

The "Coulee City" sign in the 2009 dates to the Burlington Northern era, and was placed after the depot was removed. The depot, in its new position, still retains its Northern Pacific era while lettering on black "Coulee City."

There are lots of other changes, like trees and buildings, and lack of people in the current photo. The rails now have tie plates, but the rail itself is still pretty light.

Care to add anything?

Friday, September 4, 2009

More Dam Facts

From the "Annual Project History Columbia Basin Project"

Volume II--1934

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Bureau of Reclamation

Pages 110-115
Transportation Facilities

Construction Railroad. A railroad connection to the Grand Coulee dam site was one of the first items of work to receive attention. Both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railway Companies located lines into the dam site as previously described in Chapter I, under "Surveys". The Northern Pacific filed for a permit to construct their line, but interjected conditional stipulations, requesting exclusive franchise rights. A hearing on the application was held by the Department of Public Works in Olympia, Washington, January 22, 1934, at which time the Government entered a petition of intervention, requesting issuance of the permit but without the exclusive franchise provisions. The Department considered the conditional stipulations of the railroad company to be invalid and ordered that they be excluded from the permit. As a consequence, the railroad company abandoned the project, and the Government thereupon decided to build its own construction railroad. Funds were made available in March, the line was surveyed in May, and right-of-way was acquired soon thereafter.

The line began at Odair, a siding on the Northern Pacific Railway, about two miles from Coulee City, and ran through the Grand Coulee, terminating at its north end in a transfer yard about two miles from the dam site. This section of line, 28.33 miles long, was located with maximum three-degree curves and one per cent grades, suitable for the operation of standard railway locomotives. The remaining two miles to the dam site was designed for the operation of gear-type locomotives, the maximum curvature being fourteen degrees and grades up to five per cent.

Specifications No. 572 were issued covering the complete construction of the first 28.33 miles of single-track railroad, including a delivery yard at Odair and a siding at the head of Grand Coulee. The schedule of work also included laying and ballasting track in the two-mile end section. Standard railroad designs were adopted with track to be built of 90-pound second-hand, or relay rail which was loaned to the Government by the Northern Pacific Railway Company, to be returned within ten years after completion of the present contract.

Bids were received May 17, 1934, and 22 contracting firms competed for the work. The canvass of bids showed the two low bidders to be L. Coluccio of Seattle, Washington, and David H. Ryan of San Diego, California. Certain irregularities appeared in the Coluccio bid which were of doubtful interpretation; consequently, the bids were further reviewed by the Comptroller General, with the result that the accepted total bids were:

David H. Ryan $235,570
L. Coluccio $236,925

The contract was awarded to David H. Ryan on July 17, 1934, and a notice to proceed was issued August 8, 1934.

Construction work progressed rapidly, and by the close of the year grading was completed, track was laid, and 90 per cent of it ballasted. Track laying in the two-mile end section was delayed, pending the completion of grading, which was being done under a separate contract. Sliding ground, in this section, made necessary certain revisions in location which retarded progress on the grading contract.

Governor Clarence D. Martin and Senator C.C. Dill were honored guests upon the occasion of "Driving the Golden Spike", which took place December 8, 1934.

Highway and Railroad. The final two-mile section of highway and railroad from the head of Grand Coulee to the dam site involved heavy construction because there was little choice as to its location. The line traversed precipitous canyon walls, dropping about 350 feet in elevation to the Government camp site. Grading involved extensive rock excavation and side-hill work in ground some of which later proved to be very unstable. The project included a railroad spur to the warehouse and power house, which necessitated construction of three switchbacks and a highway under-crossing.

Specifications No. 569 were prepared covering the grading and structures for a highway and railroad, the former to extend from the head of Grand Coulee to the proposed Columbia River Bridge, and the latter from the same beginning point to the proposed west-side power house. Included in the specifications was the grading of streets, parking areas and sidewalks in the Government camp site. The road and railroad were located on the same grade and parallel to each other for a portion of the distance above the dam, the highway then dropping, on a maximum ten per cent grade, to the camp site and the railroad continuing along the hillside, adjoining Government camp, on a maximum five per cent down grade. The combined highway-railroad roadbed was designed for a minimum width of 48 feet, sufficient for a standard gauge railroad and a 28-foot surfaced highway. The usual drainage and guard-rail structures were included, as well as one combination timber and steel overhead railroad crossing. Track laying and road surfacing were provided for in separate specifications.

Bids for the work were received April 5, 1934, when Crick and Kuney of Spokane, Washington, submitted the low bid of $220,676.50. Because of slides which had developed (referred to under "Excavation"), it became necessary to relocate a portion of the line--and notice to proceed was deferred until June 30, 1934. Immediately thereafter, the contractor commenced operating with the following equipment in use: 3 shovels, 2-yard; 1 shovel, 1 3/4 yard; 8 trucks, 8-yard; 7 trucks, 6-yard; 2 Caterpillar tractors with bulldozers; 5 portable compressors; 1 tractor and Le Tourneau scraper.

No special construction difficulties were encountered after grading work started, with the result that the contractor made very satisfactory progress. In October, the road was open throughout its entire length; and at the end of the year, the contract was 96 per cent complete.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mansfield Branch to Grand Coulee? And Other Dam Facts.

From the "Annual Project History Columbia Basin Project"

Volume II--1934

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Bureau of Reclamation

Page 19
List of Visitors-1934 (continued)

OTHER PROMINENT PERSONS
Great Northern Railway Company, St. Paul, Minnesota: Kenny, W.P., President; Jenks, C.O., Vice President; O'Niell, G.H., General Manager; and Burnham, P.H., Western Traffic Manager

Pages 63-65
Construction Railroad: Preliminary surveys for a railroad to the Grand Coulee site were made in 1933 by both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railway Companies, the first running from Odair, a siding located about two miles from Coulee City, and the latter extending a branch line from Mansfield, Washington. The Great Northern route proved impractical because of the heavy grading work required, but the Northern Pacific line was quite satisfactory; consequently, that company applied for a permit to build. The permit was granted by the Interstate Commerce Commission of February 13, 1934; however, when the company's request for exclusive franchise rights was denied by the State Department of Public Works, it abandoned the project. Thereafter the Government decided to built its own railroad, and immediately engaged the Northern Pacific Railway Company to locate a line from Odair to the head of the Grand Coulee, this being substantially the same route which that company had formerly located. The location survey was completed in May, and thereafter all engineering work was transferred to the Bureau of Reclamation. Two engineering residencies were established, No. 1 covering the first seventeen miles and No. 2 the last eleven miles. A contract for construction of the railroad was awarded to David H. Ryan, who started work on August 9, 1934, and thereafter the resident engineers with their field surveying crews were in constant service on the railroad project. Considerable surveying was involved on Residency No. 2 in mapping lands at the railroad terminus which were to be used for storage yards and a proposed steel rolling mill site.

Highway and Railroad: Adequate transportation facilities were provided by the State Highway and Government Construction Railroad, both of these terminating at the head of the Grand Coulee; however, there remained about two miles of railroad and highway to be built by the Bureau of Reclamation to complete transportation facilities to the dam site. This project was undertaken as a combination railroad and highway project in December 1933 and continued throughout 1934. The alignment traversed the west side of the Columbia River gorge, being definitely limited, as to its location, by a controlling "1310" elevation at the axis of the dam, and thereafter by a five per cent railroad and ten per cent highway grade limitation, to the Government Camp warehouse area. Because of these restricted conditions and the steep, rocky slope upon which the grade had to be constructed, considerable engineering detail was involved, including the location of two railroad switchbacks and an overhead crossing of the highway. A heavy rock cut was required near the axis of the dam, and further complications arose when an earth slide of considerable proportions, in March 1934, caused from dam excavation, necessitated relocation of a portion of the line.

The engineering work was assigned to tow resident engineers, one handling the railroad project and another the highway. Contractors Crick and Kuney received notice to proceed on grading work on June 30, 2934, and thereafter the usual routine engineering surveys in connection with construction operations were performed by two partings working under the direction of the resident engineers. Grading was substantially completed at the end of the year.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Great Northern Loving Cup


Back in 1911, this cup was awarded at the Grant County Fair, then based in Wilson Creek. It was awarded for "Best Exhibit (of) Grains Grasses Vegetables and Root Crops."

It was on display at the 2009 Grant County Fair, now held in Moses Lake, as part of the Grant County Historical Society Display.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Milwaukee Road Royal City Branch Notes

The below information was gleaned from the Milwaukee Road email list at Yahoogroups.com.

The Royal City branch never came close to paying for it's construction.
The Traffic Department had made a very detailed study of this proposal
and found there was not going to be sufficient revenue to warrant the
expenditure of a spur and to support the expenses of spur operation.
However Josh Green was opening a bank in Basin City and sold Vice-
President Lutterman the need for a Royal Slope branch.

In the early 1980's, after the demise of the Pacific Coast Extension, this trackage was operated by BN, as evidenced by the following Portland Division ETTs:

1982 BN 20th Sub, Warden to Othello, 12.8 miles
1983 BN 13th Sub, Warden to Royal City, 38.9 miles
1984 BN 10th Sub, Warden to Royal City, 38.9 miles
1986 BN 9th Sub, Warden to Royal City, 38.0 miles

Interesting to not the diminishing number of the subdivision, as BN abandoned others. Not sure exactly what happened between 1980 and 1982 -- I need to check. But by October 1986, the line was not listed in the BN ETTs -- the line was transferred to Washington Central.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

1943 White Bluffs Birds Eye View

White Bluffs was a town on what is now the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The town was bought out by the government.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Railroads of Grant County 1959-1969

The 1960s was a time when the public thought of the railroads, if they thought of them at all, as something relegated to history. People were finding airplanes and automobiles much more to their liking; the new Interstate-5 freeway between Everett and Tacoma, for example, was expected to cut commute times by 50 percent. Seattle’s Boeing was producing its 747 Jumbojet, and working on its prototype for a supersonic civilian transport plane – the earliest precursor to the French-British Concorde. Floating bridges and hydroplanes rounded out the new technology popping up all across the state and country.

The passenger train, though, was in its death throes. The freight side of the business was still somewhat profitable, but it was severely hampered by the Interstate Commerce Commission and its propensity to deny rate increases. The ICC also forced railroads to retain the failing passenger trains, causing a financial strain on rail lines. Many roads were near bankruptcy, such as the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, which sought a merger with the Union Pacific in an attempt to keeps its lines in the black. The ICC prevented the union for more than ten years, before “The Rock” finally slipped into bankruptcy in the 1970s. The “Standard Railway of the World” – the Pennsylvania Railroad – and its rival New York Central, both having been extremely successful railroads in their own right, were in major financial trouble when they merged in 1968. Their efforts did not succeed either.

The Great Northern and Northern Pacific were doing well enough, especially when the profits of their subsidiary – the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy – were added, but business could have been better. They presented their petition to merge the two companies and their subsidiaries before the ICC. There were four such attempts: in 1896, 1901, 1927, and 1955. This last attempt lasted from 1955 until 1970, and though ultimately successful, it demonstrated the sluggishness of the Commission.

The rest of the world seemed to be moving at a frenzied pace, engaging in public protests, political controversy, and technological advances beyond the imagination of previous generations. The public was enamored with the space race, fueled by the first manned space mission by the Soviets. The world saw the launching of numerous astronauts, cosmonauts, and various models of spacecraft into the heavens, until Grant County’s sixth decade closed with the Apollo 8 mission escaping earth’s gravitational field and orbiting the moon.

Trains as an exciting frontier were relegated to the dusty tomes of history. Now hydroplanes found their way to the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities, military and civilian planes were speeding through the air daily, the microchip had been invented, and Boeing was testing their first Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Seattle also created the hi-tech Space Needle for its Century 21 World’s Fair in 1962, showing off the great leaps in technology for which the decade was known.

Here in Grant County, though, it was business as usual for the railroad industry. Just days after the county’s fiftieth anniversary, the Great Northern announced plans to remodel the depot at Quincy. Ultimately it was moved slightly east, literally abutting its own foundation, and was extended by 52 feet to more than double its previous size.

The Northern Pacific farther south began planning for its Wahluke Branch that same year. The Wahluke Slope, at the southwest corner of the county, was scheduled to receive its first water from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project on 125,000 acres of dry desert land. NP agricultural director Ken Cook predicted record yields for the Pacific Northwest in sugar beets, potatoes, dry beans, fruit, mint and grains. At a cost of $6 million, the line was to begin at the mainline in Connell; instead it was constructed from Mesa’s mainline, and stretched almost 55 miles west to Mattawa, without any reason given for the change.

At the same time, the Milwaukee had also submitted an application to the ICC to construct a line to the Wahluke Slope, crossing through the Saddle Mountains from Beverly southward. The company claimed it had been planning this move since 1912, and thus had first right to construct. The ICC again took its own sweet time in responding, leaving the Basin to flourish for eight years before issuing its decision.

Two years later, in May of 1961, the Milwaukee Road’s Olympian was discontinued; the passenger service west of Deer Lodge, Montana, ended, leaving the GN’s Empire Builder and Western Star services as Grant County’s only passenger lines.

At this time, though, it seemed Washington State and the Columbia Basin were opening up to the world. In November, Martin Luther King Jr. visited Seattle as part of a civil rights lecture series there, and all of Seattle was in hot preparation for the world’s fair the next year. President Kennedy had announced plans to attend the fair, but cancelled en route to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Closer to Grant County, the new steel tied-arch bridge across the Columbia River at Vantage opened in 1962; reports claimed it would “open the Columbia Basin.” The fascination with the new bridge improved highway conditions, ultimately contributing to more automobile traffic and less rail riders.

On September 25, 1963, rail service in Grant County suffered another major blow. Food processing was fast becoming the foundation of the economic stability in Grant County, due to the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project; sixty percent of the land in the county was being used for farming. On this particular day, the factory at the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company in Moses Lake exploded, causing seven deaths, numerous injuries, and $5 million in damages to the plant. At a time when the plant was supplying enough sugar to supply the entire state of Washington for a year, the loss in business was felt by both the NP and the Milwaukee.

Then, on November 6 – just two weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy – the GN suffered a devastating accident in Quincy, killing two trainmen and injuring many others. The eastbound local, dubbed the Alcoa Local for the aluminum ingots it carried from the plant at Rock Island, failed to stop at the siding and manually switch tracks. It plowed head-on into the parked mainline train of 144 freight cars, shredding the shell of the cab from its frame and telescoping four of the fourteen cars behind it into both air and soil. The leading locomotives on each train were so tightly twisted together that it was difficult to separate them, said the Grant County Daily Journal.

The accident in Quincy’s business neighborhood also disconnected communication lines alongside the tracks, and blocked north-south traffic in Quincy for at least six hours.

The engineer and fireman on the smaller switcher were both killed, and the engineer of the larger eastbound train was sent to Sacred Heart in Spokane unconscious and in critical condition. Others were released with minor injuries.

The next year, the United States Supreme Court decided that most freight train and yard firemen positions should be eliminated. After rail companies made the switch from steam locomotives to the new, more-efficient diesels, the unions stepped in to retain these positions, though it had already become an obsolete job. The Supreme Court only confirmed what the railroads and the firemen themselves already knew to be the case: the rail industry was changing, and the employees were going to be required to change with it.

Sometimes those changes weren’t instigated by the rail companies, though. In November of 1965, Moses Lake’s Larson Air Force Base finally closed, despite the new war raging in Vietnam. The government had long since discontinued use of the base as such, attempting to convert it into a regional missile base; these plans failed after the construction of three underground missile silos which were literally carved out of the basalt rock beneath the desert floor.

Grant County residents worked tirelessly to convert the base into some kind of appropriate civilian use, finally settling on an airport alongside the new Big Bend Community College. The college began classes in 1962, and the airport opened for business four years later.

This, too, affected business on the railroads. As a military base – and even as a missile base – supplies were shuttled in for both construction and operation, and out for distribution or transport to other bases. Now, business on the Milwaukee spur into the former base slowed to a crawl.

Further north, Coulee City adapted to the changes with high hopes for progress. The Northern Pacific depot was remodeled to accommodate the expected business generated for Grand Coulee Dam by the truck loading facility at Odair. The nondescript white warehouse had been constructed in the 1950s to offload supplies for the dam, from NP trains arriving in Coulee City onto trucks, which would then transport the materials around the now-full Banks Lake irrigation reservoir.

The NP assumed that, due to the upcoming construction of the third powerhouse at the dam, there would be a great deal of paperwork generated by the influx of supplies by rail. The second story of the depot was removed, and the main floor was strengthened and updated, something that had not been done since it was built in the frontier days of the 1890s.

Construction on the depot was expected to be completed about the same time that construction on the powerhouse started, but the latter didn’t happen until the following year.

Coulee City seemed to be the only bright spot in Grant County’s rail future, though. To the west, the Great Northern depot at Crater, just northeast of Trinidad, closed in 1966. This wasn’t a surprise, considering that less-than-carload freight – smaller amounts of parcel deliveries than required a full railcar – had dropped from 51 million tons to less than 2% of that in the previous half century. Smaller stations simply were not profitable.

Other forms of shipment were beginning to take hold across the state, as well as the nation. The Grant County airport opened in October of that year, and over the next year and a half, Boeing announced both the 737 passenger jet and the 747 Jumbo jet. On the ground, Interstate-5 opened between Everett and Tacoma on January 31, 1967; when the Everett to Seattle section opened two years earlier, it created such excitement for drivers that three accidents occurred during just the opening ceremonies.

Despite all this, the ICC granted the NP authorization to construct its proposed branchline to the Wahluke Slope on October 5, 1967. It denied the Milwaukee Road’s similar request, claiming that the NP’s plans served the entirety of the new farming region, compared to the ICC’s understanding that Milwaukee’s plan would only serve 1/3 of that area. Other reasons involved the cost of constructing a line through or around the Saddle Mountains, the reasonable inclusion of the produce from the Wahluke into the Yakima or Tri-Cities markets, and Milwaukee’s reactionary attitude toward the NP application for construction authority.

The Milwaukee fought the decision, petitioning to have the case reopened. It argued that it had long intended to provide rail service to this area as soon as irrigation was offered there, and that the potential of 100 cars would be more appropriate to their small-scale local service in the Royal Slope region than to the NP’s 19,000 cars in the Yakima market.

The ICC held its ground, granting authority only to the NP.

Other than this heated dispute, railroad activity in Grant County was quiet in the late 1960s. Construction materials for Grand Coulee Dam, grain and produce grown in the Columbia Basin, and products generated at the county’s processing plants continued to be shipped across the rails. As the 1970s approached, these activities continued but did so under efforts to consolidate railroad services into only a handful of large railroad empires. The years of railroad competition within Grant County were drawing to a close.