From “History of The Big Bend Country.”
The year 1887 was one punctuated with railroad projects. In December Northern Pacific surveyors invaded Lincoln county and ran lines for a contemplated railroad. They were under the direction of H.S. Hudson, chief civil engineer of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and Major J.I. Jamison.
April 27, 1888, word was received that the contract for grading the first sixty miles of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad from Spokane Falls westward into the Big Bend country, had been let to the firm of Burns & Chapman, the prominent contractors. The closing of this contract was the occasion of mutual congratulations among Davenport citizens. Spokane Falls had been asked to subscribe for $175,000 worth of stock. This had been done, the entire amount being raised within four days from the time of opening the stock books. One of the provisions of this subscription was that forty miles of the road should be equipped in time to transport the season's crop.
May 17, 1888, the following correspondence from Cheney, Spokane county, appeared in the Portland Oregonian:
"The presence of Engineer Jamison, of the Northern Pacific Railway Company, in this place, and the fact that he has been quietly purchasing rights of way for the much talked of railroad from Cheney to Medical Lake and thence to the Big Bend country, has again excited the hopes of the people to a high pitch, although they have been unable to learn anything official about the future. That which apparently gives point to the action of Mr. Jamison in the eyes of the people here is that he should appear promptly after work had been actually begun on the Spokane end of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern railway, and the definite location of its line, a distance of forty miles in the direction of the Big Bend country. Appearances indicate that either a big game of bluff is being played by somebody, or there is going to be some lively work done by these rival roads, and that, too, in the near future, while, as has already stated, there are some circumstances which the people her think are full of suggestion."
About this time Paul F. Mohr, chief engineer of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad, said in an interview:
"Work on the line is progressing fairly well. The contract has been let to Ryan & McDonald, of New York, and Smith & Burns, of Baltimore, to build the entire uncompleted portion of the line from Squak, forty-two miles east of Seattle, to Davenport, in Lincoln county, which is the terminus of the fifty mile portion now under construction westward from Spokane Falls. The distance is 240 miles, and this part of the road must be finished within two years. Chapman & Burns are building that portion of the line westward from Spokane Falls to Davenport, and will finish it about September 1st."
Mr. Mohr gave the following as the course of the road east of the Cascades:
"It will pass at, or near, Ellensburg, but, possibly, not through it. From Snoqualmie Pass to Ellensburg, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern will parallel the Northern Pacific. Thence it will run southeastwardly to near Priest Rapids, the head of navigation on the Columbia River, then northeasterly to Davenport; thence easterly to Spokane Falls."
Such was the condition of Lincoln county railway affairs in August, 1888. On the 27th instant Frank M. Gray, of Davenport, received the following wire from D.F. Percival, Cheney:
"Grading forces commenced here on Big Bend road (Central Washington) this morning under Contractor Hunt. Large force of men at work; more will be put on. Work will be pushed as fast as possible to Davenport."
Within a few days after the reception of this cheerful message about four hundred graders were throwing dirt at different points between Cheney and Davenport, and on October 26th Mr. Percival again wired Mr. Gray from Cheney:
"Track layers on the Cheney & Davenport (Central Washington) road commenced this morning from here. Look out for the keers when the bell rings."
Tuesday, November 27th the first train on the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad made its appearance at Medical Lake, Spokane county. At that time Wheatdale was its terminal point toward which it was building at the rate of two miles a day. It was the plan of the projectors of this road to complete forty-five miles to Wheatdale, near Davenport, by December 1, 1888, and then cease work for the winter; going forward to the mouth of the Wenatchee river, on the Columbia, the following season. At the same period the plan of the projectors of the Central Washington road was to "construct a railroad from a point on the main line of the Northern Pacific, at or near the town of Cheney, in Spokane county, extending thence in a general northwesterly direction to a point at, or near the town of Davenport, in Lincoln county; thence in a general northwesterly direction to the west side of what is known as the middle crossing of the Grand Coulee, in Douglas county, in the Big Bend country, and then in a general westerly and south westerly direction to an eligible point on the Columbia, near the mouth of the Wenatchee river, in the county of Douglas, all in the Territory of Washington."
Thus it will be readily perceived that these two companies had thrown out surveys over practically the same routes. But the first train to arrive "at or near Davenport," was a construction train of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway Company. This was on December 3, 1888, and yet this terminus was then several miles south of town. From this point freight and passengers were conveyed to Davenport by teams. At this period travel was brisk and many hack and freight wagons were in active commission caring for the large volume of trade. At one time it was seriously considered by the company to build a rival town at the terminal point. Still Davenport possessed so many advantages in the way of location and eligibility that this idea was abandoned.
January 1, 1889, the Central Washington was graded into Davenport and track-laying was proceeding as fast as practicable. February 14th this road had come within the corporate limits of Davenport; the town now had its first direct rail communication with the outside world. Heretofore the work of track laying in the eastern portion of Lincoln county had been seriously hampered by snow and severe weather. Consequently the date of the arrival of the initial train was somewhat later than had been anticipated. Tuesday, February 12th, the working crew, the steam track-layer and the train accompanying with material had swung into sight around the bend, a mile or more to the east. All day Wednesday the crew worked steadily onward toward the depot grounds, arriving in town that evening, the finishing touches being given to the road on the day following. The scene of operations was visited Wednesday by crowds of people anxious to witness the automatic working of the patent track-layer. Each face was wreathed with a smile of satisfaction, and it was the universal opinion that this grand entree of a railroad was destined to insure a rapid growth of the town and increased prosperity. It was, in fact, a gratifying realization of one of those crowning events in the annals of a community that invariably meets hearty approval, and often enthusiastic commendation. Small wonder that upon this consummation of their hopes the citizens congratulated each other.
The construction of the Central Washington railway was conducted with no grand flourish of trumpets or noisy demonstration. The company had decided to build into the Big Bend, and proceeded to carry out the plan without ostentation. No subsidy was voted, nor was the progress of the line advertised abroad. It was a business proposition, pure and simple, and as such it was carried out to a successful conclusion. The steady progress of the road was only anxiously watched by that section of the country ready to reap the benefits of such a line. The construction was done under direct supervision of Engineer C.F. Reardan, and in every respect the work was first-class. Inclemency of the weather occasionally checked work for a day or two, but the means employed for laying track were the most perfect that the ingenuity of man had, so far, produced, and with it Mr. Reardan pushed forward to his objective point.
The Central Washington railroad began running regular trains to Davenport. The freight business of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern railway dwindled away to absolutely nothing, temporarily, and much of the passenger traffic was, also, lost. But the latter road effected a coup. It arranged to deliver freight into Davenport at the same rates charged by the Central Washington, and, for awhile, so successfully did it carry out this plan that the contractor plying between the terminus of the road and Davenport had more business than he could conveniently handle.