Monday, June 25, 2018

Notes On The US Construction Railroad.

From the NP Telltale Email list

I started this thread in 4/1999

Who can tell me of the operations of the government RR north of Coulee City to the Grand Coulee Dam site? I have on loan a photo from 1949 or 1950 of a GE 44 tonner lettered I.D.B.R. 4620.5. It is black with yellow scare stripes at a 45 degree angle wrapping around the nose. Some of the doors on the front of it are missing and the engine is missing too. When was the railroad built and when was it last run. The photographer thinks that the RR became isolated after the dam was built and irrigation water started to
be pumped into what is now Banks Lake, flooding the right-of-way. Was this unit scrapped or trucked out? Any hints to this or facts appreciated.

Dan XXXX (Yeah, me!)

List, I have been reading the book The Mightiest of Them All. Memories of Grand Coulee Dam by L. Vaughn Downs. Self published in 1986. ISBN 0-87778-400-7.

The following is anecdotal and should be weighted as such. When I lived near Coulee City in the late 70s, there was still faint evidence of abandoned roadbed northwest from the warehouse at Odair into Banks Lake. The warehouse and Odair siding were being used at that time by the contractor building the third powerhouse at Grand Coulee dam. Loads were removed and transferred to trucks. The warehouse appeared to be used for temporary storage and perhaps pre-assembly before loading onto trucks for final movement to the damsite.

Re: 1930s dam construction. Locals told me that the "dam contractors" used the Coulee City - Grand Coulee rails to transport materials to the damsite. However, I doubt that the locals would have been aware of who was actually operating the railroad, Dept. of Interior or contractors. The rails & ties were, of course, removed before Banks Lake was filled.


Yes Dan, I'd like to see your photos of trains operating on the Coulee Dam Railway and the engine facilities at Coulee Dam yard.

Meanwhile, here is some of what I have on cement handling:

1935 March "No equipment has been ordered, but it is believed construction of a fill on which the sidings, compressor plant and storage bins an silos will be built will be started before long. The cement will be shipped in bulk and the contractors will erect, according to their contract, eight 5000-barrel storage bins. In addition, there will be a blending plant, through which the cements will be run, according to government specifications. The MWAK railroad bridge will be completed by March 31, officials said. Work on the structure has been stepped up, as the river has started its climb toward the high water peak. The structure is of the double-deck type, although traffic will be carried only on one deck. Both rail and highway traffic will be routed over it.

1935 October "Railway Yards Start to Hum. With 50 or so cars of materials and equipment arriving daily at the dam, once concrete pouring is well started, provision for handling much of that heavy work was necessary and a huge gantry crane has been set up at the railroad yards at Coulee Dam City, a mile up the coulee. There the trains will be sidetracked and unloaded and the material sent down the grade to the dam site. Eventually there will be four of the big cranes in operation. They are nearly 20 feet high and straddle the rails. Flat cars are pushed under the cranes, which pick up the materials and unload them. The cranes are mounted on wheels to permit shifting from place to place. Nine cars, loaded with 34 mammoth concrete buckets, are standing in the yards, waiting for the day when they will be put into service carrying the mixture from the mixing plants to the waiting forms. The railroad yard is becoming one of the busy spots of the area, with the erection of small checking offices, sheds and several lines of cars on sidings. [SpokesmanReview19351018]

1935 November 01 first cement to new West Mix Plant

1935 November "First cement moves to dam. - The first carload of cement will be sucked into the silos of the MWAK company's steel storage tanks west of Grand Coulee dam site this afternoon. Seven or eight cars are to be pulled out of Odair this morning, hooked up with cars of other freight. Five cars are from the Metaline Falls plant of the Lehigh Portland Cement company, ant three from Coast plants. From now on cement is to move to Grand Coulee dam site in increasing volume, starting at around 38 to 40 cars per week. Of this total, six or seven a week will go from Metaline falls; three or four a week from the Irvin plant of Spokane Portland Cement company, and 30 cars from Coast plants. The MWAK company is not ready to pour concrete, but will fill the silos in preparation for the first pouring. These silos have 40,000 barrels capacity, or 160 carloads of overage 250 barrels each. The Northern Pacific is preparing to run two cement trains a day to the dam site after January 1, when pouring will be under way on a large scale.

1935 November "Cement arrives at Coulee dam. – Fourteen carloads of cement arrived last Thursday and were unloaded late in the afternoon. From now on two cement trains a day will be run from Odair, where the U. S. construction railway joins the Northern Pacific. [WashingtonFarmNews19351129]

In addition to Metaline Falls and Irvin, I have seen references to cement being supplied from Bellingham, andConcrete.

And, yes, there were up to two or three Shays available at any given time on the Coulee Dam Railway, but they were owned by the general contractors. Presumably they operated at the Dam end of the line and NP operated "main line" trains from Odair to Coulee Dam yard. Can anyone confirm this? There was also at least one diesel electric locomotive operated by the contractors at the dam. (ID anyone?)

The general contractors were Mason-Walsh-Atkinson-Kier (MWAK) from 1934 to 1938, and Consolidated Builders Inc. from 1938 to completion in the mid-1940s.
MWAK owned:
Shay #200, Lima 3295, 70-3, 1926, Mason City/Odair 1935-1938
Shay #251, #801, Lima 909, 1904 C75-3, Coulee City 1935-1938
and Consolidated owned:
Shay #200, Lima 3295, 70-3, 1926, Mason City/Odair 1938-1944
(to Potlatch)
Shay #5?, Lima 3108, 70-3, 1920, Odair/Coulee Dam 1938-19??
Shay #802, Lima 909, C75-3, 1904, Mason City 1938-1945?

University of Washington has a photo showing one of the
Shays (note the offset boiler)
Perhaps it would be easier to simply search for UW photo

Finally, the river-level rail approach to the dam (including the tunnel above current city hall and the bridge across the river) was apparently never operated.

Roger XXXX

Not to get anyone's hopes up -- I do not have photos of the engine  facilities, and only a few which clearly show the rail load out area.  However, plenty of dam construction photos which show items ancillary to that. Will start posting them later this week or next week. I have  accumulated quite a number of shots so I may dial down the resolution  a bit to post more at any given time.

Thanks kindly for the post -- I didn't realize the government railroad  had purchased more than a single Shay for that line. As I recall the  other locomotive (or _another_ locomotive) was something along the lines of Consolidation off the SP.


I've got a photo of a 44tonner style diesel around here somewhere  lettered IDBR xxx. So, diesel power worked for the gummint.

I too would be interested in the photos of the dam.

I once knew (he’s still around today in 2018) a fellow who livesin Ephrata who grew up in Wilbur and had many photos of trains on the NP with dam equipment.

Dan XXX (Me again)

Shay 3108, C70-3 Class, Standard Gauge, Built 08-1920 for Merrill and Ring
Lumber Co, #5, Pysht, WA, sold 12-10-1936 to Columbia Construction Co, #5,
Ilwaco, WA; for use on jetty construction at the mouth of the Columbia River, then
Consolidated Builders Inc, Odair, WA, for Coulee Dam construction.


A picture of this Shay locomotive at Pysht is on page 29 of KINSEY PHOTOGRAPHER, THE LOCOMOTIVE PORTRAITS. The engine is a 70-3 with arch windows and a cross compound air pump. No Steam pipe is available, such as was used with the later models with the front end throttle. Like the other two engines at Grand Coulee, this is an oil burner.

Larry XXXX

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