Pictures and information gleaned from the pages of this website.
The year 1934 was deep within the Depression. Jobs were scarce around the nation. This wasn’t necessarily how it was in Central Washington. The building of Grand Coulee Dam was just starting, bringing near boom-times to the area.
The building of the construction railroad to the dam site was seen as a milepost in the overall project. Now materials could be delivered in large quantities, allowing the project to really jump to life and allowing thousands to be employed.
As the railroad was taking shape, an idea sprouted in the American Legion post at Grand Coulee in early November. Why not invite neighboring towns to a beauty competition, with the crowning achievement being the winner’s help in driving the final spike into the tracks? The Queen of the Columbia contest was born.
The Spokane Daily Chronicle was asked by the Legion to aid in organizing the contest. The Chronicle felt its readers would be interested in a cooperative effort that would likely help to bind the people of the region more closely together in those trying times.
Area Chambers of Commerce and Commercial Clubs were asked to sponsor the local contests and to help furnish the winners with transportation to and from the celebration. A banquet and dance were planned, both sponsored by the Legion post. The post also suggested a committee comprised of one artist, one sculptor and one person fully experienced in the selection of mannequins; these were to be appointed by the Chronicle to help crown the Queen.
The contest quickly proved to be popular. One report stated a Dr. Hale Kimble, chairman of the special Coulee Princess Committee, forwarded invitations to Grand Coulee, Grand Coulee Center, Osborne, Grand Coulee Heights and Mason City, asking them to send their candidates to Spokane for two days of entertainment. The plans for these girls included an airplane ride, a dinner dance at the Davenport Hotel, a theater party at the Fox Theater, a parade and band escort, a tour of various stores, and a radio presentation at the station of KHQ.
By the time the Spokane event happened, there were nineteen Basin-area princesses involved. In the airplane ride, organized for December 5th, the girls were to fly over Spokane in one of the new United Air Lines 170-miles-an-hour, 10-passenger airplanes.
December 8th was chosen as the day the Queen was to be announced. Contestants were June McDonald of Almira, Dorothy Cooper of Coulee City, Ruby Webb of Creston, Gladys Hansen of Davenport, Peggy Service of Edwall, Josephine Jeffers of Ephrata, Edythe Klenner of Grand Coulee, Lorraine Morgan of Grand Coulee Center, Marjory Bolen of Grand Coulee Heights, Louise Turner of Harrington, Helen Hartlerode of Hartline, Lulu Whitelaw of Keller, Rose Krehbiel of Lind, Bertha Eccles of Neppel, Kathleen McLean of Okanogan, Eleanor Lyle of Osborne, Helen Peters of Quincy, Margaret Bowen of Reardan, Clairice Willis of Rim Rock, Margaret Waltho of Soap Lake, Margaret Boehl of Sprague, Ellen Bernice Mitchell of Waterville, Marjorie Wynne of Wellpinit, Mildred Smith of Wilbur, and Hazel Webley of Wilson Creek.
U.S. Senator Dill; Governor Martin; Homer K. Jones, State Commandant of the American Legion; Lacey Murrow, State Director of Highways; David Ryan, builder of the construction railroad; and other visiting and local celebrities had prominent parts in the program.
The beauty contestants were treated at Mason City to a noon luncheon. Then they moved to the new Roosevelt Theater in Grand Coulee Center at 2 pm. The girls were observed in street costumes and bathing suits. The judges were James L. Paine, Archibald Rigg and James Lyons of Spokane, who were “experts in the art of judging beautiful women.” A band from Grant County furnished music.
Miss Louise Turner of Harrington was crowned “Queen of the Columbia.” Second place went to Mildred Smith of Wilbur and third to Lorraine Morgan of Grand Coulee Center. Mr. Ryan was crowned “King of the Rails.” When things were completed at the theater, the crowd marched the 100 yards to the railroad track.
While more than 1000 people watched, a huge crane lifted the one remaining rail into place. Frank Banks took the first swing with the maul at the golden spike, followed by Governor Martin, Senator Dill, Mr. Ryan, Cheney Cowles of Spokane, and members of the royal party. As the spike was finally seated, steam whistles broke loose and the crowd erupted into applause; the golden spike was driven home and the only railroad built in the United States in 1934 was ready for travel.
Apparently the girls in the contest had the time of their lives. Miss Turner blushed when Governor Martin, after pinning her with the emblem of her victory, gave her a very large kiss on her lips.
There were roars of laughter when Governor Martin suggested he hoped to return when the “railroad looks more like a railroad.” His statement referenced the fact the road had not yet been ballasted and that the ties and the rails were still lying on the ground in many places.
A short time later Miss Turner was allowed to run the ancient steam engine that Mr. Ryan was using to build the railroad, which was not quite a fitting honor for the newly minted queen.
The construction railroad went on to haul enormous quantities of material needed in the building of the dam. The line was removed in 1951, with most of the grade now submerged beneath the waters of Banks Lake.