Right across the street from my apartment is an aging car float rail bridge. I got curious as to who owned it and so forth. This is the amazing story I uncovered!
In 1869, an enthusiastic group in Port Townsend, seeing the end of the Northern Pacific Railroad heading toward the Northwest, organized the Port Townsend Southern railroad, hoping to become the western terminus of the NP.
To further their hope, James B. Hogg, an engineer on the Cascade Division of the Northern Pacific Railroad was appointed Chief Engineer of the Port Townsend Southern Railroad and was charged with exploring, locating and overseeing construction of its line. But by 1887, only a mile of line had been built.
James Hogg’s home is one of many historical register homes located in Port Townsend.
In 1889, a shell of the Union Pacific Railroad, the Oregon Improvement Company bought the rights, and launched a plan to join Port Townsend to Portland, Oregon. But plagued with financial difficulties, the line was only completed some 30 miles south of Port Townsend to Quilcene.
Port Townsend Southern ran from August 1890 through May 1914, when it became Port Townsend and Puget Sound Railway. Then it reverts back to Port Townsend Southern from June 1914 through May 1929.
Meanwhile, the Seattle, Port Angeles and Western Railway line was laid between Port Angeles and Discovery Bay in 1915. At Discovery Bay, the Seattle, Port Angeles and Western Railway line tied into the Port Townsend Southern. This connection allowed passenger rail service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend Passenger service was expanded westward from Port Angeles as far as Twin Rivers.
In 1927, Crown Zellerbach built a paper mill at Glen Cove, just south of Port Townsend, which promised to generate rail traffic from Pier 27 in Seattle: The mill, built on some 6,000 pilings at Glen Cove by Crown Z, was purchased by Haindl Papier GmbH in 1983. The Kraft paper mill would undergo two more ownership changes; 1997 to NW Capital Appreciation, and 2001 to present owned by Crown Packaging of BC.
In 1931 passenger service ended due to competition from the automobile. The rail line, now operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, was utilized for freight and timber hauling after 1931.
In 1945, the Port Townsend Southern was renamed the Port Townsend Rail Road.
The Seattle and North Coast Railroad acquired the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad lines in 1980 and tried to revive passenger train service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend. This effort failed and by 1985 the train was out of service and the tracks began to be removed.
In May of 1975, the Port Townsend Southern was sold to the Milwaukee Road, and was designated the 14th Subdivision.
Operating as Milwaukee’s 14th Subdivision, the trackage ran over the old Port Townsend Southern to Discovery Bay, named in honor of Capt George Vancouver’s ship of discovery, and thence to Port Angles on the old Seattle, Port Angeles and Western line.
Shown here is a Milwaukee Road GM product at Sequim, about half way between Port Townsend and Port Angles.
Car barge service to Port Townsend originated at Pier 27 in Seattle, and towed to Port Townsend by Foss Tug and Barge, later renamed Foss Maritime.
I was able to locate a photo of the Port Townsend car barge rail bridge IN USE.
Then Milwaukee Road hit the skids, and the operation was sold to the Seattle and North Coast Railroad, until IT went bankrupt in June 1984.
In June 1988, the Olympic Railroad Company operated the rails, by now reduced to trackage owned by Port Townsend Paper Company.
The absolute end to a fascinating, if little known piece of Pacific Northwest railroad history, finally came on March 25, 1985 with the Diane Foss pulling the last rail barge out of Port Townsend.
116 years after a group of wildly enthusiastic city boosters, probably most likely fueled up on whiskey and beer, had visions of Port Townsend becoming the “end of the transcontinental line.”
Bravo to that group! Dreams are what made this country great!
Updated: August 21, 2008.