Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Auspicious Beginnings!

Aberdeen Washington, 1959. I was working at a local radio station, and once again, distracted from the railroading opportunities surrounding me! Ah – a wasted youth!

Northern Pacific’s primary run to the Pacific Coast ran from Chehalis to Aberdeen and Hoquiam, with an extension out to the Pacific Ocean west and north out of Hoquiam to Moclips. The Northern Pacific, through acquisitions and construction, had advanced to Montesano when the Panic of 1893 stopped progress toward Aberdeen.

Aberdeen citizens, anxious to lure the Northern Pacific, couldn’t wait and built their own line from Aberdeen to Montesano. They used rail salvaged from a shipwreck, ties contributed by local mills, volunteer labor, and donated building lots! They turned the new line over to the NP and the first train arrived on April 1, 1895. The rails reached Hoquiam, just over the Wishkah River to the west soon thereafter.

In 1909, the Oregon Washington Railroad & Navigation Company, with connections to the Union Pacific and the Milwaukee Road, gave Aberdeen and Grays Harbor access to three transcontinental railroads, via a parallel line out to Cosmopolis, just across the neck of Grays Harbor, over the bridge from Aberdeen.

Northern Pacific’s second line out to the coast ran from Chehalis to Raymond and South Bend, completed in 1893. Expectations that this line would be the Western Terminus for the Northern Pacific that land values skyrocketed. Alas, it was greed that doomed the project, and South Bend fell back upon logging, lumber and fishing, as it’s primary exports.

This article from “The Sou’wester, Volume 39, Number 2, Summer of 2004” describes in words and photos one of the last runs in March, 1954 from Centralia to Raymond and South Bend. Town founder L. V. Raymond was one of the dignitaries present who could recall the first passenger trains to Willapa Harbor 60 years before. Mr. Raymond was a traveling express agent for the railroad when he met Stella Johnson. The two were married in 1897 and settled not far from the N.P. tracks before starting the town that now bears his name. It’s a great read, with photos taken by Portland’s Allan deLay.

In 1913,the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul bought out the local Pacific & Eastern Logging Rail Road. New tracks were constructed, bringing the new line into downtown Raymond. Once again, the Milwaukee Road ran a parallel line to the Northern Pacific! In 1915, the Milwaukee Road opened its new line in November, between Maytown and Raymond and beyond. The company had combined several small logging lines to create the route.

Today, parts of the old Milwaukee Road line between Centralia and South Bend are still in operation as a tourist railroad. The extremely accessible Chehalis – Centralia Railroad & Museum. Seattle to Portland Interstate 5 crosses almost over the station! Cowlitz, Chehalis, & Cascade #15, long on static display, has been returned to service, and is very much alive as of this writing.

The Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad runs out to Aberdeen, but I’ve been unsuccessful in contacting Corporate to update this story.

I’ve just given snippets of the history of these two rail lines. But as Paul Harvey would say, “Here’s the rest of the story.” The Summer and Fall edition of “The Sou’wester, 2006” has the most complete highly descriptive history of the NP and Milwaukee incursions into Pacific County that I think you will find anywhere. Highly recommended reading, if these railroads and this area are in your interest.

The burning question we are left with is this: “With these auspicious beginnings, what happened? With these halcyon days of trains and shipping, why didn’t these Pacific Coast Seaports go on to become bustling modern day container ports, with extremely easy access to the Great Circle Routes?”

Any thoughts on this?

My gratitude to Ms. Karla Webber, Manager of the Pacific County Historical Society for permitting the use of the cover shot. I encourage you to look at their web site as they have done a tremendous job of documenting the history of the area, and let them know what you think of their effort! Their pride shows!

2 Comments - Click here:

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

Excellent post (and blog). For some answers on how the container industry developed I suggest you have a look at "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger" by Marc Levinson. He deals quite extensively with the development of container ports on the west coast. I would answer your question more directly if I could but the whole thing regarding west coast dock unions and such during the '50s and '60 is pretty complex and I only half understand it.

Robert in Port Townsend said...

Thank you for the complement! The question of why Aberdeen/Hoquiam /Cosmopolis and South Bend/Raymond simply fade into the background bewilders us mere mortals, who look at the map and say: "Wow! Instant harbors - just a short distance across the bar to the North Pacific trade routes!" When I was a DJ in Aberdeen, I created a call-out program that ran every morning, under the sponsor I landed - Grays Harbor Stevedoring. This short program gave the crew requirements for loading log ships at both ports. That was then. Bye and bye, monies for dredging became harder to get, and now South Bend / Raymond are only accessible by tug and barge. And Aberdeen / Hoquiam /Cosmopolis sound like they are sputtering to a halt. The chip facility at Cosmopolis is down. You DID bring in the factor none of us had thought of, the very powerful LABOR unions! Be sure to look at my articles on the impact of Prince Rupert Container Port:http://www.oil-electric.com/2007/11/first-ship-first-train.html Good call, Brian, thank you for the book reference and your input!

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