- Excerpt from coming book on NW Oregon: What was Illahee?
- The river that connects us; the river that divides us.
- Tales from the Salmonberry River
- Moonshining along the Lower Columbia River.
- Kerfuffle in the St. Helens Schoolyard.
- Be careful what you ask for.
- The Grange movement – the Internet of its day.
- “Animals to Avoid”
- The Wreck of the 104
- 32 Indian and Pioneer Trails in the North Coast range – compiled by R. L. Benson
- Shoot-out at the Sophie Mozee homestead!
- How to avoid becoming a statistic in the Oregon Forests
- Hindu gems hidden in the hills above Scappoose.
- What the Indians really smoked in their peace pipes.
- My “deliverance” hike on Cronin Creek
- Close encounters with an Alder
- Kamaiakin and the Klickitat Wars of 1855-56
- Following the Golden Rule
- Timber Legacies 4: The Timber Wars
- The first big environmental battle in Oregon’s brewing timber wars.
- Two Spirit Woman: the Kootenai Doomsday Prophetess
- The Chinook Canoe
- Of dogs, children and economy
- What the mushrooms think about “being late”.
- Chief Cowaniah and the Klickitat Raiders
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- December 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- May 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- November 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- April 2011
- January 2011
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
Setting up and maintaining the information behind this site is a huge undertaking, and any contribution that you can make to cover expenses would be most gratefully accepted. Happy Trails, Jim Thayer
My fascination with history derives from the fact that in immersing myself in the accounts of long gone days, I am occasionally confronted with perspectives and insights that literally twist our world around.
Today the landscape near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers is dominated by the I-5 and I-84 corridors that link the Portland area with the rest of the Pacific Northwest. In subtle ways, the grid lines of these arterials establish where we are by redefining our accessibility. All our travel flows through these hard-wired circuits. The organic connections that for over a century linked our communities along the Lower Columbia River have entirely disappeared.
Today no one is surprised to find Scappoose’s sports teams competing with Oregon teams from Tualatin, Oregon City and Salem. But this is just a recent development. Until 1908 Scappoose’s rivals were located right in Ridgefield and Kalama – both on the other side of the river in Washington. Grange hall dances in Oregon’s hilltop communities often featured frantic drives down off the heights, lights flashing, horns blaring, trying to catch the last cross-river ferry.
Kalama, Kelso and Cowlitz on the Washington shore enjoyed close ties with Oregon’s Scappoose, St. Helens and Goble as ferries, paddle boats and steamers crisscrossed the river in a continuous tangle of commerce and human affairs. Traffic flowed on the river seamlessly stitching towns and communities together.
All this changed in 1908 when the railroad bridge between Portland and Vancouver was completed and the line was expanded to Kalama. Up until this time, train traffic had passed northward along the Oregon side of the river. At Goble the entire train was loaded on to The Tacoma, a 1,362 ton train carrier that could accommodate 21 cars and the locomotive. For over 24 years The Tacoma was the critical link that connected the only rail line carrying freight north into the Puget Sound area. But in October, 1908 the new rail bridge in Vancouver suddenly disconnected the Oregon side of the Lower Columbia from the main stream of commerce heading north. By Christmas day, The Tacoma had made its last crossing.
For a few years smaller ferries still continued to ply the river shuttling residents from the Lower Columbia River to their cross-river neighbors or to intercept the trains heading back and forth between Portland and Seattle. But with the construction of the Longview to Rainier bridge even that remnant of cross-river traffic eventually dried up.
The river that had once been a seam holding the Lower Columbia communities together, now became a partition that estranged these communities from each other, like relatives that have moved across country, or in-laws from a prior marriage. With the coming of the railroad and later the Interstate highway, an ancient geographic paradigm that had carved the tracks of human intercourse in this region was replaced, virtually overnight, by a new configuration that completely obliterated even the memory of what had existed before.
Tales from the Salmonberry River
There is a 21-mile long canyon that cuts through the heart of the Oregon Coast Range from Washington County to Nehalem Bay. It is a wild and violent place where brutal storms, fresh off the North Pacific hurl themselves at the coastal mountains with a momentum and brute determination born of the Pacific vastness from which they were spawned.
In 1911 the Pacific Railroad and Navigation Company completed a rail connection from Washington County to Tillamook using the narrow passage afforded by the gorge carved out by the Salmonberry River Valley. Tillamook lay in one of the most inaccessible locations on the North Oregon Coast. It was equally inaccessible from the mouth of the Columbia River, as it was from the Willamette Valley. This link was essential to sustain the vital arteries of Tillamook’s industry, enabling resources to reach markets, and people to travel reliably.
Yet the rail link came at a high cost. Storm damage and constant geological movement constantly so plagued the P.R & N. that the locals took to calling it the “Punk, Rotten and Nasty”. A little more than a year after rail service was first launched, nature took it’s first swipe at the railroad that snaked down the Salmonberry River. Early January 1913, rough winter weather and snow triggered a host of slides that cut rail service to Tillamook for more than 35 days.
The break in rail service was dramatic leaving people stranded away from home and resources. Towards the end of that first week in 1913, a group of eight stranded Tillamook residents assembled in Portland and decided to get back to Tillamook, regardless of what it took.
Leaving Portland early on Friday, the party of seven men and one woman reached Timber around mid-day. Their plan was to follow the railroad right-of-way all the way to the coast. But rail service had been discontinued several days earlier and no one knew how much of the railway line had been swept away by the raging storm. And yet, after eating a meal in Timber, they set out on foot determined to reach Tillamook. Nightfall found them still deep in the canyon and they were forced to bivouac in a deserted cabin. With only two sandwiches between them, dinner did little to dent their appetites. Seeking refuge in the partially collapsed cabin the party tried to sleep, but the cold fog that enveloped them kept them shivering most of the night.
The next morning they set off early and soon arrived at a railroad camp where they managed to secure some breakfast before resuming their long and arduous trek to the coast. In all they reported crossing eight to ten slides. Of these, three were particularly difficult to traverse. In three different places, the track, rails and all had been swept into the river. In some place the fill that had been laid down to support the rail bed had been washed away leaving the rail line dangling in the air. About three miles above the tiny settlement of Enright, they encountered a slide that had obliterated the track for more than 300 feet covering the entire stretch with tons of dirt and rock. Below Enright the track was covered with loose dirt and mud sometimes reaching over eight feet in depth.
Eventually, the exhausted party reached the forward work party that was clearing the line from the coast. From there the bedraggled party were carried out to Wheeler on Nehalem Bay and eventually the P.R & N acceded to the travelers’ exhausted pleas to be carried on to Tillamook. No doubt this was a journey whose story was retold over the years to underscore the determination and grit of the local inhabitants.
While the ordeal was finally over for Mrs. Johnson and her 7 male companions, the community was to suffer an extended ordeal as repeated storms kept creating new slides, destroying the repairs already made, and burying the steam shovels under tons of rock and mud. In the end, it took them 36 days to restore the rail link. At one point the line was finally opened, but within three hours the next landslide took out another 60 ft. chunk of rails. When the Portland train finally made it through the ravaged gorge to reach Tillamook it was received by a jubilant crowd. By that time, the outgoing mail was piling up and Tillamook was running low on staples, fresh food, medicines, whiskey and even the fuel for the steam engines.
In those early days it was an epic struggle between the burgeoning township of Tillamook and the powerful forces that that visited such violent weather upon them. The efforts by the rail crews to keep the line open were truly herculean, but nature often responded with violent repercussions. The Salmonberry struck back just as soon as they finally restored service.
It happened in the steep confines of the Wolf Creek Canyon. There on the level ground near the creek side, the railroad builders had built their temporary quarters. On either side the ravine’s steep walls climbed a thousand feet to the rim of the forest above. Up on the edge of the ravine two ancient Douglas fir stalwarts bent valiantly to resist the push of the rain-soaked wind, and the pull of the earth softening under them as they slowly twisted on the very brink and toppled majestically into the abyss. They fell in an arc so that they pitched completely over smashing directly through the two houses cowering on the valley floor.
In the first lived the section foreman, William Conley, as well as the cook, his wife and their seven-year-old girl. The crash occurred around 5:30 AM in the wet grey dawn. Both men had already risen and were sipping their coffee in the early morning. They must have heard the agonized creaking as two massive trees slowly pitched end-over-end off the plateau rim 500 feet above them. The foreman’s house was hit in the middle. Louis Dudley, the cook was killed immediately, but Conley lay mortally wounded and pinned down by the giant tree.
Unhurt by the crushed central portion of the house, Mrs. Dudley quickly went to the aid of the little girl who had been sleeping at the far end of the house, beyond the fallen tree. Calling for Louis Dudley brought no responses beyond the agonized moans of Mr. Conley, the stricken foreman. Dressed only in their night gowns the woman and little girl climbed out of the wrecked house. A little way beyond lay the demolished shack occupied by some Japanese laborers, one of whom had also perished. With the wet coastal snow as deep as their waists Mrs. Dudley let loose a bellow for help – hoping to attract the assistance of the Greeks and Italians that were camped just a short way down the line.
Eventually, they did arrive, but not to render aid it seems. They quickly looted the foreman’s house and rifled Mrs. Dudley’s valise stealing her entire savings, a tidy sum of $110.00. But then they left, leaving the two women shivering in the snow. But by now the bridge crew was arriving and they did come to her succor. She and the surviving girl were taken to a local hostelry where they were helped to recuperate. Dr Hawk was summoned. The dead Japanese laborer was bundled off and the injured Conley was carefully transported out of the canyon to down into Washington County.
This was just the first of many violent eruptions that the railroad’s builders had to contend with. After the storms of 1996, scientists brought out pictures that showed the ravine stripped to it roots. In 2007, the northern slope gave way and created a giant slide whose repair would have cost more than $4 million. One has to wonder how many more times it will take to convince us that you shouldn’t “fool with mother nature”!
Usually the banks of the Nehalem river are the very picture of pastoral peace and quiet, especially down on the old Warren Smith Farm near Pittsburg. In particular, the chickens sauntering around their pen in the small clearing along the Nehalem were very satisfied. Not only did they get plenty of scraps brought down from the farmhouse, but they often were treated to an absolutely awesome mash that soon had the whole roost clucking and bumping into each other as they waddled dizzily around their pen. Some had even been known to fall off the ramp leading inside.
But on this particular Monday afternoon in mid-April of 1929, the rooster and his chickens were suddenly interrupted in their leisurely pursuits when cars began to come flying down the dirt road with sirens blaring. Several Columbia County police officers, aided by state and federal prohibition officers exploded out of their cars and began rushing the apparently undefended chicken shack. The chickens temporarily stopped their purposeful examination of sundry pebbles and bugs masquerading as pebbles. The rooster did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling about this unexpected activity, especially sensing the determination of these intruders. Rising on his toes he began to wind up to his best and most impressive cock-a-doodle-do. But Sheriff Weed and his Deputy Calhoun, along with their state and federal phalanx stampeded the poultry defenders, who panicked and fled squawking up their ramp to safety.
The prohibition officers, Sheriff Weed and Deputy Calhoun bounded up the stairs to confront H.W. Dalplian and his son-in-law, Lester McConkey – both of whom were apparently busy distilling the current batch of moonshine in their 300 gallon “Kentucky” style still.
In addition to the considerable distillation equipment found on the premises, the flying squad also secured another 15 vats that held more than 2300 gallons of mash in various stages of conversion into alcohol. They confiscated 50 gallons of yeast, fifty gallons of malt, several sacks of sugar. The arresting officers also reported that they secured a “considerable quantity” of finished and bottled moonshine in a separate building. There was no estimate of how much market-ready booze they confiscated. Thankfully, no one took note of the chickens’ participation in all these shenanigans and consequently they were allowed to remain in the chicken pen – under indefinite detention.
It appears that during the prohibition days of 1916-1933 “moonshining” was prevalent in the mountainous regions of northwestern Oregon. Unlike their Southern brethren that used corn, Oregon moonshiners used rye and added cane sugar. It was said by some of the more successful moonshiners that this approach produced a better product, and it was quicker – always a consideration when you’re trying to stay ahead of the law.
One anecdote tells of an enterprising moonshiner that built his operation into the charred remains of a massive old growth stump. When it gave off steam during the distillation process, it simply appeared as if the tree was still smoldering. Another early entrepreneur built his “store” underneath a bridge on Bonny Slope. From time to time, a car would casually stop on the bridge. The driver would open his door and tap on the wooden planks. A panel would slide open revealing the proprietor. Money would exchange hands as bottles of booze were hoisted aloft.
There were plenty of isolated barns, remote compounds and an abundance of forests in which to hid “moonshining” all across Columbia County, much of northwestern Multnomah County and northern Washington County. Most of the activity was organized by Portland moonshine gangs, like the Bill Smith Gang that operated a still on the Multnomah and Columbia County line. In Dutch Canyon, gang members George Davies and “Peanuts” Austin were apprehended operating an eighty gallon still on South Scappoose Creek. According to the arresting officer, the operation was about four miles from Scappoose located deep in Dutch Canyon. The Deputy noted the convenience of “an excellent road [that] leads right to the steps of the shack.”
Dixie Mountain had its share of illicit distillers that maintained operations buried deep in in the tangled headwaters of Crabapple Creek or Raymond Creek. And there were also several reports of a “six-gun tottin’ Tessie” who set up camp behind the Sophie Mozee homestead and was guarding her still with all the caliber she had. Closer to Portland, the village of Burlington prospered with several speak-easy facilities and an imposing bordello across the way. Linnton’s switch-back road system was said to be intentionally laid out in such a way as to provide the hill top residents the most time to hide their elicit enterprises.
Though we’re tempted these days to romanticize this desperate way of life, we should keep in mind how much this criminalization of liquor affected the health of the community. Help of any kind was hard to find for the wives and children that were left behind when the boot-legging father went to jail. Even the charitable organizations and the county health services were reluctant to help support these indigents, lest their aid be construed as encouragement for those that rely on outlaw income. The typical sentence for a moonshiner (usually the owner of the land) was $500 and a 30 day sentence. His assistant would just get a $500 fine, but typically being unable to pay he would end up languishing alongside his boss in the county’s “hostelry”.
When Judge McBride became the St. Helens schoolmaster in 1866, the school was a low-slung log cabin located alongside a swamp which, according to the pupils, “was prolific of green slime, mosquitoes and ague”.
At the time, St.Helens had only about seven families which meant that many of the children walked in from the surrounding wilderness. The Knox family sent over their contingent of pupils from Sauvie island by skiff. Both the Perry kids and the Watts’ children hiked from their homesteads – always accompanied by a large dog designed to discourage cougar encounters. Given the small amount of land that had been “tamed” by that time, it was not uncommon to encounter Oregon’s big cats and the early settlers relied on big dogs to protect their homesteads and their wandering offspring.
But once arrived at school, the dogs were kept in the schoolyard where they spend their time engaged in ferocious contests of growling, brawling and otherwise making such a ruckus that it was all but impossible to keep the children engaged with learning their “three R’s: reading, riting and reckoning.” Judge McBride had never allowed such uncouth behavior in his court, nor was he about to tolerate it in his school. So he finally responded to the mayhem with a decree that he conveyed homewards with the children. From that day forth all the dogs were to stay at home and not accompany the children to their school!
But that did not sit well with the families whose residences lay beyond the fringe of the forests, and whose youngest now had to brave the journey without their trusted canine minders. The outcry was immediate and unconditional; they would not abide by the prohibition since it put the lives of their children at considerable risk. While the immediate environs of St. Helens might occasionally see stray bears and other varmits, cougars were no longer a danger to the townsfolk. But for the homesteaders, cougars were a constant threat to their livestock, pets and their children. This uneasy coexistence of mountain lions and people was not ameliorated by the cats’ uncanny tendency to stealthily track humans – a phenomenon that endures into the present day.
For a week, the battle raged. McBride thundered outrage and demanded a suitably contemplative and uninterrupted atmosphere in which to conduct his instruction, and the dogs continued to attend school with undiminished pugilistic fervor. But just when McBride thought things couldn’t get worse, the yowls and growls escalated into a crescendo “troppo fortissimo!” All hell had broken loose outside! Everyone rushed out the door only to find the dogs ranged all around a giant cedar that grew from the center of the school yard towering over the rustic cabin. McBride and his students came to a sudden stop as they followed the dogs’ rapt attention to the drama unfolding overhead. There directly over the roof of the little school hung a huge black bear.
There was no getting around the situation, so Judge McBride marched down the hill to the nearest farmhouse, borrowed a rifle and promptly dispatched the bear in front of his adoring pupils. The issue of dogs attending school was never mentioned again.
Postscript: In 2013 an animal handler was killed by a captive cougar while cleaning their cage in Oregon’s WildCat Haven Sanctuary. Despite the numerous encounters since the days of the pioneers there never has been, a case of human mortality caused by a wild cougar in Oregon.
In the mid- 1800’s when the settlements on the lower Columbia River and in the Nehalem Valley were just beginning to proliferate, it was the practice to bring in a preacher to officiate at local marriages – and thus the opportunity to get married was only infrequently available.
It was this fact, that motivated Eunice Huntington to convince her beau to attend the marriage of Charles Fox in Rainier. By all accounts is was a joyous occasion, but near the end of the festivities the preacher asked if anyone else would like to take advantage of his presence, since he did not plan to return to Rainier for another half-year.
At this point Eunice stepped forth and announced that she was ready to be wed, but unfortunately her beau was somewhat less enthusiastic since he hadn’t accumulated a sufficient “stake” to offer her. Perhaps, thinking he could bide his time, he declined and was seen exiting the hall shortly thereafter.
But the local stage driver, Henry Windsor had no such compunctions and immediately offered his hand. In less time than it takes to read this account the two were married. Eunice’s father was furious! And then to make matters infinitely worse, it turned out that Henry was already married to a women he had left in the east. But that was soon sorted out when it was confirmed that the ex-wife had died. According to the contemporary accounts, this news interrupted the bride’s family plans to annul the marriage and the recently widowed Henry Windsor was eventually accepted into the Huntington family.
Eunice had come to Rainier in 1848, crossing the prairies with her family at the age of 13. Henry turned out to be quite the businessman, and he eventually controlled much of the stage business between the Cowlitz River and the Puget Sound. In 1903 the couple celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary! You might say things turned out rather well for Eunice, considering the unexpected turn of events.
The national Grange Movement was founded in 1867, immediately after the conclusion of the Civil War, when the country’s agriculture was in dire shape. Six years later the Oregon State Grange organization was established to help rural communities work more effectively together. Politically, the Granges consistently supported better roads, technological improvements for the small farmer, flood control and rural electrification. But there was another side of the Grange that was just as important! The Granges also encouraged the enlivenment of the local community by throwing great country dances!
It is difficult for many of us to understand the isolation of the remote rural Oregonians that pioneered homesteads in the Coastal Range or in the Nehalem Valley. They rarely got to see their neighbors, who might live 15 to 20 miles away through dense forest inhabited by cougars, feral pigs, and bears. “Visiting” took determination, pluck and stamina and sometimes required an overnight stay. Social life was hard to sustain when the roads were hip deep in mud, the skies were dumping oceans of water, and a foggy dusk presided from dawn to darkness.
The establishment of a Grange Hall was considered quite an accomplishment and a validation of a community’s advancement from “bachelor flats” to the foundation of a new town. In fact there was some considerable rivalry about who was the first Grange in Columbia County between the citizens of Vernonia and those of Yankton. The opening of a local grange was a big deal and was celebrated all along the Lower Columbia. In 1915, when Beaver Homes (sometimes referred to as Redtown) opened its grange “an excursion boat was run down from Portland. On it was a piano, and a full orchestra, horses and hacks to supplement the company’s rigs and a crowd of celebrators bent on dedicating the hall in dancing.”
Most of these country dances went all night long, not simply because they had the stamina to do so, but because an earlier finish would have resulting in people trying to walk home through the dark cougar-infested forests dressed in their best party clothes – so they simply stayed and danced until dawn.
The stairs going up to the dance hall were lined with muddy overshoes, lanterns, and the occasional nosebag full of oats for the horse’s trip home. While the older women sliced up the cakes, the old men hunkered to some serious poker fueled by ample stock of buttons reserved for that purpose. At mid-night there was a break when the ladies served a feast of cooked ham, sliced with buns, pies, cakes, pickles, and washed down with lots of coffee – all for $1.00 per family!
All around the hall, children slept on the chairs and benches, covered in lap-robes and coats. After dinner, they’d put down another layer of wax and announce, “This will be the ladies’ choice.” Out from the kitchen came the matrons, but their old-timer partners had already escaped down the stairs. All the wives and sweethearts would grab hold of their men, while the unattached girls would rush any boys that could actually dance. The others then sought out any uncle or neighbor that could dance a quadrille with a “right and left through”, or “circle eight with a full allemande.” Once the pace picked up and they began a Paul Jones or a feisty tag-waltz the old-timers would reappear just in time to be pulled into the vortex by their patiently waiting wives and immersed into the exuberantly whirling dancers.
But woe-betide those that tried to drink, for these affairs were entirely sober. And if you got caught, you were not just expelled from the dance, but were also likely to lose your job on the morrow.
Today, the granges still operate under similar circumstances. Pinochle, Bunco and Bingo are prominent on their calendars, and many still hold social events several times a year. One of my favorite annual events is the Strawberry-shortcake Festival put on by the Dixie Mountain Grange every year on Father’s day! Complete with a kaleidoscope of handmade quilts for sale, red gingham table clothes, and the girls tending to the tables – this event reminds us of how we used to live in small and tight-knit communities before the Internet came to our rescue…
Columbia County History – Vol 1, pg 52, 1961
Columbia County History – Vol 6, pg 20, 1967
Columbia County History – Vol 2, pg. 53, 1962
Columbia County History – Vol 12, pgs 18 & 22, 1973
I recently was given a treatise on “Logging Road Layout and Related Subjects” hand typed by “Bull” Durham in 1997.
Here was a candidate for the New York Times best-seller list, I thought, as I began to sort through the details of laying a tagline, but then suddenly the voice of the writer pierced through the technicalities and I was captivated.
Right on page one, he starts you off, with this choice piece of advice, “ After the office interview have the client take you to the property and show you what he knows: roads, line crossings, line tags, mean dogs, crazy hermits, and hostile widows.” Now that changes the proposition a bit…
But “Bull” isn’t about to go charging into the lair of any slavering dogs or pernicious widows lying in wait. “Don’t think of a project as an unfriendly foe and don’t attack it. You should caress it and surround it …sneak up on it,” he advises. “get to know the property intimately…the more you know of her secrets the more she will cooperate and the less pitfalls she’ll have for you to stumble over.” They sometimes talk about “lonesome cowboys”, but I’ve never, until now, considered the possibility of a “lonesome logger”…making amorous advances upon his special stand of timber…
But my favorite piece of advice that Bull gives us, after his many many years in the field, is contained in his section entitled Animals to Avoid. After quickly listing off bears, elk, deer, skunks, feral dogs, rabid bats and even pot farms he warns of two particularly dangerous beasts in the forests. Would it be cougars, spiders, bees or log truck drivers? Nope, none of those…
His first warning is about “Game Hunters (Homo Stupidus)“! He categorizes them as “unpredictable, may shoot at anything, they go a little nuts at hunting season,” he confides. “Avoid whenever possible; stay in your vehicle” he advises and as a final caution he adds, “Don’t wear bright colors to give them a target.”
But it was his final choice of fearsome and dangerous beast that really floored me. He relates a story emanating “a few years ago” in Coos County. It seems that,
“the rigging crew on a yarding job were setting chokers down in a draw where they turned up a Salamander…some of the boys dared another to bite the head off of the Salamander. The boy took the dare, bit the head off, went into convulsions and died before anything could be done for him.”
Now there’s advice I wouldn’t have thought to include in a manual on how to build logging roads. I’m sure it avoided lots of convulsions and headless salamanders.
About 46.5 miles out of Portland on the Sunset Highway (US 26) we reach an important junction on the way to the coast. Most people go flying by the rest area located there, unless the kiddies in the backseat are wailing for a pit stop. But this is the original way into this area, before there was a Wolf Creek Highway, later renamed the Sunset Highway. About 100 yards beyond the entrance to the rest area is a dirt road that leads northwards (to the right) up the Rock Creek Valley and eventually it used to lead to Keasey and Vernonia. This was the route that the railroad loggers used to gain access to the huge stands of trees in the Coastal Range situated south of the “Wolf Creek” highway. The rest area sits to the north of a huge bowl that drains a vast ring of coastal headlands into the North Fork of the Salmonberry River. It was this timber rich landscape that the Oregon American Logging Company had in their sights when they extended their railroad spur #26 across what is now the sunset Highway and began logging in the highest slopes of the Coast Range right above the Lower Nehalem and the Salmonberry River.
By 1948, the Oregon-American Logging Company was operating at the top of the coast range along a rim of forested peaks that loomed above the Lower Nehalem River. Located at the furthest extremity of a narrow ridge jutting over the precipitous slope was Windy Gap, one of the most remote logging sites in the Pacific Northwest. From this isolated perch the loggers could look over the tops of the last coastal range and see the ships plying their way up and down the Oregon Coast. It was also utterly at the mercy of the violent storms that crashed ashore from the vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean. Only a few months earlier a gargantuan winter storm had lifted the watchman’s cabin right off its foundations and had flung it headlong off its mountain perch.
And it was to this remote logging site perched at the top of the Coast range that the Oregon-American Lumber Company had brought the greatest steam punk behemoth of the logging world, a 300 ton Lidgerwood Tower skidder. These huge “aircraft carriers” of the logging business had been developed during the high-balling era of steam logging. With their huge tower extended they could log a 360-degree arc and lift the huge old-growth logs from nearly a mile away and pull them up 3,000 feet in elevation to the waiting rail cars on the ridge high above. It was reported that, “The canyon walls were so steep that the skyline angled down as much as 45 degrees.” All the crane operator could see of the choker setters were their helmets that looked like little specks of grey metal lost in the jungle of massive old growth forests.
On June 3rd, 1948, the Oregon-American Logging company had wrestled this monstrous rail carriage up to the top of the Coast Range with four locomotives pushing and pulling the Lidgerwood Tower Skidder into position. And from its commanding heights it began to log the practically inaccessible slopes of the Middle Fork of Cronin Creek.
At about 8:30 AM the 104 “lokie” was bringing down an empty oil car and 13 big car-loads of logs down a narrow sinew of iron rail lines snaking along the rim of Windy Gap. Below the slowly descending train clouds flowed over the Coast Range turning the peaks into islands on a vast ocean of fog. And above the creeping train the clear blue sky of that June morning was so close the engineers could almost reach out and grab it.
For the last 25 years until that morning the Oregon-American had managed to haul 2 million board feet of wood out of the Coast Range without a serious railroad accident. And considering the tenuous network and rickety trestles that held this delivery system together – this was no mean feat. But as the train slowly sank through the blanket of clouds and maneuvered its way towards Camp Olsen all that would change.
The train was inching its way down the steep grade of Line Spur 26, but had come to a stop about a mile from Camp Olsen, because the section foreman was making repairs to the track. The braking process brought the train to a halt on a fairly steep slope near the junction with Spur 26-8 . In the locomotive were the Jeff McGregor, the engineer, Jerry Manning, the fireman, and Frank Willis, the time keeper. Three brakemen were riding along further back amongst the carloads of logs. Up to that point everything seemed to in order and there was no apparent cause for concern.
After a short wait the section foreman completed his work and waved the train onwards. But from the moment it started it was clear to all who witnessed the event that the train was picking up speed too quickly. It continued on at an alarmingly increased speed, and as it tried tho round the bend at the 26-8 junction it jumped the track on the curve and overturned immediately. This is where it gets a bit gruesome. George Lee, the head of the construction crew describes the scene with brutal frankness,
The engineer wasn’t alive when I got there. He got half-way out the cab window and that’s as far as he made it. He was cooked. You don’t get two hundred pounds of live steam goin’ on you and survive. . The time keeper ‘ol Frank Willis, he was just squashed right between the boiler and the tank. The other guys, they weren’t squashed, they were just cooked.” – George Lee, from The Oregon American Ain’t No More!
As I try to penetrate past the official perspective that these damage reports present, one does get the sense that the loss of these individuals was a real blow to the heart of the company and to its employees. The five that rode the ill-fated train accounted for more than 120 years of experience in railroad logging experience – an utterly inconceivable feat in this era of volatile career options.
Not surprisingly the company’s reports and it’s semi-official history, The Oregon American Ain’t No More! both draw the conclusion that the cause of the accident will never be known – especially with conflicting reports of the two brakemen and the deceased engineer.
The contemporary Oregon-American internal records quickly move on to explaining how the engine was pulled upright again – so that it tipped right back on the rails. And how most of the damage was insured; The Oregon-American was only at risk for only $5000. By Monday they planned to have the scene cleared and the enough trains moving to keep up the twice daily delivery of 13 car-loads of lumber to the sawmill in Vernonia. The 104 was eventually repaired and rejoined the service. The same cannot be said of Jeff McGregor, the engineer, Jerry Manning, the fireman, and ol’ Frank Willis, the timekeeper.
Harvesting logs near the ceiling of the Coast Range was and remains a bodacious undertaking. In the heady days of the post-war reconstruction period, timber companies were regrowing their labor force and were high-balling production. These were the days of the “boomers”, the “short stake artists”, “gyppos” and career loggers, but as this story relates – it was still a dangerous business being a steam engine logger.
Although I have been collecting materials about early Oregon coastal trails and paths for many years, I was pleasantly surprised to find some original historical research compiled by Robert Benson in 1981. It included this unusual map and this uniquely expansive list of significant trails.
I have presented this map and the associated list with as few editorial (italicized) additions as possible. I can’t say I know more than a handful of these putative trails, but nonetheless I publish them here in part to preserve the record, but also to see if I can conjure some of you out there to respond if you have something interesting to add to the record. Maybe we can coin a new term and call it “crowd researching”.
And here is his list of the various trails:
1. Jason Lee Trail, used by missionary searching for a location for his mission.
2. Logie Trail, Fort William Bend on Sauvie Island to Glencoe.
3. Klickitat raiding trail, perhaps same as fur traders’ main Westside route.
4. Ecola Trail, used by Captain Clark’s party going to see whale at Cannon Beach.
5. Pafaan Trail, from Patton Valley via S.Saddle Mtn and Hembree ridge.
6. Tualatins’ steelhead trail to Trask headwaters (from Trail Street in Gaston?)
7. Nenamusa Trail, rumored in use by Tillamooks for vacations and honeymoons.
8. Dr. Elijah White’s route from Spencer Butte to ocean via Siuslaw River.
9. Astoria-Plains Military Road, scouted by Lt. Geo. H. Derby in 1855
10. Doak’s ferry Road, by which cannons reached Siltz (or Forts Yamhill, Hoskins?)
11. Cattle trail, over which herds were driven to Tillamook and Clatsop farmland.
12. Harris Trail, gave Tillamook access to civilization in all weathers.
13. Cape Horn Wagon Road, west of West Dairy Creek and on to Vernonia.
14. Washington County, Nehalen & Astoria Wagon Road of 1873
14a. Wilson River Stage Road, Gale’s Creek (Gale’s City) to Tillamook.
15. Trask Toll Road, North Yamhill to Tillamook via Fairdale Mineral Springs.
16. Elk Creek Toll road, Cannon Beach to Necanicum River.
Major Hiking Routes, now usable at least in part (in 1981, when this list was compiled)
17. Big Nestucca logging road, unsafe but favored by bicyclists and hikers to the coast.
18. Oregon Coast Trail, planned throughout; officially open at the north end (much more since this was published).
19. Linear trail, on defunct United Railway grade; held up by local opposition.
20 Dallas – Coast Trail, planned along old logging roads; possible for equestrians.
21. Corvallis-Coast Trail, mostly for hikers only, in part for bicyclists too.
22. Eugene – Coast Trail, begun by Boy Scouts; frustrated 10 miles out.
Long Trails Planned, or in use in the 4 major proposed wildernesses.
23. Mt. Hebo Trail, planned to join the Three Rivers and Central Nestucca.
24. Drift Creek Trail, behind Waldport, planned as part of 21 above.
25. Coast Creeks Trail complex, gives views of unique coastal wilderness.
26. Windy Peak Trail in small wilderness between Deadwood and Lake Creeks.
Short but outstanding Scenic Trails:
27. Wolf Creek Falls Trail, with possible extension along Highway 26.
28. Low Divide Trail, joining gale’s Creek Forest camp with Wilson River Stage Road.
29. Munson Creek Falls Trail, through sub-tropical rain forest.
30. Hart Cape Trail, steep but scenic, just north of Cascade Head.
31. Valley of the Giants Trail, access to grove of near champion Douglas Firs.
32. Sutton Creek trail, with a special viewpoint for the handicapped.
I would like to add other trails like those connecting the Tuality plain with Willamette Falls, those trails along the Gorge that bypassed the treacherous rapids, trails along the Nehalem River, the Salmonberry River trail and the traditional crossing routes for the Cascades in Oregon and Washington. But I will leave this entry as un-embellished as possible.
Instead of offering my commentary, I invite you, dear reader, to add your observations! Please comment if you have updates on any of these routes. I also have updated information, but will offer it up elsewhere as we gradually refresh the details of the trails mentioned therein.