SP&S Locomotive # 902, Built 1937, Scrapped 1960
Shown Here In Pasco, WA. In 1939.


Story By: Ted Van Arsdol

      One hundred years ago, in September 1905, residents of the sparsely-populated Tri-Cities era were elated by news that a new railroad would be built along the Columbia River, linking them with Vancouver and Portland. This was the Portland and Seattle Railway, later renamed the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway - now part of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe rail network.
      Some of the euphoria was reflected in a bit of doggerel by Coyote Bill, who predicted in the weekly Pasco Express that Pasco "will bloom like the Rose of Sharon and shine like a morning star," and the town would soon be home to millionaires. Bill may have been the imaginary creation of the C.T. Giezentanner, Pasco's leading booster at the time as the editor of the Express. About the time the new railroad was announced, an ad appearing in the Kennewick Courier assured land buyers that "a fortune awaits you." The railroad was expected to boost the value of the lands where buyers would raise strawberries. In this "California of the Northwest," agriculturists could "easily own a home that will keep you, and lay up $2,000 yearly."
      The Pasco- Kennewick area had gone through hard times, but the latest news altered the outlook, and no one was more talked about as a result than railroad magnate James J. Hill, the key leader in the new project. He already was well known nationally, and lauded as an empire builder, the wizard of the Northwest, a supremely confident promoter of the region, and the most experienced promoter of commerce in America. Hill had been especially prominent as head of the Great Northern Railroad, where he had organized Great Northern Steamship Company in 1900 to increase westbound shipments of grain. He had acquired his rival, the Northern Pacific Railroad, in 1896, coordinating with J.P. Morgan. In 1901, Hill and Morgan also purchased the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, Inc., but had come in conflict with Edward H. Harriman, who controlled the Illinois Central Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads. The feud between the Hill and Harriman interests brought them into frequent dispute in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

James J. Hill                                             Edward H. Harriman

      Residents of the Pasco- Kennewick area already were aware of the power of the railroads in building towns and economies. In 1885 the Northern Pacific Railroad gave birth to both towns when company officials selected the location for crossing the Columbia River with NP tracks. The company had continued on through the Yakima Valley to Puget Sound, and in the late 1880s completed a bridge between Pasco and Kennewick. But early optimism and high hopes had fallen victim to harsh realities. Pasco promotions for growth were stymied by the 1890s economic depression, and the town had become what one outsider termed "a monument to forlorn hopes." A private irrigation project had gotten a start at Kennewick in the 1890s, but soon floundered, leaving the town practically deserted for several years.
      The kind of growth the towns had hoped for had gone to other NP cities, such as Spokane and North Yakima (now Yakima). Spokane had not been established until 1881, when the NP was constructing its base at the mouth of the Snake River. In 1890, Spokane's population totaled 19,922, and by 1900 the U.S. census count was shown as 36,898. The 1900 U.S. census listed only 254 residents at Pasco and 182 at Kennewick.
      Yet while growth in the Tri-Cities area had been practically nil, competing railroads were studying the regional situation and planning for a time when more new construction might be feasible. One proposal was for "the Lolo cut-off," a railroad that would cross the Bitterroot Mountains east of Lewiston, Idaho, and tie in with a line built along the Snake River. Such a water-level route would have provided savings in transportation as contrasted with the NP line over the Cascade Mountains to Tacoma, and the route east of Spokane.
      Also, two rival companies had been trying to purchase land in the 1890s, along the north bank of the Columbia River, as a preliminary to constructing tracks. One of these was the Columbia Railway and Navigation Company, which changed hands at a sheriff's sale in 1902 , and was acquired by the NP railroad a short time later. From September 1902 to September 1905 the reorganized company was involved in surveying and acquiring property as a preliminary to construction that later was taken on by Hill's new railroad. A rival company created problems at times, and landowners sometimes were apathetic, because they had cheap steamboat transportation already. But the CRN company completed its work and turned over the results to the new P and S Railroad.
      Much of this was earlier activity and was not reported publicly, but in 1905, newspapers were getting information, mostly unofficial, about the comings and goings of railroad men. Engineers were not talking, which was company policy, especially in situations such as competition between the rival Hill and Harriman forces in the early 1900. In March, the Columbia River and Northern Railway between Goldendale and Lyle on the Columbia was reported sold to unknown parties. A Vancouver weekly paper noted that the NP had "a long-cherished objective to build on the north bank to Vancouver and enter Portland by the bridge." This was a goal which the new railroad, the Portland and Seattle, would finally reach in 1908. In May, 1905, a railroad car of NP surveyors arrived at Vancouver to work on the location for a bridge at Vancouver and prepare surveys along the north bank.
      The Spokane and Columbia River Railroad and Navigation Company filed articles and incorporation in June to build a railroad from Spokane to Franklin County, ending on the Columbia River. Right of way was being purchased but the identity of the purchasers was in doubt, and the NP president, Howard Elliott, denied the NP was seeking a route.

Howard Elliott

      In July 1905 James Hill informed his son Louis, Great Northern President, that the NP and GN would construct the line along the Columbia River between Pasco and Portland. The elder Hill advised his son to take all necessary steps to acquire critical right-of-way points along the Columbia.
      The rival forces headed by Harriman were aware that the Hill people were getting active and in August filed articles of incorporation for a railway to be constructed along the Columbia and named the Wallula Pacific Railroad Company.
      Wallula had been an important junction for trainmen since the 1880s, when the NP and Oregon Railway and Navigation Co. had lined up tracks there, as part of the first completed' train route between the Midwest and Portland.
      In September the NP issued a statement that the NP and GN were joint sponsors of the new Portland and Seattle Railroad, and would build a line along the Columbia River's north bank to Vancouver. The river would be bridged so that trains from the new line could enter Portland. The Pasco Express reported on Sept 14th.: "Last week men, horses, material, etc. arrived by the carload at Kennewick and many are still arriving. Camps have been set up all along the river from Kennewick. Crews have been set to work, and grading is going ahead in dead earnest."

Spokane Portland & Seattle Railway Depot At Kennewick, WA in 1920.

      The Courier also noted on Sept. 15:"The Oregonian and Spokesman this morning announced that the right of way has been purchased with but two expectations for the entire distance from Vancouver to Kennewick."
      Surveying parties arrived by steamboat between Washougal and Stevenson with equipment carrying NP identification, and Lyle merchants had cashed NP checks, a newspaper reported. James J. Hill was said to be "entering the very heart of Harriman's territory in Oregon."
      Porter Brothers had been given charge of grading for the P&S railroad, and the contract for construction of 230 miles of the new route had been awarded to Seims and Shields of St. Paul, Minn. The line was expected to cost $12.5 million.
      All of this was taking place during a time of intensive railroad construction in Washington state. A SP&S historian wrote: "On July 1st. 1905, there were about 3,220 miles of railroad in the state. From that date until Dec. 31, 1906, there were under construction 2,018 miles additional, and by Nov. 30, 1907, the lumber industry gave employment to upwards of 100,000 men in the state of Washington daily, and at least 50,000 men were employed in Oregon." At the time, the publicity about Hill's new railroad focused on the route between Kennewick and Pasco but eventually a new line between Pasco and Spokane also was constructed. One 1905 story mentioned that the NP single track from Spokane "is already crowded to its full carrying capacity."
      The new P&S project was bringing back some life to Ainsworth, the town which had flourished from 1879 to 1885, during NP construction. In September 1905 the NP announced a plan to build a warehouse and docks at Ainsworth.
      One of the boats destined for service there was the Mountain Gem, which carried wheat too. Capt. William Polk Gray of Pasco brought the boat down the Snake River from Lewiston for a stopover going to Celio. The Pasco Express reported many carloads of material were expected to arrive daily at Ainsworth for distribution along the route of the new railroad.
      Also, the NP was said to be planning a big increase in its yards at Pasco and the replacement of much trackage in the area with heavier, more substantial steel rails.
      The area was reported to be "swarming" with engineers but they were all close mouthed about their activities. The Express editor surmised that some might be employees of railroads other than the P&S that might be headed for Pasco. "They will all eventually reach here, as this is a natural getaway," he predicted. 18 One mentioned most prominently in 1905 guesswork was the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, which built to the Hanford irrigation area a short time later.

Spokane Portland & Seattle train arriving at Hover, WA in 1910.

      A new town 13 miles below Kennewick on the Columbia River was attracting much attention as a result of the new railroad work. A Walla Walla surveyor was preparing a plat for the town, Hover, in September. A news item also mentioned a name change for another town, Benton, North of the Yakima River; postal officials had accepteed the new name, Richland.
      Business at Ainsworth was expected to be "lively" for at least two years, the storekeeper for Shields and Sims announced. The NP was constructing a warehouse, one or two houses and sidetracks. One of the boats to be involved in trips, the J.M. Hannaford, was repaired at Ainsworth in the fall.
      They were using horses, steam shovels, carts, scrapers and construction tools of all kinds in the grading job.
      NP President Howard Elliott stopped briefly at Pasco in the late fall and told residents: "You are going to have a city here. There is no cause for discouragement."
      The Pasco Express reported on Dec. 7: "The Mountain Gem with Captain Gray at the helm took the first load of material for the Portland-Pasco cutoff down the river from Ainsworth Monday."
      Wallula also was getting a boost from the new work. The NP had provided a new spur there so that steamboats involved in the P and S work could load and unload, and a newspaper, the Wallula Gateway, began publishing.

Pasco's Union Station, Served Both The N.P. & SP&S
Shown Here In 1925.

      While the new railroad was progressing without any serious problems in the Pasco and Kennewick areas, trouble had developed further west, as a Jan. 22, 1906 Portland story noted: "A titanic struggle between two giant transcontinental railway systems is in progress here and two of the masters of the railroad world are battling for supremacy and the possession of strategic ground. James Hill, master road builder of the age, is forcing an entrance down the north bank of the Columbia into Portland, invading the territory hitherto sacred to his enemy, E.H. Harriman, who with all the wealth and power at his command is resisting the invasion, hampering and blocking the progress of his rival. "Armed bands of workmen patrol disputed rights of way while a dozen courts have been petitioned in as many counties, and the strong arm of the law invoked to stop destruction of property."
      The rivalry was reported to have been a good thing for some farmers, who were getting unusually high prices for their property.
      However, despite all obstacles and problems, the Hill people were able to prevail in their new project.
      Track laying was started from Kennewick on Jan. 1, 1907, and telegraph line workers began to work from Kennewick on March 15, 1907.
      The railroad's operating department inaugurated train service on Dec. 15, 1907, between Kennewick and Cliffs, a short distance east of Maryhill.
      On the west end, track layers began work at Vancouver on Sept. 27, 1907. An excursion train left that city on March 11, 1908, and at Milepost 50, prominent citizens delivered speeches and drove a golden spike, signifying completion of the railroad. The train then traveled on to Lyle and returned in the evening to Vancouver, where a banquet completed the celebration.

On March 11, 1908 a crowd gathered at Sheridan's Point to celebrate the completion
of the P&S Railway between Vancouver and Pasco, WA.

      As expected, the Tri-Cities area got an immediate boost from the railroad construction, as many new residents moved in. Some were involved in dryland farming, and others purchased property in private irrigation projects, where residents expected the improved railroad access would help the economy.
      Pasco's population had increased to 2,083 in 1910, and the Kennewick census totaled 1,219. High hopes were focused on the Hanford, White Bluffs and Richland irrigation projects, and on other private reclamation efforts from Burbank to Wallula in Walla Walla SP&S. Most encountered various difficulties, and general growth in the area was slow. Most new railroad construction was ended by the time of World War I, and the arrival of large numbers of motor vehicles about the same time focused attention on that method of travel, including freight hauling on highways. But railroads continued to playa major role in moving freight. World War II was an especial highlight for passenger traffic, with many thousands arriving and leaving Pasco during the Hanford construction phase.
      The Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad was consolidated with the Burlington Northern railroad systems in 1970.
      Memorabilia related to the SP&S Railroad now occupies a large room at the Clark County Historical Society Museum in Vancouver, where hundreds of the railroad's employees formerly were based.
      The most detailed account of the SP&S history is available in two volumes by Walter R. Grande titled The Northwest's Own Railway; Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway and its Subsidiaries, published by the Grande Press at Portland in 1992 and 1997.                        {THE END}

SP&S Locomotive # 301, Built 1964
Shown Here In Pasco, WA. In 1968.

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