Friday, December 9, 2016

Wallace and Grangeville Share Railroad Milestone Day(s) [otd 12/09]

On December 9, 1889, standard-gauge tracks of the Washington & Idaho Railroad (W&I RR) Company reached Wallace, Idaho. Wallace is one of several towns that arose from the discovery of placer gold in the Coeur d’Alenes, followed by even greater discoveries of silver and lead. The first cabin was built there in 1884, and soon companies were operating numerous famous lode mines in the area – including the Bunker Hill, and the Sunshine.
Wallace railway depot, now a museum.
Idaho Tourism photo.

In 1886 (or 1887, records conflict somewhat), a “subsidiary” of the Northern Pacific ran a narrow gauge railway into Wallace. Ostensibly a separate company, the builder was soon merged into the NP system. Narrow gauge is much cheaper to build, especially in mountainous country. However, narrow gauge rail cars have substantially less carrying capacity than standard gauge, and their loads must be transferred at the junction with the primary rail lines.

The W&I RR was a “subsidiary” of the rival Union Pacific, and the NP blocked construction every way it could. The Murray Sun newspaper described some of their ploys, which severely hampered the W&I schedule. The paper said, “Several hundred men are tied up at Farmington, and everywhere along the route are small gangs of laborers occupying disputed ground on which they are supposed to work.”

But finally, the obstacles were overcome and Wallace obtained the substantial cost and operational benefits of the standard gauge railroad. Later the construction squabbles became moot, as the NP acquired control of most of the railroad system in the Coeur d’Alenes.

Nineteen years later, also on December 9, the first passenger train arrived in Grangeville, on the Camas Prairie. Once there, it took on customers and headed for Lewiston and Spokane. In a special dispatch to Boise’s Idaho Statesman (December 10, 1908), the reporter said that many people “piled on and took conductor’s cash fare receipts as souvenirs.”

Established in the 1870s, Grangeville had grown to become the largest town on the Prairie, and then the county seat of Idaho County.

As early as 1886, locals had dreamed of what a rail link to the outside world would do for their town and the region. That summer a letter-writer said, “It cannot be stated as a positive fact but as more than probability that” the Oregon Short Line Railroad would build a line north from Weiser. Then, the writer said, “if a practicable route can be found they will cross the Prairie and go down the Clearwater.”

Train leaving Lewiston.
“Archive” photo posted by Lewiston High School.
A year later, locals stated optimistically that the railroad would soon extend tracks onto the Prairie from Lewiston [blog, Oct 21]. The years passed, and hope waxed or waned with each rumor and report.

In 1899, Grangeville’s Idaho County Free Press reported (December 29), “The Northern Pacific surveyors are now camped north of town on the Milt Cambridge place and are running the line with Grangeville as their objective.”

But nothing immediate came of that effort, nor of others during the next few years. Then the rails finally arrived in 1908. Eventually, lines linked many towns on the Camas Prairie, moving grain and other products to markets all over the country.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).

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