Stencil on the side of a BN caboose at East Lewiston

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Camas Prairie train operations part 2: The Camas Prairie

The Grangeville Local, trains 857 and 858

The building of the Second Subdivision, from Spalding to Grangeville, led to the creation of the Camas Prairie Railroad. One of its most iconic features was the route through Lapwai Canyon.  This line, with its many bridges, tunnels and severe curves (the curve across Half-moon bridge was 17 degrees!), was one of the railroad’s many scenic marvels. The purpose of building the line through the rugged Lapwai and Rock Creek canyons was the tapping of the prairie’s rich and expansive grain crops.  Reaching the prairie required the railroad to climb almost 2000’ feet in 14 miles, with a ruling grade of 3%!

In 1967, the railroad operated a tri-weekly train on the second subdivision.  858 ran from Lewiston to Grangeville on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  857 ran from Grangeville to Lewiston Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

All of the grain harvested on the prairie was still transported by rail.  Dam construction along the Snake River commenced in 1961 and was intended to create a port at Lewiston.  The dam that would create the Port of Lewiston would not be completed until 1975.  Every town the railroad served on the second subdivision had numerous grain elevators.  Virtually all of the grain from these elevators still shipped in 40-foot boxcars.

Lewiston Grain Growers, created by the merging of several smaller elevator companies, was the largest grain shipper on the railroad.  LGG had grain elevators at Lapwai, Sweetwater, Culdesac, Reubens, Craigmont, Ferdinand and Cottonwood. 

Stegner Grain and Seed Co. and Union Warehouse and Mercantile were two other multi-station elevator companies on the prairie.   Stegner had elevators in Fenn and Grangeville.  Union had elevators in Craigmont, Fenn and Grangeville.  There were also several independent elevator companies spread out among the towns on the second subdivision.

Many smaller sawmills built their operations on the Camas Prairie along the railroad line, with several mills being located at Grangeville, one at Cottonwood and one at Craigmont.  Much of their traffic was shipped in 40 ft boxcars, the most plentiful cars the parent roads could supply.  50-foot boxcars with large door openings were in short supply in 1967, often supplied to larger shippers, not the smaller lumber companies located on the prairie.

Lumber shipments on standard flat cars were not common either.  Standard flat cars were not a desired way to ship lumber because the loads could shift, getting damaged, requiring the railroad to pay damage claims.  A shifted load was also a safety issue that could cause damage to property and possible injury to workers.  

Bulkhead flatcars were desirable for lumber loading, as this solved the load shifting problems.  Bulkhead flatcars however, were also in short supply, usually reserved for wallboard, pipe, steel beams, etc.  Since manual labor was cheap, a 40-foot boxcar requiring loading and unloading by hand was still quite common.

Train 858 departed Lewiston early in the morning, mostly with empty boxcars to distribute to the grain elevators and lumber mills along the line.  There were the occasional loads headed to the prairie, too.  Many homes on the prairie were heated with coal furnaces, so loads of Colorado and Utah coal were delivered to local dealers.  Most of these dealers did not have a spur, so carloads of coal were spotted at the house track for unloading.

Propane, gasoline and oil were delivered to the prairie by rail, with local dealers receiving small capacity (8000 or 10000 gallon) tank cars.  Most of the fuel dealers either owned or shared another industries spur track. Grangeville was a regional distribution point for fuel and three of the major oil companies (Standard Oil of California-Chevron, Richfield and Texaco) were represented. 

Carloads of fertilizer, such as anhydrous ammonia in tank cars and ammonium nitrate in covered hopper cars were shipped to the prairie between harvests.  Some of the elevator companies, such as Lewiston Grain Growers, also distributed fertilizer, so the fertilizer cars would be spotted on their elevator spurs for unloading.

Carloads of grain doors shipped in boxcars to various elevators before harvest time and occasional shipments of farm implements, such as combines or tractors, were delivered via house or team track. 

A short line, or short-er line, interchanged with the Camas Prairie Railroad at Craigmont.  The Nezperce Railroad, owned by a local farmer, ran from Craigmont, 15 miles to Nezperce, ID. The Nezperce RR interchanged a handful of cars to and from the Camas Prairie.  Most of this traffic was grain from elevators in Nezperce.

Train 858 at Craigmont, ID in front of the LGG "New Elevator" and depot (not pictured) in August of 1969.  Most of the train consist is boxcars, though a couple of empty flat cars are close to the head end, likely destined for lumber mills at Grangeville.  Flat cars were becoming more common for lumber loading by the late 1960's and into the 1970's.  Bulkhead flats were gaining popularity and the first centerbeam flat cars were built in the late 60's.  The boxcar was still the most common car used in the my modeling era of 1967.     Jim Shaw photo.
My era-choice of August and September was selected largely for the late summer and early fall grain harvest on the prairie.  Wheat was usually harvested in mid August.  The flow of wheat was usually in full swing by September and sometimes lasted into the winter depending on quality of the crop and the market price. 

1967 was a good grain year on the prairie.  Corporate records indicate the railroad handled an average of 30 carloads of grain per day from early August through late November.

Train 858 did the bulk of the station switching on their trip east.  They would do most of the industry switching, leaving their commercials in a convenient location, setting up an easier trip for the following day.   In Grangeville, the crew normally did all of the switching needed, then built their outbound train for the next day. Once the switching was done, the power ran to the east end of the siding and parked for the night, next to the caboose and depot.

During grain season, the parent railroads provided additional GP9’s for Camas Prairie Railroad to handle the increased tonnage being hauled up the Lapwai Canyon grade.  Sometimes extra engines were not available requiring train 858 to use helpers between Lewiston and Reubens.  When helpers had more than one unit, they were placed ahead of the caboose.

A mid 60's view of UP and NP Geeps push Camas Prairie train 858 across Bridge 22, also known as Half Moon, up the 3% grade in Lapwai Canyon.  The entire train is 40' boxcars!  Art Ross photo postcard. 
857 went on duty the following day early in the morning and spent the westward trip gathering up the grain and lumber at each station on its way west.  When traffic was particularly heavy and 857’s car total exceeded 70 cars, it was required to double down the hill from Reubens to Culdesac due to the steepness of the grade.

When traffic stayed heavy for long durations, 857 reduced its train at Reubens or Craigmont and an extra Lewiston to Craigmont turn was called to handle the tonnage.  An extra called for Sunday, when the regular local did not run, was another common way of handling excess cars down the grade.

There were some grain elevators on the west end of the subdivision, at Culdesac, Sweetwater and Lapwai, not affected by the grades in Lapwai Canyon.  857 picked up this traffic for forwarding at Lewiston. 

Most of the grain was shipped to grain elevators in Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA and Kalama, WA.  This traffic was forwarded to the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific  at Riparia on train 859, the Downriver Train.  UP and NP each served all of these locations, so the traffic was fairly evenly split between the railroads.

Lumber from the prairie predominantly shipped east, much of it as unsold “roller lumber”.  Eastward traffic for the NP interchanged at Lewiston, connecting on NP train 662, the Highball.  Eastward traffic for the UP left the Camas Prairie Railroad on train 859, the Downriver train, interchanging at Riparia, ultimately heading east from Hinkle, OR.  Again, traffic was fairly evenly divided between the two parent railroads.

In part three, we'll look at operations on the first subdivision...

1 comment:

  1. You can post part three right away. Fascinating stuff.

    I have yet to go and see this line. I know I missed my chance back in the good ole days, but I still would like to check it out.