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Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad
Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company

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This page was last updated on June 16, 2010.

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Overview

On the eastern end of the Columbia, the town of Wallula was becoming the center of commerce, especially for wheat being grown in the region around Walla Walla. To meet the transportation needs of the area, a new railroad by the name of Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad was organized in February 1869. Construction was started in 1872 but the railroad's roadbed was poorly engineered, using strap iron mounted to rails made of wooden beams that were set at a gauge of 36 inches. Two small 0-4-0T locomotives were purchased from Porter and arrived in March 1872. A total of eight miles of wooden-rails railroad was completed between Wallula on the Columbia River and a point inland to the east known as Cummings Crossing.

During 1873, and supposedly at Ainsworth's urging, the new railroad purchased iron rails and began laying them on curves and other trouble spots. (Robertson says that iron rails were purchased for 20 miles of railroad in September 1875.) Progress was as steady as limited funds allowed, and Walla Walla was reached in October 1875. The new railroad was 32 miles long. The two locomotives had been named "Walla Walla" and "Wallula." In late 1874 a third locomotive arrived and was named "Columbia." Two additional locomotives arrived in 1875, named "Blue Mountain" and "Mountain Queen." A sixth locomotive was delivered and was named "J. W. Ladd."

In February 1878 the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad was sold to Ainsworth's Oregon Steam Navigation Company as he continued to consolidate his transportation interests all along the Columbia River.

A 14-mile branchline was completed south to Blue Mountain in September 1879.

The line between Wallula and Walla Walla (32 miles) was converted to standard gauge in May 1881. The Blue Mountain branch was relocated and replaced by a new standard gauge line in March 1883. (Asay, page 27)

The following comes from George Hilton's American Narrow Gauge Railroads (Stanford University Press, 1990):

Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad

Dr. Dorsey S. Baker, a physician of Walla Walla who had also been active in steamboat operation on the Columbia River, sought relief from the high rates of wagon freight operators. On March 23, 1868, he formed the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad to provide access to the steamers of the Oregon Steam Navigation Co. at Wallula. After narrowly losing an election for local aid on September 18, 1871, he decided to build the railroad as a cheap narrow gauge with strap iron laid on wooden stringers. He opened ten miles east from Wallula in 1873 and began interchanging with wagon freighters at his railhead. In 1874 he built another six miles. In June 1875 he reached Touchet (19 miles), and began relaying his original track with 30-pound T-rail. The line was opened for full service to Walla Walla (32 miles) early in 1877. The railroad did quite well, mainly hauling wheat west to the river steamers.

On May 4, 1879, Baker sold his interest to Henry Villard of the Northern Pacific, who initially planned to build his Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. as a narrow gauge along the south bank of the river. Villard envisioned expanding the WW&CR into a network of narrow gauge mileage east of Walla Walla. In mid-1880 he built a branch off the WW&CR at Whitman southeast 19 miles to Blue Mountain, Oregon, but attempted no further extensions to the east. He had by this time decided to build the OR&N as a standard gauge railroad, but to avoid running his steamers through some difficult rapids, he extended the narrow gauge west 27 miles from Wallula to Umatilla, Oregon, in the summer of 1880. This was explicitly a temporary arrangement; Villard announced that the WW&CR would be converted as soon as the OR&N reached Umatilla from the west. The OR&N's standard gauge rails reached Umatilla in the spring of 1881 and the WW&CR was converted in May. The branch to Blue Mountain was initially allowed to remain narrow gauge because a portion of it was to be incorporated into a longer line. In the spring of 1883 the ten miles from Milton to Blue Mountain were converted as part of a line from Walla Walla to Pendleton, Oregon, and the segment from Whitman to Milton was abandoned.

The former narrow gauge mileage went with the OR&N into the Union Pacific system in 1906. This trackage is extant except for about ten miles immediately east of Umatilla that were replaced with a line diagonally to the southwest to Hinkle in 1951. (References: W. W. Baker, "The Building of the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad," Washington Historical Quarterly, 14 (1923), pp. 3-13; Randall V. Mills, Railroads Down the Valleys (Pacific Books, 1950), pp. 7-13)

Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company

After selling his interest in the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad to Henry Villard in 1879, Dr. Dorsey S. Baker was active in promoting the Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Co. as a lumber railroad to the east of Walla Walla. The corporation was chartered on February 24, 1880, and in 1881 opened an eight-mile line from Walla Walla east to Dudley. The line ascended 600 feet along Mill Creek to a flume of the company that was the principal source of traffic. From the outset the carrier was expected to engage in the general business of a railroad. In 1882 a branch was opened from Dudley Junction, two miles east of Dudley, up Dry Creek five miles northeast to Dixie.

By 1890 a controlling interest in the railroad had been bought by the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. In the reorganization of 1896 it emerged as owned 100 percent by the Union Pacific's Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. The line operated as a minor branch of the UP system until sold on December 10, 1903, to an independent operator, the Mill Creek Railroad. This carrier reported itself to the Interstate Commerce Commission as not in operation. It sold the railroad on July 1, 1905, to the Northern Pacific, which merged it into its subsidiary, the Washington & Columbia River Railway. The NP abandoned the branch to Dixie, and converted 7.4 miles of the Dudley line to Tracy. The line was restored to operation late in 1905. The UP had not provided scheduled passenger service, but the NP operated a weekly passenger train on Mondays.

The Tracy branch was abandoned by the Burlington Northern under an ICC order of November 2, 1970.

Locomotives

Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad — 6 locomotives

WW&CR
Number
WW&CR
Name
Wheel
Arrangement
Builder Builder
Number
Date
Built
Date
Vacated
Later
Number
Notes
WW&CR 1 Walla Walla 0-4-0T Porter & Bell 114 Mar 1872 Jul 1881 CR&PS 7 1
WW&CR 2 Wallula 0-4-0T Porter & Bell 124 Aug 1872 Dec 1881 O&CV 2 2
WW&CR 3 Columbia 2-4-0 Porter & Bell 246 Jul 1876 1896 Cascades 1 3
WW&CR 4 Blue Mountain 0-6-0 Porter & Bell 283 Jan 1878 1896 Cascades 2 4
WW&CR 5 Mountain Queen 2-4-0 Porter & Bell 289 Feb 1878 1900 IRy&N 3 (1st) 5
WW&CR 6 J. W. Ladd 2-6-0 Porter & Bell 292 Feb 1878 Jun 1881 MCM&FCo 6 6

General Notes:

a. Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad was 36 inches narrow gauge; Wallula to Walla Walla converted to standard gauge in May 1881
b. First operations began on March 25, 1874 between Wallula and Touchet, Washington Territory (16 miles); completed to Walla Walla on October 30, 1875 (32 miles); branchline to Blue Mountain (14 miles) completed on September 15, 1879 (branchline replaced by a new standard gauge line in March 1883)
c. Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad operated its own railroad until leased to ORy&N from January 1, 1882 to June 30, 1887; then leased to OSL&UN, then to UP until August 17, 1896; sold to ORR&N on August 18, 1896.
d. WW&CR 3 and 4 were kept after the line was converted to standard gauge in 1881, to operate the line to Blue Mountain, which was replaced by a new standard gauge line in 1883; sold to Mill Creek Flume, then to former portage railroad
e. WW&CR 5 and 6 were sold to Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company in June 1881; the Mill Creek company was completed in 1882 as a narrow gauge line between Walla Walla and Dixie, Washington (11 miles); sold to ORy&N on June 14, 1887; most of the Mill Creek company was sold by ORy&N in 1903 to the Mill Creek Railroad and was sold in July 1905 to Northern Pacific and converted to standard gauge.
f. Individual locomotive specifications:
  WW&CR
Number
WW&CR
Name
Wheel
Arrangement
Drive
Wheels
Cylinders As Built
Weight (pounds)
  WW&CR 1 Walla Walla 0-4-0T 28 in. 18x16 in. 15.000
  WW&CR 2 Wallula 0-4-0T 28 in. 18x16 in. 15,000
  WW&CR 3 Columbia 2-4-0 42 in. 9x16 in. 20,000
  WW&CR 4 Blue Mountain 0-6-0 40 in. 10x16 in. 28,000
  WW&CR 5 Mountain Queen 2-4-0 42 in.   20,000
  WW&CR 6 J. W. Ladd 2-6-0 36 in. 11x16 in. 41,000
g. WW&CR numbers 3, 4, and 5 (later Mill Creek Flume 3, 4, and 5) were retained by Oregon Railway & Navigation with the following road numbers:
  WW&CR
Number
1883 Mill Creek
Flume Number
1889 ORy&N
Number
1890 ORy&N
Number
1894 ORy&N
Number
Date
Vacated
Later
Number
  WW&CR 3 MCF&MCo 3 ORy&N 1 ORy&N 284 (ORy&N 1) 1896 Cascades 1
  WW&CR 4 MCF&MCo 4 ORy&N 2 ORy&N 291 ORy&N 3 1896 Cascades 3
  WW&CR 5 MCF&MCo 5 ORy&N 3 ORy&N 286 ORy&N 2 1900 IRy&N 3 (1st)

Notes:

1. Walla Walla & Columbia River RR number 1 "Walla Walla" was built in 1872; sold in July 1881 to Columbia River & Puget Sound number 7 "Hyak", Seattle, Washington; sold to Pacific Coast Railroad "Hyak", Olympia, Washington; sold in 1905 to a logging railroad
2. Walla Walla & Columbia River RR number 2 "Wallula" was built in 1872; sold in December 1881 to J. H. Sprague Construction for construction of Northern Pacific; to Olympia & Chehalis Valley number 2 (2nd), Tenino, Washington; destroyed by fire on June 10, 1889
3. Walla Walla & Columbia River RR number 3 "Columbia" was built in 1876; to Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company number 3 in June 1881, Mill Creek company was sold to ORy&N in 1887; renumbered to Oregon Railway & Navigation Company number 1 in 1889; renumbered to ORy&N number 284 in 1890; renumbered to ORy&N number 1 in 1894; sold in 1896 to Cascades Railroad number 1 "Columbia", Cascades, Washington; replaced by mules in 1906 and likely scrapped
4. Walla Walla & Columbia River RR number 4 "Blue Mountain" was built in 1878, rebuilt to a 2-6-0 (later rebuilt back to 0-6-0); to Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company number 4 in June 1881, Mill Creek company was sold to ORy&N in 1887; renumbered to Oregon Railway & Navigation Company number 2 in 1889; renumbered to ORy&N 291 in 1890; renumbered to ORy&N number 3 in 1894; returned for service on Mill Creek flume line in 1894 and used on the remaining narrow gauge portion between Walla Walla and Tracy until sold in 1903 to a new Mill Creek Railroad controlled by Northern Pacific Railway, which ended narrow gauge operations in June 1905; sold to sold in 1906 to Seward Peninsula Railway number 4, Seward, Alaska; sold in 1913 to Pioneer Mining & Ditch Company, Nome, Alaska; sold in 1921 to Alaska Territorial Government, Nome, Alaska, dumped off pier to serve as part of a sea wall; removed and partially restored in 1970 by M. R. Engstrom, Nome, Alaska; boiler and running gear returned to Walla Walla, Washington in 1992, given a minor cosmetic restoration and put on display at Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla.
5.

Walla Walla & Columbia River RR number 5 "Mountain Queen" was built in 1878; to Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company number 5 in June 1881, Mill Creek company was sold to ORy&N in 1887; to ORy&N 286 in 1889; to ORy&N number 2 in 1894; to IRy&N number 3 (1st) in February 1900; vacated in 1906; sold to A. J. McCabe Lumber Company in July 1906. (click here for more Ilwaco Railway & Navigation information)

6. Walla Walla & Columbia River RR number 6 "John Wesley Ladd" was built in 1878; sold in June 1881 to Mill Creek Flume & Manufacturing Company number 6, Walla Walla, Washington

Sources

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