|Last Update: April 28, 2007
|The railroad that was last known as the Burlington Northern Goldendale branch began life as far back as 1889. Back then a group of local
Goldendale citizens incorporated the Columbia Valley & Goldendale Railroad. Surveys were conducted, but construction didn’t begin until
years later. In 1902, Portland investors took over the surveys of the CV&N and created their own railroad called the Columbia River &
Northern. Because surveying was already completed, construction was begun right away in the summer of 1902. By May 1903, the line was
complete from Lyle to Goldendale. The line required no tunnels and only a few bridges, the largest of which was over a deep gorge of the
Klickitat River just north of Lyle.
Because there was no mainline connection at that time, the railroad ran directly down to the Columbia River, where it was connected to a
dock for steamboats to carry goods to and from Portland.
In 1905, the Northern Pacific gained control over of the Columbia River & Northern. In 1908, the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad, which
was joint owned by the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads, finished construction of its mainline along the north bank of the
Columbia River from Portland to Spokane. The railroad passed through Lyle making connection with the Columbia River & Northern very
It was decided that the Columbia River & Northern would become a subdivision of the SP&S and from then on was known as the 4th
subdivision of the Vancouver Division of the SP&S. It would also be the only branch line of the SP&S in Washington state.
An engine house, turntable and depot were located at Lyle, but were all torn down in later years, with the depot being the last building to go in
Through the early 1920s, there was no easy road access to the towns along the railroad, including Klickitat, which was the largest town on
the line, besides Goldendale. So, the railroad offered at least one passenger train per day. However that ended during the late 1920s and
early 1930s as county roads were constructed and passenger traffic dropped.
The primary shippers on the line throughout its history were grain and agriculture shipments from the Goldendale area and logging, timber,
and paper products from the Klickitat area.
Klickitat was most noted for its huge mills and logging railroad operations that begun in 1915. A cable incline and later, switchback logging
railroads, were built over the hill north of town. This was later replaced with a conventional railroad in 1941, that would eventually extend
some 75 miles through the Klickitat Canyon and into the woods, before being cut back to 18 miles in its last years. Known as the Klickitat
Log & Lumber Railroad, it eventually became a subsidiary of the St. Regis Paper Company in 1957 when they purchased the large mill in
town. The KL&L railroad is known to be the last steam locomotive operated logging railroad in the United States, ceasing operations in May
1964. From 1939-1964, the KL&K’s primary power was a 1929 Shay, number 7 and another Shay, number 5, which hauled logs from a truck
reload approximately 18 miles from the mill.
In 1964, the Shays were retired and the tracks were pulled up. The grade continued to be used for many more years as a truck road and
continued to haul logs to the mill. The # 7 Shay still exists today and it in storage for a possible future restoration. I'm not sure of the
disposition of the number 5 Shay.
The logging road that was built on top of the KL&L railroad grade still exists, but is closed off to vehicle traffic. About 9 miles out of Klickitat,
the road was washed out during the 1996 floods and never repaired, as its effectively been abandoned since the mill closed in 1990.
Just past Klickitat is another interesting site that was a major shipper on the line for a period of time, a carbonated bottled water plant. A
spring near the Klickitat river provided significant natural carbonation and plants were built starting before 1920 to bottle this water and sell it
all over the country. In 1926, Warren Langdon discovered the source of the spring some 22 feet below ground and built a cistern to capture
the water and built a bottling plant directly over the spring. A bridge was built across the Klickitat River to reach the tracks on the other side
for shipment. The plant was closed in 1932, after carbonated soft drinks became popular. Today, the remains of the plant, bridge
abutments, and a number of carbonated well sites can still be seen, some still boiling out carbonated water.
From the Klickitat area, the line entered the remote Swale Canyon. To this day, the railroad grade remains the only way to access this
canyon. After leaving the canyon the line crosses vast farm land and fields before terminating in the farming community of Goldendale. At
one point, a single stall engine house existed in Goldendale, along with a wye. The engine house was barely big enough for one small
steam engine and was little more than a shelter shack.
In its later years, traffic was light on the Goldendale branch. As traffic declined from the Goldendale area, the mills at Klickitat became the
primary shippers. By 1970, the SP&S was absorbed into the Burlington Northern system and the line became a Burlington Northern branch
line. A crew was based out of Klickitat or Lyle and switched out the mill but in its final years, trains came directly from Wishram to Klickitat
and back. It’s not clear how often the trains ran to Goldendale, but traffic beyond Klickitat was very light in the final years.
When the mill in Klickitat shut down in approximately 1990, the line was doomed. Attempts were made to turn it into a tourist railroad. A
great scenic tourist railroad it would have been, but that failed. By 1992, the tracks and ties were removed. The line was purchased by the
“Rails to Trails Conservancy" in 1993 who donated it to the Washington State Parks Department who then coordinated with the US Forest
Service to eventually build a trail on the railroad grade. Until approximately 2002, the trail was closed to hikers, but by 2003, it was
provisionally opened by the Forest Service. Today, it allows people to hike or bike most of its entire length from Lyle to Goldendale. A group
called the Klickitat Trail Conservancy promotes the trail, while the Forest Service plans to eventually deck the remaining bridges and pave
most of the trail in the future.
Of the major bridges on the line, at least 3 still exist. The largest structure, several miles north of Lyle, over the Klickitat River, began life as a
wood truss bridge but was replaced with a steel span. A multiple span steel plate girder bridge still exists today. Another steel bridge
located just north Klickitat was removed, apparently when it was damaged during the 1996 floods. Several other short trestles in the Swale
Canyon also still exist.
The line will probably eventually be turned into a full blown paved trail in the future. When I visited the area in April 2005, I was only able to
make it as far as Klickitat before running out of time. The mill site is somewhat intact, including the old engine house, but well fenced off,
impossible to access and difficult to see. The depot in Klickitat is long gone, but a keen observer will note that some of the depot tracks and
ties still exist in the empty lot. Eventually, I’ll bike up Swale Canyon and attempt to bike up the old KL&L branch road and report back at what
|Overview Map of the BN Goldendale Branch
|Detailed maps of the branch line from Lyle to Klickitat, the section that I've explored so far
|Lyle, Washington is where the Goldendale branch begins. Prior to 1908, it ended on the Columbia River where steam ships loaded and unloaded cargo. When the
SP&S came through, the line terminated on the SP&S mainline. The two left photos show the current BNSF tracks heading east out of Lyle. Originally built by
the SP&S, a small engine house and turntable were located in this area. The middle photo shows the BNSF tracks heading west. The Goldendale branch used to
head north from this point after it left the mainline. An SP&S depot, and several water towers used to be located here, but as of 1990, almost everything was
removed except the remains of one water tower which were completely removed sometime after 2002. Now only a modern signal electronics shack remains where
the depot once stood. Photos: April, 2005
|The first few miles
|Much of the grade that passed through the city of Lyle, once it left the mainline, is gone now. But just outside of town it follows along side the county road and is
easy viewed. This section has been turned into a provisional trail and signs are posted at old vehicle crossings to prevent motorized vehicles from accessing the
grade. Photos: April, 2005
|Fisher Hill Bridge
|The Fisher Hill Bridge is located less than 2 miles north of Lyle. Here the railroad crossed the river to the west side, where it was easier to build a grade the
remaining distance to Klickitat. They chose this spot to build the bridge, because the gorge was the narrowest at this point. Although it was also very deep. The
original structure was a wooden truss bridge which lasted for several years. However, at some point it was replaced by a steel bridge. Probably not too many years
after the SP&S took over the branch line. While I'm not positive, I suspect the current bridge you see here was the 3rd bridge built at the site to replace the
original steel structure, possibly in the 1950s or 60s. That's evidenced by the newer concrete pouring on top of the original concrete foundations and the steel
pilings. I suspect that the original steel bridge that replaced the original wood bridge was an under truss steel bridge since the original foundations would support
that type of structure. Photo: April, 2005
|On the way to Klickitat
|Unfortunately, the weather didn't allow me to get too many good pictures, but for approximately 14 miles from the Fisher Hill Bridge, the railroad followed the
Klickitat River on the west bank, while the country road 142, built in later years, followed the east bank. The photo on the far left shows a pile of ties that were cast
aside when the rails were pulled up in 1993. Photos: April, 2005
|Unfortunately, nothing remains of the depot that was built here by the SP&S sometime after 1908. However, a rarity along this line does still remain. Several feet
of ties and tracks make up what used to be the railroad yard in downtown Klickitat. The depot was locate to the right of these pictures, which are all facing north.
I'm not sure when the depot was torn down, but probably around the time the mill was closed down in the early 1990s. Photos: April, 2005
|St. Regis Paper Mill
|I'm not exactly sure of the history of this mill, but it existed from at least 1941 and operated until it was closed down around 1990. The area that the mill is
located was the center of logging operations in this town starting in 1915, when a cable incline was built up over the hills behind the current mill site. A few years
later a switchback railroad was build behind the mill and in 1941, that was replaced with a conventional railroad that headed north from the mill as far as 75 miles.
By the 1950s, the line was cut back to only 18 miles, where a truck reload was built. At least one Shay locomotive was used from 1941 until 1964, making this the
last steam locomotive logging railroad in the United States. In the far lower right picture, the engine house of the Klickitat Log & Lumber Railroad, which
operated the logging line can still be seen through the trees. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a better view. Photos: April, 2005
|At the north end of town the railroad passes the giant mill and follows the highway out of town. Today, some mill buildings survive, but the large building that
used to exist right next to the track is now long, either burned or torn down sometime after 1990. My truck is parked on the old grade. The concrete retaining wall
was built for the logging railroad that headed north out of town above the Goldendale branch. Photos: April, 2005
|Klickitat Log & Lumber Shay numbers 5 and 7
|The KL&L Shays are unique in that they were the last logging steam engine to operate in the United States. Pictured above is the number 5. Number 7 was the
most famous as it currently survives as an operating steam engine. It was built in 1929, and was brought to Klickitat in approximately 1939. By 1941, it was
operating on a new logging railroad that was built north out of Klickitat, following the Klickitat Canyon. By the 1950s, it operated almost daily on an 18 mile long
logging railroad between a truck reload and the mill in Klickitat. It was very well maintained and well cared for by her crew. Ironicly, it was last rebuilt in 1963,
just before it ended its career. The logging railroad which it operated for some 23 years was converted to a truck road. This would have been about the same
time as major flooding hit the region and I have to wonder if a washed out bridge or culvert might have motivated the switch to truck logging.
The number 7 was donated to a logging museum that was just starting up near Tacoma, Washington, called the Point Defiance Park Camp 6 Logging museum.
It's not clear if it operated after 1964, but last I've read, it was undergoing another rebuild to be operational on the museum grounds. Check out this page for specs
on the number 7. Photo of the number 7 operating near Klickitat.
The number 5 somehow found itself at the Illinois Railway Museum and appears to be operational from this 2006 photo.
This photo was taken in 1967, I assume at the Illinois Railway Museum shortly after it was retired from the Klickitat Log & Lumber Company.
More info can be found on this Illinois Railway Museum Page.
Number 5 was SN 3336, while No. 7 was SN 3346. Which would make these among the very last Shays to ever be built. Thanks to John Vidler for the info.
Photo of the number 5 Courtesy of Mark Reusser and his Steam in the Woods Site.
|Less than a mile after leaving the town of Klickitate, the railroad crossed the Klickitat river, before entering Swale canyon. From the foundations, it appears that a
steel plate girder bridge probably existed here. I've heard from locals that the bridge existed here until around 1996, when major flooded heavily damaged the
bridge and it had to be removed for safety reasons. The bridge was only a few feet above water and it's likely that high water and/or logs could have jarred the
bridge loose making it a safety hazard to hikers or anyone downstream. Photo on the right shows the grade just before it enters Swale canyon. Photos: April, 2005
|Carbonated Water Mills - Dry Ice Plant?
|Sometime prior to 1920, someone discovered that an underground spring in the area, produced carbonated water. For several years, people tried to harvest and
bottle this water. In 1926, a man named Warren Langdon discovered the source of the spring after digging down some 22 feet. He built a cistern to capture the
water and then built a bottling plant above the cistern. This plant lasted until 1932, when it went out of business. From the 1930s through the 1950s, other
operators came to the area and found that it was more profitable to use the carbonated water to make dry ice. Just north of Klickitat is that old building and bridge
remains. I suspect that this is the cistern that Langdon built in 1926, but others suggest this was actually a dry ice plant built in the 1930s and abandoned
sometime in the 1950s. The bridge allowed the product to be hauled to the east side of the river where it could be loaded onto the trains. I noticed there were a
number of concrete well foundations in the area. Some of which were still overflowing with bubbling carbonated water. Photos: April, 2005
|The following historical photos are courtesy of Rob Root. Rob's Great Grandfather, Ed Root, was the fireman on the first
train to reach Goldendale in 1903. This would have been Columbia River and Northern, prior to SP&S buyout. He
eventually became an engineer with SP&S, on the Goldendale branch, and lived in Goldendale until he
passed away in 1940. Photo descriptions are also courtesy of Rob.
|A construction train at the Fisher Hill
Bridge. I think this photo was taken
during original construction of the
branch line by Columbia River and
Northern (CR&N), circa 1903. My great
grandfather, Ed Root, was the fireman
on the first train to reach Goldendale.
|The CR&N started service with two very
old (for the time) locomotives, both
American (4-4-0) types. This one is
CR&N Engine #2, which later became
SP&S Engine 50, built by
Schenectady (sp?) in 1889. I think the
photo dates from 1904 or 1905. Ed
Root is leaning out from the cab, and
the two girls on the running board are
my great aunt Gladys Root (the taller
one), and her friend Alma Hall. Gladys
was born in 1896.
|I think this is the same locomotive
(Engine 50), but it has been renovated
with a steel cab and perhaps converted
to coal-burning. Ed Root in the cab
window. I don't know when this photo
was taken, but Engine 50 was scrapped
|This was the other original CR&N
locomotive #1, which became SP&S
Engine 51. Built by Hinckley in 1881, I
think this is the oldest locomotive ever
to see service with SP&S. This
locomotive was scrapped in 1916, and
I suspect this photo was taken just prior
to scrapping it.
|This shot shows the "Goldendale
Mixed" headed back towards Lyle.
Engine 156 was a Baldwin ten-wheeler
built in 1904. 156 was brought in by
the SP&S after they took over the line
in 1908. This was supposedly my
great grandpa's favorite locomotive, of
the ones he crewed.
|This shot shows the "Goldendale Mixed" headed back towards Lyle, in front of the Goldendale depot. I think this photo may have been taken in
the spring of 1909. Notice the snow plow on the locomotive, and the runoff from snow melt in the foreground. Ed Root is kneeling next to the
little boy, who is my grandpa, Harry Root. Harry was born on October 21, 1906. I have a newspaper clipping that says, "Born --Sunday, to E.M
Root and wife, a 10 1/2 lb boy. The mother is getting along nicely but the CR&N train did not leave Sunday and Monday, a substitute had to be
Locomotive 200 was "Mogul" type (2-6-0), built by Baldwin in 1888, scrapped in 1928. It was a regular on the Goldendale Branch along with
156 during the early days when my family was associated with the line.
|Note to Readers:
This article only includes the line up through Klickitat. I was not able to explore further. As I'm able to, I'll add to this
article. If anyone has any photos, current or historical that they'd like to share, or any additional information or
corrections, please email me anytime.
The rails to trails group that took over the Goldendale Branch
DC Jesse Burkhardt's Rolling Dream's Press and his book, Railroads of the Columbia Gorge.
|If anyone has any further information or pictures about this railroad, please let me know.
You can Email me anytime. Thanks.
|Copyright © 2005-2007 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or websites. Simply Email
me. I may not have authority to grant permission regarding some photos that were only loaned to me by others specifically for this website. Every effort has been
made not to include other's photos without the proper permission and credits, however, if you see any photos which belong to you and that I don't have permission
to use, I apologize. If you send me an Email, I will remove the photos immediately or give proper credit, which ever you wish.
|Return to the Railroad History Page
Return to the Historical Expeditions Page
Return to my main Home Page
|Including the Klickitat Log & Lumber Railroad
|Northwest Railroad Author D. C. Jesse Burkhardt also has some photos of the Goldendale Branch in his book,
"Railroads of the Columbia Gorge" released in 2004. Be sure to visit his site for more info: www.rollingdreamspress.com