|Because of the extensive number of photos taken, this article is divided into two parts.
|Part One - The Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR)
|Click here for Part Two, The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad.
Linked also at the bottom of this page.
|Last Update: May 20, 2005
|For almost 20 years, the Lewis & Clark Railway operated the freight and
passenger excursion service on this line. The name is familiar to many
railfans. However, the Lewis & Clark, otherwise known as LINC, is no more. It
ceased operations in 2003. In January, 2004, the Portland Vancouver Junction
Railroad took over the lease and the freight business of this line.
|Map of the 33 mile branch line.
Red dots show the line that the PVJR currently operates.
Green dots show the line that see no traffic at all
Blue dots is BCYX summer excursion route
Yellow dots show the route that is not part of the excursion, but that
BCYX trains use to get back to their home shops
|The 33 mile branch line discussed here is now known as the PORTLAND VANCOUVER JUNCTION RAILROAD.
It was originally constructed out of Vancouver, Washington in 1888 with the goal of reaching Yakima. But that never happened. By 1903 it
had reached Yacolt via a newly constructed 300 foot tunnel and a good size trestle over the Lewis River. By this time, the line was taken
over by the Northern Pacific Railroad. The line served Weyerhauser logging operations until that began to pan out in 1920s. Smaller
logging operations continued into the 1940s. But by the late 1940s, only one train per week was running between Vancouver and Yacolt.
In 1948, the extension between Yacolt and Chelatchie was completed by Harbor Plywood for their new mill in Chelatchie. By 1950, the
Longview Portland & Northern began to operate this branch and eventually purchased the entire line from the Northern Pacific. It was
called the LP&N Chelatchie Division. By 1960, International Paper (LP&N's parent company) built a paper mill in Chelatchie and traffic
began to pick up.
When the International Paper mill closed in Chelatchie, Washington in 1979, the line faced serious hardship and possible abandonment.
The LP&N which had other operations including in Gardiner and Willamina, Oregon, closed it's Chelatchie operations. In 1981, the entire 33
mile branch was purchased by local businessmen and called the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad. However, after only a few short years, the
company went bankrupt and attempted to abandoned the line. In January, 1984, Clark County, purchased the line outright. They continue
to own it today. They leased the line to the newly formed Lewis & Clark Railroad in 1987. The Lewis & Clark operated freight business as
well as passenger excursions on the upper half line in the summer months. This lasted into the 1990s, when it stopped offering passenger
excursions. In 1998, a local group came together and began to restore some of the track and aquired some of the old excursion equipment
from the Lewis & Clark. They called themselves officially, the Battle Ground, Yacolt & Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, otherwise known as
BYCX. While the line was contracted out to the Lewis & Clark, the Chelatchie Prairie railroad was allowed to begin excursions of it's own in
2001, on the far end of the line not used for freight service. Today, the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad (as it's typically called for short) is based
near the old International Paper mill in Chelatchie, WA at the terminus of the line. But it operates it's excursion service between Yacolt and
approximately Lucia. This includes operating through the only tunnel and over the largest bridge on the line. Eventually, it's planned to
restore service to Battleground and even use a steam locomotive which is currently being restored.
In 2003, the Lewis & Clark Railroad ceased to operate as the freight shipper on the line for Clark County when their contract expired.
Instead, Clark County struck a 30 year lease deal with the Temple Family to operate this line. The Temple Family owns the Columbia Basin
Railroad in Central Washington, among others. With one locomotive, what is now known as the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad,
operates this line and it's scant 62 carloads per year. However, it's hoped that with a new operator that is experienced in reviving rail
traffic, freight service will increase, as local businesses see the value of shipping by rail. The Temple family has extensively increased rail
traffic on the other short lines that it operates. Also, there is the possibility of bringing a dinner train to the line such as the successful
Spirit of Washington Dinner Train in Auburn, Washington.
While the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad has leased the entire 33 mile branch, they only operate about 15 miles of it between what is
now known as Rye Junction, the connection to the BNSF/UP mainline, and Battleground. The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad continues to
operate the passenger excursion railroad on the other half of the line during the summer months.
For a complete history of this line dating back to 1888, check out the
Chelatchie Prairie Railroad's History Page.
|While I had always planned to explore this line eventually, the time didn't present itself until May, 2005, when I was in the area. At the last
minute, I decided to go ahead and explore the route and ended up thoroughly exploring the railroad from the beginning in Vancouver to the
end in Chelatchie. A stroke of luck and very nice gentleman who lives on the site, allowed me to extensively view and photograph the
Chelatchie Prairie equipment, even though nobody was around and the excursion railroad was not yet running for the summer season.
Dan Davis visited the line several times in the 1970s when it was operated by the LP&N. He took a number of photos, including of a
locomotive cab ride. Those photos are displayed here by his permission and give a contrasting view of the line as it was in the 1970s
compared to today, when I visited the area. His photos are clearly marked. Specials thanks to Dan for sharing these photos.
|Rye Junction - formerly known as Vancouver Junction
|This is where it all begins. Rye Junction (far left photo), the connection the BNSF/UP mainline at the north end of Vancouver, Washington. In the
next photo, we see the line crossing the highway before passing burnt bridge lake before it enters cold canyon. Speaking of burnt bridge, the
next two photos apparently show the lake's namesake. While it makes little sense to have a bridge here, I suspect this was actually a log dump
trestle. As recently as a few years ago, the intact bents were standing up, but no more. Photos: May, 2005
|Photos of cold canyon as viewed from a Vancouver city street overpass. On the left is looking west back towards Rye Junction. On the right is
looking east. The bridge in the foreground goes over Interstate I-5. The line continues on in what is known as Cold Canyon for the next mile.
Photos: May, 2005
|The town of Brush Prairie is located approximately 10 miles up the line. A 1/4 mile long siding exists here, but it's no longer used. Today, no
one ships by rail from this town. Photos: May, 2005
|Battle Ground - Home of the Vancouver Portland Junction Railroad
|Battle Ground is where the LP&N built this hi-railer shed in the 1970s. After the LP&N left in 1981, the Lewis & Clark Railroad took over freight
operations and based itself here in Battle Ground at this site. During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of pieces of equipment and several
locomotives were based here. But today, the only thing that remains is the VPJR's single locomotive, the hi-railer shed and their MoW truck.
Most of the equipment that was here was moved up to Chelatchie at the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad. However with only 62 carloads a year, not
much else is need to run this part of the line at this time. Hopefully that will change with the new operators. Photo on the right shows a couple of
cars in Battle Ground from the only shipper on the line, a plastics factory. Photos: May, 2005
|These photos are the same hi-railer shed taken by Dan Davis shortly after it was built by the LP&N in the 1970s.
Courtesy Dan Davis, Photos: May, 1977
|Currently the only locomotive operated by the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad is the Temple family's number 211. This EMD SW1200
served with the Temple Family's Columbia Basin Railroad, before coming here in early 2004. It began life in February, 1965 as a Missouri
Pacific switcher before being sold off to the Temple family in the 1980s. It makes 1200 h.p. Photos: May, 2005
|Battle Ground - SP&S # 539 steam locomotive
|The SP&S 539 was retired before 1957 and placed in Esther Short Park in Vancouver, Washington where it remained on display until 1997. At
that time, it was moved to it's current location at Fairgrounds Park, in Battle Ground, Washington. This page details it's first move in the 1950s
and it's last move in 1997. Perhaps the railfans that worked on this project concentrated their efforts on the BYCX when it formed in 1998.
The SP&S 539 is a 1916 Alco Mikado 2-8-2, class 0-3 that served with the SP&S until it was retired in the mid 1950s. This one was saved from
the scrappers torch and donated to the city of Vancouver. It's unclear what happened to the restoration effort as it appears nothing was done
since it was moved in 1997. Photos: May, 2005
|Just a few miles north of Battle Ground is Crawford. Just a local, not a town, although the Battle Ground Lake State park is nearby. Note how
rusty the rails are. No trains currently use this section of track and in fact it's probably been quite a while since anyone has used it. Photo on
right shows a crossing about a 1/4 mile north of Crawford. Photos: May, 2005
|Several miles north of Crawford is the town of Heisson. Not much of a town really, but it does have a very small store. The only one for several
miles around. Here an abandoned siding exists along the line that has not been used for many years. Photos: May, 2005
|About a mile north of Heisson the line turns to the east and begins to follow along the East Fork of the Lewis River. As the line leaves the lower
valley and enters the river canyon, things start to become a little scenic. Photo in the middle shows that near Lucia we are at milepost 22 on the
line, or 22 miles from the main junction in Vancouver. Photo on the right shows the East Fork, Lewis River, near Lucia. Photos: May, 2005
|East Fork Lewis River Trestle
|About 1 mile east of Lucia, the line crosses the East Fork of the Lewis River over this bridge and follows the river on the north bank. This bridge
is the largest on the line and is pretty interesting. It is not the original bridge built here in 1902, as attested by concrete blocks that aren't attached
to the current bridge, but this structure is nonetheless, quite old. The wood structure looks like it was rebuilt, possibly in the 1950s, when the
LP&N took over. The center truss structure probably dates from the Northern Pacific days. Photos: May, 2005
|SP&S Caboose 795
|Just as I left the bridge site and headed east along the highway following the railroad above me, I noticed this caboose seemingly abandoned in
the woods. Actually, it was clearly on someone's property and several houses were located nearby, but it definitely was in sad shape. It
appeared to me to have been used as a cabin, but doesn't appear to be in use anymore. The paint and lettering appear to be original. As it
was on private property, I didn't go poking around it too much. I couldn't find information on it's history. If you know more, please email me.
Photos: May, 2005
|The most famous part of the line is the tunnel. To access it from the highway, you can park on a turn out and climb a fairly steep rocky path to the
tracks as seen the far left photo. From the tracks, you have a good vantage point of the canyon, highway and river below. Then hike about 1/4
east to the tunnel. Photos: May, 2005
|Photos on the left show the west portal, while photos on the right show the east portal. The west portal is shored up with wood pilings, but the
east portal is not. The tunnel is bored mostly through solid rock and is unsupported. The tunnel allows the tracks to make a sharp turn to the
northwest away from the Lewis River and towards the town of Yacolt. As the tracks exit the east portal they go through a fairly long and deep cut.
This tunnel was dug between 1901 and 1902 when the line was extended to Yacolt and is about 300 feet long. Photos: May, 2005
|Historical photos related to this section of the railroad, the LP&N & the Lewis & Clark
|Dan Davis sent me these photos that he took when he rode the LP&N # 130 locomotive from Chelatchie to Rye hauling what appears to be a
long load of loaded chip cars from the mill during the mid 1970s. #130 was an EMD SW1500 that made 1500 h.p. When the LP&N closed
down it's Chelatchie Division, this locomotive went on to the Gardiner Division where it served until that mill also closed down in 1999.
Special Thanks to Dan for sharing these photos.
|Jeff Moore was kind enough to send me these shots of his riding the Lewis & Clark excursion train around 1990. This is the railroad that the
PVJR replaced in late 2003. While these shots show the train at the north end of the line operating a passenger excursion service, it spent a
significant amount of time hauling freight between Battleground and Vancouver. The locomotive, caboose and cars shown in these photos were
eventually sold to the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, which you can read about on part two of this article. Photos courtesy of Jeff Moore.
|End of Part One
|Click HERE for Part Two
The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad
|Copyright © 2005 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
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