of a Three Part Series
|For more information on the railroads mentioned in this article, I highly recommend purchasing the book,
Logging to the Salt Chuck, by John T Labbe and Petter J Replinger. The book is full of old photos and
wonderful maps of the railroad lines that used to run in this area. It was invaluable during our exploration.
|The old Simpson Timber mainline and surrounding railroads are some of the most interesting logging
railroads in the United States. Not only do they date back almost 120 years, but the main mill for which most
of the railroads were built is still in full operation in the town of Shelton, Washington. The vast network of
railroads in the woods west of Shelton, are almost all abandoned, except for approximately 11 miles of rail
between the main mill in Shelton and a sort yard in Dayton. Most logs come by truck nowadays. But much
remains for those who wish to explore the history. While most of the tracks are gone, two of the most
spectacular railroad bridges ever built, still exist, along with a few other very interesting bridges. In
addition, one can explore a few remaining miles of isolated rails deep in the woods, that were never
removed, but will never see trains again. There are also hundreds of miles of railroad beds, most of which
were converted into truck roads, but that still offer the same scenic views and historical perspective as if
the rails were still there. And last, but not least, the most interesting site of all, an abandoned steam
locomotive and rail cars left at the bottom of a deep river ravine over 44 years ago. In this article, you'll see
all of the above and more. Though John and I only had two days to explore this area, we covered a lot, but I
have no doubt, much remains undiscovered.
|Update. Video Added, 9-13-04!
Click on the below link to watch a short clip of the Saw Mill as viewed from above the town and to see
Simpson Diesel number 900 in action!!!! I recommend that you right click your mouse, and click "save
target as" to your desktop and then watch the video as a saved file. Video is 4.99Mb. Enjoy!
|The huge Simpson saw mill in Shelton, Washington.
|The Simpson Mill and Railroad, Shelton Washington
We left for the area on Thursday, April 23, 2004. Our plan, as usual, was to drive from Portland to the Shelton area (about 3 hours
away) and camp for the night, thus giving a full day to explore, instead wasting time driving to the area. We ended up camping in the
Capitol State forest near Centralia, Washington. When we got up the next morning we arrived in Shelton, Washington and gassed up.
Shelton, Washington is the home of the current Simpson Timber company mill. The mill is a huge complex that dates back to the
original logging days. It was the main destination of the trees that were logged in the area we are about to explore. The railroad that
once ran to this mill is but a shadow of its former self. The line used to run many miles west into the mountains and spider web into
numerous other logging railroads in its heyday. Today, the line only extends about 11 miles west to a large dry sort yard. Most logs
are brought to the dry sort yard by truck and then by railroad to the mill or directly to the mill via truck, today. Simpson still employs
several old diesel switcher locomotives for the remaining run and to haul finished lumber to the mainline for transport. Although not as
glorious as the old days, this railroad is classified as the very last active logging railroad in the United States. One goal of our trip would
be to explore the remains of the Simpson mainlines that were abandoned in the early 1980s.
We first stopped to photograph the main mill on the hill above town. This gave us a great vantage point to the vast impressive complex
that is the Simpson Lumber Mill. Our first clue that Simpson still employed a logging railroad were the loaded log cars on the log dump
peir that extended out into Oakland Bay Lake. As we drove into the town, we stopped near the mill and got an excellent shot of Simpson
diesel switcher #900 sitting on the track, preparing to move a load of finished lumber. We later saw #900 moving a load within the mill
|Our camp the night after driving from Portland.
Here we slept in the Capitol State Forest, near
|We loaded the truck with supplies, camping
gear and mountain bikes in anticipation that we
would have to explore some roads were gated
off to vehicle traffic.
|A few pictures that I took from outside the Simpson lumber mill fence line. Here you see Simpson # 900 fired up and preparing to
hook up to a load of loaded finished lumber cars.
|Simpson # 900 moving the lumber cars to another part of the mill where they will eventually be picked up by a mainline train and taken to
market. # 900 is an extremely interesting locomotive, and we were very fortunate to get a chance to see and photograph it. It was the first
locomotive purchased by Simpson in 1955 to replace it's aging fleet to steam locomotives. Not only is it the oldest Simpson diesel
locomotive. It is also the oldest true logging locomotive to still be in continuous service in the United States.
Below you'll see some historical pictures of this very locomotive taken over the years that it served on the line.
|These are of the Simpson # 900 from the book, "Logging to the Salt Chuck". These pictures show # 900 from it's early days. As
mentioned, # 900 was the first diesel to arrive on the line in 1955. It's an EMD SW9, 900 h.p. diesel/electric that was purchased brand new
by Simpson. It has faithfully served for more than 50 years and operated over the entire Simpson mainline, including many of the
abandoned sections you'll see further in the article.
|William Coleman sent me these cool pictures he took of the inside of the Simpson locomotive roundhouse, located on the mill property. In
these pictures you can see the other four Simpson locomotives. On the left are numbers 1200, 1201 which were built in May, 1956 and
1202 which was built in March, 1959. All three are EMD SW1200s, making 1200 h.p. each. In the picture on the right is number 600. An
Alco S-3, built in October, 1953 and making 600 h.p. Number 900 does not appear to be in the round house at the time of these pictures.
Thanks much to William Coleman for the neat pictures!
|Update: 10-6-04: I spotted this caboose and fire apparatus car in October, 2004 at the Port of Tillamook Railroad yard. It's
ex-Simpson equippment that was donated to Scott Wickert, who plans to start a new RR museum in Tillamook . The fire appartus is
tagged with number 900 and I assume that it used to be attached to Locomotive 900 when it was used on the mainline. Note the old
picture of 900 on the right and you can this old fire car attached and in use. As of right now, I don't have any further information on
them. Check out my Port of Tillamook Bay Page.
|The High Steel Railroad/Truck Bridge
After refueling in Shelton, we headed northwest. Our first goal was to locate High Steel Bridge. High Steel Bridge was a mammoth
steel railroad trestle built in 1929. It crosses the South Fork of the Skokomish River. It is well over 400 feet high, making it one of the
tallest bridges in North America. At some point, it was converted into a one lane truck bridge by adding a narrow concrete decking.
Today it still serves that purpose. Several logging trucks passed over the bridge while we were there. Although we were never able
to get a good side view, because of the super deep narrow gorge, it’s construction is similar to the Vance Creek bridge that we
explored later in the day. While exploring near the High Steel Bridge, I found an old railroad spike. We would soon discover, railroad
spikes are nothing rare out here, but this one was particularly old and probably dates to the original construction in the 1920s.
|The High Steel Bridge is one of the most interesting bridges in the area. It's significantly higher than the Vance Creek Bridge, you'll see
further down in the article, but shorter in length. This combined with the fact that it is harder to see from the side, lessens it's visual impact.
But it's a very impressive structure. Built in the 1920s to access timber in the far north. The bridge structure is incredible is size and spans a
gorge that is well over 400 feet deep. At some point, the logging railroads that this bridge accessed were abandoned and so was the
bridge. It was later converted into a truck bridge, although exactly when, I'm not clear. Today it's heavily used as the area that was logged in
the 1920s, is being logged again. Log trucks regularly pass over this structure. It's height and single lane can make it somewhat
intimidating to drive over for anyone afraid of hieghts. But standing on it as it shakes when a log truck passes really gives one pause.
|A rare picture of the High Steel Bridge from
Logging to the Salt Chuck. From the days
when it served as a logging railroad
bridge. This picture gives an idea of the
what bridge looks like from the side,
|Dennis Myers took this picture of the
High Steel Bridge in the early 1990s.
Picture Courtesy of Dennis Myers
|Old Logging Railroad Bridge
We continued to explore the area north of the High Steel Bridge. While many railroads use to exist here, most were converted into
truck roads many decades ago. Few remains exist. We did discover the remains of a very old wooden trestle that crossed over
Dolby Creek. The trestle was unfortunately collapsed and only a few posts, railroad spikes and other remains give any hint of its
|Pictures of a very old logging trestle north of the High Steel
Bridge. Unfortunately, this trestle collapsed many years ago. It
was probably abandoned in the 1930s or 1940s when logging in
the area was completed. Railroad spikes and other parts of the
bridge can still be found in the area.
|The abandoned Vance Creek Railroad Bridge
Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to encourage or condone anyone climbing onto the Vance Creek
Bridge. The Bridge is dangerous, there are no railings, and the Simpson Timber Company probably would
not approve of anyone climbing onto the bridge.
South of the High Steel bridge is yet another amazing bridge site. Although not as tall as the High Steel Bridge, this one is more
interesting and quite amazing. It’s called the Vance Creek bridge and was also built in 1929. While slightly lower at well over 350
feet tall, the Vance Creek bridge is over 800 feet long and what makes it most interesting is that it was never converted into a truck
bridge and today it is totally abandoned. The size of the Vance Creek bridge is just breathtaking. We almost were unable to access it
as the closest road to the bridge was closed off due to current logging operations. But the Simpson loggers, thankfully gave us
permission to access and we checked out the bridge. The first thing we noticed was that on this end of the bridge, the rail bed
leading to the bridge has been dug out to make it very difficult to climb onto and walk on the bridge. The other end is untouched, but
requires a several mile hike to access, due to a landslide. The tracks on either end of the bridge are long gone, but the tracks on the
bridge mysteriously remain. Unlike the High Steel bridge there is no decking and no hand rails. When walking on the bridge, you can
look down hundreds of feet in between the railroad ties. It can be quite scary to anyone afraid of heights and frankly can even be
dangerous. A high wind could knock someone right off, so please be extra careful, if you venture onto the bridge. While the High
Steel bridge is still in use and probably will be for sometime, the Vance Creek Bridge is completely abandoned and will probably never
be used again. But fortunately it is on the National Register of Historic places and hopefully it will continue to remain for future
generations to see in all it’s glory as the official tallest railroad bridge in America.
|These pictures were taken of the bridge from a distance and show it's immense size. At over
800 feet long and standing more than 300 feet tall, it's one of the largest logging railroad
bridges ever built and is officially recognized as the tallest railroad bridge in America.
Although one might wonder why that status doesn't go to the High Steel Bridge which,
although no longer a railroad bridge, stood significantly taller when it was.
|On the left, John standing on the deck of the Vance Creek Bridge. On the right, the same view almost 50 years ago, when
steam locomotives crossed this very same bridge at this very spot. Picture on right: Logging to the Salt Chuck.
|More pictures of the bridge taken from the north end. Here access to the bridge has been blocked by a huge metal pipe
and the rail bed has been dug up. Access from the north is impeded by a landslide that blocked the tracks several miles
from the bridge.
|Pictures taken by John of the bridge decking. As can be
seen, the rails were not removed. In fact, nothing on the top
deck appears to have been touched since the bridge was
abandoned. Only the rusty rails and worn out ties give any
clue that trains have not used this bridge in many years. We
still don't know what the beams sticking out on either side of
the bridge were for.
|That's me standing on a nearby hillside in front of the Vance
Creek Bridge on the left.. Note the same view on the right,
taken from nearly the exactly same location some 50 or
more years ago when steam engines crossed this bridge.
|Dennis Myers took this picture of
the Vance Creek Bridge in May,
1993. Note how back then, there
was no large barrier on top of the
bridge at that time.
PIcture courtesy of Dennis Myers.
|A picture of the bridge in the late
1940s, showing a steam
locomotive and a string of log cars
crossing. Note how the bridge was
originally painted white.
From Logging to the Salt Chuck.
|A rare pictures of the Vance
Creek Bridge under construction
in the late 1920s. It was
completed in early 1929.
From Logging to the Salt Chuck.
|If anyone has any further information or pictures about the Simpson (or related) Timber Railroad
please let me know. You can Email me anytime. Thanks.
|Copyright © 2004 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
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|Dennis Myers sent in this photo of
the Dolby Creek bridge that he took
in May, 1993, showing that only 10
years ago, it was largely intact.
Picture courtesy of Dennis Myers