Columbia County Logging Railroads

sykesrd-1a.jpg - 5.7 K
Milton Creek RR
Deer Island Logging trestle
Deer Island Logging trestle
Elsie Tracy and Doris Flippin
Elsie Tracy and Doris Flippin berry picking in abandoned Deer Island Logging Camp 9 around 1930
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Yeon & Pelton Raft in Rhinearson Slough Joe Corsiglia collection
Benson Shay
A Benson Logging Side -- Joe Corsiglia collection

There were a large number of logging railroad systems built into Columbia County most particularly during the first third of the 20th century. Most were short lines. Vernonia, of course, was served beginning in the 1920's with a real railroad, the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway. It's trackage went south to Banks, and the old right of way is now the Vernonia linear park. Vernonia was then the site of the world class Oregon-American sawmill and logging railroads fanned out in all directions to haul logs to this mill. The last and best remembered line went to Keasey and beyond reaching to Camp Olson near what is now the rest area on the Sunset highway. This was the last logging railroad in Columbia County to be retired.

There were many logging railroads, however. and most others were built in from the Columbia river, and primarily hauled logs to the water where they would be rafted and floated to market. One source estimates that by the fall of 1903 there were as many as 30 logging railroads on the Lower Columbia averaging 4 miles in length.

Portland and Southwestern Railway

Beginning at the South end of the county there was the Portland and Southwestern Railway extending from Scappose into Chapman and ultimately to Pittsburg and a wide range of destinations on both sides of the Nehalem River. It was controlled by Clark and Wilson Lumber Company, the predecessor in title to Crown Zellerbach and more recently Cavenham Forest Products (These properties were sold to John Hancock Life Insurance Co. in 1996 and are now managed by Brooks Resources).

Of interest to this writer was the '500 line'. This was a mainline extension that crossed the Nehalem at Pittsburg and ran down the Nehalem River to a point near Big Eddy Park where it recrossed the Nehalem River and when down the Northside of the river to an area shortly west of the intersection of US Highway 47 and Apiary Road. There the mainline ended with a 'reload' where logs from temporary trackages were brought in and reloaded for shipment to market on the mainline. It is said to have been dubbed the '500 line' because it was supposed to provide access to 500 million board feet of timber. From this reload, at least three harvesting branches that I know of include one that was ultimately rebuilt into the Apiary Road. I am told that it extended up at least as far as the present day rock quarry Along Apairy road near the upper reaches of Oak Ranch Creek. Another headed up toward the top of the bluffs toward Natal. It's cut has been the source of a number of landslides in recent years on the bluffs just upstream of Natal. Another route, and I am not sure if it was the same one, ultimately went up Cedar Creek to the Enterprise lookout area and intersected with the Clark and Wilson trackage down the summit of the divide between the Clatskanie and Nehalem River Drainages. This trackage also went south easterly to Karth road and ultimately to Wilark, giving Clark and Wilson two ways out. They could take logs to the Cedar creek reload, and there out the Portland and Southwestern route to Scappose, or they could take them to Wilark and ultimately arrive at the river at Goble via the Goble,Nehalem and Pacific trackage. Clark and Wilson ultimately 'cut out' of the center of Columbia County around 1933 in the depth of the depression. The railroads went for scrap and the curtain dropped on railroad logging.

Milton Creek Railway

In St. Helens, there was the Milton Creek Railway built by C. C. Masten. Construction was commenced in 1907. Its line came in what is now Sykes Road. It was not extensive but did go up Milton Creek well beyond Yankton. It was one of the earlier ones, however.

Columbia and Nehalem Valley RR

The C & N was an early railroad rising from Columbia City and has its own page.

Deer Island Logging Company

Next in the order of things was the Deer Island Logging Company line. This trackage departed the River at Deer Island (so named in the diary of Lewis and Clark their 1806 expedition to the Pacific Northwest) and followed generally the route of the Canaan road to the Janshaw road and from there entered the Little Clatskanie drainage ultimately jumping the Apiary road and the Clatskanie River near its confluence with the Little Clatskanie and terminating on the VanNatta treefarm. Indeed the VanNatta Logging business still uses several miles of Deer Island grades for logging roads.

Deer Island's final Camp 9is not far from the VanNatta holdings. The photograph of the trestle to the left is one of many of the Deer Island Logging Company along the VanNatta Driveway. This photo along with the one of Camp 9 on the right were taken some years after the camp and trackage was abandoned. Featured in the picture are Elsie Tracy and Doris Flippen.

Goble and Nehalem Valley RR

At Goble, there was the Goble, Nehalem and Pacific Railway. Beginning as early as 1901, it followed the Nicholi road and proceeded through Beaver Homes. A major spur extended to the ridge tops near the end of Lentz road out of Fern Hill while the main line proceeded on to Wilark and from there it actually interconnected with the Portland and Southwestern Ry. providing Clark and Wilson with a second 'way out' with their logs. All of this, of course, did not happen all at once. Clark and Wilson bought the GN & P in the spring of 1907 along with 10,000 acres of timberlands for an reported $800,000. The 10 miles of trackage and all of the GN & P rolling stock went with the deal. Camps as far out as Wilark didn't see life until the 1920's however.

Yeon and Pelton

At Rainier, there was the John Yeon incline, and trackage but in the grand scheme of things it was limited to the Beaver Valley and was not a major player. This operation worked in the upper Beaver Valley but the full extent is not not to this writer. The incline itself was a major accomplishment with a reported grade of 33%. The log cars were lowered with a donkey to the bottom of the incline, and moved to the slough for rafting. It is unclear to this writer just how much of the Beaver Valley was lowered on this incline. Yeon and Pelton were significant as a very early player in the railroad logging business.

Also at Rainier was a Railroad that was built up Fox Creek into what is now the Rainier City Watershed.

Benson Logging co.

Benson Logging Co., of course, was at Clatskanie and began building trackage in 1903. They were the predecessors of the Evensons who still have an extensive logging business based at Clatskanie. Their trackage extended up the Clatskanie River drainage from Clatskanie reaching as far as Apiary with their major encampment being at Swedetown. They met up with Deer Island Logging who logged out most of the lands between the Clatskanie River and its major tributary, Carcus Creek. Benson was unique among the logging companies in that they developed the technique of construction ocean seaworthy rafts for logs and shipped many of their logs in giant cigar shaped rafts to California for milling. The 4th photo on the right is a Benson Shay getting some short logs. See the topic "Shay" for more.

The Kerry line

The most dramatic of all Columbia County Railroads was the Kerry Line which apparently opened in 1913. It rose out of the swamp near Westport and scaled the headwall of Nicolai Mountain ultimately tunneling under the summit before reaching its destination at Neverstil near Birkenfeld. It was a common carrier who hauled logs for any number of logging companies who worked in the central Nehalem valley. Even the truck roads that come down OK Creek (The Kerry Line route) today have grades in the 15% range in them. Despite the steep ground, the Railroad was built to standards of grands no more than 3%.

See also Birkenfeld and Chapman community history for more logging information in this area. Also available at this site is a rundown on the history of 25 West Oregon Communities and from down Eugene way we have a linklist of Oregon History Sites.

- - Updated 12/11/2012
- - Updated 04/18/2008
- - Updated 2/08/01
- - Updated 03/23/2008