– Courtesy of vPike.com and WI&M Historian Tom Burg
Recently I discovered a website called Virtual Turnpike (www.vpike.com) which appears to contain a photographic record of much of the U.S. Its content is nothing short of amazing, due I am sure, to advancements in digital technology. It occurred to me that there are WI&M fans at some distance away (some even on different continents!) who might benefit from a ground-level look at ‘our’ railroad. While I am not at all adept with things like this, I will attempt to give somewhat of a narrated tour of the WI&M on vpike. It is actually so easy that even a computer-challenged geezer like me can do it.
As you read through this tour, you can either drag “Stickman” along the vPike map to the views described, or you can skip ahead by clicking the links provided. These will open vPike in a new window, so you can always refer back to this page. Depending on the width of your computer screen, you may be able to show both windows side by side.
If you have a copy of WHITE PINE ROUTE, The History of the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway Company (WPR), have it at your side. I will make several references to it. Palouse is a good place to start our tour. This view taken at 198 E. Main Street looks north with a large red building on the left. This is the former St. Elmo Hotel. Using the arrows in the upper left of the photo screen, you can rotate the camera 360 degrees to look each way on Main Street and get a more thorough look at the St. Elmo. It was here, over a century ago, that many of the lumber company’s and railroad’s founders stayed when organizing and planning their enterprises.
Back at the north view on Beach Street, you can see the WI&M tracks one block in the distance, marked by the round yellow railroad crossing sign at the right. Vpike also provides a street map; all streets outlined in blue have photographic coverage. You can drag Stickman anywhere you want to visit Palouse; for our purposes we will begin by moving him one block west to the corner of Bridge and Main Streets (the screen says Division, but I have always known this corner as Bridge Street). Again looking north, the WI&M crosses one block in the distance. If you rotate the camera you will see the former Palouse State Bank building on the SE corner of the intersection, the bridge over the Palouse River in the south view, and a look west on Main Street. The blue roads did not go west on Main Street, which is unfortunate because this led to Palouse’s Northern Pacific Railway depot. You can use the map to see where the tracks still run, now operated by the Washington & Idaho Railway (W&I) as contract operator.
Relocate Stickman to the northwest side of Palouse on Hwy. 272 between the two railroad lines on the map (my screen gives the approximate address as 16175 SR, Palouse). One line is the ex-NP “P&L” line leaving town for Spokane; the other was the connector from the WI&M to the Inland Empire line (S&IE/GN). The map still shows the long-gone wye and Inland tracks north and south. By rotating the camera at this point you see Lairds, zero milepost on the WI&M, at approximately the point where Hwy. 272 crosses the W&I. The photo in WPR, page 184, shows the former interchange trackage at this point. Rotating the camera to the NE shows a farm lane, which leads to the field where the Palouse River Lumber Company mill once stood. This mill became the Potlatch Lumber Company’s Palouse mill (WPR page 17). Continuing rotation looking south shows the Palouse Grain Growers’ elevator, still reached by a switchback from the WI&M/S&IE connector. If you place Stickman right on the WI&M track and rotate east, you can see upgrade to the current end of track, and rotation to the SW shows grain cars on the elevator siding. If you move Stickman about a block south (16227 SR) and look west, you get a good view of the elevator.
Bring Stickman back into Palouse on Hwy. 227, now Church Street, and stop just above the tracks. You are on the bridge over the S&IE/GN, and looking north you see the wye site, with the Palouse River Lumber Company site in the field beyond. Rotating view to the south shows right-of-way as far ast the top of the great concrete wall along WI&M tracks; S&IE tracks then crossed the valley on a trestle above Palouse’s Hayton Green Park. The S&IE/GN depot was on the roadbed’s left just before reaching the wall.
Take Stickman back into town to the intersection of Whitman Street and Hwy. 272 (Division St.). WI&M tracks run down the center of Whitman Street, paved to the east and less so to the west. In the west view the concrete retaining wall is clearly visible in the distance. The WI&M depot was once located beyond the buildings that line the south side of Whitman Street and the tracks. The brick building on the NW corner of Whitman and Division is a funeral home, occasionally site of chaos when a WI&M freight arrived coincident with a funeral procession.
After you have visited Palouse to whatever degree you wish, relocate Stickman to Hwy. 272 (East Main Street) at the east edge of town (vpike calls this NE street). Looking east you see the WI&M tracks departing along the north side of the Palouse River; in the west view tracks run into town where they join Whitman Street. Highway flasher signals protect this crossing which has difficult sight lines for motorists. Leave town on Hwy. 272; you will not see the tracks again on vpike until they reach Kennedy Ford, ID, a shame because they run through the very pretty Palouse River valley.
When you cross the Washington-Idaho state line the road becomes Idaho Hwy. 6. As Stickman walks along Hwy. 6 you will pass Wellesley Road, which leads to the one-time site of Wellesley, where a WI&M passenger shelter and warehouse once stood. You also get various views of the rolling agricultural terrain of the Palouse Region.
Once Stickman passes Kennedy Ford Road the river and tracks rejoin Hwy. 6. Hereyou will see Potlatch Grain & Seed Company’s elevator directly to the east along Hwy. 6, and the former site of a large company grain warehouse along the tracks. The Kennedy Ford siding now contains stored center beam lumber cars. Continuing east on Hwy. 6, Stickman will get additional views as he passes the modern elevator. Highway 6 joins U.S. Highway 95 to the north for about a mile; you may get a glimpse of the track which runs along the road below the hillside.
Continuing on U.S. 95, the small house on the east side of the road with red car in front was once the home of Potlatcher railcar motorman Claude Davis. Walk Stickman along Hwy. 6/95 until the map point “Potlatch Junction” (a road junction, not a railroad one), and follow Hwy. 6 east. WI&M tracks come alongside the highway at about Flannigan Creek Road and run along it into Potlatch, ID.
As Hwy. 6 enters Potlatch (approx. 4002 Idaho 6) a loop road is shown on the map to the south. This is the entrance to Scenic 6 Park (named for the highway), which contains both the WI&M Princeton depot, moved here in 1990 and now a community center, and WI&M 4-6-0 locomotive #1 (Alco 1906 c/n 40684) under shelter. #1 can be seen by Stickman from the corner of Hwy. 6 and Onaway Road; the Princeton depot is south of #1 but difficult to see because of trees between the road and railroad. Stored freight cars fill the WI&M yard along the highway. The lone boxcar on the siding opposite 8th Street is at the approximate site of the former Potlatch Grain & Seed Company (WPR p. 204).
Walk Stickman along this tangent until just before Hwy. 6 begins to turn east. Looking east from this point the large gray building is the former company town gymnasium; SE along the curve is the restored Potlatch City Hall, once the headquarters building of the Potlatch Lumber Company. Further rotation to the south/southwest gives a good view of the two-story WI&M Potlatch depot, showing the results of its exterior restoration by the WI&M Railway History Preservation Group (WI&MRyHPG), to whom it now belongs. These three large structures are at the heart of Potlatch’s Historic District. Further rotation shows the Burlington Northern (BN) era Potlatch sign along the tracks, and a broadside view of recently repainted Bennett Lumber Products Company (BENX) Thrall-door boxcar #182, also owned by the WI&MRyHPG. The center doors of the opposite side of the car open to provide a performance stage for musical groups; viewers sit on portable bleachers obscured by the car. Just south of the Bennett car on the house track are the arch-bar trucks from the WI&M wood snowplow, razed by the BN.
If you move Stickman into the curve at the intersection of 6th Street, you get a rear-side view of the depot and depot annex alongside it to the south. The house track behind the depot and annex now contains former WI&M caboose #X-5 and STMA (ex-Milwaukee Road) log flatcar #533, both donated to the WI&MRyHPG. The field across the tracks from the depot was once the site of the huge Potlatch Lumber Company white pine sawmill. The large rock on the inside of the Hwy. 6 curve bears a plaque in memory of William Deary, first general manager of the WI&M Railway and Potlatch Lumber Company. Continued exploration of the historic company town of Potlatch is limited by the views only from Hwy. 6, but the map gives a good idea of the town’s layout.
As you leave town eastward on Hwy. 6, WI&M tracks rejoin the road below the one-time Log Inn and parallel it off and on to Princeton. The road crosses Gold Creek, and northward view reflects Gold Hill in the distance, the names both reminders of the area’s early mining heritage. WI&M tracks parallel the highway through Princeton, past the new post office and grange building. The Princeton depot originally stood on the south side of the tracks inside a siding that served as both the house track and a siding for the PG&S elevator, no longer in use but still visible.
Place Stickman at the corner of Hwy. 6 and Hatter Creek Road and look south. A Potlatch Lumber Company logging railroad once ran up Hatter Creek into the distant mountains. The building at the SW corner of this intersection clearly bears the lines of a railroad station; it is the former WI&M Harvard depot, moved to this site as a storage facility and now converted into a residence.
Continue along Hwy. 6 and the railroad toward Harvard. At approximately “3816 Idaho 6” you will see the mill of Bennett Lumber Products Co. in the south view across the tracks. The Bennett mill is currently the railroad’s sole customer, shipping numerous carloads of cut lumber several times per week.
Continue east on Idaho Hwy. 6 to Hwy. 9, and place Stickman on the WI&M tracks crossing just south of the intersection. Look east along the tracks; about 100 yards down on the south side of the track is the frame of caboose #X-2, once a maintenance shed but razed by the BN. Continue on Hwy. 6 into Harvard, which features a Deary Street, named for the railroad’s builder. Princeton and Harvard were the first of the railroad’s “college towns”. At approximately “3872 Idaho 6, Harvard” look south. A grain truck sits alongside the team track, which contains stored center beam lumber cars visible through the trees. The Harvard depot once stood between this team/house track and the main line beyond. At Harvard the tracks curve to the south and current end-of-track is about a mile further. The original line climbed out of the Palouse River valley by following Flat Creek upgrade on the WI&M’s 1.7% ruling grade.
The original roadbed is beyond Stickman’s vision; return him to Hwy. 9, locally known as the “Harvard-Deary Cutoff”, and proceed south. The map will show where you rejoin the WI&M grade. At approx. “2268 Idaho 9” you will see the modern overpass that carried WI&M tracks over the road. This was constructed relatively late in the region’s history; the road was still a gravel road in the 1960’s. After you pass the overpass the railroad will curve to parallel the highway, and you may get occasional glimpses of the now-abandoned right-of-way. Yale, summit of the Flat Creek grade, is on the line on the right.
Tracks separate from the road, but then curve to cross it at another college town, Stanford. Place Stickman on the crossing and view the right-of-way in both directions. The WI&M Stanford passenger shelter (WPR p. 176) stood north of the tracks just east of the highway. The WI&M roadbed is now off to the east of Hwy. 9, though it curves to rejoin the road at Avon, just past Vassar. At Mica Mountain Road (looking east toward that mountain where mica was mined) you can see the hump of the wooden bridge over the right-of-way (WPR p. 307). Continuing further on Hwy. 9 the small stream passing under the road is Bear Creek, and the WI&M’s Bear Creek Trestle is easily visible. Looking south along the road and right-of-way we see Potato Hill, aka. Mt. Deary. in the distance. At approximately the #9 on the highway map the right-of-way separates and goes cross-country into Deary.
Have Stickman follow Hwy. 9 to its end at Hwy. 8, and then into Deary on Hwy. 8. Deary, naturally, was named for William Deary. With Stickman on 2nd Avenue (Hwy. 8) between Line Street and Main Street, look north to see the large pea elevators that were important Deary railroad customers. At Main Street you look north toward Potato Hill; the rise beyond the brick buildings is the WI&M right-of-way. The depot originally stood to the west; it is now a private residence at the SE corner of Main and the right-of-way.
As you follow Hwy. 8 to the east, a few glimpses of the right-of-way are visible. Helmer Ln. crosses at the townsite of Helmer, named for Potlatch Lumber Company’s timber cruiser William Helmer. The Helmer Cafe on the corner has logging railroad photos on its walls. Continue east on Hwy. 8.
The WI&M roadbed crosses Idaho 8 at approximately the site of Cornell; the depot was just to the east of the road crossing, which still retains its crossing signals. Just south of the railroad/road crossing is Forks Road, which follows the roadbed downgrade to the Potlatch River near “Forks of the Potlatch”, destination of the early railroad planners.
Follow Hwy. 8 east to Bovill. Past the Bovill Cemetery and Moose Creek Road the valley opens into Warren’s Meadow, and the town of Bovill is ahead. Move Stickman to the map’s crossing of Hwy. 8 and the railroad tracks. The WI&M that left us at Cornell rejoins as it enters Bovill from the south. Looking north is the right-of-way into town; looking south we see two roadbeds – on the right is the WI&M’s, and at left is the former Milwaukee Road line to Elk River (see map).
Turn north on Hwy. 3 and proceed into Bovill. At the corner of First Ave. (Hwy. 3) and Pine Street, look east for a glimpse of the Bovill Opera House (the brown false-front building a block away), which was recently added to the National Historic Register.
Place Stickman at First Street and Main (map). Directly ahead, looking north, is the Bovill Hotel and early post office complex, now over 100 years old, though unoccupied. Look left through the city park toward the tracks; the depot stood here just north of Main. The Elk Tavern on the corner is in the former bank building. You can see the Main Street buildings from slightly further north on First Ave. Though tracks are gone, the map still shows where the clay plant spur and wye departed the main line. The WI&M continued several miles north to Purdue/Camp 8, where it joined end-to-end with the Milwaukee. This can be seen from Idaho 3 across the valley, but vpike gives no number to use as a reference point. When the railroad crosses the road (map), it is now former Milwaukee track at the site of the early community of Collins. We will end Stickman’s tour of the WI&M here.
Since Stickman is already located well into the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, two additional tours are worth suggesting. The first would follow the railroad, now the St. Maries River Railroad (STMA) north to St. Maries via Hwy. 3. At Clarkia the Potlatch Corporation wood yard abuts the east side of the tracks south of town. Until late 2009 Potlatch still shipped logs by rail on the STMA to its mill at St. Maries. St. Maries, ID is an interesting railroad town where the Elk River (Bovill) branch departed from the Milwaukee Road’s western main line. If Stickman were to return to Bovill and head south on Idaho Hwy. 8, this would follow the Milwaukee Road line into Elk River. The very end of the blue road at Taft and Front Streets in Elk River adjoins the meadow where Potlatch Lumber Company’s second mill was located. The Milwaukee’s branch ran parallel to Front Street, and ended north of town where the Potlatch Lumber Company’s logging branch left town northward to the Elk Creek Basin.