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2016 Members Meeting, Moscow, Idaho

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Collage of tickets for Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway. Photo by Rolland Meyers

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Map: The interurban electric Spokane & Inland Empire Railway served Coeur d’Alene (ID), Colfax (WA), and Moscow (ID) from Spokane. Plans to build beyond Moscow to Lewiston (ID) never materialized. The Inland later became a part of the Great Northern. Electric Railway Review, September 1906.

The 2016 R&LHS annual members’ meeting will be held May 25-29, 2016 at the Best Western University Inn, Moscow, Idaho. The convention will be a joint convention with the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway History Preservation Group (WI&MRyHPG) of nearby Potlatch, Idaho. Focus of the convention presentations and tours will be three North Idaho railroads - the WI&M, The Camas Prairie Railroad (CSP), and the St. Maries River Railroad (STMA). Potlatch, Idaho, was the original home and beginning of the Potlatch Lumber Company, now lumber giant Potlatch Corporation. There they constructed the largest sawmill in the world at the time, a complete company town, and the facilities of the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway, the company’s in-house railroad that ran into the Idaho wilderness and brought logs to mill and cut lumber to trunk line connections.

In 2016 we will travel the length of the WI&M (Palouse, WA to Bovill, ID) and visit Potlatch to see the town, remains of the sawmill, and the 1905 WI&M Potlatch depot that once served as both the railroad and lumber company headquarters. The depot is now owned by the WI&MRyHPG which is well along toward restoration for community use. Twenty of the road’s original 50 miles are still in operation as a portion of the Washington & Idaho Railway (W&I). History of the WI&M will be provided by Tom Burg, author of WHITE PINE ROUTE, The History of the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway Company. See www.wimryhpg.com .

Dr. Daniel Butler will present the history and background of the Camas Prairie Railroad, the subject of his doctorial dissertation at the University of Idaho, and topic of a future book on its history. The CSP is noted for the spectacular trestles and tunnels on its line south from Lewiston, Idaho, including the Lawyer’s Canyon trestle, one of the largest in North America. This division of the railroad reached the Camas Prairie and was primarily a grain-hauler, though it also handled lumber from shortline Craig Mountain Railroad at Winchester, Idaho. Other divisions of the CSP traveled up the Clearwater River and into the Idaho forest to Headquarters, Idaho, where Potlatch maintained a large railroad logging operation. Portions of this line are still in operation as the Bountiful Grain & Craig Mountain Railroad and the Great Northwest Railroad. The CSP was unique in that it was a joint project of the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific, rivals who joined together to share in the bounty of the region rather than compete to both railroads’ detriment. On the second day of the convention we will tour the CSP. Those unfamiliar with the area should be prepared for a geographical surprise as we travel from Moscow, in the rolling hills of the Palouse, south to Lewiston in the Clearwater/Snake Rivers canyons. The popular movie Breakheart Pass was filmed on the CSP and is a worthwhile pre-convention homework assignment.

The Milwaukee Road constructed its Pacific Extension across North Idaho late in the first decade of the twentieth century. After crossing the Bitterroot Mountains at St. Paul Pass, it descended into the valley of the St. Joe River at Avery, and followed the river downstream to St, Maries, idaho, where it met the St. Maries River and both emptied into beautiful Coeur d’Alene Lake. The Pacific main line continued across Idaho into Washington, with a passenger main branching off at Plummer, Idaho, to serve Spokane, WA. At St. Maries a branch line to Elk River, Idaho, served a second Potlatch sawmill there, connected with the WI&M at Bovill, and interchanged with the Edward Rutledge Timber Company (later merged into Potlatch) which operated Idaho’s only logging incline railroad at Clarkia, ID.

When the Milwaukee Road abandoned its Lines West in 1980, the branch and much of the Idaho main line became the shortline St. Maries River Railroad (STMA), headquartered in the former Milwaukee Road depot at St. Maries and using the former Milwaukee Road yard and shops there. STMA was owned by Potlatch Corporation and served a Potlatch plywood mill there. Though it still serves the mill, in 2012 Potlatch sold the STMA to Michael Williams of Kansas City, who owns several shortlines (including the W&I and BG&CM mentioned above). Williams has imported a fleet of passenger cars from the McCloud Railway for a proposed tourist railroad and dinner train, and R&LHS is negotiating to ride the former Milwaukee mainline across North Idaho. We will visit the St. Maries yard and shops, home of some unique equipment. It is one of the few places original Milwaukee Road locomotives (three GP-9’s and two SW switchers, all rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen) operate on former Milwaukee Road trackage. --Tom Burg

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