Sunday, November 28, 2021
Nov. 28, 2021

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Northwest’s railroad history on display

SP&S exhibit will be unveiled Saturday morning at Vancouver Amtrak station

By , Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published:
5 Photos
Vancouver Mayor John Kiggins, in center of the back seat, welcomed Great Northern Railway tycoon James J. Hill, with beard, during a visit. The photo was shot on Oct. 4, 1911, at Vancouver's railroad depot.
Vancouver Mayor John Kiggins, in center of the back seat, welcomed Great Northern Railway tycoon James J. Hill, with beard, during a visit. The photo was shot on Oct. 4, 1911, at Vancouver's railroad depot. A week later, President William Howard Taft spoke for 10 minutes when his train stopped at the depot. Photo Gallery

If You Go

What: Unveiling of exhibit highlighting local railroad history (free).

Where: Vancouver Amtrak station, 1301 W. 11th St.

When: 10 a.m. Saturday.

Over the years, the familiar clickety-clack of railroad traffic can fade into the background for many people, including Duane Cramer.

But clickety-clunk?

That definitely got Cramer’s attention. As a safety inspector, he had a different perspective on the rail route through the Columbia Gorge.

Now Cramer has still another perspective on railroading in this area, that of a historian. The Vancouver man is part of a new museum exhibit, highlighting the role of railroads in developing the Northwest.

The display — “The Northwest’s Own Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway” — will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Saturday at Vancouver’s historic train depot. While the Clark County Historical Museum produced the display, the depot at 1301 W. 11th street “is the ideal setting for a display to honor the SP&S Railway,” Cramer said.

Cramer, a member of the SP&S Historical Society, listed a railroad all-star team that made stops over the last century at what now is the Vancouver Amtrak station: “The SP&S, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, United Pacific and Milwaukee Road.

If You Go

• What: Unveiling of exhibit highlighting local railroad history (free).

? Where: Vancouver Amtrak station, 1301 W. 11th St.

? When: 10 a.m. Saturday.

“The fact that this depot stands here today is incredible,” Cramer said Thursday as display designer Ed Austin and his volunteer crew added the final touches.

One of Austin’s interpretive panels sets the stage for the exhibit: “By 1908, the SP&S Railway linked Oregon with eastern Washington and the markets beyond. Major freight hauled included grain headed west and lumber headed east.

“Vancouver was at the heart of the SP&S. The Vancouver yard contained its primary shop facilities and most significant passenger depot, designed specifically for the location.”

After Saturday’s ribbon cutting, there will be a chance for members of the public to share train-related photos and stories. They also can meet some veteran railroaders, including Cramer and retired conductor Harry Hendricks, who have their own stories to tell.

One of Cramer’s memorable moments on the rails involved one tiny segment of the 111-mile run from Vancouver to Wishram. He was heading home in a four-wheel track-maintenance car, approaching Vancouver near where Interstate 205 now crosses over the tracks.

“It was summer and I was tired. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, and then, clunk-clunk. It startled me. I backed up: Clunk-clunk.

“I could see the break in the rail,” he said, and Cramer lifted a broken piece of steel right off the track,

“It could have caused a major accident. The next train through happened to be an eastbound train to Spokane. I called it in on my radio. They repaired the rail in time for the train to pass through,” Cramer said.

The railroad wasn’t just a mode of transportation, by the way.

“At one time, the SP&S was Clark County’s largest employer,” Cramer said.

Columbian stories from the 1950s reported that almost 700 people worked at Vancouver’s SP&S yard, and that doesn’t include the train-crew members who lived in Clark County.

More than 1,000 cars a day moved through the Vancouver freight yard. The roundhouse, which could accommodate almost 20 locomotives and other pieces of rolling stock, was the regional hub for repairs and maintenance.

The SP&S lost its identity in one of the mergers that resulted in BNSF Railway. Vancouver’s roundhouse burned down on Sept. 5, 1970, in what a Columbian story called a $1 million fire. The story added that the roundhouse “was being phased out bit by bit” and was not going to be rebuilt.

Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
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