THE MINING RAILROADS OF THE CANADIAN BORDER
By Bill Laux
JIM HILL BUILDS TO PHOENIX 1903 – 1905
It was certain that as soon as Jim Hill got his tracks into Grand Forks and around Observatory Mountain to the Granby smelter, he would begin building to Phoenix. From the days back in the 1870s when he took over the ailing St Paul and Pacific, Hill had maintained that, “every mile of track must pay its way.” So, with his “Third Main Line” plan, he intended to make every mile along the VV&E pay by competing for every carload of traffic offered. As well, Hill had bought heavily into Granby, seeing its smelter as a market for coal. He had bought an interest in the Crowsnest Coal Company in the East Kootenay, and built a railroad from his main line to its operations to supply his locomotives. Hill could move Crowsnest coal over his water level routes to the Granby smelter, while the CPR route had a 30 mile barge trip plus climbs over two mountain ranges on 2.2 percent grades.
As soon as the Hot Air blockage was removed by Holland’s compromise, the VV&E men began bridging the Kettle River and laying track north toward the smelter. Just outside the Grand Forks municipal boundary, a wye was installed, called Columbia Junction. From the east leg of this wye, track extended down what is now 68th Avenue, and a station built at Boundary Drive. On the west leg of the wye, the station of Weston was established with a five track yard, a locomotive servicing facility, coal bunker, water tank, and engine house. This line continued northwest, and
at mile 2 (Km. 3.2), from Cooper’s Wye (now called “Big Y,”) where the Grand Forks line diverged from the main line to Curlew and Republic, another wye was laid, called Copper Junction. The east leg of this wye, at mile .6 (Km. 1), bridged the CPR line with a 1000 foot trestle and single span Howe truss bridge. The grade then went around the east shore of Ward Lake and paralleled the CPR smelter spur on a slightly higher alignment just a few feet south. At the North Fork (Granby) River, a trestle and two span Howe truss bridge, 660 feet in all, bridged both the CPR smelter spur and the river. On the north bank the VV&E ran parallel and just uphill of the CPR line into the smelter yards at mile 3.3 (Km. 5.3), from Copper Jct.
Hill then set his men to grading a loop from the west leg of the Copper Jct. wye to climb around Eagle Mountain and enter Fourth of July Creek. This was slow work since much of the grade had to be blasted out of granite bluffs.
While Hill’s men were methodically grading toward Phoenix, expecting to reach the camp in 1904, Nichols and the New Yorkers who had bought Granby, decided to Americanize the company. With an American railroad shortly to be completed from the Phoenix mines to the smelter and to Spokane, they saw no more need to conciliate the Canadian Pacific or their Canadian directors. In June, 1904, Nichols requested the resignations of Granby’s Canadian directors. All but one, Robinson, resigned. In their place, the American directors made Abel Hodges, whom Graves had hired in 1898, Granby’s General Superintendent, reporting directly to the board. Jay Graves kept his vice-presidency, and became non-resident General Manager. Yolen Williams, Graves’ trusted lieutenant, was retired and given the honorary position of consultant. That Graves held his place at all was due to J.J. Hill, whose man, George Baker Jr., represented Hill on the board. Hill’s interest, though studiously and repeatedly denied by the company, was quite evident. Graves, for his own purposes, floated the legend that he, through Granby, was the trusted associate of J.J. Hill.
With his line to the smelter, Hill had captured the Granby coal market with his lower rates. Now his men were on their way to Phoenix where he intended to take the ore haul away from the CPR as well. The VV&E grade, which is very visible today from Highway 3 just west of Grand Forks, climbed Fourth of July Creek toward Summit Camp, on the divide between the Brown’s Creek and Eholt Creek. Here, at mile 14.3 (Km. 23), a station called Hale was laid out with a 2000 foot passing track and water tank. The loaded ore trains would take the siding here, while the up trains passed. At mile 15.9 ( Km.25.6) the track passed right though the Oro Denoro mine, a large and irregular glory hole, with a 1000 foot siding for loading ore and a station named Denoro. The CPR’s Phoenix line was just a few feet uphill, climbing in the opposite direction.
At mile 16 (Km. 25.7), and the Emma mine, the VV&E tracks passed under the CPR trestle bridging the gulch. An interchange to the CPR was laid here, and the place was called Coltern (the CPR called this point B.C. Junction). Now on the north slope of Montezuma Hill, and running west on a continuing 2 percent grade, the line crossed the canyon of Glenside Creek at mile 18.1 (Km. 29.1) on the huge, Deadman’s Creek trestle, 672 feet long, 195 feet high, and built on a 14 degree curve.
A loop into Providence Creek came next with another curving trestle at mile 21.4 (Km. 34.4). Turning the corner into Twin Creek at mile 22 (Km. 35.7), the line came out of the dense fir forest and onto open, grassy slopes facing south. The VV&E entered Phoenix on the 4300 foot contour, just above the road up from Greenwood.
Phoenix was built in a shallow gulch; the VV&E entered town with a wye on trestle work at the intersection of Dominion Avenue and Banner Street. The left leg led to the depot at mile 23.4 (Km. 38.8) and the foot of Phoenix Street. The west leg of the wye crossed Twin Creek and climbed to a switchback at the 4400 foot level, and then ran back to the Idaho mine ore bunker at the 4500 foot level. From this spur, a second switchback climbed the slope of Knob Hill, and reversed back to the Victoria ore bunkers at the 4600 foot level. With the Americanization of Granby, the VV&E was invited to install loading tracks on the lower side of the Victoria mine ore bunkers, while the CPR loaded from the uphill side. Here, an interchange track connected the two lines.
On February 15. 1905, the VV&E hauled its first train load of Granby ore. By building a climbing spiral clear around the mountain on which Phoenix was located, VV&E engineer Kennedy had constructed a longer but easier grade than the short but steep CPR branch. Both railroads now had their tracks at the mine mouths and ore bunkers of the Granby Company’s biggest producers, and it was clear that the lowest rates would determine who got the haulage.
With its 2.2 percent grades, the VV&E could bring down more loaded cars in a single train and haul more empties uphill. That gave it a cost advantage over the C&W with its 3.4 percent grades. The CPR typically ran ore trains of 15 cars down to Eholt; the VV&E ran 22 car trains down its grade to the smelter. The CPR immediately reduced its rate for hauling Phoenix ore to the Granby smelter from $1.00 per ton to 25 cents, which President Shaugnessy agonized loudly, was “bare cost.” If 25 cents was “bare cost” the previous $1.00 had represented a substantial profit. But Hill was not to be outdone. He reduced his rate below “bare cost,” and got the bulk of the traffic. From 1905 on the VV&E was hauling 70% of Granby’s ore.[i]
Although running different routes, the two lines were almost exactly the same length. The CPR line from Phoenix to Eholt was 9.7 miles (15.6 Km.) of 3.4 percent grade, plus Eholt to Smelter Junction, 12.5 miles (20 Km.) of 2.2 percent grade, plus 2.2 miles (3.5Km.) of nearly level grade into the smelter, 24.4 miles(39.1Km.), in all. The VV&E had 22.3 miles (35.7 Km.) of 2.2 percent grade, Copper Junction to Phoenix, and 2.2 miles, (3.3 Km.) into the smelter, a total of 24.3 miles (39 Km.). The CPR ran its short ore trains down to the Eholt yard, where they were broken up and separate cuts of cars made up made up for the four smelters to which they were consigned. When a sufficient number of cars had accumulated for the Granby smelter, a train would be made up for that destination. Cars destined for the Trail smelter would be attached to eastbound freights, those for the B.C. Copper or the Dominion Copper smelters, attached to westbound freights.
The CPR went after the traffic from those outlying mines not served by the VV&E. From Hartford Junction, a spur was extended east .8 miles (1.3 Km.) to serve the Winnipeg and Golden Crown mines. A short spur running south along the ridge top from Hartford Jct. reached the Buena Vista. As previously described, other spurs served the B.C. Copper mine in Summit Camp and the Jackpot and Athelstan mines above Spencer. In 1909 a short spur was built west from Hartford Junction to the terminal of an aerial cable way which brought ore down from the Boundary/War Eagle mine on the south slope of Knob Hill.
As the CPR line made the loop at Hartford and climbed the east slope of Knob Hill, short spurs ran in to the Rawhide, Gold Drop, Snowshoe and Curlew mines, all of which were big producers. The west leg of the wye at the Phoenix station was extended down the north side of Twin Creek to reach the Brooklyn mine. A few hundred feet west of the Brooklyn, it switch backed down to the Stem winder, below the Brooklyn.
Granby, however, was still the largest producer, with the VV&E loading at tunnels 2 and 3; the CPR at tunnel 2. Hill’s line was tying Grand Forks and the Boundary District closer to Spokane and the U.S. By 1905, the Hill lines had 60 percent of all classes of Boundary rail traffic. The Rossland experience was being repeated. There the steep Trail Creek Tramway had won the race to the mines, but the better engineered Red Mountain Railway took the bulk of the traffic and by far the most passengers who were bound for the American trading center of Spokane. Now, at Phoenix, though the CPR had won the race and covered the mountains with its twisting spurs, the Hill line with its better grades and its direct connection to Spokane, was taking most of the business.
6 thoughts on “STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux”
You knowledge is unparalleled, Sir. How can you remember so much?
The picture somehow makes me nostalgic. So different those days must have been than the hustle-bustle now!
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This is too much undeserved praise, Alok! It is the work of late Bill Laux, which he saved on floppy disks in a format that caused me a lot of time and effort to decode. This local artist, writer and castle builder did a lot of research on the glorious and wild days of railroads and mining in our area. Thank you for your interest, Alok!
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I should say your effort is praiseworthy!
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Hi Peter. I’ve been enjoying your mining railroad history and am glad you found some software that would read those floppy disks that belonged to Bill Laux. The history of your area in British Columbia reminds me of the genealogical research I have done over the years on the mining history of Virginia City, Nevada where my mother’s grandparents settled in the 1870s. One of my great grandfathers worked in the silver mines there. Another was a mason who built broilers for processing gold and silver. Both were immigrants from Ireland.
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This unpublished book of late Bill Laux has 20 chapters. I leave the next book for my blogging work until this coming fall. Thank you for your interest in the mining history of BC!