STEEP AND CROOKED: THE MINING RAILROADS OF THE CANADIAN BORDER
By Bill Laux
JIM HILL VS THE HOT AIR LINE 1900 – 1908
When the Canadian Pacific brought its Columbia and Western rails into Grand Forks in 1900, a civic dream was born. In the euphoria of getting a railroad, a copper smelter, and a hug influx of miners, merchants and promoters, the citizens began to see their town as a second Spokane, the hub of an empire of mining, agriculture and industry. Their location, with broad, easy valleys leading to east, west, north and south, suggested that it was the destiny of Grand Forks to become the center of a network of railroads. Not cramped on a steep hillside against a lake, as was Nelson, nor on top of a wintry mountain, as Rossland, it would be Grand Forks, they believed, that would dominate southeastern British Columbia.
“The immensity of the ore deposits in the Boundary and Kettle River districts is almost unparalleled in history,” the Grand Forks Miner exulted in 1896. The year following, the Miner’s pride soared to even greater heights as the editor counted the local “firsts.”
“…the first town in the Boundary to have a man found dead in his room in a hotel; the first to have a man publicly horsewhipped by a woman; and the first to announce the arrival of a pair of twins.”
Local prospector, R.A. “Volcanic” Brown, spoke of “a new type of city arising; one without any schools, churches, or banks, and served by four railroads running in from the four cardinal directions..” Having witnessed the rise of Rossland from a handful of tents and log cabin to the fifth city in B.C. in a single year, Grand Forks’ dream seemed eminently achievable. All that was needed was leadership. Leadership and money.
The leadership presented itself in the person of Tracy Holland, a native of Ontario, who had come west to manage the affairs of the Grand Forks branch of his brother’s Dominion Permanent Loan Company. Holland proposed that Grand Forks itself build Volcanic Brown’s railroads to the four cardinal directions with himself as manager. He enlisted the support of his brother, Frederick in Ontario, and his Loan Company. Their enthusiasm converted James Stratton, the Provincial Secretary of Ontario, Thomas Coffee, manager of the Toronto Trust and Guarantee Company, and George Cowan, a Vancouver lawyer.
Holland then went to work to secure a charter for the four railroads. He gave them a bewildering confusion of names: Grand Forks and Kettle River Railway, to run east; Grand Forks and Republic, to run south; Kettle River Lines, to run west. The skeptics of Grand Forks, wearied of Holland’s endless speechmaking, and interminable lobbying in Victoria and Ottawa. Just another paper railroad, they concluded, and all of Holland’s projected lines, whatever its corporate title, went by just one name: “The Hot Air Line.” The name stuck, and all of the chartered lines, Canadian and American, were known in the Boundary Country only as “The Hot Air Line.” To avoid confusion, we shall refer to them by that name.
When Jim Hill bought the Vancouver Victoria and Eastern charter in 1902, his way was clear to enter Canada with his line from Marcus and build to the Phoenix mines. He had chartered the Washington and Great Northern Railway to build the American parts of his line, and began from Marcus with a reaction ferry carrying the cars across the Columbia while the long bridge was being built, just as Dan Corbin had done six years before in Northport. His graders followed the Kettle River north to the Canadian line at Laurier, crossed it, and then. under the VV&E charter, began working west.
At the same time, in Grand Forks, it appeared that after years of lobbying, Tracy Holland had actually succeeded, and had real railway charters in his hands. The delighted residents swung in behind him. Amazingly, they now had charters for all those four railroads running to the cardinal points. Volcanic Brown’s dream was becoming reality. In their enthusiasm, the City Council passed by-law No. 68 in December, 1901, allowing for the issuance of debentures to grant the Kettle River Railway $3,500.
Holland’s charters authorized him to build a fifty mile line north up the North Fork of the Kettle River to the gold mines at Franklin Camp. A second line was authorized to run west to Midway. A third would parallel the CPR tracks east to Cascade where a smelter was proposed to take advantage of the electric power that could be generated at that point from the falls of the Kettle River. In addition, Holland had obtained from the Americans a charter for a line south to the new gold camp of Republic (Eureka Creek). None of the charters provided land grants. And the $3,500 from the city of Grand Forks would not build much of a railroad. But there were the Ontario Banks supporting the scheme. And there was the CPR. Its position would be crucial. When the newly formed Hot Air Line issued construction bonds to finance their first line, the Canadian Pacific bought the bonds and quietly became the line’s sponsor. With Jim Hill about to begin a fourth incursion into southern B.C. and the territory the CPR considered its own, the Hot Air appeared to be the tool with which to fight him from behind the scenes.
In Grand Forks, railroad enthusiasm became conviction, when, on August 31, 1901, the first contract for construction was awarded, and grading began on the line south to Republic, Washington. This first Hot Air line was to run south from a depot on Fourth Street where the Boundary Mall now stands. It was to cross the Kettle and turn west to enter the U.S.A. at Danville, and then south down the valleys of the Kettle River and Curlew Creek to Republic. On the 28th of October the Hot Air’s first locomotive arrived, an ancient 4-4-0 of ungainly proportions and uncertain ancestry. However, it ran, and a celebration was in order. The townsfolk followed the local band across the Kettle River Bridge to the CPR siding called Cuprum, and here, leading citizen, John Manly, pounded down the first spike, while his wife who had left her horsewhip at home on this occasion, broke a bottle of champagne across the first rail. The scoffers showed up as well — they always do — with a wagon on which was mounted a huge blacksmith’s bellows with the legend, “Hot Air.”
However, locomotive No. 1 had real steam up, not air, and demonstrated her ability by creakily moving off the CPR rails, and onto the very first lengths of steel of the Grand Forks and Republic Railway. From the ragged sound of her whistle, No. 1 was there and then dubbed “The Tin Whistle,” and was known by that name rather then by her number, as long as she ran, creaking and screeching, up and down the riverside prairies of the Kettle River Valley.
All this civic jollification, the whistle blowing, the champagne and the speeches, ignored the ominous fact, that just twelve miles to the east, Jim Hill’s men were crossing the border into Canada and beginning to grade westward toward Grand Forks. Jim Hill had announced that, he too, was building to Republic. It was not likely that the mighty “Empire Builder” would have any patience with a home grown railroad, its one engine and few hundred feet of track. Holland, of course, knew Jim Hill was coming, knew his enormous power and influence. Still, he resolved to take him on, head to head. His silent ally was the CPR. It had bought his bonds, and he counted on its continued assistance. However, CPR support had its price. At Cuprum, it did not permit the Hot Air to lay a diamond crossing of its tracks. Instead, it required that the Hot Air trains switch onto its rails, run for a few yards on them, and then switch off to the south. This ensured that the CPR could charge each Hot Air train crossing its rails, a switching fee, and as well it would get all the Republic ore to haul on its own rails the last few miles to the Granby smelter.
Holland had worked out a scheme to counter this. The B.C. Government Mineral Reference Map No. 4A shows a Hot Air track diverging from the Republic line just 1/4 mile south of Cuprum and running east to cross the CPR and the Kettle River on a bridge to the east bank about where Johnnie’s Motel is today. This was to be the Hot Air’s north line to Franklin Camp. It would run up the east bank of the North Fork of the Kettle to the Granby smelter, and past it up the river to Franklin Camp. This line was never built. Perhaps Holland came to an agreement with the CPR about more modest switching fees to the smelter. Behind the scenes, the CPR was definitely pulling the strings. When the first interest payment came due on the Hot Air bonds, Holland was obliged to borrow the money from the CPR to pay the interest due it. The relationship was clandestine, but essential to Holland and his railroad.
A photograph of Tracy Holland at this time shows a young man, smooth shaven, regarding the camera with steely eyes, a slightly amused expression, and wearing a slouch hat pushed well back on his forehead. It is reminiscent of early photographs of Fritz Heinze, the same humorous and confident mouth, the same unwavering eyes, hinting at a willingness to take on any of the financial carnivores of the day.
Holland’s crews graded west from Cuprum to Carson and crossed the border.
At Danville they crossed the Kettle River with a two span Howe truss bridge, and a station was built just south of the present Lone Ranch Creek road. The grade from Danville south is now State Highway 21. Just a half mile north of the Curlew iron bridge, a rock cut to the west of the highway shows where the Hot Air grade gained elevation to recross the Kettle on another two span Howe truss bridge and a trestle across the low lying fields on the east bank of the river.
Behind Holland’s graders with their one, rickety steam shovel, came Jim Hill’s men with the finest equipment, first class engineering, and horses and scrapers hired from the Montana prairies. To try to delay them, Holland and his backers fanned out through he Kettle Valley in Canada to persuade the farmers to refuse Hill and his VV&E permission to cross their lands. The VV&E charter, of course, gave Hill’s lawyers the right to expropriate a right of way across the lands of the uncooperative, but that entailed protracted court proceedings and long delay for every separate parcel of land. Holland hoped that by delaying Jim Hill this way, he would get his line to Republic first and contract for the cream of the trade.
The Hot Air men dug industriously, the Tin Whistle bustled up and down the lengthening track, leaking steam at every joint, but bringing up ties and rails and trestle timbers. Over their shoulders was always the shadow of Hill’s lawyers, working as speedily as the courts would permit, to acquire, farm by farm, the rights of way for their line to Grand Forks. These lawyers in special trains hurried up and down the lines between Spokane and Grand Forks. Deputies carried writs from American courts to Canadian courtrooms. Canadian judges dismissed them as unenforceable in Canada, and issued their own writs, which were of course void in the U.S.A. Judges in both countries chose to be insensible to the fact that their pronouncements had no effect in the other country, and continued to fire paper salvos at each other. It was a grand game; the newspapers and the public loved it. Deputy Bunce, or “Burns,” as the papers spelled his name, hustled the papers back and forth from one country to the other. He was becoming an old hand at this business.
In spite of all the Hot Air Line’s haste, the promised completion date of January 1, 1902, came and went with the graders only at Curlew, half way to Republic.
Hill’s men were catching up. Holland conferred with his lawyers, and new injunctions were showered on the VV&E. One enjoined the VV&E from crossing the Hot Air’s tracks, which it would have to do if it were to enter Grand Forks. A second prohibited the VV&E from trespassing on land owned by Tracy Holland and his friends. As Holland was a principal in the Grand Forks Townsite Company, which owned the unsold lots, this effectively barred Jim Hill from entering Grand Forks. The third action was a notice of a court application denying the legality of the VV&E charter. This charter had lain dormant for five years before Hill bought it, with no construction of any kind except from some desultory grading down Penticton’s Main Street for the election of 1898. It contained the standard phrase that, “…construction was to begin immediately and be prosecuted continuously.” But the precise meanings of “Immediately” and “continuously” could become surprisingly elastic when the courts cogitated on them. The lawyers for both sides saw real meat in the arguments, and settled in for a long winter of litigation, hurrying back and forth from Spokane to Grand Forks in their special trains.
The question of the validity of the VV&E charter was taken all the way to the Canadian parliament where its Railway Committee held up approval of the VV&E line until the matter could be settled. No railway line in Canada could be opened to the public until the Parliamentary Railway Inspector examined and approved it. Hill continued to grade and lay tracks, but he was forbidden to operate trains for profit until the Inspector should authorize it.
It seemed that this charter dispute had Hill stuck, but he countered with an injunction prohibiting the Hot Air Line from crossing his right of way at Curlew where Holland’s line came off the bridge on a trestle and crossed over the W&GN line with another bridge to reach Curlew and compete for traffic there. E. J. Delbridge, of the California mine, near Torboy, was already shipping ore by wagon to the end of the Hot Air track at Curlew for furtherance to the Granby smelter. Three carloads, amounting to 105 tons, were the first of the Republic ores to reach the smelter, and returned $10,000 to the owners. Other shipments followed.[v] It was crucial to Holland to haul these ores and show some revenue for the new line.
A deputy (“Burns,” in the newspaper report, but possibly, “Bunce”) served Holland in his office with Jim Hill’s injunction forbidding the Hot Air to cross his line at Curlew. Holland politely observed to Burns (or Bunce) that Hill’s injunction had been properly issued by a Canadian court, but Curlew was in Washington State, and no Canadian injunction could be enforced on American soil. The deputy nodded. The argument was familiar to him. It was all beginning again.
For his part, Holland had his men work all night to bridge the W&GN grade at Curlew without physically touching it, and thus avoid a trespass. At daylight the bridge was discovered, and the news went out to an angry J.J. Hill in St Paul. Blunt instructions came back to Chief Engineer Kennedy.
On Sunday morning, January 5, 1902, when railroaders were darning their socks, playing cards, or tuning up their fiddles, a group of W&GN men were rounded up by their foreman and promised Sunday wages if they would walk over to the Hot Air’s bridge and tear it down. The men harnessed a team of horses, put a chain on the bridge and tried to pull it over. The bridge stood fast. They then began making preparations to blow it up with gunpowder. The noise of these efforts alerted the Hot Air construction camp nearby. Putting down their socks and cards, the Canadians hurried to the site to repel Hill’s men and save their bridge. A fight ensued with fists and clubs. The Hot Air men were tenacious in defense of their bridge and gained the victory. The Hill men were driven to some distance where they shouted insults and hurled rocks and bottles. Tommy Hogan, timekeeper at the Hot Air camp, hurried to Danville to summon Tracy Holland. Commandeering the leaky Tin Whistle, and with deputy Bunce at his side, Holland hurried to the scene. He arrived to find his men still in possession of their bridge, and reached into his pocket for money to enable deputy Bunce, that experienced international enforcer, to hire armed guards to patrol the Hot Air bridge.
Lawyers swarmed eagerly on this legal tangle. Holland’s men argued no trespass. Though Mr. Hill might own his rails and ties and the soil they rested on, he did not own the air above them. Mr. Hill could not forbid a bird to fly over his rails, nor could he forbid the trains of the Hot Air Line to pass harmlessly overhead. Hill’s lawyers revived an ancient definition of private ownership, which stated that a man had exclusive use of his land, “down to the center of the earth and up to the sky.”
But now, with these weighty matters being chewed over in the courts, with Hill blocked at Grand Forks by Holland’s injunction, and Holland blocked at Curlew by Hill’s suit, all construction came to a halt. The workmen gathered their effects and went home. Only deputy Bunce and his hired bravos remained, huddled over a smoky fire in the January winds at the Hot Air bridge.
The situation alarmed those in Grand Forks who knew of Jim Hill’s stubborn and vengeful nature when crossed. It occurred to them that if Hill were blocked out of Grand Forks, he might finish his line to Republic, which no injunction forbade, and ship Republic ore to the Northport smelter, all on his own rails, and leave Grand Forks out of the Republic boom altogether. The Granby managers, Hodges and Jay Graves, found that an intolerable prospect. They were eager for the Republic ores with their high silica and lime content which would flux the sulfurous Phoenix ores and reduce the amount of coal needed. In an effort at a solution, Grand Forks mayor, James Anderson offered (or was persuaded) to step out of the 1902 mayoralty election and let Tracy Holland, the only other candidate, win by acclamation. But only if Holland allowed Hill’s railroad to lay tracks to the Granby smelter. After a conference between Holland, Mayor Anderson, and J.H. Kennedy, chief engineer for the VV&E Railway, Tracy Holland signed an agreement.
“Grand Forks, B.C., Jan. 15, 1902 On behalf of the Grand Forks Townsite Company, I agree to allow the Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern Railway and Navigation Company, possession of a strip of land one hundred feet wide, fifty feet on either side of their line as located across the lands of the Grand Forks Townsite Company for its spur to the land of the Granby smelter. Said land to be paid for by the railway company, the price to be mutually agreed upon or decided by friendly arbitration in the same way as if expropriation proceedings were being undertaken, and the work of grading to be commenced by the said railway at once.“Tracy W. Holland, Managing Director, Grand Forks Townsite Company.”
It is not hard to see the hand of Jay Graves behind this agreement. Graves had financial involvement in the Republic mines. He was anxious that Hill’s tracks should reach Phoenix as soon as possible, so that competition between the two lines should reduce ore hauling rates, and allow Granby to ship lower grades of ore. As well, Graves knew that Hill was buying Granby stock ever since Graves’ takeover proposal to him. Soon J.J. Hill would have a seat on the Granby board; it was crucial to Graves to solidify his position with him since the New Yorkers who now owned Granby were ready to discard Jay Graves.
With the signing of the agreement, engineer Kennedy of the VV&E had his men begin bridging the Kettle River and scraping a grade into Grand Forks. But if Jim Hill thought that he had disposed of the pestiferous Tracy Holland by elevating him to the Mayor’s chair, he was very wrong. Although Holland no longer opposed VV&E construction through the Township Company’s lands to the smelter, there was still this pesky injunction forbidding VV&E rails to cross the Hot Air tracks south of town. And there were still those stubborn farmers who continued to refuse to sell rights of way to Hill’s agents. Tracy Holland was very sorry about these matters, he said, but he had no authority to dismiss them. They would have to be resolved in the usual way, by application to the courts.
Hill was furious. In St Paul he glared at his lawyers and demanded who was this gadfly, this nobody, this insignificant Canadian, standing in his way? His lawyers argued for a more conciliatory policy. Reasonable compromise might prove effective where intimidation had not. Mr. Hill should try to win the sympathy of Grand Forks, not its hostility. His real adversary was, after all, the monopolistic CPR, not this preposterous Tracy Holland.
Hill listened. He called off his forces at Curlew, and let the Hot Air complete their bridge and enter the town. He permitted a second crossing, this time at grade, four miles south of Curlew at Pelham Flats. Hill knew that no matter who got to Republic first, he had resources to beat the Hot Air in the end. The important goal was to get those Phoenix ores.
The matter of dissolving that injunction against crossing the Hot Air tracks south of Grand Forks went to the B.C. Supreme Court on January 24, 1902. Astonishingly, Holland, not in the least mollified by Jim Hill’s gesture at Curlew, succeeded in having the injunction upheld. In fury, Hill thundered publicly on February 8, that he would give up the Boundary trade altogether and haul Republic ores only to the Northport smelter. Grand Forks would not profit a nickel from any Great Northern connection.
Holland greeted Hill’s pronouncement with bland ingenuousness. If Mr. Hill was truly abandoning his intention to enter Grand Forks, he told the press, then Mr. Hill could have no objection to the Hot Air Line beginning their new line east to Cascade by using Mr. Hill’s apparently now abandoned grade. Hill, of course, exploded in apoplectic rage at this. He damned his lawyers gentle counsels and forthwith ordered his men back to the disputed line to claim it as their own.
Holland was having the time of his life. His repeated tweaking of Jim Hill’s nose strikingly resembles Fritz Heinze’s amused twitting of the CPR’s directors in Montreal four year before. Holland and Heinze were both young men with their own ideas, and like brash young men everywhere, delighted in having a run at the rich and powerful of their time. Even Dan Corbin, though older and more conservative, seemed to have a zest for the game. “I have had one satisfaction, in knowing that I gave the Canadian Pacific the toughest fight it ever had, and I am not through with it yet,” he said in 1898.
In the following months, a frustrated Jim Hill announced to the press this plan and that in continuing war of words. He would bypass Grand Forks altogether, and build to Greenwood instead, to access the Phoenix ores from the west. Or he would shift his line to the north bank of the Kettle and build into Grand Forks behind Holland’s line. The CPR, which had its own line on the north bank, came to life at that , and told Mr. Hill, that, No, he would not do that under any circumstances.
Nothing that J.J. Hill could come up with budged Holland’s intransigence. Intimidation, brute force, political payoff, conciliation, all had failed. At last he gave in. On April 5, 1902, he dissolved his expropriation proceedings against the Grand Forks farmers who stood in his way. He paid their extortionate prices for a right of way. Hill could afford the money, but the legal delays from January until April had given Holland’s men the time to run their track down the Curlew valley toward Republic well ahead of Hill’s forces, which had been unable to complete the grade from Cascade to Grand Forks. The Washington and Great Northern crews had been able to grade a line on American soil, down past Curlew, but since he had no right of way through Canada, engineer Kennedy had been unable to bring up ties or rails or bridge timbers to complete it.
From Curlew south, the two lines ran side by side, barely a hundred feet apart, their respective crews trading insults as to the character of each other’s work. The fight at the Curlew bridge was not forgotten, and at the least provocation it broke out anew, just for the love of brawling. At Curlew Lake, the W&GN grade followed the west shore of the lake, while the Hot Air grade climbed along the west slope to gain elevation. Above Pollard’s it turned up Trout Creek for a mile to climb higher. It then crossed Trout Creek on a high, curving trestle to reverse direction and skirt the lower slopes of Bald Mountain, still climbing. Two miles on, it entered Barrett Creek, and four more miles brought it to the summit where it entered the drainage of Swamp Creek and reached the Tom Thumb mine. The Tom Thumb was up on a granite bench just a few hundred feet south of the grade. While it was not yet shipping ore, Holland rejoiced, believing he had “captured” the first of the Eureka Creek mines.
Skirting the swampy ground along Swamp Creek (North Fork of Granite Creek), the grade passed close by the Mountain Lion’s big mill. The Mountain Lion had lots of ore stockpiled, awaiting the railway. Holland was delighted; he had added a second mine, this one with hundreds of tons of ore to move. All he needed now was rails to lay on his grade. They were slow in coming.
Another 2-1/2 miles down Swamp Creek brought the graders to Granite Creek. There, holding their elevation, they contoured around the slope on a level grade to be able to enter Eureka Creek a mile further on. As they passed under Flag Hill, the line picked up a whole series of mines just above their right of way. The El Caliph and Morning Glory were ready to ship as soon as the rails arrived and were spiked down under their ore bunkers. Holland, desperately needing the revenue, ordered the track laying to begin, although the grade was not complete, either into Eureka Creek or to his proposed station in Republic.
Meanwhile the W&GN graders passed Curlew Lake and reached San Poil Lake at Torboy. Ahead, they faced several miles of rock work to keep the grade on the rock bluffs above the San Poil River. This slowed their progress. They were well behind Holland’s men who had a far easier location with very little blasting required. Still, Holland’s injunction held and no ties or rails could be forwarded past Grand Forks. The W&GN line had a number of trestles across arms and bays of Curlew Lake still to build, but nothing could be sent up to build them with; this left three unfilled gaps in their grade.
On April 12, Holland, convinced he had won the race, declared the Republic and Grand Forks line completed. Republic was hung with bunting, and the Hot Air got out locomotives No.2, and No.3, second hand ten wheelers, to run a special train with 300 passengers down to Republic for a “Calithumpian Celebration and Last Spike Ceremony.”
It was something of a surprise to the celebrants when the train came to a stop at the end of track, some five miles from Republic. Well, yes, Holland admitted, the track was not yet quite complete. But no matter. Stages were on hand to take everyone the few miles into town for the festivities. And there, in Republic, in the middle of Clark Avenue, opposite the Delaware Hotel, were a pair of orphan rails mounted on twenty ties, ready for a final spike to be driven.
The crowd was in an optimistic and forgiving mood. Yes, the tracks were five miles away, but here was the Grand Forks brass band rendering sweet sounds, and Lawyer Morris and Mayor Holland had a real gold spike and were about to drive it. Why spoil a party, a barrel of free whiskey and a fine banquet with niggling details. Some allowance, they supposed, ought to be made for a homemade Hot Air Line.
So, the hoarse-throated orators pronounced, the bands played lustily, some fireworks were let off, and the crowds cheered. The golden spike was hammered down, and everyone agreed that it was a dandy celebration, and exactly what they had come to expect from their own railroad. And Tracy Holland, that nobody, from Grand Forks, Canada, had beaten — well, sort of — the great James Jerome Hill and his Great Northern Railway to Republic and the Eureka Creek mines.
One could believe it, perhaps, and toast the hometown boys while the fireworks and oratory lasted, and the free whiskey flowed. But anyone who thought that J.J. Hill would accept second place in Republic, or anywhere else, was not thinking with a clear mind.
Jim Hill, that same April, ran out of patience with his lawyers. They were costing him a fortune, and spending most of their time racing up and down the rails in special trains between the American and Canadian courts. He now gave orders for his men to ignore the law, the Canadian courts, the several Grand Forks injunctions, and proceed regardless and with main force. The lawyers could deal with the consequences, if any. The VV&E workmen began to lay illegal rails toward Grand Forks. The lawyers assembled. The special trains rolled and the matter entered the courts to wind its way slowly through endless legal cunctation.
Outside the courts, however, a real railroad was being spiked down, and on June 9, 1902, the Canadian Government’s Railway Inspector approved the 11 miles of VV&E railway in Canada, from Laurier to Carson, and ties, timbers and rails could now come forward to be spiked down on the grade to Republic.
During the April to June delay, Tracy Holland had found the rails he was missing and spiked them down. The track was now complete, not to Clark Avenue in Republic, but to a station over on the west side of Eureka Creek above the present County Highway shops. His track ran up the right (west) wall of Eureka Gulch as far as The Cove, with spurs down to the creek bottom and the mines along its course. To his consternation, Holland now found the mine owners unexpectedly coy about signing long term contracts for their ore. They would ship a car at a time by the Hot Air, but for the rest, Jim Hill’s men were coming; they could hear their blasts echoing from the other side of Klondike Mountain. The owners chose to wait and see what rates the competition would offer them.
This was ominous for the Hot Air. Jim Hill’s tactic had always been to be the lowest cost competitor in any transportation market. With his vast network of lines, he could underbid any short line in his way, and make good the loss by raising rates in markets where his was the only railroad.
Holland had done his best. He had run his rails up Eureka Gulch on a 2% grade, and dropped a switchback to the creek below to serve the Quilp, Black Tail, Lone Pine, Surprise, Pearl and Little Cove mines. His main line ended at the San Poil mill in the Cove, the head of Eureka Creek. For ore cars he bought or leased those home-made ore boxes on flat cars that the CPR had built in Trail in 1898 for use on the Rossland run. It is not possible from the early photographs to tell whether they are still lettered for the CPR, or whether the Hot Air had ownership.
Holland had the Eureka Creek traffic to himself for just a few months. By September, the W&GN had arrived. They built a Republic station at the confluence of Granite Creek and the San Poil River, no nearer Clark Avenue than the Hot Air station over on Eureka Creek. From their station, with its wye and water tower, the W&GN ran their tracks up the east side of Granite Creek, crossed it on a curving trestle that looped the line back on the opposite bank to climb to the Jim Blaine mine. Here, the tail of a switchback ran to the mine, while the line reversed to climb upstream again, passing above the big Republic Mill and following the creek to a point opposite the Flag Hill mine. At this point a high trestle looped over Granite Creek and brought their grade just beside that of the Hot Air at the entrance to Eureka Gulch. As the Hot Air was already in place on the west wall of the gulch, the W&GN crossed the creek on a high trestle at the Quilp mine and ran up the east bank. Coal and mine timbers were shot down a wooden chute from this trestle to the mine below. Eureka Gulch was narrow. Log cribs had to be built along both sides of the creek and filled with mine waste to hold the two sets of spur track that Hot Air and W&GN ran to each of the ten mines along the creek’s golden mile. The four sets of tracks, the two main lines dug out of the canyon walls fifty feet above the creek, and the two sets of mine spurs, one on either side of the creek, filled the gulch completely. There was scarcely enough room for the dirt road from town. At The Cove, where the Hot Air line ended, the W&GN men threw a great, climbing loop around the perimeter of the meadow with a spur to the Knob Hill mine on the north. It then crossed above the San Poil mill, and a switchback was laid to to reverse the line up to the top of The Cove past the Ben Hur mine. Climbing out of the gulch, the grade skirted the south shore of Mud Lake, the source of Eureka Creek. Past the lake, it entered the wide flat behind Knob Hill. Here a wye was laid to turn the engines, with one leg running a half mile west to the Mountain Lion, and the other leg a mile north to the Tom Thumb. Excepting the El Caliph, Morning Glory, and Flag Hill mines, Jim Hill had now run his own spur to every mine served by the Hot Air, and he was ready to underbid Holland for every shovelful of ore to be moved out of Republic.
There was still one problem. The VV&E while complete from Laurier to Carson, had not yet been able to enter Grand Forks and run up to the Granby smelter. It was still fenced out by that injunction forbidding it to cross the Hot Air’s track. Faced with hauling Republic ore 103 miles to the Northport smelter, as against the Hot Air’s 48 mile haul to the Granby smelter, Hill applied to the Railway Committee of the Canadian Parliament for permission to cross both the Hot Air and CPR tracks to enter Grand Forks. He got parliamentary permission, but still the local injunction held against him. Hill opted for main force, and so, after dark, on Sunday, November 9, 1902, his crews quietly laid a diamond crossing over the Hot Air tracks south of town. Monday morning found the VV&E crews laying track across the bridge into town. The Hot Air men responded by getting steam up in one of the Ten Wheelers and parking her squarely on the diamond, blocking the VV&E line. Now the crews of both lines gathered at the obstruction, hefting pick handles, showing their teeth, and ready for a dandy fight. Where was deputy Bunce? Still guarding that Curlew bridge, apparently, twenty miles away.
As a crowd from town gathered around them,the VV&E men saw that the Hot Air had a large part of the citizenry behind it, and this was, after all, Canadian territory. They considered the odds, and settled for packing their ties and rails around the obstructing locomotive by hand under the hostile scrutiny of the Hot Air men.
Chief Engineer Kennedy of the VV&E wired Hill in St Paul. Hill wired back to Tracy Holland telling him that if he did not remove his locomotive forthwith, the blockage at the Curlew bridge would be revived. A stalemate was not to the advantage of Holland now; he needed the revenue from the Eureka Creek ores he was hauling. Reluctantly, he conceded. The locomotive was removed, the VV&E entered Grand Forks, and proceeded to lay its own rails to the Granby smelter.
Hill, or his engineer, Kennedy, seemed to have learned one thing from this long standoff. When his men were running their line to the downtown Grand Forks, and came to the CPR tracks, Hill did not attempt to have them force a crossing. Although he had Parliamentary permission, the CPR was somewhat more powerful than that body. Engineer Kennedy ended his track at the CPR rails and built his station there, at Boundary Road. And again, when at Ward Lake, his smelter spur had to cross the CPR line, he chose to bridge it rather than rouse the Canadian Pacific to retaliation. He crossed CPR rails once more at the North Fork dam on the smelter spur, where he threw a bridge across both the CPR line and the river in one leap. These structures were costly, but Hill and Kennedy had learned something about Canadian stubbornness when aroused.
Now, with Hill’s line running direct to the Granby smelter, and his agents able to underbid the Hot Air for ore haulage from Republic, Holland seems to have chosen to retire from the fight. He had beaten Jim Hill to Republic, but now the financial power of the Great Northern came into play against him. The W&GN undercut his rates on Republic ores by dropping its charge to 75 cents per ton. The Hot Air matched that. Then Hill dropped his rate to 37-1/2 cents per ton. Again, the Hot Air matched the rate. Finally, Hill dropped his rate to 25 cents per ton. That was below cost and unmatchable. Moreover, Hill could move his cars direct to the smelter, while the Hot Air had to turn over its cars to the CPR at Cuprum and absorb the switching charge for moving the ore the last three miles to the smelter. Hill gradually took away most of the ore business. The Hot Air tried to stay alive by moving logs, lumber, sheep and whatever other traffic agent O.E. Fisher could scrape up.
The Hot Air had cost Holland and his backers $718,747 to build, and $43,190 to equip. The Washington and Great Northern line, built to higher standards, had cost Hill $4,555,392 to build, equip, and defend in court. Hill could not possibly recoup this expenditure by moving ore at 25 cents a ton, a mere $7.50 a carload. But Hill could raise his rates on other lines to make up the loss. The Hot Air could not. But by staying in business, however shakily, and moving small lots of ore at 37-1/2 cents, the Hot Air prevented Jim Hill for the next 18 years, from raising his rates to a profit making level. The mine owners reaped the benefit, but it is not recorded that they manifested their gratitude to Tracy Holland in any tangible way.
Crushed by the ingratitude of the mine owners he had done so much to enrich, Tracy Holland resigned from the Kettle Valley Lines at the end of 1902. His mayoralty was in trouble as well, A civic protest meeting was held to urge him to resign. He finished his term, but then, a defeated Tracy Holland left Grand Forks for Vancouver, to be heard of no more. He had beaten Jim Hill, railroad Mogul, only to lose to Jim Hill, the financier. His place at the Hot Air was taken by Republic lawyer, W.T. Beck.
Although Tracy Holland had departed, the Hot Air management was not ready to give up their dream of railroads running to the four points of the compass. Hill’s VV&E, and the CPR had preempted the route east to Cascade, and the W&GN was beggaring the line to Republic with lower rates, but there still remained that projected line up the North Fork (Granby) to Franklin Camp and its gold mines, and an extension beyond to cross the Monashees and reach the Nicola Valley coal mines. With coal in demand at the three Boundary smelters, such a line would seem to have an assured future. A line was surveyed to Franklin Camp and grading was begun running north up Fourth Avenue from the Hot Air station. Jim Hill made his enmity known at once. He was still angry at the delays Holland had previously put in his path, and he would punish the Hot Air if he could. Using the press, he announced that he would build a parallel line up the North Fork if the Hot Air dared to lay rails in that direction. This was undoubtedly St Paul hot air, but no one could be sure. Potential investors were scared off by Hill’s proclaimed opposition, and work was halted.
When the Canadian Government came through with a subsidy of $3200 per mile in 1906, work began again, and track was built up the North Fork. But 18 miles from town, at Lynch Creek, the money ran out, and no more could be found. There, the Hot Air stalled, until, some years later, under CPR management, it was extended another two miles to Archibald where a cable tram brought down fluorite from the Rock Candy mine to be used as flux in the Trail smelter.
The Hot Air made one more floundering attempt at their railroad empire. Under the leadership of lawyer, W. T. Beck, of Republic, they renamed their line the “Spokane and British Columbia Railway, and projected an extension south from Republic to Spokane. Jay Graves offered a loan of $50,000 from Granby to get the work started. This extension, if built, would short-haul the Great Northern’s roundabout line to Republic, arousing Hill’s anger once more. He sent his Spokane lawyers baying after the Spokane and B.C. like a pack of savage hounds and submerged the scheme in reams of litigation. The Hot Air lawyers fought back. Astonishingly, ten years later, they had won, but by that time the Spokane and B.C. was bankrupt.
The S&BC was the Hot Air’s last gasp. Traffic on the Republic line had dwindled. When the depression of 1907 hit the country, the Eureka Creek mines were unable to finance a needed conversion to low-grade ore mining and concentration. Ore shipments to both railroads, which in 1903 amounted to 35,000 tons, with a value of $350,000, had declined by 1907 to a mere 195 tons with a value of $9,000. In desperation, the Hot Air, using its CPR connections advertised a rate to the Chicago stockyards to attract local sheep men. By using the CPR’s Soo Line to Chicago, the Hot Air would accept live sheep at Republic for delivery in Chicago at the rate of $1.00 per pound. It was not enough. Regular service was suspended in 1907, and maintenance could no longer be afforded. The Hot Air would still run a train for any traffic that was offered, but that was all.
The CPR leased the Hot Air in 1908 for the sake of its charter, which still offered the right to build to the fourth point of the compass, west, to the Okanagan Valley and the Coast. Using this Hot Air charter, and renaming the Hot Air once again, to “Kettle Valley Railway,” the CPR built from Midway through Penticton to Hope on the CPR main line. Thus, by 1916, Volcanic Brown’s great dream was fulfilled. Rail lines, though now, Canadian Pacific lines, were running in all the cardinal directions out of Grand Forks. There was an irony in the CPR takeover, for, beginning in 1908, the Republic mines began to recover as concentrators were installed. The turnaround was dramatic.
From the 1907 low of 195 tons, the ore shipped rose to 584 tons in 1908, to 11,000 in 1909, and, by 1911, all previous records were bettered, with shipments of 44,000 tons, with a value of $868,000. Still, this was split between the two railroads with Jim Hill’s W&GN getting much the larger share.