STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux – Chapter VII

STEEP AND CROOKED: THE MINING RAILROADS OF THE CANADIAN BORDER

 By Bill Laux

sc9-1-edited

  CHAPTER SEVEN

RAIL OPERATIONS, TRAIL TO ROSSLAND  (1896 – 1929)

On the narrow gauge line to Rossland, three freight trains ran daily, bringing ore down to the smelter, and hauling coal, machinery and supplies to the Rossland Camp from barges on the Columbia.   At the riverfront, a steep track ran diagonally down the riverbank to a switchback, and reversed down to the extreme low water line.   A steamer or a barge moored alongside the track at any stage of the river allowed transfer of freight or passengers directly to the little cars of the Trail Creek Tramway.

Dispatching was from the Tramway office at Smelter Junction, a two story building, with operations on the first floor. The second floor was comfortably fitted up as accommodations for Fritz Heinze where he spent one week of every month in Trail looking after his Canadian enterprises.  The freight schedule had one train loading at the ore bunkers above Rossland, while another was on the line, and a third unloading at the smelter. The ore cars were the 12 ton wooden coal gondolas that had come from Alberta.   They had link and pin couplers, hand brakes, and typically ran in trains of seven cars with no caboose.   Upgrade, the little Hinkleys would have been taxed to their tractive limit by eight empties, or fewer if a car of coal was in the uphill consist. The Tramway ran several passenger trains daily between the Trail waterfront station and Rossland.   Passenger service began on June 5, 1896, with a morning and an afternoon train each way.   The fare was $2.00.   As the Tramway had no proper passenger cars as yet, three freight cars had windows cut in their sides, wood stoves installed, and a double bench was run down the length of the car, the passengers facing outward, back to back, and bracing their feet against the sides of the car for the rough ride up the hill.

The afternoon train of these improvised coaches left Trail at 5:00 PM, and , according to the Trail Creek Times, regularly carried a hundred or more passengers, local people, and travellers disembarking from the sternwheelers down at the riverfront.   At times space in the train was fully occupied and passengers sat on the car steps, on the roofs, and even on the locomotive pilot.   Frequently, in those early days, extra cars had to be added to handle the baggage off the boats, and a second locomotive had to be coupled onto the train to haul it up the steep grades to Rossland.    These were bonanza times, and in their eagerness to get to the golden promise of the mines, travellers were undeterred by such inconveniences; the more overcrowded the trains, the more wonderful the mines above must be.   Miners, promoters, salesmen, saloon keepers, gamblers, prostitutes: everyone was frantic to get in on the roaring days while they lasted.   Farmers and ranchers from the surrounding district rode the Tramway as well.   They made regular trips to Rossland to solicit restaurants, hotels, grocers, for contracts for their produce, fruit and meat.   Many of the orchardists along the Arrow Lakes would contract their entire crop to a retailer in Rossland and ship the fruit, as it came ripe, on the daily CPR sternwheelers that would pause at every rural wharf where boxes of fruit were stacked.   Taken off the steamer that same day at Trail, these perishables would ride the cars up the steep and twisting rails to Rossland.   With this coordinated boat-rail service, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, apples and pears, could be in the Rossland grocers’ windows the day after being picked.   It is deceptively easy for us to dismiss the 19th Century as crude and rustic.   A look at the wilted produce at the market today should remind us that we often grossly overestimate the fruits of progress. Similarly, in the cold months of the year, when lack of refrigeration was no problem,. fresh killed pork, beef and lamb rode the boats and rails to the mines.   Retired farmers and orchardists assert that the golden days of the Rossland Bonanza were the making of their homesteads.   The Red Mountain mines made millionaires out of the Spokane Colonels, but more importantly, it kick-started a brand new Kootenay agriculture which flourished in those years as it has not done since.

The Spokane passenger train left that city at 8:45 AM daily, and its Northport connection on the Red Mountain Railway did not get into Rossland until 4:10 PM, too late to catch the last passenger train down the hill.   They would likely have taken the stage down the steep, twisting wagon road the last eight miles to Trail.   The 10:00 AM Red Mountain Railway departure from Rossland got its passengers into Spokane at 5:35 PM, making the 147 mile trip at and average of 19 miles per hour.   Chartered private trains, not obliged to make station stops, probably made the journey in two thirds of that time.

The timetable above shows that the passenger schedules on the Rossland hill left two daylight windows for freight operations, one from 9:15 AM to 11:00 AM, probably for a run of empty ore cars up to the mines, and another from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM, to bring down the first loads of ore.   Nighttime was open, and the other two freight runs were certainly made in the dark.

Motive power on the narrow gauge consisted of the two Hinkley 2-6-0 locomotives bought second hand from the Alberta Railway and Coal Company, successors to the Northwest Coal and Navigation Company, when they standard gauged their “Turkey Trail” line to Great Falls, Montana. Hinkleys No. 1 and No. 2 were construction numbers 1780 and 1781 respectively, with 12 x18 cylinders and tiny, 31” drivers which gave them 13,000 pounds of tractive effort.   The Hinkleys were built as 0-6-0 machines with the pilot truck added later.   They probably handled the passenger runs on the narrow gauge with the more powerful Brooks locomotive making the freight runs.   The Brooks was construction number 578, with 14 x18 cylinders, 42 inch drivers, and weighed 20 tons.     Two more moguls were reportedly obtained in 1899.   No. 4 was a Mogul of unknown origin, and No. 5 was a 2-6-0 from the Canadian Locomotive Company of Kingston.   No photographs are known to exist.   Possibly one or both were bought for spare parts. On December 6, 1896, the refurbished private car made its first trip up the line to Rossland with Heinze and a party of contractors who had come to bid on the C&W line to Robson West.

The Trail Creek Tramway from the outset was worked as hard as its diminutive equipment would allow, to bring down the tonnage Heinze required for his smelter.   In the summer of 1896 a new blast furnace was installed at the smelter and capacity was raised to 500 tons per day. This was more than the little 12 ton cars could handle.   In the middle of August, 1896, the tramway was delivering 200 tons a day.   50 tons came from Le Roi, 50 from the War Eagle and a hundred tons from other mines.   A further 50 tons of very high grade ore in sacks was brought down daily and taken to the riverbank to be put aboard the Lytton for Northport and rail shipment from there to the Tacoma smelter. Heinze boasted his tramway was earning $25,000 a month.   In October of 1896, fourth freight run was instituted and the tramway was able to bring down 325 tons daily.   About half this ore was was coming from the stockpiles accumulated at the mines during the years before the railway had come.   The mines themselves were not producing more than 175 tons daily, all told.  When the tramway should have caught up with this backlog, the smelter would need new ores or have to cut back to a reduced capacity.   This prompted Fritz Heinze to go after those Slocan silver-lead ores with his C&W line to Robson West.

The Trail Creek Tramway did not keep its employees long.   The pay was low, only $1.75 per day, from which $1.25 was deducted if one used the company boardinghouse.   As well, the operation was a difficult and hazardous one, bringing heavy trains down one of the steepest railroads in the West at night and without air brakes.   Brakemen had to ride between the cars, with a foot on each, and twist down the brake wheel, with a pick handle for leverage, at whistle signals from the engineer.   In winter the job was particularly brutal.   Most men stayed only long enough to earn a grub stake, then moved on.

In one instance, remembered by freight conductor, Tom Peck, the entire train crew rebelled.   During the obligatory stop at the Tiger switchbacks to let the wheels and brake shoes cool, the grumbling men discovered that they were of one mind: Fritz Heinze could have his damned railroad in a place that would cause him severe discomfort.   Led by conductor, “Lean Dog” McLean, they took a sight on a lighted window in Anable and walked off in a body, leaving the train to look after itself.  For such a steep and difficult line, accidents were surprisingly few.   A passenger train demolished an ore car which had somehow strayed onto the main line in July of 1896.   In August of 1897, the second loaded ore car of a ten car train left the rails on the Davis Street curve in Rossland, just above the Spitzee mine. Conductor Abercrombie and his crew made two unsuccessful attempts to re-rail the car with track frogs.   On the third try, Hackett, the impatient engineer,. took slack, threw the Johnson bar over and opened the throttle wide.   The sudden jerk, instead of pulling the car up onto the frog, threw it over on its side, tumbling it down the embankment, and pulling the first car and the locomotive with it.   Engineer Hackett, Fireman Harkness, and another man leapt free from the locomotive as it rolled, and scrambled away, uninjured.   No. 3, the Brooks Mogul, came to rest upside down, its drivers still turning until someone closed the throttle.   The wreck came at the wrong time, as No. 2 was in the shop for repairs, and Hinkley No. 1 was left to run the Tramway by itself.   Tragedy came during the efforts to right the wreck, and get No. 3 back up on the rails.   The company’s blacksmith, trying to loosen a bolt, had his wrench slip, and falling backward, crushed his kidney on a tree stump.   The injury proved fatal, the first casualty of the little line.

After three years of operation as a narrow gauge line, the Canadian Pacific, when it took over, standard gauged the line in 1899.   The loops at Warfield were widened from 25 to 20 degrees, and at Tiger, the alignment was changed.   The switchbacks could not be dispensed with, but the line linking them was lengthened to reduce the grade.   All but one of the line’s tight curves were eased to 20 degrees, but still the standard CPR Mikado locomotives were never able to be used since their trailing trucks lacked the swing necessary to negotiate a 20 degree curve.   The grade on the line after standard gauging was still 4 percent with short stretches of 4.6 percent, and two sections of 4.8 percent, one at Anable and the other on Le Roi Avenue in Rossland.

In the process of conversion, standard gauge ties were slid under the rails, and the old six foot ties were sent down to the smelter to be used as fuel.   60 pound rails replaced the old 28 pound steel, but one 28 pound rail was left in place so that the narrow gauge traffic could continue uninterrupted during the changeover.   60 pound rail for all the standard gauge switches was cut and set out, and on June 15, 1899, a hundred men, in six gangs, replaced the 14 narrow gauge switches with standard gauge, and the changeover was complete.   By 3:15 PM, on that same day, the first standard gauge train, following the changeover crews up the hill, arrived in Rossland.

The narrow gauge equipment was sold by the CPR.   Hinkley No. 1, went in November, 1899, to Mc Lean Brothers, contractors working on the C&W extension to Midway.   It worked at Bulldog tunnel, on the long fills above Dog Creek and doubtless at other locations as well.   It was reported in 1905 at Midway, working on the abortive Midway and Vernon grade.   In 1907, a locomotive of identical appearance shows up in a photograph as No. 2 of the Belcher Mine Ry, an 8 mile narrow gauge line serving the Belcher mine up Lambert creek near Karamin in Ferry County, Washington.   This may have been Trail Creek Tramway No. 1 or a sister locomotive from the Turkey Trail in Alberta.

Master Mechanic Garlock, left Trail to work in Seattle for the White Pass and Yukon Railway.   He was charged by them with the job of finding narrow gauge equipment for the new line.   He bought Hinkley No. 2 in October, 1900 and shipped it to Skagway where it worked on the White Pass as its No. 64.   It was scrapped there in 1918.   No. 3, the Brooks Mogul, was also bought by Garlock in July,1900, and shipped north to become WP&Y No. 65.   When it was replaced some years later by heavier locomotives, the White Pass sold it to Tanana Mines in Alaska to become their No. 51. It was scrapped by the Alaska Railroad, probably in 1917, when it standard gauged the Tananna Mines line. The fate of Mogul No. 4 is unknown; some reports have it sent back to the Alberta Railway and Coal Company.   No 5, the C.L.C. locomotive, went to McDonnell and Gzowski, contractors, and was put to work on the construction of the spiral tunnels above Field as No. 15.   Its ultimate fate is unknown. There are reports in Trail that Garlock sent the first class passenger coach and Heinze’s private car to the WP&Y as well.   However, there are no records in Skagway to bear this out.

The early coaches on that line have been thoroughly rebuilt and no evidence of origin remains.  However, early photos of the WP&Y show a “duckbilled” roof Billmeyer and Smalls coach, which could have come from either the Trail Creek Tramway or the Coeur D’Alene Railway which was standard gauged about the same time. In 1900, the CPR bought the first of three large three truck Shay locomotives to work the Rossland Hill.   No 111, the first of the Shays, was a 90 ton machine, (120 tons in working order with a full boiler and tank) with three 15 x 17 inch cylinders and 41” drivers.   The big Shay had greater tractive power than any other locomotive the Canadian Pacific possessed at that time.   As the CPR intended to run mixed trains on the Rossland hill, the Shay was fitted with an elegant wooden cowcatcher as the law required for a passenger locomotive.   Wooden cowcatchers were favored by the CPR for mountain districts in the early years of the century.   It was noted that on encountering a boulder on the track at speed, a wooden cowcatcher would disintegrate into splinters, while a steel pilot would be mangled into mass of bent metal, which, passing under the wheels, would frequently derail the locomotive.   But Shay 111, though powerful, was slow, and it is doubtful that the mandated cowcatcher was ever able to overtake a cow in good health.

The Shay could bring eight steel gondolas up the hill, while the light Consolidations assigned to the branch could bring up but four.   Capacity of the Shay on the hill was 213 tons, the Consolidations, 184 tons.   For winter service it was found necessary to sheathe that elegant wooden pilot with steel to throw the snow, and to also extend steel sheathing outside the front truck to keep wet snow from balling up in the gears.   The curves on the Rossland line were too tight to permit a standard snowplough to operate; its long wheelbase caused it to overhang the sharp curves and derail when pushing snow.   A special short coupled plough was built for the Rossland line, and a tiny flanger was constructed on a single truck, weighted with lengths of rail.

The CPR bought two more Shays to the same pattern as 111, for the Motherlode and Phoenix branches, and these locomotives probably worked the Rossland hill as well.   No 112 came in 1902, and was scrapped after a wreck in 1911.   No 113 arrived in 1903.   In 1913 it was sold to become No. 5 on Dan Corbin’s coal line in the East Kootenay.   It was sent to Contractors’ Machinery in Seattle the same year in trade for a lighter Shay, and disappears from the record.   Probably it served out its time on some Northwest logging line.

Winter brought special problems at the ore receiving pockets at the smelter.   All of the Red Mountain ores came out of the mines wet, and in the winter whole train loads of ore would come off the hill frozen solid.   A special thawing house was built at the smelter into which the cars of frozen ore would be shunted and the doors closed.   Stoves would lit to raise the temperature, and steam lances employed in the wooden cars to loosen the ore. Later, when steel ore jennies were introduced, oil fired torches would be played against their sides and workers with sledge hammers would pound the cars until the ore could be broken up.   The scorched and battered sides of these cars testified to dozens of combats with frozen ore.   Finally, the engineering department built a car shaker to break up frozen ore.

Other problems abounded on the steep and crooked line, even in summer.   T.L. Bloomer, who worked on the Rossland hill, remembered, “One of the most trying difficulties on the Rossland Hill in the old days was bad rails caused by smoke from the smelter combining with dew or mist from the heavens.   All sorts of schemes have been tried for overcoming this combination — steam jets to blow it off and different methods of sanding.   I have seen it so bad that the train crew had to get shovels and throw dirt from the side of the track onto the rails, and still the engine would slip.” As the smelter stack was belching tons of sulfur dioxide, the oxygen of the air and the dew on the rails, converted it into sulfuric acid, an oily liquid. Another slippery rail problem was caused by caterpillars in the summer, which, Bloomer reported, “…would cluster on the rails for warmth when the sun went down.   And how they would smell!”

Acid rain, shivering caterpillars, unremarked on a normal railroad, became serious on the 4.6 percent grades, stalling trains and magnifying the trivial into the serious.            Bloomer, and other engineers on the Rossland hill, noted that a light day snow gave ideal traction on the tight curves.   It held the sand on the rail and provided just enough moisture to lubricate the flanges. The trains always ran better through the loops, the crews found, when the outer drivers had just the right amount of slippage on the super-elevated outer rail.   The Rossland hill was a challenge for engineers and train crew, winter and summer.

Coming down the hill with a loaded train or ore, a stop had to be made .4 miles below the old narrow gauge wye for a safety switch.   Here retainers were set up to hold 15 pounds of air on the brakes, the switch was thrown, and the train proceeded down the hill.   The switch was normally lined for an old quarry and if the descending train was unable to stop, the switch would divert it into a pile of loose rock in the quarry.

Freights were limited to 10 miles per hour downhill, passenger trains to 20.   At the Tiger switchbacks, freights had a mandatory stop of ten minutes, to allow brakes and wheels to cool before proceeding down to Warfield.   Most tricky of all, was bringing down a light engine.   The engine brakes in that case could be used only sparingly, for if the steel driver tires overheated, they would expand and come off the drivers, derailing the locomotive.   Engineers put the Johnson bar in the second notch of reverse and open the cylinder cocks slightly and came down on compression, rather than on brakes.

Up above Rossland, the Highline leading to the War Eagle and Le Roi ore bunkers crossed Acme Creek (Centre Star Gulch) on a high trestle built on a 26 degree curve.   Only the Shays and rod engines with blind second and main drivers could negotiate it.   Later, new ore bunkers were built down on the lower line and the ore sent down to them by cable trams to eliminate this awkward spur.

The Canadian Pacific operating department never did like the Shays bought for the steep mine branches.   With their limited speed, they were not interchangeable with rod engines for mainline service.   In 1910, with the coming of the heavy Consolidations of the M4 class, these engines were assigned to the Rossland hill and the Shays confined to the the Phoenix and Motherlode branches in the Boundary district.   The M4 3400s and 3500s were rated at 184 tons on the Rossland hill, and could when required, work the line to Castlegar and Nelson, or wherever else they might be needed. The Shays could out pull them, but that was all.   Later, the N2 class Consolidations worked the hill, the heaviest engines permitted on the line.

With the standard gauging of the line in 1898, passenger connections to Nelson, where all court and government business had to be transacted, and to the outside world, were greatly improved.   A 1905 timetable shows daily except Sunday departures from Rossland at 6:55 PM, dropping down to Trail to pick up passengers, and then climbing back to Smelter Junction to take the line to Castlegar.   The train arrived at the dock at Robson West at 9:00 PM, and passengers would board the sternwheeler “Rossland,” “Kootenay,” or “Minto,” leaving at 11:00 PM for the sixteen hour run up the lakes to the rail connection at Arrowhead.   Arrival at Revelstoke was at 5:30 PM to make connections with trains to Vancouver or Calgary and the East.

On the inbound trip, passengers would leave Revelstoke at 8:15 AM on the branch line train to Arrowhead where they would board whichever one of the three sternwheelers was running that day at 9:15 AM for a 10:15 AM departure.   Arrival at Robson West was at 8:30 PM, after a fast ten hour run down the lakes.   Waiting at the dock would be the Rossland-Trail train, departing at 8:50 PM, and reaching Rossland at 10:50 that evening.   The Nelson and Grand Forks trains would be at Robson West as well, for passengers bound to those destinations.

Robson West was a busy place with a twice daily interchange of steamer and three trains.   At 9:24 AM the Rossland train arrived, followed six minutes later by the arrival of the Nelson train.   After transferring passengers, the train from Rossland departed for Grand Forks and Midway.   At the same time, the train from Midway which had been standing all night, departed for Nelson, and a third train departed for Rossland.

At 8:30 in the evening, the Revelstoke steamer would arrive and ten minutes later, trains began arriving.   First, the Nelson train, then five minutes later,the train from Grand Forks, Greenwood and Midway. Fifteen minutes later, the Rossland train would pull in.

Passengers from the boat boarded their trains; train passengers boarded the boat, and at 8:45 all three trains departed, for Rossland, for Nelson and for Midway.   The steamer took on coal, and at 11:00 PM she departed up lake.   Nothing remains of Robson West today but a double line of rotting piles where the trains used to back down the long, sloping ramp to lie alongside the steamers to transfer freight and passengers.   Directly across the river was the terminus of the Columbia and Kootenay line to Nelson and in the early years, after the steamer had discharged its passengers, it would barge rail cars across to the line on the other side.   In 1902, the CPR bridged the Columbia at Castlegar and the Robson terminus was abandoned.   Robson West continued to function as the rail-boat transfer point until the last sternwheeler, the “Minto,” was withdrawn in 1954.

All of the trains from Rossland, bound for Nelson, or Grand Forks, or Robson West, stopped at Smelter Junction, (now called Tadanac) and backed down the switchback line to Dublin gulch, took the switchback, and proceeded down Trail Creek to the Trail City Station on Cedar Avenue.   Passengers and express would be loaded and the train would back up the gulch to the switchback and then up the 3.9 percent grade to Smelter Junction.   In the 30s trim Ten Wheeler D10g class locomotives were assigned to the Trail- Nelson run.   Gibson Kennedy reports that some engineers with their light, two car train, would work the grade with a short cutoff which yielded a satisfyingly sharp bark from the stack, but produced a surge in train motion with every revolution of the drivers.   This caused the clerks in the mail and baggage car to lose their footing while trying to sort mail. They registered a complaint to the company and engineers were subsequently ordered to moderate their efforts to save fuel on this particular grade.

 

STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux – Chapter V

STEEP AND CROOKED: THE MINING RAILROADS OF THE CANADIAN BORDER

 By Bill Laux

Please note if you are interested in reading an action packed adventure story, but don’t have the time to read the entire chapter, scroll down to the first word in blue and bold letters and read from there.

train-at-mine

CHAPTER FIVE

TWO RAILROADS — TWO SMELTERS 1896 – 1898

With the completion of Heinze’s Trail Creek Tramway, the future of the two communities, Trail and Rossland, seemed assured.   On June 19, 1896, editor Thompson of the Trail Creek News, rhapsodized, “It is marvelous — the amount of tonnage arriving at Trail this spring, with three steamers running into Trail, yet the C&KSN Co. cannot keep the consignments of freight to Trail cleaned up. In two days last week, the steamers of the C&KSN Co. landed in Trail 500 tons of coal, coke and lime rock and general merchandise.   Every day sees the steamers of this company in Trail loaded down to their full capacity.   Yesterday, the steamers, “Nakusp,” “Trail,” and “Lytton, ” and the train of the Columbia and Western Railway were all in Trail at one time, and the aggregate number of passengers served by the three boats and the train was over 400, while the tonnage handled in that day amounted to over 250 tons.   And this is a town not yet a year old, and the season has just begun.”

This was June, with a full river, and even steamers drawing a full four and a half feet of water, as did the Nakusp, could make it down the difficult channel from Robson to Trail.   In December the low stage of the water would hold the big boats at Robson, with the little Lytton relaying their cargoes down across the sandbars, and through the shallow riffles.   A smelter had to have uninterrupted supplies of coal, coke, and flux (lime and silica rock), to operate.   With winter steamer operations interrupted by ice and low water, Heinze had to find a better way to bring in his fuel. He could, of course, have Dan Corbin bring in Roslyn coal and coke to Rossland, and then have it hand shoveled into his narrow gauge cars.   But this would put him into Corbin’s hands, an unacceptable situation.   His trip to England to raise money for his Columbia and Western extension was a failure.   He therefore mortgaged some Montana properties and let bids on the first section of the new railway.   It was not to run through the mountains from Rossland.   Instead, it would run up the right bank of the Columbia from his smelter to Robson West. This would give him year round access to the deep water of the Arrow Lakes and an assured coal supply.

Although the new town of Trail was growing and prospering, things were not well with the three companions who had founded it.   Success had had an unfortunate effect on Frank Hanna.   He and Mary Jane became estranged over his increasingly blatant immorality.   He owned two brothels in Trail and his own daughter, Olive, complained of her father’s sexual misconduct with a Mrs. Crossman in the same bed in which Olive was sleeping.   Mary Jane applied to the court for sole custody of her children, and on the grounds alleged, it was granted.   In the interests of propriety, Colonel Topping found it best to move out of the Trail House hotel and set up living quarters behind his office.

With the new Le Roi Company smelter at Northport in operation, the Le Roi mine was paying a dividend every month, and its owners were rapidly growing very rich.   Le Roi stock, which the Colonels had bought up for 25 cents a share, was now selling for over $5.00.   The Rossland mines and in particular, the Le Roi, were becoming well known all over the world for their extraordinary richness.   In London, speculators begin to consider the Red Mountain mines for investment.

Whittaker Wright, one of the more successful of those speculators, had formed the British American Corporation to invest in B. C. and Alaska mining properties.   Wright was one of those flamboyant mendacities that flashed like meteors across the financial heavens at the end of the Victorian era, occasioning awe, moral outrage, and corrosive envy in the British public.   H.G. Wells was so fascinated by him as a symbol of the absolute sovereignty of the money power, as to use him as a model for Edward Ponderovo in his novel, Tono Bungay.

An Englishman, Wright came to the United States, worked in the Pennsylvania oil fields, and was present at the Leadville, Colorado silver boom.   He was in Philadelphia in the 1880s, forming companies to buy Colorado and New Mexico mines, and to market their stock to Pennsylvania investors.   Learning the techniques of stock jobbing, Wright moved to London in the 1890s and began floating mining companies based on the West Australian gold mines around Kalgoorlie.   Wright’s game was not to mine gold, but to organize the mine company and then to sell stock in it, a greater value of stock than there was gold in the ground.   This was enormously successful as long as he could pay huge dividends, most of which came out of stock sales, rather than from whatever bullion was being produced.   As long as new companies could be floated, with their stock sales covering the dividends of previous companies, the game could go on.

Wright’s ostentatious mode of living was legendary with the British public.   They could not hear enough of his private yacht, his private stable of fifty horses, his private observatory, his private velodrome, his private theatre, and his private hospital. He had built an artificial lake on his Surrey estate, and, at the bottom of it, had constructed an underwater billiard room with a glass ceiling through which his guests could view his private fish.

Such an obvious command of large sums of money seemed to signify to the British investors a soundness of his financial empire, which it did not deserve.   To keep on grossly overcapitalizing his mines, Wright required continuing press reports of bonanza finds and sensationally rich mines which he could market.   The Rossland mines were being reported in the London press in 1897 as being the richest in the world. It did not matter whether they were or not; the perception was enough to bring investors running. Wright needed to own these mines to inflate the value of his stocks. He capitalized his British America Corporation at 1,500,000 pounds sterling, and sold its stock at an unprecedented 5 pounds sterling par value.   Its prospectus boldly stated that the Corporation was acquiring the Le Roi and other Rossland and Alaska mines. The well publicized Le Roi name brought the investors crowding in; they bought up more than a million shares at the first offering.

As his managing director and confidence inspiring “Guinea Pig,” Wright brought in a man with Canadian connections, the Hon. Charles Mackintosh, retiring Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories.   He then sent Mackintosh to Rossland by private railway car to acquire the mines his investors were told they owned. Mackintosh was an imposing figure, with all the social skills of the British upper class, but he knew next to nothing of practical mining.   The British Columbia Review commented,  “…of his many social qualities we are well aware, but there is no mining man in Canada but would laugh at the idea of ‘Charlie Mackintosh’ having any idea of the value of an ore body.”

In Spokane the Le Roi Colonels were astonished. They had not heard their mine was being bought. Colonel Peyton remarked quite accurately, “To my mind it looked much as if the people who drew that prospectus used the name of the Le Roi Mine to attract the attention of the English investing public.”

Mackintosh arrived in his private railway car, had it run up the steep Red Mountain line to Rossland, and, flush with Whittaker Wright’s money, began buying mines. He purchased the Josie, the Great Western, the Poorman, the Columbia and Kootenay, and the Nickel Plate mines. He then sent a pompous telegram to London, which Whittaker Wright read to the assembled B.A.C. investors to loud applause. “The British America Corporation has secured and holds the key to a majority of the golden treasure houses of British Columbia. We will practically control the mineral resources of this Province.”

This bombast, while applauded in London, was greeted with derision in British Columbia, and with wicked glee in Spokane. The Colonels now knew that Mackintosh had to make good on his boast; he was obliged to buy their Le Roi, whatever the price. What followed can be interpreted in two ways: either an honest disagreement, or a very clever hoaxing of Charlie Mackintosh and Whittaker Wright.   Historians have tended to accept at face value a bitter disagreement dividing the Le Roi directors, as reported in the press; mining men have tended to smile knowingly.   The author sides with the mining men; believing that Mackintosh, in what followed, was gloriously hoaxed.

Two of the Le Roi Company’s directors, Colonel Peyton and Judge George Turner, went to London to entertain offers for their company.   This is odd; Mackintosh was in Rossland, ready to buy their mine.   Apparently they wanted to see what other tenders might be made.   Colonel Peyton went directly to the B.A.C. and Whittaker Wright.   He was offered three million dollars cash, and accepted, pending agreement by the other directors in Spokane.   But Judge Turner, independently negotiating, reported that a mysteriously unspecified source had offered him five million.

On their return to Spokane, a director’s meeting was convened on June 27, 1898, and Colonel Peyton displayed a check for $500,000 as a down payment on their mine. By the rules of the company, the three principal directors had to agree on any action.

Colonels Peyton and William H. Turner (not the Judge, but the Colonel) accepted the check, but Judge George Turner refused it on the grounds that they could get more than the B.A.C. was offering.   The directors now split into two camps, the majority, led by Colonel Peyton, and Judge Turner’s minority, including Colonel Ridpath, Major Armstrong, Bill Harris, the flamboyant hotelier and Le Roi mine manager, and Frank Graves.   Ostensibly, the sale was blocked by the disagreement between the two groups.   While they argued, Le Roi mine manager, Bill Harris, halted all development work (tunneling for new deposits), and put his miners to work stripping the veins of what high grade ore was in sight, and shipping it to the Northport smelter.   The mine was going to be sold; the only dispute was about the price.   The more ore that could be removed before the sale, the more profit for the owners.   The longer the sale could be delayed, the more they would make.

At a second meeting, this time with Charles Mackintosh in attendance, the two groups displayed a mutual enmity for his benefit.   Colonel Peyton, of the majority group, revealed that he had already tendered the 284,000 shares of his group to Mackintosh at $6.00 per share.   Those shares constituted a majority interest, and Mackintosh then declared that under British law, the B.A.C., as majority stockholder, now had the right to control the company.   But Judge Turner rose for the minority, and pointed out that the Le Roi Company was a Washington Company, and governed by the laws of Washington State.   And further, that the laws of Washington held that aliens could not own real estate within the State of Washington.   Since the Le Roi Company’s Northport smelter was in Washington, the B.A.C., as alien, could not control it, although it could control the mine in Canada. On this basis, Judge Turner secured a court injunction restraining Colonel Peyton from making a legal transfer of his group’s shares.

At this point affairs took on a momentum of their own and events moved swiftly.   The following account is taken from the newspaper reports of the day in the Rossland Miner and Spokane Spokesman Review.   The author is responsible for the probable dialog hinted at in the press reports.

L. F. Williams, secretary of the Company and a member of Colonel Peyton’s group, realized that Judge Turner, using the Washington law was in an unassailable position, and made a quick call to Austin Corbin, President of the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway.   He ordered a fast special train to be made ready for a dash to Canada.   In haste, he gathered all the Le Roi Company records plus its official seal from the Spokane office, and jumped into a horse cab for the depot. The one car train whistled off, and Williams inside, relaxed, convinced he was removing the company records from beyond the reach of Judge Turner and U.S. law.   But, the cunning Bill Harris had not been deceived.   Suspecting Williams might attempt precisely this, he had taken the precaution of removing the Le Roi Company’s official seal from its accustomed hook above Williams’ desk, and substituted the seal of another company.   On his arrival in Rossland, Williams discovered to his horror, that he had the wrong seal, and that no company business could be transacted until a duplicate seal could be made.            Judge Turner’s group, in possession of the precious seal, now hired deputy sheriffs to enforce the Washington Court’s injunction against Mackintosh and the B.A.C. people.   Mackintosh decided that the whole matter of the sale of the Le Roi had best be taken out of the State of Washington where Judge Turner appeared to have the advantage, and moved to Canada where British law would prevail. He had his private railway car coupled to Austin Corbin’s fastest locomotive, No. 7, a 4-4-0 with 63 inch drivers and capable of forty miles an hour on good track. He invited the majority directors, including the three trustees of the pooled Le Roi shares, to accompany him to Rossland, where, with a majority of the directors present and voting, the sale of Colonel Peyton’s shares could be ratified, and company business conducted — as soon as a duplicate seal could be obtained.

Mackintosh, with his majority directors, boarded his private car, and gave the signal to depart.   But Spokane County deputy sheriff Bunce entered his car to display a County Court order obtained by Judge Turner, and to tell Mackintosh that he must not proceed.   Armed deputies, he told the Governor, were waiting at the city limits, with legal authority to stop any train headed for Canada.

Mackintosh, quite baffled by the machinations of the American Law as expounded by Judge Turner, was now in his element as a British gentleman. Calmly lighting a cigar, he offered the deputy one.   With exquisite politeness, he explained to deputy Bunce that under the Common Law of both Britain and the United States, “A man’s home is his castle,” and that a gentleman’s private railway car is just as much his castle in the eyes of the law, as any monument of ancestral English stone.   That being the case, would not the deputy, as a gentleman bound to be scrupulous in his observance of the law, realize that his presence here without a warrant was an unfortunate trespass?

Deputy Bunce, awed, backed himself out the door, which was locked behind him.   Then he descended, went forward to the engine, boarded it, and ordered the crew not to move the train.   The train crew referred the matter to Austin Corbin, president of the line.   Corbin came down from his office and explained to Bunce that his injunction was against foreigners, the B.A.C. Company, and not against a law-abiding American railroad.   Bunce might order the gentlemen in the car behind, not to leave the United States, but his injunction gave him no right to prevent a railroad not named in the order, from running its trains where so ever it chose.

Deputy Bunce boarded the platform of Mackintosh’s private car once more and pounded on the locked door.   The engineer whistled off and the train began to move.From inside the car Mackintosh shook his head reprovingly at Bunce; the door remained locked.   As the train gathered speed, deputy Bunce climbed up on the tender and standing uncertainly on top of the pile of coal, drew his revolver.   He pointed it at the engine crew and ordered them to stop.   His shouts were lost in the sharp exhaust of the accelerating locomotive.   He clambered down into the locomotive cab and gestured with his drawn pistol.   The engine men shook their heads.   Holding his gun on the two men, Bunce pointed to the group of deputies blocking the track ahead and ordered the engineer to halt.   In response, the engineer pulled the whistle cord and threw the throttle wide open.   Down on the track the deputies scattered for the lives, and the train raced out onto the prairie ahead.

No. 7 was running wide open on the rough track, the private car lurching and swaying behind.   Deputy Bunce, with pistol in hand, was no doubt reflecting that the engine crew belonged to the Rail Brotherhoods.   It had been that group, but a few years before, in the Coeur D’Alene mines, he had dragged Tom Kneebone off his job and shot him dead for testifying against a railroad engineer in the Frisco Mill bombing.   It was a period of extreme union militancy in the West, and the Brotherhoods’ contempt for the law was well established.   Bunce prudently holstered his revolver and climbed back across the coal pile in the tender to Mackintosh’s private car.   Standing on the platform in a shower of cinders and soot from the stack, he pondered what to do.Inside the car, he could see whiskey decanters passed around, and the directors, in wicker chairs, puffing on their cigars.   Bunce knocked.   The directors turned their backs to him.   He held his court order against the glass and pounded the door.   No one paid him any attention.

It was a hot June day across the grasslands of Stevens County.   The train raced on.   Back in Mackintosh’s car, the windows were opened to catch the breeze and fragrant fumes of the Governor’s best Havana tobacco streamed out across the farmlands and stump ranches.   Bunce, on the platform, turned up his collar against the rain of cinders from No. 7’s stack.

It was 147 miles, Spokane to Rossland.   Seven hours, 25 minutes by timetable.   The men in the private car had promised the engine crew a champagne dinner at the Allen Hotel in Rossland if they made the run in under five hours.   Loon Lake, Chewelah and Colville came up.   The scheduled trains were waiting in the sidings as the Special flashed by.   Past Colville, Number 7 screamed down the long grade to the Columbia at Marcus, and began the long series of S curves as the rails followed the east bank of the river.   Grimly, Deputy Bunce, coattails flying, clung to the swaying platform of Mackintosh’s private car, still determined to do his duty.   At mile 130, Northport came into view.   Here the engine would have to stop to take on water for the final, steep climb to Rossland, 2400 feet above.   Bunce swung down from the platform, as the engineer spotted the tender under the waterspout. Bunce planted himself in front of the locomotive, displayed his court order to the gathering crowd, and drew his revolver.   With the crowd as witnesses to his lawful act, he announced, the train would move again only over his dead body.

But here, in full frock coat and embroidered vest, his shiny silk hat on his head and gold watch fob bouncing on his paunch, came the sometime Lieutenant Governor of a Canadian Territory, which, though scantily populated, was still fully as big as the entire United States minus Alaska.     Mackintosh offered the deputy another cigar.   Bunce had to holster his pistol to accept it.   Mackintosh then explained, with that same charitable politeness, that the Canadian border was but eight miles ahead, and if the deputy persisted in his attempt to stop a lawful train by force of arms, he would be arrested at the border for carrying a deadly weapon into Canada, an offense that carried a severe penalty under Canadian law.   “A word to the wise, Sir,” His Honour remarked amiably, and with a friendly pat on the shoulder, made his way back to his private car.

The fireman raised the waterspout as the tender overflowed, and shouted at Bunce, still planted in front of the locomotive, “Well, what’s it going to be, deputy?   You going to shoot a Brotherhood man or get out of our way?” Deputy Bunce flourished his weapon, the crowd of small boys and station loungers looked on in fascination.   A few quick wagers were made.   The engineer blew three blasts, shoved the Johnson bar into its top notch, and opened the throttle. The train, to deputy Bunce’s great relief, backed away, backed toward Spokane.   Then the deputy holstered his pistol with a grin to the onlookers.   But why were they laughing?   What was the joke?   Bunce peered down the track. The train was still backing.   At the far end of town it disappeared around a curve.   An idler in the crowd remarked, “You sure stopped ‘em, mister.   Only you was at the wrong end.”   The crowd burst out laughing.   They were laughing at him, deputy Bunce realized.   What had happened?

Then, from down at the far end of town, came two derisive whistle blasts.   Bunce saw the train come into view again on the distant trestle, leading, he now realized, to the great Columbia River bridge.   The stop at the station was merely for water. The line to Rossland branched off a half mile south.   The engineer had backed his train to the switch and taken the line for Canada.   In the distance, the little one car train rumbled over the bridge, whistled once more and headed up Sheep Creek for Canada.       Bunce walked to the station platform, sat down, and lit up the Lieutenant Governor’s cigar.   To the assembled crowd he muttered contemptuously, “God damned foreigners, anyway!”   He puffed for a moment.   “Not a god damned thing to do with me,” he said, blowing smoke into the air. But the station platform was empty.

With the dispute now transferred to Canada, Mackintosh tried to settle it under Canadian law.   A directors’ meeting was called for July 3, in Rossland.   SF&N No. 7 was washed and polished, hitched to a parlor car, and then the Turner minority group came up to Rossland by special train.   At the meeting, Judge Turner managed to have the $500,000 check returned to the British America Company as premature.   Beyond that, there was stalemate, and No. 7 trundled the minority directors back down the loops of Little Sheep Creek to the U.S. A. and Spokane.

A second meeting was called for Spokane.   Another special train ran up to Rossland to bring the majority group down.   They were, as they reminded themselves, the owners of the richest gold mine in the world, and must travel as such.The railroad performed these services as perfectly as its rough track would permit, but the meeting was a total deadlock.

In Rossland, Mackintosh tried a new tactic.   Bill Harris, the mine manager, and member of the minority group, had had his men stripping the stopes of all the high grade ore they could find, and shipping it to Northport to be converted into dividends for the owners.   The delay in consummating the sale was not only embarrassing to Mackintosh; it was depleting the mine of valuable ore.   The Governor determined to get rid of Harris.   Lacking a company seal, and unable to perform official acts, the Governor applied to Judge Spinks, of the Kootenay County Court, to have the Le Roi Company placed in receivership.   The Judge agreed and W. A. Carlyle, a former Provincial Geologist, was appointed receiver.   Carlyle dismissed Bill Harris and appointed a new mine manager with instructions to reinstitute development work and reduce ore shipments to a minimum in order to starve the smelter of ore, and the owners of dividends, while the sale was still pending.

Bill Harris had been shipping 350 tons of the Le Roi’s best ore every day; the majority group had been obliged to watch this high grading before their eyes.   Their anger had become physical as Judge Turner and Colonel Peyton found themselves both occupying the same hotel, the Allen, in Rossland.   Accidentally meeting in the lobby, a scuffle took place, with Judge Turner attempting to bodily eject Colonel Peyton from the hotel.   Peace was restored; the combatants, or play actors –it is impossible to be sure which — were parted.

The minority group, with their manager removed from the mine, then went to Victoria, B.C. to institute a suit against Colonel Peyton, the B.A.C., Mackintosh, and Whittaker Wright, to recover $780,000 for an alleged conspiracy to buy Le Roi shares at less than their real value.   While this suit dragged on, the group were able to get a Victoria court to overturn Judge Spinks’ receivership.   Bill Harris was reinstated as mine manager, and at once he resumed stripping the Le Roi of its best ore.            This was intolerable to the B.A.C.   Their best ore was being removed out of Canadian jurisdiction, smelted at Northport, and the bullion recovered held in the U.S. for the owners.   The owners were making roughly $6,500 each day the sale was delayed.   To try to get the receivership reinstated by Washington law, the B.A.C. sent its lawyers down to Spokane — by special train, of course.   This time, the minority completely reversed its previous bellicose behavior.   They met their Canadian colleagues with profuse apologies for past incivilities, and solicitous concern for their comfort and well-being.   This they accompanied by a continuous series of toasts to amity and international cooperation.   So alcoholic was the fellowship, and so long continued, that the B.A.C. lawyers, in a boozy haze, completely lost track of time and missed their appointment at court.   With their non-appearance, the court dropped the case from the docket, and the rivals were once again plunged into teeth gnashing rage, real or feigned.

The news of these scandalous proceedings was gleefully reported in the mining papers, and reached London, where the effect was to depress the value of B.A.C. shares.   Soon they dropped below par.   Whittaker Wright was compelled to find some way to conciliate the minority directors, and complete the sale, or his B.A.C. would be in serious trouble.   Judge Turner was reporting he had received an offer from Wright of $8.12-1/2 for his shares.   This the B.A.C. vigorously denied.   The Judge responded by suggesting that another British consortium had offered him $8.50.   True or false, the publicity was becoming painfully embarrassing for Whittaker Wright. He would have to compromise.

Finally, on November 22, 1898, all the shares in what had been the world’s richest gold mine, changed hands at $7.40, plus payment for ore en route to the Northport Smelter.   The last of the minority hold-outs, Bill Harris, had to come down from Rossland to Spokane to sign the agreement.   He made the trip, as might be expected, by special train.

It is impossible to know whether or not the whole affair was a charade played out for the benefit of the pompous and gullible Mackintosh.   For 130 days, during the time the sale had been held up, Bill Harris had been Le Roi manager, stripping the mine of its best ore.   $845,000 of ore had been removed, smelted and sold, and monthly dividends paid, while Mackintosh was stalled.   This amounted to $1.69 per share realized from the high grading, while the compromise with Whittaker Wright added only an additional $1.40 per share.   The figures powerfully suggest that the protracted dispute played out in the courts, on special trains, and hotel lobby tussles, may have been a gigantic, profitable, and hilarious hoax.

With the final agreement and sale, the B.A.C. got full control of the mine and smelter, but the dubious look of the affair made Whittaker Wright’s mining empire look shaky in London.   The success of any stock jobbing operation depended on its shares rising in value.   Should they begin to fall, as had those of the B.A.C., the price of the stock could only be supported by the company’s assets.   B.A.C. investors now began to query just what were the Le Roi Company’s assets.   An answer was not forthcoming.

The B.A.C., on purchasing the Colonels’ Le Roi Company for $4,000,000, had formed a new British company, the Le Roi Mining Company, and sold the mine and smelter to it for $4,750,000.   Wright chose a former anti-union thug, Bernard Mc Donald, who had worked for him in the New Mexico mines, as Le Roi manager.  But now manager Mc Donald, began sending alarming reports to London.   The mine had no more high grade ore in sight.   Bill Harris had indeed stripped the mine.   The British investors who had bought up all 200,000 shares in the new Le Roi Company at $25 each, in just three days, wanted their dividends.   Monthly, they had been promised.

In Rossland, manager Mc Donald was obliged to report the shattering news that the mine was actually operating at a loss.   In 1899, the ore coming out of the Le Roi was netting $12.50 a ton, but mining, smelting and shipping costs totalled $15.14 a ton.   With the huge value of the shares outstanding, and an operating loss, the mine could pay no dividends at all.   Worse, after purchasing the mine from the B.A.C. for $4,750,000, the new Le Roi Company had but $250,000 left in its treasury for working capital, not nearly enough for a vigorous program of development to find new high grade ore bodies in the network of veins it owned.

At this time similar discoveries were coming to light in Whittaker Wright’s Western Australian mines, and a bear attack on his stocks began in London.   Furious investors, finding themselves to have been duped, lobbed the British Parliament for redress.   An official investigation of Whittaker Wright’s financial and mining empire began.

In Spokane, the Colonels, congratulating themselves on their coup, having sold their mine just as it was going barren, retired to their clubs and began to invest in other mining properties in B.C., notably the St Eugene mine on Moyie Lake.   Perhaps the game could be played again. Colonel Ridpath, and Judge Turner, no longer adversaries, bought the Sullivan mine in Kimberly, B.C., and planned a smelter there to handle its lead-zinc-silver ores.

Half way around the world, Whittaker Wright went on trial for frauds unrelated to the Le Roi affair.   He was found guilty, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He did not go to jail.   Immediately after the sentence was read, he conferred briefly with his lawyers over some last arrangements, then stepped into a side room and swallowed a capsule of cyanide.   Returning, he collapsed on the floor and died.   A loaded revolver was found in his pocket.

The collapse of Whittaker Wright’s stock jobbing empire damaged the reputation of the mining industry in the London market for years, but for a future American president, it presented a golden opportunity.   Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer, only 23 years years of age, was sent out to Western Australia by the engineering firm of Bewick-Moreing to see what could be done to rescue the mines that went down in the Whittaker Wright scandal.   There, Hoover met with the new chairman of the Lakeview mine.   Convinced that the Lakeview had an unrealized potential, Hoover convinced Bewick-Moreing to take over its management.   The Lakeview proved to be a solid success, and launched young Mr Hoover on an impressive career in mine engineering.   By 1928, he was President of the United States.   By 1985, Bewick-Moreing was boring the Channel Tunnel.            The sale of the Le Roi brought to an end the period of gaudy unreality in Rossland.   The mines were still there, but the ore was becoming leaner as they went deeper. For Rossland, the bonanza days were over. Conservative, scientific management was in charge, and profits could henceforth only be made from volume of ore shipped, not spectacular finds.

Down in Trail, Colonel Topping continued to insist that he expected to find another Le Roi very soon, and that in the meantime he had some very promising mining claims to sell.   He was planning a trip, he announced, to the newly formed mining districts in the Colville Indian Reservation to investigate some remarkable gold properties there. Deputy Bunce was looking for work.   A furious Judge Turner had seen to it that he was a deputy no longer.


 

STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux – Introduction

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STEEP AND CROOKED:

THE MINING RAILROADS

OF

THE CANADIAN BORDER

By

Bill Laux

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

In the last decade of the Nineteenth Century, the discovery of three successive copper-gold bonanzas along the international border between Washington and British Columbia, brought the railroad builders of the Northwest into a fierce rivalry to get their tracks to the new camps and control the traffic in ores, coal and merchandise.

The mining potential of the Kootenay country in southeast British Columbia had been known since the 1840s.   The voyageurs of the Hudson’s Bay Company had been shown the lead deposits on the shores of Kootenay Lake by the local Indians, and for years had melted down those silver-rich ores on wood fires to cast bullets for their muskets.[i]

The Big Bend gold strike of 1864 on the Upper Columbia in British Columbia attracted the attention of Captain John C. Ainsworth of Portland, Oregon and the Oregon Steam Navigation Company.   The Oregon Steam Navigation Company had a near monopoly on steamer transportation on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and Captain Ainsworth was determined that any development in Interior British Columbia should be made tributary to Portland merchants through his steamers.   He therefore financed the building of the small sternwheel steamer, Forty Nine, (named for the Forty Ninth Parallel, the international boundary), at Marcus, Washington Territory.   By the next year, 4000 miners, mostly Americans, were at work, washing the gravel bars of the Big Bend.   All were supplied by Captain Leonard White and the steamer, Forty Nine.[ii] The Big Bend boom fizzled out in a few years, and with no one to hire her, the Forty Nine was beached.

The next effort to exploit Kootenay minerals came in the 1870s when Henry Doan, a Colville prospector, claimed to have a deposit of very rich ore on the shore of Kootenay Lake.   It was actually that same deposit the Hudson’s Bay fur traders had been exploiting for their musket bullets.   Doan sent what he claimed was a sample from his deposit to George Hearst (later Senator) of San Francisco.   In fact it was not.; it was high grade silver-lead ore, probably from Colorado.   Hearst came north by train, steamer, and stagecoach to Colville, and engaged Albert Pingston,[iii] mate of the Forty Nine, to take him, Doan, and an assay outfit to Kootenay Lake by rowboat.   Pingston rowed the party up the Columbia from Marcus to the mouth of the Kootenay River.   During the long portage around the falls and rapids of the Kootenay, Doan secretly proposed to Pingston that he should “lose” the assay outfit so that Hearst would not be able to make any tests on the deposit Doan was going to show him.   Pingston indignantly refused, and brought the two men and the assay kit successfully to Kootenay Lake.   Hearst, on testing the ore, saw that he had been duped; it did not resemble the sample sent to him.   Furious at having come all the way from San Francisco, Hearst refused to let Doan into the boat for the return.   He proposed to abandon the man there on that wilderness lake.   Pingston told Hearst, “You can go and thrash him if you like but you cannot leave him here to starve and you must let him come back in the boat to where he can get something to eat.”[iv]

Pingston was concerned more for his reputation than for Doan.   There was a tradition on the Upper Columbia that one never left a penniless prospector on the beach in that wild and empty country.   Hearst went back to San Francisco, damning the Kootenay and its scoundrelly prospectors.

Captain Ainsworth, however, was still interested.   The Northern Pacific Railway would be been completed in 1883 putting Kootenay minerals within reach of a transcontinental railroad.   Small quantities of rich silver-lead ores were beginning to come out of that country by boat to Bonner’s Ferry and from there by pack-horse to the Northern Pacific at Kootenay Station (a few miles east of Sand Point).   A party of his people, including his son, George, made their way into the Kootenay and visited the small mining camps that were springing up on Kootenay lake in 1882.   They staked some claims, laid out a townsite called “Ainsworth,” (still in existence), and proposed a portage railway around those falls and rapids in the lower Kootenay River so that a rail and steamer service could link the area via the Columbia River to Portland.[v]     To that end, Captain Ainsworth had, the year before, commissioned Albert Pingston to make a survey of the Columbia River from Wallulla to its confluence with the Kootenay, to see if a through steamer service would be feasible.   Pingston reported that with three portage sections, boats could navigate the Columbia as far as Rickey’s Rapids (below Kettle Falls) “for 2/3 of the year.”   However, a portage railway would definitely be needed around the twenty foot drop of Kettle Falls.[vi]

Ainsworth lobbied the U.S. Congress for the navigation improvements Pingston had recommended.   Congress sent out Lt. Symons in the fall of 1881 to repeat Pingstone’s survey, and report on what engineering works might be necessary.[vii]

To get a charter from the B.C. Government to build the portage railroad, it would be necessary for Captain Ainsworth to present the project as a thoroughly Canadian plan to keep the Kootenay trade for B.C. merchants.   Accordingly, Ainsworth went to Victoria posing as a friend of Canada.

Captain Ainsworth’s plan was to construct a wagon road from the head of navigation on the South Thompson River over Eagle pass to the Columbia River at Big Eddy (Revelstoke).   He promised the legislators that he would then put his steamers on a route down the Columbia and through the Arrow Lakes to the mouth of the Kootenay River.   Here he would build a forty mile portage railway to Queen’s Bay on Kootenay Lake.   This “All Canadian route” would secure the Kootenay trade for the B.C. merchants.

The B.C. legislature, alarmed by the rumor that the just completed Northern Pacific was planning to tap the Kootenay Lake trade with a branch from Sandpoint to Bonner’s Ferry on the Kootenai River, gave Captain Ainsworth his charter and a wildly generous land grant of 750,000 acres of Kootenay land.   Only when the charter was submitted to the Dominion Parliament for approval, did someone actually look at a map.[viii]   What the Federal Railway Commissioner saw, was that Kootenay traffic, moving down the portage railroad to the Columbia, could just as easily move south, down the river into Washington and on to Portland via the canals and portage railways Congress was expected to authorize.   The Dominion Government therefore disallowed the B.C. legislature’s charter, creating outrage in the Province.   In an attempt to resolve the bitter conflict following, the whole affair was thrown into the courts to wind slowly through their procedures for seven years.     Eventually the Ainsworth syndicate, getting nowhere in courts, sold their charter to the Canadian Pacific Railway, which satisfied both the Dominion Government and most British Columbians.

The completion of the Northern Pacific in 1883 was bringing the era of steamboat transportation on the Middle Columbia to a close.[ix]   Captain Ainsworth sold his Oregon Steam Navigation Company to the new Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.   The American Congress took note of this and failed to vote any new river improvement projects for the Columbia.   Railroads, not dredged waterways, were to be the new mode of access in the Northwest.

As the new railway era opened in the Northwest, it was Daniel Chase Corbin, a Spokane mining and railroad investor, who was the first to lay tracks toward the Kootenays.   The Northern Pacific was receiving ores from the Kootenay Lake mines via a laborious wagon haul from Bonner’s Ferry to Kootenai Station.   Corbin’s plan was to run his rails all the way to Kootenay Lake via Colville, the Columbia and Salmo rivers.   His survey included, as a branch, Captain Ainsworth’s portage railway for steamer traffic around Kettle Falls, just in case Congress changed its mind.   Corbin began building his Spokane Falls and Northern Railway in 1890, and reached Colville that year.   The following year he had his rails to Little Dalles, a steamer landing, on the Columbia, seven miles north of Marcus.[x]   From Little Dalles he had navigable water all the way to the Canadian Pacific main line at Revelstoke.

Corbin joined forces with a syndicate of Kamloops, B.C. businessmen who had organized the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company to link the two transcontinentals with a sternwheel steamer service from Revelstoke to Little Dalles.[xi]

                Corbin kept his track layers moving north.   In 1893 his rails crossed the border at Waneta and climbed Beaver Creek to a low pass leading to the Salmo River.   From the headwaters of the Salmo his graders laid the line steeply down Cottonwood Creek to reach Kootenay lake 5 miles east of Nelson.   But her he found himself blocked by William Van Horne ofthe mighty Canadian Pacific.

The CPR was in no position to build a new rail line into the Kootenays from Alberta. It was still paying off its construction debt and was financially cripples by having to rebuild hundreds of miles of line washed out by the great flood of 1894 in B.C.   However, it had Captain Ainsworth’s charter for that portage railway around the falls in the Kootenay River.   Van Horne believed that by building that portage railway and buying the CKSN steamship company he could control Kootenay traffic by rail and boat service to the main line at Revelstoke. He had also committed to the CPR building at some future time, that rail line in from Alberta over Crowsnest Pass.   To secure that right of way and to block Corbin’s line from entering Nelson, Van Horne had the B.C Government declare a “Canadian Pacific Railway Reserve” along the south shore of Kootenay Lake.

Corbin, blocked out of Nelson, simply ran his tracks down to the water where freight and passengers would transfer to a steamer for the five miles to Nelson.

 

The lure of a substantial mining and coal traffic now brought James J. Hill and his unfinished Great Northern Railway into the contest.   His Great Northern was to run through Bonner’s Ferry, from which a boat service down the river to Kootenay Lake would give him access to the new mining districts there at Ainsworth, Nelson and Bluebell.

The entry of J.J. Hill alarmed his bitter adversary, William Van Horne, President of the Canadian Pacific.   As Hill had patiently built his Great Northern across the Dakota and Montana prairies, he had run feeder lines up to the border to siphon off Canadian traffic.   Van Horne knew he had to preempt the Kootenays for the CPR or lose them to the aggressive J.J. Hill.  He sent his surveyors out to locate a line from Lethbridge, Alberta to Hope, B.C. through the mineral-rich Kootenay and Boundary country.   They reported back that such a line was possible, but would be difficult and very expensive to build.       Jim Hill countered this by incorporating the Bedlington and Nelson Ry. to connect at the border with his American branch, the Kootenay Valley Ry running up from from his main line at Bonner’s Ferry.[1]   When built,that line would put Great Northern steel on Kootenay Lake.   Van Horne had no choice.   His rail steamer service was summer only.     When the Arrow Lakes froze each winter, service had to be suspended until spring.   Van Horne began laying track through Crowsnest Pass to enter the Kootenays in 1898.

With the three great Captains eying the increasing rich Kootenay mines, and each intent on seizing the traffic for his railroad, a serious clash was imminent.   It came in the 1890s when three great gold-copper bonanzas of international importance were uncovered along the border, at Red Mountain and Phoenix in British Columbia, and at Eureka Creek in Washington.   Now the railroad wars were on.                     Daniel Chase Corbin, William Van Horne, James Jerome Hill, and a newcomer, Frederick Augustus Heinze, a 26 year old American mining millionaire, were all determined to put their own rails to the new mining camps.   In the ensuing struggle to control the mineral traffic, seven steep and crooked mining railroads were built from the main lines.     Each of the now four great captains was determined to put his tracks to the mouth of every substantial mine to freeze out the other three.     Engineers were called in and tracks were laid, competing sets of them, switchbacking up dangerously steep grades, over towering wooden trestles, and around cranky curves to mouths of the mines themselves.   Mine owners, finding two competing sets of tracks at their loading bunkers, bargained for lower and still lower rates.   The railroads, fighting for the ore hauls, dropped their rates to cost. And then to below.   At 75 cents a ton, even low grade ores, discarded as uncommercial, could be shipped to the smelters, and the great boom was on

.

This is the chronicle of those seven small railroads through their short and contentious lives from 1896 until 1921.

 

 

NOTES TO INTRODUCTION    [i]   Letter of Archibald Mc Donald, HBC factor at Fort Colvile (not “Colville”), to James Douglas,                         Governor of the Colony of British Columbia, September 29, 1844.   It is quoted in Edward                         L. Affleck, Kootenay Lake Chronicles, (Vancouver, 1978), p. 33.

[ii]   Affleck, Columbia River Chronicles, (Vancouver, 1976), p. 49 & 58, note 4.   Letter from                                 Magistrate Haynes at Osooyoos to Colonial Secretary, August 11, 1865, “A steamer is now             being built near Fort Colville by a company represented by one Captain White, which will, I                 am told, be ready to start in about six weeks.   I would beg for instructions as regards U.S.                  steamers running up here.”   Quoted in Affleck, op. cit., p. 54, note e.

[iii]   The name is spelled “Pingstone” in the US and “Pingston” in Canada.

[iv]   Related by William Fernie in a letter to S.S. Fowler, manager of the Bluebell mine, in 1909.               Quoted in Affleck, Sternwheelers, Sandbars and Switchbacks, (Vancouver, 1973), p. 8.                    Fernie was an early Kootenay settler and trail builder.

[v]   Affleck, Kootenay Lake Chronicles, pp. 25 – 26.

[vi]   Albert Pingstone, A Memorial to Captain John C. Ainsworth, n.d. in WSU library, Pullman.

[vii]   Symons’ Report, Sen. Ex. Doc. No. 186, 1st Session, 47th Congress.

[viii]   Affleck, Columbia River Chronicles, p. 125.

[ix]   In British Columbia, “Lower Columbia” meant that part of the river in the U.S.; the “Upper                         Columbia “ designated that part of the river inth Rocky Mountain trench, above Boat                 Encampment.   In Washington State “Lower Columbia” meant the part of the river from             Portland to the Pacific, “Middle Columbia” referred to the river from Portland to the                           confluence with the Snake, and the “Upper Columbia” meant the remainder of the river in               both countries.

[x]   Fahey, Inland Empire, p.  10       Affleck, Sternwheelers, Sandbars and Switchbacks, p. 18.

11   Ibid. pp. 19 & 20.

Breaking the Code – Part II

Finding the Drive to Unearth Bill’s Files

One evening last spring I spent some time at the Fauquier Communication Center. More precisely, I stood in awe at the section dedicated to the late writer and artist Bill Laux of Fauquier, BC. There in the archives I discovered a wealth of books from Bill’s private library, complete manuscripts of mostly unpublished plays, short stories, and even novels, research papers on the 19th century railroad and mining industries of the Pacific Northwest. As already mentioned in Part I of this series, what fascinated me the most were the many floppy disks that I had found on the side shelves of the archive. What mysterious files would they contain on those poorly labeled plastic squares?

vaki3
Batik by Bill Laux

The oldest working computer, which my wife once used, is a Toshiba laptop. Unfortunately, it does not have a floppy disk drive. Searching the world wide web, I found that there are two ways to get to the files locked away in outdated storage systems.

  • 1) mail the disk to floppytransfer.com, a company in California, which downloads the files and transfers them onto a USB flashdrive. That would have been OK, if I had only a few disks to copy. But with such a great number to copy I rejected this option. It would have demanded an exorbitant price tag.
  • 2) Buy an external drive that connects to a USB port on my computer.

Full of joyful anticipation, I ordered such a device from China for as little as 10 dollars shipping and handling included. Two weeks later the item arrived in the mail. Imagine my utter disappointment, when – no matter which of Bill’s disks I inserted into the machine – I got the same horrible message. ‘This disk must be formatted before it can be used.’could  For those not familiar with technical jargon, formatting is the death sentence for any files residing on the disk. For they will permanently erased.

Bill Laux
Artist, Writer, and Castle Builder Bill Laux

Starting a search on the Internet all over again, I stumbled on a great deal at amazon.ca (for our American neighbors I guess you could use amazon,com with similar results). I decided to give it one more shot and buy a floppy disk drive that came with the guarantee of being capable of reading all the files. After another anxiety ridden waiting period I experienced a most peculiar sequence of initial euphoria followed by a free fall into utter frustration.

 vaki6

To be continued next week in Part III

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