Remains Along the Columbia

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Once at pavement, a 2-lane parallelling I-84, you have choices.

Go right a few miles to Biggs, cross the river and climb out of the gorge on US 97. You can make a left on Centerville Highway, and at Warwick, or a bit further west at Harms Road, pick up the Klickitat Trail, the grade of a country branch line through some very fine country 31 miles down Swale Canyon and along the Klickitat River to Lyle on the Columbia.

You can make a right, then another up Fulton Canyon on 206, climbing out of the gorge southbound to Moro, Grass Valley, Shaniko, and back to Terrebonne.

Or you can go left, toward The Dalles, on your way to the Old Columbia River Highway, and see more of Hill's Oregon Trunk Railway.

Driving a railroad grade up the Deschutes wasn't the only challenge to Hill's dauntless reach to Oregon and California. There isn't much horizontal space in the Columbia River Gorge that isn't underwater. Harriman's Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company had already taken up the water-level route on the south bank. Hill had to blast and tunnel his grade up on the basalt cliffs of the Gorge.


Photo thanks to the Presby Museum in Goldendale, WA.

He also had to get his locomotives and railcars across the river from the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway on the north bank of the Columbia. The steam tug "Norma" pushed two barges with tracks on deck across the river from Wishram, until Hill was able to build a railroad bridge across the river.


Photo thanks to the Sherman County Historical Museum in Moro, OR.

This he did in 1911, spanning the Columbia just below Celilo Falls. A wye at the north end allows trains from either direction to switch off the SP&S onto the Oregon Trunk. Note the canal passing under the bridge's south end - this was built to allow boat passage around Celilo Falls.

The bridge is still in service on the OT today. When no trains are due, the bridge tenders may lock the lift section up and go home til they're needed again.

That's a swinging section over the remains of the canal, which was submerged in 1957 when The Dalles Dam raised the water level. At that time the bridge section north of the canal was modified to its present vertical lift capability to clear river traffic.

Finally, there's the Spokane, Portland, & Seattle Railway itself, still in operation as part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, seen here on the north bank crossing the White Salmon River opposite Hood River, Oregon -

That's Amtrak's cross-country passenger train from Portland and Seattle to Chicago. It's called "The Empire Builder".

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