Re: Port of Tillamook Bay
Date: 01-12-2020 - 13:35
For those not familiar, a "Port" in Oregon (and Washington) are typically independent government agencies with a locally elected or governor appointed board that may act to actually operate a sea or river "port", airports, railroad or industrial parks, or something in combination, all while acting as a quasi local economic development agency.
In the case of the Port of Tillamook Bay, they started with the former blimp base which operates as a industrial park and small airport. It came with a short railroad connection north a few miles to the town of Tillamook itself that the Port themselves operated. At one time one of the blimp hangers was leased with a L-P plywood plant, the other had a lumber mill, so the POTB railroad was very busy. The actual port/marina on Tillamook Bay is the Port of Garibaldi.
For whatever reason, the lumber industry along the line greatly diminished over time. Log hauling and the connecting lumber railroads switched to truck, and the lumber mills that were at Wheeler, Garibaldi and the L-P mills at the Port all closed. This left Publishers Paper lumber mill (now Hampton Lumber) in Tillamook as the only remaining mill, and the Tillamook Cheese Co-Op received some inbound feed. There wasn't enough traffic left to justify operation of the branch.
Initially, POTB leased the line from Batterson (up the coast and the foot of the grade on the west side) to Tillamook and a SP SD-9 and connected with the weekly SP Tillamook Hauler out of Brooklyn yard. Loads out of Batterson face an increasing grade reaching 3% at Cochran, the top of the coast range. Due to this, an SD-9 was only good for 5 or 6 loads, and anything over 3,000 tons required helpers to be cut in to keep from breaking knuckles. When the Hauler arrived at Batterson, they would take the tonnage they had working power for, leaving any excess woodchip loads behind. The paper plant that was receiving these loads did not receive a consistent supply of raw material, and were not amused in the winter when they went to dump a car only to find it had been sitting a week or two in the coastal rain and then had frozen solid.
By the late 1980s, POTB's lease had been extended by SP from Tillamook to just outside Hillsboro, and included the sale of SD9s 4368, 4381 (in horrid SPSF kodachrome) and 4414. The woodchip business had already been lost to a local trucking company, so traffic was limited to some outbound lumber from Hampton Lumber, a few inbound cars for the feed mill each week, an occasional passenger car for/from Bob Steele & Associates that leased the now burned hanger, and Banks Lumber which was a consistent shipper almost more than Hampton was.
The operating pattern at that time was for the train to leave Tillamook fairly early on a weekday morning, double the hill as needed to Cochran and to tie up in Banks, the crew deadheading home to Tillamook. The following weekday, two crews would deadhead to Banks and split the train. One crew would head for North Plains with the BN cars, the other crew would head for Mahan (last siding before Hillsboro) sometimes meeting the SP there. After interchanging, the trains would meet back at Banks, be combined, and a single crew would take it back to Tillamook. The operating pattern was dictated by Hampton, who wanted a round trip evey fourth weekday, so the days of operation varied.
If Banks was busy, it was common to leave one of the SD9s there to switch them and make a trip to Mahan between trains from Tillamook, leaving only two SD9s for the road train, unless one was down or gone for inspection. In some instances, the engine at Banks would have to be run over the hill to meet the Hauler at Batterson or Enright to get the train up the hill.
There was a meeting between the Port and Hamptons where the Port was trying to get the woodchip traffic back, as the lumber and feed didn't support the railroad. From that meeting, POTB ended up with less traffic. Hampton had a leased fleet of WCRC centerbeams for hauling lumber to a Chicago area lumber distributor, and it was taking about as long for a car to make a turn from North Plains to Tillamook as to Chicago. Remember that Hampton set the operating pattern for their convenience, and BN only ran to North Plains three times a week so the connection was typically missed. (NEVER let the customer run the railroad!) Instead, Hampton began trucking most of their BN traffic to a Portland area reload, yet POTB still had to go to North Plains for the odd Hampton car and feed came in from both BN and SP.
Bob Steele ran a tourist train on the coast for a while using either a GE 80 ton he bought from the Port or one of the C-415s from Columbia & Cowlitz. Instead of buying another SP SD-9, the Port commissioners made a deal with Steele to jointly buy the C-415s and slug with Steele, one of the C-415s was supposed to become the Banks switcher.
In the following years, the line over the coast range washed out in a bad storm but was rebuilt, Steele moved his train to Roy on the westside where it ran as a dinner train for a few years, the Port bought a bunch of BN SD9s (most without dynamics), ran a gravel train off the top of the mountain at Cochran to a transload in Forest Grove, picked up a couple more small mills at the Port and Garibaldi. There was a contract operator for a while, tunnel and bridge issues and in its last years of operation POTB seemed to have reverted to the original SP operating pattern of having a single engine out of Tillamook run up the coast to Batterson and meet their Hauler out of Banks. With this operating pattern, it seems odd that almost all their power was caught on the coast side in the last washout, most being since scrapped. Hampton Lumber was not supportive of the railroad being rebuilt, and the Port dithered for so long that there was an environmental requirement to restore the river in addition to the railroad making the costs astronomical. To add insult to injury, they needed to be able to haul in rock fill to rebuild the roadbed, yet the Port had sold their quarry at Cochran so all the fill would have to be purchased.
The FEMA grant could be used to replace business/jobs lost by the railroad. I heard they replaced many of the maintenance support structures used at the Port, but the planned Golf Resort with a private participant never materialized. The last I heard there was a huge push to turn the line into a hiking trail, including through the washed out portions. I believe they sold the line (they did eventually buy it from SP) from Banks towards Hillsboro, and a new wye connection was built allowing P&W to go from North Plains to Hillsboro and on to Forest Grove. You might be able to reopen the line from Banks to Cochran depending on Tunnel 25 and a few bridges, and Oregon Coast Scenic has got as far as Enright (and tangled with environmental restrictions/agencies). The segment between Enright and Cochran took the worst damage, and is also the most challenging terrain with many bridges and tunnels in the river canyon climbing the coast range.
By contrast, the Port of Coos Bay is a much larger and more successful Port district, operating industrial properties, the airport, several docks on the bay plus a marina. The line, when abruptly embargoed by CORP, had many sizable rail customers committed to and actually shipping by rail. The Port put their own money where their mouth was, gained the political and shipper support to obtain the needed State and Federal grants. Coos Bay has far more potential for success and demand than Tillamook had, but it too is a shadow of its former self.