The Great Southern Railroad of Wasco County, Oregon
Narrative by Jerry Tanquist
The Great Southern Railroad of Wasco County, Oregon, was built in 1905 by John Heimrich and his son J.G. Heimrich. It ran from The Dalles to Dufur, along 15 Mile Creek. In 1913 it was extended to Friend, along Pine Creek. Their original intention was to build a railroad from the Columbia River, through central Oregon, to San Francisco.
But in 1909-1911, James Hill and Edward Harriman built competing railroads up the DesChutes River to Bend, and that ended Heimrich’s plan.
The original depot in The Dalles was destroyed by fire in 1910, as was the nearby flour mill. By 1912, both had been rebuilt, and both are still standing.
Every few miles a siding was built, and usually accompanying warehouses. These Wasco County sites included Petersburg, Fairbanks, Fulton, Brookhouse, Daneville, Neabeck, Emerson, Wrentham, Rice, Boyd and Dufur, and then Annalore, Three Springs, and Friend.
The train ran daily until the late 1920’s when financial difficulties curtailed its operation. It combined freight and passenger service and it would stop anywhere, along the route to pick up or drop off passengers. Its main source of revenue was hauling wheat, and elevators were built at Emerson, Rice Boyd and Dufur.
When the railroad arrived in Friend in 1913, that community flourished. It signaled the end of the last stage coach out of Dufur and the demise of a neighboring town of Kingsley. When the railroad was closed down in 1936, it in turn meant the down-sizing of Friend. However the store, school and post office survived in Friend for a number of years after that.
The railroad was never a very profitable operation, and by the mid-twenties, its decline began. It went into bankruptcy in 1931. The senior Heimrich’s son-in-law, Steven Hull, took over the remains and tried to extend the railroad in to the mountains west of Friend to harvest timber. Right-of-way was constructed as far as Jordan Creek in 1932-34, and a large trestle was built there. But times were too hard and the railroad finally folded in 1936, and all the assets were sold to pay off back taxes.
The times, they were a-changing. The railroad had served its time and it passed into the sunset of history.
Great Southern Railroad train is shown leaving the depot at the east end of The Dalles. The depot burned in 1910.
Click here to see a larger image.
Special Excursion Train
Special Excursion train is shown leaving the Great Southern Railroad depot at the east end of The Dalles, possibly to celebrate the beginning of freight service to Dufur. Great Southern was incorporated in Washington state March 9, 1904, by John Heimrich, a wealthy Seattle entrepreneur, for the purpose of “constructing and operating a railroad from some point near The Dalles, Oregon, southerly through that state and to San Francisco and northerly into and through the state of Washington to such a point as the company might desire.”
Heimrich’s son, John G. Heimrich, had charge of construction and operation. Never a financial success, the Great Southern finally managed to reach a forested area southwest of Friend, then declared bankruptcy and ceased operation in 1935. Tall building appearing here behind the depot is the Columbia Brewery. near the locomotive can be seen the turntable used in reversing the engine’s direction. multi-storied building on the top was the original Wasco Warehouse Milling Co. Fire on July 31, 1910, destroyed the mill as well as the old depot.
From The Dalles Chronicle, History Mystery archives, “East end, railroad and turntable.”
Water tower Restored
by Jerry Tanquist
The restoration of the historic water tower on the Deschutes, at Harris Canyon, was completed October 2009. The water tower was constructed in 1909, to serve the steam locomotives that operated (1909-1936) on the rail line on the east bank of the river.
That railroad was built by Edward Harriman, in competition with James Hill, who built the railroad on the opposite side of the river. They were competing to reach central Oregon, 1909-1911, and they both succeeded. By 1936 the two railroads agreed on just one line. The best sections of the two railroads were put together in the railroad that still operates along the Deschutes, and on to Bend. Today the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and the Union Pacific share that track.
The restoration work included a new roof on the tower, replacing several vertical staves, realigning the steel bands; and some minor work on t;he foundation timbers. It was not the intention to give it water holding capacity. As can be seen in the photo, there are many holes in the sides of the tower, caused by woodpeckers; And the bands were not tightened, but merely secured on the outside.
The purpose was to preserve the tower, as an historic structure, and as a symbol of a by-gone railroad era. It is the only surviving water tower, of 8 that used to grace those two railroads. The restored tower should survive for many more years, as a reminder of that era. It is a significant land mark to boaters, at mile-post 11.
The tower stands on property that was homesteaded in 1873 by John Harris. In the early 1930’s it was purchased by Arthur Sharp. He and his son Ed Sharp operated the ranch for many years where they wintered sheep and then cattle. Most of the ranch buildings, and the corrals are still standing. It is now owned and managed by The Oregon Dept. of Fish and WIldlife. (ODFW)
The work was completed in two days by volunteers Doug Campbell, Glyn Jones, Jeff Scott and Jim Tobin from SD Deacon Corporation of Portland. Scaffolding was provided by Discover Rentals, of the Dalles, and Cal McDonald was the contractor that installed the scaffolding. The Sherman County Historical Society handled the contributions that came in. Ron Walp, of Maupin, an avid fisherman was the Coordinator and Keith Kohl ( ODFW), Sherry Kaseberg, and Jerry Tanquist assisted.
It can be visited from the river by boat; or by bicycle, or on foot, along the old RR right of way.
Thanks are given to all who contributed to make this restoration project a success.
Note: You can find Jerry Tanquist’s voluminous research notes and documents in the William G. Dick research library at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum. Call 541-296-8600 ext. 201 to inquire about library hours.