The following article provides a brief history of the South Bend Rail Line, built by the Northern Pacific Railway company between Chehalis (in Lewis County) and South Bend (in Pacific County). It was published in Washington Territory Centennial issue of The Daily Chronicle on June 6, 1953, and contributed by Rich Detering.
South Bend Rail Line Once Had 29 Stops Over Run of 54 Miles
By CARL STAEGER
Centennial Edition Writer
Sixty-two years ago the Northern Pacific Railway company began construction of a branch line from a point near Chehalis westward to South Bend, on Willapa Harbor. The building, which was not without difficulty, was completed within two years.
According to railroad authorities, the branch line from the Twin Cities to Willapa Harbor became one of the best paying lines of the system. But things changed and the fact is from true today.
The Willapa Harbor branch line is approximately 54 miles long. At one time it had a total of 29 stops within that distance. A large number of the stops were at small towns where sawmills were located. All of those mills are gone now, except those at Raymond and South Bend.
Instead of the 29 stops between the Twin Cities and Willapa Harbor, branch line trains today have a few regular halts, the rest consist of "flag" stops.
Readers may be interested in knowing just what were the names of these communities in those early days. Well, here they are: Starting at Chehalis, the first one was at the "wye" jsut opposite the State Training school, then Claquato, Littel, Syverson, Adna, Bunker, Long's Crossing, Ceres, Meskill, Mays, Dryad, Doty, Apex, Pe Ell, McCormick, Reynolds, Wallville, Lester, Pluvius, Frances, Globe, Lebam, Trap Creek, Holcomb, Menlo, Willapa, Raymond and South Bend.
Now, including the stops at both ends, that makes a total of 29 on a run of 54 miles, an average of less than two miles between stations. Many times the poor engineer could not attain full speed between the stations.
Was the company making any money? Yes, plenty! Two passenger trains were run every day, including Sunday, and then for some time two freight trains were busy daily on the line. That did not take into consideration the "specials" that were put on to take care of the crowds going to the circuses, baseball games, presidential visits. Yes, I remember the time the Northern Pacific ran a special train from Chehalis to Pe Ell.
That special carried a home talent troupe of Chehalis young people to that western Lewis county mill town, where they were going to perform. The train left Chehalis early in the afternoon, with two coaches and a baggage car. The latter was for the scenery.
The Chehalis brass band boys also made the trip, and every time one of those stopping places appeared the band boys would go out on the platform and play a piece, advertising the show for that night. The performance was put on in the Thrash Opera House in Pe Ell and was a howling success. Those who couldn't find standing room on the floor, took to the rafters overhead. The building was not ceiled up. Receipts were $198.50, with expenses of $201.
Then there were the specials that took the baseball clubs and fans to those games over on Willapa Harbor from Chehalis. As high as 14 coaches were used, and when the train hit Pe Ell an extra engine was attached to it to take it over the "hump" at Pluvius. Like trains were also run when the circus would visit Centralia or Chehalis.
When those heavily loaded trains left Chehalis, there was one serious difficulty that the conductor encountered. He could not get through the large number of coaches, taking up tickets, before the train entered the first towns. To overcome that the train was halted along the right-of-wa long enough for him to make that collection. That worked pretty well until it was discovered that many of the passengers would leave one end of a coach, not yet visited by the conductor, and go to the end that he had completed. It wasn an easy matter to drop off the train, walk along the track, and enter the train at another place, as all coaches had open entrances. It didn't take the conductor long to overcome that. All he had to do was to stop the train on the long trestle hear Claquato, where it was impossible for the passengers to get off.
The railroad company had the same difficulty near Pe Ell. It seems on show night at Pe Ell hundreds of those people from the section of McCormick and Walville would come down on the evening train for an evening of entertainment, returning on a later train the same evening. The conductor was unable to take up all tickets in that short distance, so the train was stopped on that long bridge over the Chehalis river, halfway between Pe Ell and McCormick.
I mentioned those 29 stops, and I know discover that I did not tell of the numerous stops those trains made on account of cows on the tracks, the blown down trees that had to be pulled off, or washouts caused by high waters in the Chehalis and Willapa rivers.
Today a mixed passenger train, one coach and one baggage car, plus a number of freight cars, makes a daily run, except Sunday. Then a daily logging train has a large string of cars of hemlock from the district of Raymond-South Bend to the larger cities. Mail is no longer carried on the Chehalis & South Bend line, truck service having started several months ago.
The first few years of operation, a mixed train was used on that new line, and, of course, was never on time. In those early days, about all the excitement the people had was to go to the depot and see the train come in and if it was an hour or two late, then that worked hardships on those that made daily visits to the depot.
They tell the story out at Dryad in those early days, when the engineer pulled in right on time, and a number of the townspeople of that community thought they would show their sppreciation by giving a little token to him. Harry Onn, Charley Mauermann, Aaron Moore, a couple of the Staeger boys, John Trumbo and a few others, took up a little collection and offered it to that engineerman for his good work. The trainman was very sorry he could not accept the offer - he explained that it was the train that was due the day before.
(Caption 1) "Typical of the many sawmill communities along the once-thriving Northern Pacific branch line from the Twin Cities to Willapa Harbor was the town of Doty, some 20 miles west of Chehalis. Started near the turn of the century, it reached heyday in the mid-1920's, and then died as the depression of 1930 came. Above left was town's Congregational church. Upper is large depot, for years thronged with passengers, and below is Doty business district, through which ran the mill and logging comapny's rail-line for sending lumber directly on the NP branch line."
(Caption 2) "Mills along NP branch line to Willapa Harbor were no small industries. Above is the Doty mill, at one time one of the largest in the western part of the county. Others were at Dryad and at McCormick. Photo shows Chehalis rive,r where logs were rafted. They were pulled into sawmill, in center. Firm also had large shingle mill, which was located where Elk creek empties into the Chehalis river."