Mount Emily Lumber Company
Grande Ronde Lumber Company
Mt. Emily Lumber letterhead, including the company's logo.
Grande Ronde Lumber Company
In 1890 the Grande Ronde Lumber Company built a sawmill on the Union Pacific mainline at Perry, OR, about four miles northeast of La Grande. The company built a logging railroad up the Grande Ronde river from a connection with the Union Pacific mainline at Hilgard, another four miles northeast of Perry, to supply logs to the mill. The company used a series of geared locomotives, mostly Heislers, to power the railroad. However, by the mid-1920s the company found further expansion of the railroad blocked by the holdings of the Mount Emily Lumber Company. In 1925 the Grande Ronde company sold its railroad and remaining timber up the Grande Ronde river to the Mount Emily Lumber Company. By 1926 the company had closed its Perry mill and moved it to Pondosa, OR. The story of the Grande Ronde operation continues on the Big Creek & Telocaset page of this website.
Mount Emily Lumber Company
About 1911 the A.H. Strange Lumber Company sent representatives to Union County, OR, to look over timber lands. In August the company formed the Mt. Emily Timber Company to acquire and hold timberlands, and within two years the company held over 100,000 acres of prime timber. The company finally prepared to move west in 1924, and in that year they formed the Mount Emily Lumber Company to take over the Oregon properties. The new Mount Emily Lumber Company constructed a sawmill in La Grande, OR that had a daily cut of 150,000 board feet. The company purchased the logging railroad of the Grande Ronde Lumber Company and started extending it into their holdings. The railroad's initial equipment roster consisted of two Alco-built 2-8-2T locomotives, two Clyde slideback loaders, one moving car, five tank cars, one speeder, and 14 or more camp cars, mostly built on the frames of old Great Northern flatcars and boxcars. The company quickly deemed the two big rod locomotives unsuitable for its operations and replaced them with geared locomotives. Union Pacific provided the log flats and shuttled loaded and empty log cars between La Grande and the logging railroad.
The Mount Emily company gradually extended the old Grande Ronde logging railroad further west up the river. Mt. Emily based its loggers in a central camp that first existed near the Union Pacific interchange at Hilgard and then moved to three successive locations as the logging operations moved west. The final location of the camp, established in 1930, lay near the confluence of Meadow Creek and the Grande Ronde River. Concurrent with the establishment of this camp the company transitioned from rail spurs to truck logging, and the logging railroad terminated a half mile beyond the camp. The Grande Ronde river drainage remained a primary source of logs for the company, but it lost some importance as the company purchased other timberlands, mainly in the Enterprise/Joseph area.
In 1945 the lumber company broke ground on an extension of the railroad that eventually extended the line nearly twenty miles, crossing into the John Day River watershed in the process. The geared locomotives could only haul eight loads at a time from the reload established at the end of track up the stiff adverse grades to Frog Heaven Summit, where trains would be assembled into 20 car blocks for the all downhill run from there to Hilgard. Union Pacific continued shuttling the log flats between Hilgard and La Grande, which was a very popular run amongst the UP crews in as much as they got a full days pay for three hours of work.
In 1955 the Valsetz Lumber Company acquired the Mount Emily Lumber Company. The new ownership promptly closed the logging railroad in favor of truck hauls, and the last log train came out of the woods on 20 June 1955. The railroad was scrapped a shortly afterwards. The Valsetz company deeded the primary camp on the railroad to the Blue Mountain Conservative Baptist Association, who turned the site into a youth camp named Camp Elkanah using the former camp cars. In 1960 the Valsetz Company sold out to Boise-Cascade.
Some Portland area railfans became aware that one of the geared locomotives used on the railroad at the end was a product of the Willamette Iron & Machine Works of Portland. They opened talks with the Valsetz company about preserving the machine. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry became involved in the negotiations and soon had an agreement to preserve the locomotive. However, Valsetz forgot to tell their scrapping contractor about the preservation deal before they cut the locomotive up. Valsetz then gave the other remaining locomotive, a 3-truck Shay, to the organization. The Shay bumped around Portland for fifteen years before being leased to the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia. In 1994 the locomotive came back to Oregon. The City of Prineville Railway won the right to host the locomotive, and it has operated there ever since.
The Mt. Emily Lumber Company logging railroad mainline and a few of the spurs are shown in red.
Underlined numbers indicate a link to a page of pictures of that locomotive.
1st #1- Alco 2-8-2T, c/n 66276, blt 3/1925. Cylinders 18x24, Drivers 44", Weight 84 tons, Tractive Effort 28,500 lbs. Purchased new. To Long Bell Lumber Company #805, Longview, OR; transferred to Vaughn, OR by 1952.
2nd #1- Lima 3-truck Shay, c/n 3233, built 9/1923. Cylinders 13x15, Drivers 36", Weight 90 tons, Tractive Effort 35,100 lbs. Built as Independence Logging Company #1, Independence, WA; to Mt. Emily Lumber 1925. Donated to Oregon Museum of Science and Industry 1955; to Oregon Historical Society 1960. Leased to and operated by Cass Scenic Railway, Cass, West Virginia 1970-1994, then returned to Oregon. Currently in occassional excursion service on the City of Prineville Railway.
#2- Alco 2-8-2T, c/n 6627?, blt 3/1925. Cylinders 18x24, Drivers 44", Weight 84 tons, Tractive Effort 28,500 lbs. Purchased new. To Long Bell Lumber Company #804, Longview, OR; to Harbor Plywood Co. #804, National, WA; to Harbor Plywood #804, Amboy, WA. Scrapped by 1959.
#4- Willamette 3-truck, c/n 15, blt 6/1924. Cylinders 12x15, Drivers 36", Weight 87 tons, Tractive Effort 31,968 lbs. Built as Long Bell Lumber Co. #700, Longview, WA; to Mt. Emily #4 1927. Donated to Oregon Museum of Science & Industry 1955, but accidently scrapped before it could be delivered.
#5- Lima 2 truck Shay, c/n 2614, Blt 1/1913. Cylinders 11x12, Drivers 32", Weight 50 tons, Tractive Effort 22,580 lbs. Built as Deep River Loggin Company 2nd #5, Deep River, WA; to Zimmerman-Wells-Brown Corp; to Mt. Emily Lumber #5 1925. To Willamette Iron & Steel #5 9/1942. Scrapped after World War 2.
Mt. Emily Lumber Company Camp Cars
In July 1925 Mt. Emily Lumber Company constructed at least 14 camp cars on the frames of the flatcars and boxcars purchased from Great Northern. Ten of these cars, plus 12 skid shacks and some other buildings, are still in use at Camp Elkanah. After abandonment four or five others were trucked to Ukiah, Oregon, for use as housing until demolished in the middle 1990s. The following two pages are links to the cars and other buildings at the Camp and Ukiah.
Mt. Emily Cars in Ukiah
Gibson B4-25, purchased new February 1935. Sold to Valley & Siletz Railroad #99, Independence, Oregon; to Dick Simpson, Portland, Oregon.
18-man speeder, unknown builder or origin, sold 8/1955 to Oregon & Northwestern.
Clyde Iron Works, c/n 6049 and 7166, 8.25x10 Cylinders, Rapid Loader Winches. Both shipped 12 August 1925.
Modern Views of the Mt. Emily Lumber Grade
"Mount Emily Lumber Company" by John A. Taubeneck, Winter 2000 Tall Timber Short Lines: pgs 12-21.