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Western Rails - Washington Misc.

NP's Tumwater Branch

Olympia & Tenino Railroad Co. (1878-1881)
The Olympia & Chehalis Valley Railroad Co. (1881-1890)
Port Townsend Southern Railroad Company (1890-1914)
Northern Pacific Tumwater Branch (1914-1916?)

Map from the Mardos Memorial On Line Library 1895 US Atlas site

This little-known line extended 15.5 miles from Olympia to Tenino. It was constructed as the narrow-gauge Olympia & Tenino Railroad Co., though the O&T was not incorporated in the State of Washington, nor was it listed by the ICC. Construction was complete and the first train operated in August 1878.

In August 1, 1881, the railroad was purchased by the Olympia Railroad & Mining Co. and was renamed the Olympia & Chehalis Valley Railroad Co.

As of June 30, 1889, the O&CV owned 2 locomotives, 2 passenger cars, and 6 freight cars, and was still the only railroad serving Olympia. The NP's line from Lakeview (south Tacoma) to Olympia (and on to Hoquiam) was completed in June of 1891, and the UP's branch wasn't complete until 1916.

On September 11, 1890, the railroad was sold to The Port Townsend Southern Railroad Co. for $192,000. The PTS also operated approx. 30 miles from Port Townsend south to Quilcene (hence the name of the railroad). The line from Olympia to Tenino was standard-gauged in September 1890 by the the PTS.

The PTS was owned by the Oregon Improvement Co, then purchased by the Pacific Coast Co. in December of 1897. Control (ownership?) passed to the Northern Pacific Railway Co. in November 1902.

The original line from Tenino to Olympia was sold to the NP on June 25, 1914. The section from Tenino north to Plumb, 6 miles, was used by the NP for their new double-track mainline from Tenino to Tacoma via Pt. Defiance, which opened on December 15, 1914. The NP built a connection at Plumb from the new mainline to the "Tumwater Branch" as the old Port Townsend Southern was called

A railroad map of Tumwater, dated 1916 (in Jeff Asay's book "Union Pacific Northwest"), shows both the new UP branch (opened Jan. 1, 1916) and the old PTS line as an NP branch, labeled "formerly Port Townsend Southern". The NP branch comes down from a connection with the "NP Olympia-Hoquiam Branch" at Olympia on the west side of Budd Inlet [Did this portion of Budd Inlet become Capitol Lake?]. There is a spur across the mouth of the Deschutes River to reach the Olympia brewery. The line then heads south along the west side of the Deschutes, labeled "NP Ry to Plumb".

Most of the Tumwater Branch was apparently abandoned in 1916. It is not shown on a 1928 Washington Department of Public Works railroad map.

The following information about the north and south ends of the line came to me via e-mail from Brian Ferris, author of the History of the Northern Pacific Prairie Line website:

"I have heard stories that the RR had an agreement with a farmer on the line for some kind of delivery so a portion of the south end remained in service for sometime after 1916. I'm not sure how far or how long or if that is even a true story. I have a photo from 1928 that shows where the Plumb Depot was on the double track line and a spur remains where the branch previously diverged. The photo identifies Eagle Lumber Co on the spur. The fill where this spur was is still visible beside the road."

"I have an NP map that shows the branch connection still there in 1932. I'm not sure if the Deshutes drawbridge to the old brewery lasted that long. (I think I can piece this part together by consulting old time-tables which speak of restrictions for the bridge). I have reason to believe that the Tumwater leg of the spur may have remained until the late 1950's. I've questioned some old-timers and they recollect an "occasional" train coming up to Tumwater near the falls. I'm not sure why they would have gone up there as the brewery was serviced from the UP on the other side of the river after the new brewery was constructed. An NP vet who used to work the Oly Switcher, told me that they used to kick empty log cars up this branch for storage. I believe he recalled using it as late as the 1950's."

"I think the construction of Interstate 5 (1959-ish) pretty much destroyed the Tumwater part. The building of Deschutes Parkway was over most of the RR grade along Capital Lake. I'm not sure what year this was built, but it would be easy to find out. During the winter when the leaves are off the trees, you can plainly see this grade seperate from Deschutes Parkway and climb along the bank near the 101/I-5 interchange."


"Encylopedia of Western Railroad History - Volume III - Oregon/Washington", by Donald B. Robertson, Caxton Printers, 1995.

"Union Pacific Northwest" by Jeff Asay, PFM Publications.

Brian Ferris, author of the History of the Northern Pacific Prairie Line website

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