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Prairie Pulse

Riding the rails in Idaho County

Last week I wrote briefly about the emergence of stagecoach lines in Idaho County, primarily between Lewiston and Stites or Lewiston to Grangeville. There are numerous tales to revisit, far more than I care to deliberate over without fear of boring the reader. However, I do promise to return to the subject at a later date.

For now, I turn to the evolution of the rail history in Idaho County. The history of which has been greatly expounded upon over the years and numerous photos exist. I will add several photos in the next couple of days as I pare down my choices.

The Camas Prairie Railroad service was initiated between Grangeville and Spalding, which is about 10 miles east of Lewiston, in December 1908 and was closed on 2000. The last run to Fenn and Grangeville was Nov. 29, 2000.

The Bountiful Grain and Craig Mountain Rairoad bought the line in December 2002 with the intention to operate a line from Spalding to Cottonwood. This plan did not emerge and the entire length of rail from Grangeville to Spalding was sold to Watco Companies in March 2004.

The tracks from Cottonwood to Grangeville were removed in late 2002 and 2003. Over the years some effort has been made towards revitalizing the track as a Rails to Trails site.

According the website http://www.angelfire.com/wa/lctrainclub/news/Camas.html, the following is noted regarding the stretch between Culdesac and Winchester.

"To complete the heavy tunnel construction required on this line, large numbers of Chinese and Irish immigrants were brought in. This segment of construction represents an incredible engineering feat as well as an awesome human accomplishment. From Culdesac to the 'loop', a distance of 8 miles, the line follows the crooked Lapwai Canyon at a constant 3 percent grade, passing over 11 trestles. Continuing up the rugged mountain side, the 'loop' rises another 1900 feet, through 7 tunnels totaling 3,003 feet, and over an additional 17 wooden trestles, varying in length from 50 to 685 feet. Most of this construction is breath taking. For example, 'Halfmoon Bridge', is a dramatic structure containing nearly one million feet of lumber. Also referred to as Bridge 22, it is 685 feet long, 141 feet high, and was built on a 14 degree reverse curve."

A wildfire sparked by lightning on Sept. 2, 2011, destroyed bridge number 21-3 and severed the line between Culdesac and Rueban. While most of the other trestles remain, the majority of the track does not exist on this portion of the route either. I've often wanted to stop at the historical marker along Highway 95 noting the location of the tunnels. But I know this will lead to a several hour diversion and me attempting to hike upwards in unfamiliar territory.

Another portion of the Idaho County line made its way more easterly towards Montana. The first subdivision of the Camas Prairie Railroad ran from Lewiston to Stites, known as the eastern terminus, in 1900.

According to Idaho Panhandle Railroad blog, there were as many as seven trains that ran this route in 1967. This website, http://idahospanhandlerailroad.blogspot.com/2011/06/camas-prairie-train-operations-part-3.html, states the following: "Trains 881 and 882 operated six days a week, with 882 off on Saturday and 881 off on Sunday. These locals operated with one engine due to the weight restriction on Bridge 50, a swing bridge over the Clearwater River, at Kamiah."

Most of the train service on this stretch was shipping for forest products and grains. Passenger service was curtailed in August 1955. The abandoned track was removed in the 1980s.

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