Mormon pioneers and the logging railroad in Oregon

By Glenn Alma Butterfield

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, July 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Top: Rail gauge, used for setting the distance between rails. Row 2: 2 broken pieces off some machinery, rail spikes, business end of a peavey, used for rolling logs. Row 3: a square nut, a small pick head with one end broken off, a joining plate for splicing rails together. Row 4: a piece of cable, and far right a piece of barbed wire

Glenn Butterfield

CLATSKANIE, Ore. — In the spring of 1996 my wife, Lois, and I were digging a ditch from the utility boxes in the corner of our newly-purchased lot in the wooded hills near Clatskanie, Ore. The previous November we had cleared part of the 2-and-1/3 acres of alder trees for our retirement home site.

About 20 feet in from the road we began to dig up a few rusted railroad spikes. Curious as to how they got there, we set them aside. After a couple of days of digging our neighbor to the south of us came over to introduce himself. He said he had lived there for 17 years. During the conversation we asked him about the railroad spikes.

“Oh, yes,” he replied, “just after the turn of the century a logging outfit came in here and logged off the area. They built a railroad to take out the logs.”

Then he paused and added, “The Mormons did it.”

“Really?” We were all ears.

“Yeah, there’s some guy in town knows all about it,” he went on. “Some kind of local historian.”

A few years later, I met Charles Morby, the local historian, on a home teaching visit with my son-in-law, Jim. It turns out that Morby was the son, grandson and nephew of some of the men who had worked in this logging operation, so he knew what he was talking about. He has since passed away.

I wanted to know more, so, over time I wrote letters and went to the local library. In my research I learned from the writings of Kate Carter, author of "Treasures of Pioneer History," about David Eccles, the man who began this logging venture.

The Eccles contribution

It turns out that wood was an important trade in the Eccles family. His father, William Eccles, brought his foot-powered wood lathe with him when the family immigrated from Scotland with the Mormon pioneers and settled in the Ogden, Utah, area.

In 1867, the Eccles family came to Oregon for two years. Somewhere between Scotland and Oregon, William had become blind. His son, David, at age 18, was the sole support of the family. He split cord wood for those two years and found himself seriously interested in the lumber business.

When the family returned to Utah, David became involved more deeply in logging and sawmill operations. Over time he also got into the sugar beet business in Utah and Idaho, and eventually into banking and local politics.

Oregon and the lumber industry

In 1889, David started the Oregon Lumber Company near Hood River, Ore., and other locations in Oregon and Washington. In 1902, he created the W. H. Eccles Lumber Company at Inglis, Ore., where he bought a tract of timber land. Inglis (a misspelling of Ingles) was located just a few miles to the northeast of Clatskanie. This Mormon logging community was named after John Ingles, a cousin to David. The only evidence of the community now is a green road sign that reads, “Inglis Road,” and the same name on a 1993 road map of the area.

Clatskanie was right in the middle of several large and small logging businesses as the whole of the Northwest was supplying lumber to the rest of the country, much of it on a newly completed rail line. Prior to that it was shipped by water up the Columbia River to Portland, or down the river by ship. Today, the Port of Longview, Wash. (across from Rainier, Ore.), ships out logs to a world market.

An article in the April 19, 2001, issue of the Clatskanie Chief tells of Morby’s efforts to track down the history of the Oregon Lumber Company. According to this article, the logs were brought from the hills to a mill located at Beaver Falls. From the mill, the lumber was hauled by wagon to Inglis where a planer mill finished the wood. From Inglis the lumber was shipped to Utah.

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