On September 22, 1887, the Vancouver Register reports that a group of Vancouver, Washington, businessmen led by L. M. Hidden has incorporated the Vancouver, Yakima & Klickitat Railroad. It is envisioned as Vancouver’s rail link to the outside world, via the Cascade Mountains to Yakima, for there are no prospects of other rail links in the foreseeable future. The line will never fulfill its goal, but by 1897 it will reach some 13 miles to Brush Prairie.
The Vancouver Register exclaimed in reporting the Hidden group’s endeavor, “The dawn is breaking.”In 1890, historian Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote, “The Vancouver, Klickitat and Yakima is in the process of construction from Vancouver to North Yakima.” But despite the work and the enthusiasm for this commercial link, the pace was slow. In 1897 the line reached only 13.5 miles to Brush Prairie, northeast of Vancouver, and the operation went broke amid economic hard times.
Indeed, connections to Kalama and Puget Sound weren’t complete until 1903 and rail service south to Portland and east up the Columbia River to Pasco, Spokane, and on to the Midwest didn’t come until 1908.
A Logging Road
Over the decades, the line underwent several ownerships, including Northern Pacific from 1903 to 1950. During logging’s heyday in the early twentieth century, the line played a crucial role in getting supplies and people to the camps and logs to market.
Passenger trains ran daily to Yacolt, which today is the smallest incorporated town in Clark County. Eventually the line reached 33 miles to Chelatchie Prairie in northeast Clark County, at the doorstep of the Cascades foothills. International Paper Co. opened a mill there in 1960 and serviced it with the line, which it operated as the Longview, Portland & Northern Railway.
The dream of a trans-Cascades route never was seriously explored after those early years. In 1987, Clark County bought the line and rolling stock. The county is leasing it to Columbia Basin Railway for freight hauling under the name Vancouver Junction Railway. A nonprofit excursion line runs infrequent trains over part of the route. As of 2008, plans are under way by the county to build a pedestrian and bike trail on much the right of way, adjacent to the tracks.
The descendents of L. M. Hidden are very much a part of the Vancouver business and civic scene today (2008),