speeder day at Potlatch

- Jim West, Director, and past president, of the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway History Preservation Group, Inc: 

In need of a hobby in 1998, I revived my long dormant affection for model railroads and set out to build a small HO layout. To make the most of my limited space, I chose to model a logging railroad served by a Pacific Northwest short line.

Without a specific prototype in mind, my search proved fruitless. That is, until the day I thought to use the new library computer to research the railroad whose trains passed by my boyhood home, a solitary farm house located just west of the Princeton, Idaho “suburb” of Hampton.

From the ages of 5 through 7, the highlight of each weekday was waving to the train crew as they delivered their mixed freight and log car empties east each morning, and again as they returned west with new freight and log loads each afternoon. Since this railroad had a yard near the saw mill just two miles west, I plugged the town’s name, “Potlatch” into the search engine and hit Enter.

Within seconds, I learned my boyhood short line was called the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway Company. Little did I know my HO layout plans would languish for years as the unique character of the WI&M led me to libraries and archives in northern Idaho. Nor could I imagine where my research would lead.

When I commented to a Latah County Historical Society volunteer that “someone should document WI&M history”, she agreed and replied “Why don’t you?” Unable to dispute her logic, in June 1998, I registered the WI&M Railway History Preservation Group (HPG) as an Idaho nonprofit, and set about gathering information to preserve the history of the WI&M and the Potlatch Lumber Company (PLCo).

In August 1999, the first issue of the HPG newsletter, the White Pine Quarterly (WPQ) was published, and memberships in the historical society were offered. Within the year that followed, the HPG was incorporated as a 501c3. More importantly, Tom Burg joined the HPG as a life-time member, and brought with him nearly 30 years of WI&M research which he wished to publish. This relieved me of the need to write a book so I was pleased to offer my help. The HPG also worked with the Potlatch Historical Society and Potlatch, Inc. to produce historic photographic CDs in 1999 and 2000.

With the help of donations, the HPG purchased the Potlatch Idaho depot from the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad in 2001. Replacement of the depot’s foundation and roof, and restoration of the exterior will be accomplished in the summer of 2007, funded by a $500,000 Transportation Enhancement Grant.

The depot is the eventual home of the HPG and the WI&M / PLCo museum. The HPG has other projects in the works, such as the renovation of our Thrall-door box car, BENX 182, into a performing arts stage, and the restoration of the wood-sided X5, the last WI&M caboose.

In December 2003, the Museum of North Idaho published life-time member Tom Burg’s excellent history of the WI&M, White Pine Route. Tom’s book is 300+ pages, with over 400 photographs, maps, equipment roster, index, and bibliography. White Pine Route is available from the HPG Company Store, as are several other WI&M items.

We have an annual celebration at the depot the second week of July each year. Please know that the HPG is run by volunteers. All profits from memberships, sales, and any of our other activities are dedicated 100% to our WI&M / PLCo restoration and historical preservation efforts.

So, climb aboard! Print out our online membership form and submit it today!

Mission Statement of the WI&M Railway History Preservation Group:

“To locate, preserve, and archive all items of a historical nature relating to the history of the WI&M Ry; to issue publications on this and related subjects; to encourage public interest in the history of the WI&M and the Potlatch Lumber Company; and, to acquire objects and property appropriate for a museum and/or any of the purposes listed above.”

The WI&M Ry HPG is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational corporation registered in the State of Idaho