A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.
After the treatment plant in Riverton was in full operation in Riverton starting in 1916, the operation of the treatment plant went as follows. On the conveyors on the way to the treatment plant, the ties were sorted into type and some of the ties were rejected or culled. The ties that were culled were ties that were too thick and ties that had a rotten spot. The rejected ties were sold for scrap or for wood. At first, the tie hacks did not shape the ties in the field, but they were hacked in the tie yard. This was unsuccessful and tie hacks began using sawmills in the mountains, which caused fewer rejects. Once the ties reached the tie yard, they were stacked in piles until Christmastime or until the first of the new year. Then, men were contracted to load the ties onto trams that were pulled around the yard and the treatment plant with a small train called a dinky.
The dinky pulled sixteen trams over to a boring mill where eight holes were bored in the tie. It made four holes on each end for the railroad spikes. The boring mill was loaded by hand and after they were finished, they were loaded back onto the dinky. Next, the dinky traveled to the retort that was manufactured by Allis Chambers. At the retort, the ties were treated with a zinc chloride preservative that extended the life of the ties. This process could treat 25 to 32 railroad ties per tram. It took three to four hours at 150 pounds of pressure per square inch at 275 degrees Fahrenheit. In one day, the plant would treat about three to four full dinky trains of ties. After the ties were treated, they were again loaded onto the dinky and transported to the loading dock. Before loading the ties onto C&NW Railroad Company cars, the ties were allowed to cool. Once cool, a four-man team loaded the ties onto the closed cars. From there the ties were transported to various construction projects for the C&NW Railroad Company.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the government took over railroads for wartime transportation. This caused the Wind River Timber Company went bankrupt. Afterwards, the Wyoming Tie Company took over the operations and hired Martin Olson to help take charge of the tie drive. In 1919, a group of bankers from Denver invested money in the Wyoming Tie Company and Martin Olson convinced Ricker Van Metre from Chicago to help manage the companies’ finances. Ricker Van Metre bought the Wyoming Timber Company and renamed the company Wyoming Tie and Timber Company. The company had Ricker Van Metre as the President, William J. McLaughlin as the superintendent of the operation in Riverton, and Martin Olson as the supervisor in Dubois. Van Metre moved the headquarters of the logging camp to DuNoir Creek.
For the 1921 tie drive, Ricker negotiated a loan from the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company. After the loan, the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company began to flourish under the leadership of Ricker Van Metre. In 1926, the railroad tie industry ranked among the first three manufacturing industries in Wyoming according to Van Metre: “Of an approximate total of 100 million ties used annually by the railroads of the United States, Wyoming produces about two and one-half percent, all of which are preservatively treated at plants within the state.”
The scope of operations continued to grow and reached a peak in 1927 when 700,000 ties were floated to Riverton. In February of 1927, a new retort from the C&NW Railroad Company was installed at the Riverton treatment plant. The new retort was 138-foot-long cylinder that was 74 inches wide and weighed between 90 and 100 tons. The new retort also covered three full flat cars on the train on its way to Riverton. After the second retort was added, the plant production in Riverton doubled and could treat seven full dinky trains of ties per day.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the tie hack industry saw a few changes brought on by mechanization and rising labor costs. Portable sawmills began to be used in the mountains in the early 1930s. By 1936, many of the ties delivered to the tie yard in Riverton were cut by the sawmills. The tie hack became obsolete because the more ties could be produced by the sawmills in one day than the best tie hack. In 1937 an excessive amount of ice in the creek and fluctuations in the water flow delayed the tie drive. The whole drive took five months for 108 men to drive a small harvest of 377,000 ties from Dubois to Riverton. In 1943, ties were no longer flumed down to the Wind River. Instead, trucks were loaded with ties during the winter and spring and drove down to the banks of the Wind River. There they were stacked in piles and later bulldozed into the river for the tie drive in the summer. In 1944, the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company experienced a shortage of manpower due to men being drafted in World War II. The company also had a larger demand for railroad ties due to war. So, Ricker Van Metre sourced some help from a German prisoner of war camp.
In 1946, the final tie-drive down the Wind River took place transporting only 150,000 ties. From first die drive in 1914 until the final tie drive in 1946, over 10 million ties had passed through the tie yard in Riverton. In 1947, the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company was sold to J.N. Fisher from the Fisher Lumber Company. The Fisher Lumber Company purchased some large roller-bed trucks to haul ties to the tie yard in Riverton. Each truck could haul 360 to 420 ties. This allowed the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company to be paid monthly for delivering ties instead of a once-a-year settlement. This also allowed the treatment plant to have a higher rate of employment year-round.
In 1948, W.E. Bickel had a forty-year lease of the Chicago and Northwestern Treating Plant in Riverton, and he formed the Empire Timber Treating Company. The treatment plant equipment was upgraded, and creosote began to be used as a preservative on the ties. This increased the life of the railroad ties from 17 years to 35 years. Bickel eventually purchased the plant from the C&NW Railroad Company in 1956. In 1967m J.N. Fisher sold the Fisher Lumber Company to Teton Studs, who produced ties for approximately one year. In 1969, the treatment plant in Riverton was closed. In May of that year, the Empire Timber Treating Company auctioned off the plant equipment.
Next up for the Fremont County Museum
July 1, 9-5pm “First Fridays” at the Dubois Museum, Pioneer Museum & Riverton Museum, State Farm Riverton & State Farm Lander
July 6, 6pm “Not Our Native Daughters” By Ari Kamil at the Riverton Museum, Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
July 6, 7-9pm “Music at the Museum: Packin The Mail” at the Dubois Museum Neversweat Photography
July 9, 11-2pm “Dubois Museum Day”
July 12, 9-3pm “Annual Mystery Sheep Trap Trek” Wind River Visitors Council Discovery Speakers Series
July 12, 7-9pm “Music at the Museum: Jan Marrou” at the Dubois Museum Nanna’s Bowling Alley and Bakery
July 13 & 14, 9-5pm “American Solar Car Challenge” at the Pioneer Museum
Thru October 2022, 9-5pm Monday-Saturday, at the Pioneer Museum, “Hurrah for The Cowboy: Men of the Open Range” Art Exhibition
The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.