#Lookback: Wind River Timber Company and the First Tie Drive to Riverton

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.

Ties floating down the river towards Riverton.

The Wyoming Central Railway Company was incorporated in 1885 and constructed a railroad line from the eastern edge of Wyoming Territory to Douglas, Wyoming, that was completed in 1886.  This railway line was leased to the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad (FEMV).   On June 15th, 1888, the Wyoming Central Railway Company had completed the railroad tracks to Casper, Wyoming.  Later, in 1891, the FEMV Railroad and the Wyoming Central Railroad Company were consolidated.  In 1987, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company (C&NW) was incorporated to continue the construction of the railroad from Casper, over the South Pass and to the western border of Wyoming.  In 1903, the FEMV Railroad was acquired by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company.  However, due to a deal made with the Union Pacific Railroad for construction of the railroad, it never reached the western edge of the state and ended in Lander, Wyoming.   

The town of Riverton was opened for settlement on August 15th, 1906, and two weeks later, the railroad reached the town.   In June of 1913, William J. McLaughlin came to Riverton with a contract from the C&NW Railroad Company to deliver 500,000 ties annually to the railroad.  McLaughlin incorporated the Wind River Timber Company with August Herman, Thomas Reyant, L.E. McLaughlin, and Robert Coddington.  The company had capital stock fixed at $200,000.  

McLaughlin’s plan was to float the ties down the Wind River to Riverton where the C&NW Railroad Company was building a treatment plant.  During the late fall of 1913, twenty men loaded two wagons to make the trip to Lava Creek, near Dubois, to begin construction on the base camp.  These men were mostly Scandinavians and were known as tie hacks.  In February 1914, the first railroad tie was hewn.  In addition to ties the company cut timber for telephone or telegraph poles and mine props. 

After cutting the ties, the tie hacks sent the timber down the mountain using a long sixteen-foot sled called a go-devil.  The go-devils were driven to a clearing where the creek had been dammed.  Then, the tie hacks drove the ties down creeks or flumes to storage piles along the Wind River known as banking grounds.  At the banking ground, the ties were stacked into piles or decks that were eight to twenty feet tall.  After the ties were stacked into decks, a forest ranger would count and stamp the ties with a U.S. symbol before they were floated down the Wind River towards Riverton.  Once the ties were floated down the Wind River, the ties were stopped at Riverton with a dam that was called a boom.  In Riverton, crews took the ties out of the river to be treated at the treatment plant.  

In Riverton, William J. McLaughlin, also known as Billy Mac, designed a system of islands, fingers, and booms on the Wind River to divert ties from the main channel to avoid losing ties during times of high water.   However, this system didn’t always work.   One spring, the boom broke and scattered timber miles down the river.  Men were sent out to recover as much as they could, but a lot of the timber was lost.  A walking boom was constructed to move the ties into a channel that would take them to a holding pond.  At the holding pond, the ties were loaded onto conveyors powered by large electric motors that were designed and built by Billy Mac.  Two conveyors took the ties to the tie yard.  

The first tie drive began in the early summer of 1914.   During this first drive, the tie hacks guided about 35,000 ties and an equal number of mine props and telephone/ telegraph posts down the river by preventing them from piling up into jams.   The first ties reached Riverton on August 1st, 1914.  Floating ties down the river at the time was the most economical way to move the ties due to the poor or nonexistent roads in the state at the time.  The Riverton Review stated in the September 4th, 1914, edition that: “This drive was more of an experiment than anything else and it removes all doubt of the complete success of the undertaking.  The next thing in order will not be done until next spring.”  After the tie drive was completed, a large celebration was held in Riverton that attracted almost everyone in town.  Many of the tie hacks celebrated in Riverton until all their wages had been spent before heading back to Dubois to start the process all over again.  

While the first tie drive was taking place, the C&NW Railroad Company had sent a surveying party to lay out the site for the new tie treating plant south of Riverton beside the Wind River.  Shortly after the survey was completed, the construction crews arrived in town to begin construction.  The tie treating plant was finished in 1915 and was fully operational in 1916.  George Bemis was the first superintendent of the tie treatment plant operation.  

Next up for the Fremont County Museum

June 11, 9-2pm “Trails Trough Fremont County” with the Riverton Museum Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

June 15, 10am “Kids Corner: What’s Your Bug” at the Dubois Museum Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

June 16, 7pm “Snow Chi Minh Trail: The History of I-80” By John Waggoner at the Pioneer Museum Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

June 18, 10am “Lander Area Petroglyphs” with the Pioneer Museum in Lander, Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

June 22, 10am “Kids Corner: Junior Trailblazer” at the Dubois Museum, Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

June 22, 7-9pm “Music at the Museum: Packin the Mail” at the Dubois Museum, Sponsored by the McGee Family

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.  

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