The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson is once again offering the first in a series of Sunday afternoon history programs on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m.
"The History of Rail Systems in the Gorge" will be presented by Tom Cramblett of Cascade Locks. This series is the result of the efforts of volunteer, Les Hastings of Stevenson. (It was originally planned for May but has been rescheduled.)
"Transportation networks have played an important part in the development of the Gorge," said Cramblett. Transportation systems were developed originally to aid in the movement of people and supplies through the obstacles (rapids and rough terrain). These systems also served to break up of the isolation of the early pioneers, tying them to the rest of the continent.
The first transportation in the Gorge was by foot or water. For centuries, the Indians traveled along these routes each year, bringing trade goods to this major trading center. Early explorers, such as Lewis and Clark, used the same trails and established the Gorge as the transportation corridor for the white settlers who soon followed.
After an arduous 2,000-mile journey along the Oregon Trail, these early settlers had to do exactly as the first people did and that was to portage around the treacherous rapids. Portages were made at The Dalles and at Stevenson.
Yes, the Oregon Trail came on the north bank of the river with settlers congregating at Cascades (today's North Bonneville area), to rest and build rafts to continue down river. It wasn't until 1845 with the completion of the Barlow Trail that settlers had a choice.
In 1851, Francis A. Chenoweth built a wood rail portage around the Great Cascades to move people and their belongings around the rapids. This was the first railroad in Washington, consisting of a small flat car pulled by a mule. By the early 1860s, the Oregon Steam Navigation Company formed a competitive rail system on the south bank. In 1862, they brought the first steam locomotive to the Northwest, the Oregon Pony, now on display at the Port of Cascade Locks. This little engine carried passengers between steamboat landings. That same year, not to be out done, the north bank portage was extended six miles and the little steam engine, The Ann (a duplicate of the Pony), provided the same service.
Cramblett is known locally as "Captain Tom." He has served many years as the captain of the sternwheeler, "The Columbia," under the ownership of the Port of Cascade Locks. As part of his duties, Cramblett provides an interesting cultural and natural history narration to the passengers. He is considered an authority on the history of the Gorge and his program promises to be entertaining and informative.
He is currently serving a second three-year term on the Board of Directors for the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum. He is also a member of the education committee and provides guidance for Museum activities for the after-school program, BRIDGES. BRIDGES is for third to sixth grade ESD-112 students with the goal of improving math and reading skills. Visiting the Museum is just one of the many off-campus experiences the students are offered.
"I enjoy working with the students and find their responses to the activities enthusiastic and very gratifying," he says.