Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad

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bobcat
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Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad

Post by bobcat » February 9th, 2012, 7:49 am

This was a half-day jaunt last Sunday, Feb. 5th. I hadn’t been on the Tillamook Bay Railroad since the December 2007 storm that shut down the whole operation, probably for good. I parked my car alongside the railroad at Cochran Crossing, about 7.3 miles up from Timber in Washington County, taking Cochran Road and then a short spur from a five-way junction down to the tracks at the site of the old mill town of Cochran.

I started walking along the old maintenance track next to the lines. Beavers have been very active along Pennoyer Creek, creating several dams, large and small. I passed Cochran’s old mill pond. Across the pond are remains of the mill structure itself, now pockmarked with bullet holes.
Beaver dam, Pennoyer Creek, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Cochran Pond, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
From here until the first tunnel, there were a few inches of crusty snow exhibiting the passage of coyote and elk. Nature is seizing control of the tracks, with a forest of shoulder-high baby alders sprouting up between the railroad ties; there are fallen trees, small sinkholes, and slides. The fiber optic cable, one attempt by the never-profitable railroad company to make money by leasing the right of way, is exposed in several places. An abandoned ballast regulator is rusting away at a small siding. Before the first tunnel, Tunnel 24, you can get a view down to some small waterfalls on Pennoyer Creek. It’s good to have a headlamp to negotiate the route through the tunnels as dripping water has eroded some of the ballast between the ties and you don’t want to twist an ankle in the dark.
Downed alders, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Ballast regulator, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Baby alders, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
I emerged from the first tunnel above the Salmonberry River. On the other side is the old permit box which had disclaimer forms that hikers had to sign when the railroad was operational. The tracks continue through the Tillamook State Forest in Douglas-fir/hemlock forest that has sprung up since the Tillamook Burn replantings of the early 1950s. Before the fires, the area all along the railroad had been heavily logged as evidenced by the many large stumps sporting springboard notches. Small waterfalls spill down to the tracks. There is evidence of post-2007 “trail” maintenance in some sections where big blowdown has been sawn through. I passed the water tank before the Big Baldwin Trestle and got views down the Salmonberry valley from the trestle itself. This trestle is supported by steel girders and stands about 170’ above Baldwin Creek. It is about 520’ in length, with wide plank walkways on either side of the tracks (There are 60 trestles on the line, but the largest two are in this section).
Water tank, Big Baldwin Trestle, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Baldwin Creek from Big Baldwin Trestle, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
There’s another rusting water tank on the other side of Big Baldwin. A fire hose leads along the tracks from here to the next big trestle at Wolf Creek, which doesn’t have its own water tanks. Past Big Baldwin there is a memorial plaque to seven railroad workers who died on the line in 1935.
Memorial plaque, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Red alder catkins, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
The track turns into Wolf Creek Canyon on a long, narrow horseshoe. Here there’s a section of track suspended above a huge slide above Wolf Creek. Across the way, you can see other similarly damaged sections of track.
Tracks in suspension, Wolf Creek Horseshoe, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Tracks on the Wolf Creek Horseshoe, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
I walked through dripping Tunnel 25 and emerged on the other big trestle over Wolf Creek. This one has perforated steel plates for walkways and gives great views down to the creek itself. Like most of the trestles on the line, it is constructed of timbers and so it’s only a matter of time before it begins to deteriorate beyond repair.
Tunnel 25, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Wolf Creek Trestle, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
More sections of the track are buried by slides here and I passed by a second suspended section of track opposite the slide on the upper section of the horseshoe. The tracks head out of Wolf Creek Canyon and along the Salmonberry again. I turned around five miles into the hike at a spot known as Wolf Creek Flats, where the river braids through a broad, open gravel expanse rimmed by big-leaf maples and red alders.
Salmonberry River, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Wolf Creek Flats, Tillamook Bay Railroad.jpg
Some notes:

* The Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad is 88 miles long, with 60 trestles, large and small. When in operation, the railroad allowed hikers to use the section between the Salmonberry/Nehalem confluence and Cochran.

* The railroad was acquired by the Port in 1991, with an infusion of state lottery funding, after Southern Pacific deemed it too expensive to maintain.

* Storms in 1992, 1996, and finally 2007 wiped out sections of the line.

* The Port never turned a profit on the line, but was able to get federal funds to repair it after the 1996 storms. It was primarily used to transport lumber, but only one mill in the Tillamook area used it. At times, other goods, such as cattle feed, were transported and there were also tourist excursions.

* Increased logging in adjacent areas of the Tillamook State Forest contributed to the disaster damage. Also, the Port was never able to keep up with the extensive routine maintenance needed in such rugged, unstable country. At times when the railroad was operational, train speed was restricted to 10 mph because of the shaky condition of the tracks.

* There are mile markers still standing along the line. Cochran, at the high point of the route (1,830'), is at 800; I turned around at 805.

* Is this a rails to trails option? I don’t know: It would require extensive upkeep even for a foot trail and the liability issues would have to be resolved. Tunnels farther down the line are deteriorating and there are numerous slides, so many sections would have to be rerouted. And then there’s the question of dealing with the ongoing decay of the big trestles.

* As the alder thickets grow up on and around the tracks, summer and fall become less appealing seasons to hike the railroad as in many sections you would get no views whatsoever when these young trees are leafed out. Eventually, passage at all seasons will become a tedious machete-swinging ordeal unless there is active maintenance.
Last edited by bobcat on February 9th, 2012, 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Waffle Stomper
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by Waffle Stomper » February 9th, 2012, 8:28 am

Great trip report. It probably would be to costly to maintain as a rail-to-trails conversion. But it would be cool.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." - John Muir

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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by Peder » February 10th, 2012, 7:04 am

Bobcat - Thanks for the trip report - that looks like a railroad wonderland. Hiking along that RR has been on my "to do" list for several years. It just got bumped well up the list after seeing your great photos. Thanks for sharing.
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Crusak
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by Crusak » February 10th, 2012, 7:34 am

Peder wrote:Bobcat - Thanks for the trip report - that looks like a railroad wonderland. Hiking along that RR has been on my "to do" list for several years. It just got bumped well up the list after seeing your great photos. Thanks for sharing.
That's about what I was going to say. Exploring such an interesting area, with all of the historical artifacts, looks like a lot of fun. It's unfortunate that maintaining that route would be so expensive. It'd make a perfect rails to trails candidate!
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Peder
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by Peder » February 13th, 2012, 7:55 am

Bobcat - Thanks again. Your TR is a goldmine of information. With my son, I walked to the Big Baldwin Trestle and back, a total of 6 miles.

I was surprised to find how easy it is to drive to Cochran Crossing; as Stevefromdodge's instruction are from when the "easy" road was out. So his instructions are complex and there is seemingly also a rough road. So here are some step by step instructions taken from Google Maps for anybody who may wish to go:

1. Go west on US-26 toward Astoria
2. A couple of miles after the Dennis L Edwards tunnel turn left onto NW Timber Rd (go 3.0 mi) (a little before Timber there may be bison on your right!)
3. Turn right to stay on NW Timber Rd (308 ft)
4. Continue onto NW Cochran Rd (6.8 mi)
5. Turn left at two junctions to reach the RR crossing (0.2 mi)

It's about 1h15min from downtown Portland.
DSC04170.jpg
Big Baldwin Trestle
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bobcat
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by bobcat » February 14th, 2012, 10:27 am

Glad you could make it out there, Peder. It is a relatively simple drive and a great walk for younger hikers!

Adrian1208
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by Adrian1208 » February 14th, 2012, 5:28 pm

I have recently done the Salmonberry River hike between Cochran Pond and Lower Nehalem Rd and i was curious if anyone knew if the other parts of the RR are hikeable?

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bobcat
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by bobcat » February 15th, 2012, 1:23 pm

@Adrian1208: I've heard of people hiking the section down from Cochran a way (The tracks come close to Cochran Road) and also past Lower Nehalem Road. While the railroad was operational, the only authorized section was the part you hiked and hikers were asked to fill out disclaimer forms. Now that the railroad is no longer functioning, it would seem there's little to stop someone from hiking any section within the Tillamook State Forest. I'd avoid using any sections of the track that cross private land, however.

Anyway, by far the most scenic section is the Lower Nehalem to Cochran portion.

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anne37
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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by anne37 » February 15th, 2012, 7:04 pm

Hmm, this is cool and I wouldn't have known about it otherwise. Thanks for the report.

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Re: Cochran to Wolf Creek Flats: Port of Tillamook Bay Railr

Post by Aardvark » February 15th, 2012, 7:26 pm

Really nice report. Local, rural history is fascinating in a way that larger scale history can never be. That would be a great rainy day walk with all the trestles, old iron, & fog.

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