Skiway Tram

Recreation in the Mt. Hood National Forest increased after the end of World War II. Skiing was a popular wintertime activity and Dr. J. Otto George envisioned a tramway connecting two popular skiing destinations: Government Camp and Timberline Lodge, which was 2,200′ higher up the mountain. He formed a corporation called the Mt. Hood Aerial Transportation and started looking for investors. In 1948 after he’d finally gathered enough money to get started and he’d gotten a conditional use permit to build on Forest Service land, clearing and logging of the 3.2-mile right-of-way began. After the right-of-way was cleared concrete was poured and the 38 steel towers were installed, along with 25 miles of 1.5-inch diameter cables.

The Skyway Tram

The tram was originally going to be called the “Skyway” but when they ran into copyright problems they changed it to “Skiway” (the tram buses were also nicknamed “cloudliners” AND “flying buses”). The tramway was promoted as the longest and largest in the world and the first of its type ever to be constructed. The tram cars were actually converted city buses and they each seated 36 people, with room for 14 more to stand. The tram did not operate like other trams did. The buses each had two 185-horsepower gas engines. A December 9, 1973 retrospective in the Oregonian described the mechanism:

Most mountain tramways are pulled by a moving cable. Not this one. The cars were suspended by sheaves from the 1.5-inch suspension cables. Two 1.75-inch cables wound around three-foot drive sheaves on the sides of the car. The cars pulled themselves up the mountain on the traction cables which were anchored at both ends.

The Skiway Tram
Skiway Terminal BW
The lower terminal of the Skiway Tram

After more than two years of construction, the tram was tentatively scheduled to opened in April 1950, but it wasn’t ready until early the following year. In advance of the grand opening, a promotional run on January 3, 1951 carried newsmen, radio announcers, and cameramen up the mountain. The January 4, 1951 Oregonian article – which called the tram the “Timberline Trolley” – reported that the trip took 20 minutes. Although the interior of the tram greatly resembled a city bus, the article said “the cloudliner makes considerably more noise than a wheeled bus. The clanking and grinding of its cables make conversation aboard impossible.” One reporter – who had been a WWII Air Corps officer – described riding in the back of the tram car “as similar to to the tail gunner’s spot in a B-17 bomber.” Riding in the front was like “riding the front end to a helicopter.” Finally, after more than three and a half years, on February 2 the newspaper reported that the tram would begin operating the next day. One-way fare was 75 cents; round-trip was $1.50. The lower terminal in Government Camp had a restaurant and snack bar operated by Thomas Johnson and his wife, who operated the restaurant at Multnomah Falls Lodge. The terminal also had a gift shop, ski shop, and guest lounge. The tram entered the terminal on the building’s third floor where the loading/unloading platforms were located.

The lower terminal can be seen at far right.
The lower terminal can be seen at far right.
The lower terminal of the Skiway tram.
The lower terminal of the Skiway tram.

At Timberline Lodge the tram had no upper terminal building. Passengers had to load and unload from an open-air platform.

The loading platform at Timberline Lodge.
The loading platform at Timberline Lodge.

Improvements were planned almost immediately. Future plans included a bigger 500-space parking area, a new wing at the lower terminal to provide facilities for private parties, construction of an upper terminal building, and installing floodlights along the trail beneath the tram for night skiing and hiking. At a stockholders meeting in November 1952, it was suggested that the self-propelled buses be eliminated and be replaced by smaller, lighter coaches. The power plant would be on the ground (rather in each coach) so it would operate more like a ski lift does. The changes would increase the frequency of runs from once an hour to once ever 20 minutes. Nothing ever came of this plan, although the possibility of removing the buses and installing six-person gondolas was mentioned in the newspaper again in June 1956, at which point the two big self-propelled coaches had sat idle for the past six months due to dwindling ridership. Fare revenues had been $38,000 in 1952 but were down to $18,000 by 1954. The trams were slow and they only moved 72 passengers an hour. Plus, the new road to Timberline Lodge had opened the same year as the tram and when driving conditions were favorable the drive was a good 10 minutes less than the tram ride. The tram never reopened. During the summer of 1960 a salvage company removed the towers. One of the buses was scrapped and the other was bought by a logger in Seaside who used it as a toolshed. In January 1961 Franz Herrmann assumed management of the lower terminal. The Oregonian reported that he planned to “convert the building into a showplace” with plans to “remodel the lounge to provide a Swiss atmosphere. Within the next year or two he’ll convert the tram car loading area into 20 hotel rooms.” The lower terminal reopened in December 1962 as the Thunderhead Lodge with 21 private rooms, a coffee shop, deluxe dining room, and swimming pool. The entire ground floor was converted into a lounge and dance floor. On September 30, 1979 a small notice appeared in the Oregonian’s classified section that read: “Thunderhead Lodge on Mt. Hood at Government Camp being converted to 18 1 & 2 bdrm condominiums.” Today the condo building still stands and still bears the name Thunderhead Lodge.

Thunderhead Lodge in 2013.
Thunderhead Lodge in 2013.

If you hike up to the top of Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain you can still see the path of the tramway between Government Camp and Timberline Lodge. It’s now called the Glade Trail and skiers use it to ski down the mountain in the winter

The old path of the tramway between Government Camp and Timberline Lodge.
The old path of the tramway between Government Camp and Timberline Lodge.

Check out this 1956 video featuring the tram (and the untrue claim that it took only 10 minutes to ride to the top):

Mist Falls Lodge

Multnomah Lodge was built along the Columbia River Highway near Mist Falls in 1916. It was one of several such establishments that sprang up along the newly-built highway that followed the southern shore of the Columbia River

Multnomah Lodge in 1917

When the lodge was put up for sale by the owners in 1919 a June 22 advertisement in the Oregonian listed the features of the place, including six guest rooms, three family rooms, and a dining room.

Sometime around 1920 the name was changed to Mist Falls Lodge. On July 31, 1921 the Oregonian ran an article extolling the virtues of a drive along the Columbia River Highway. Mist Falls Lodge was called “an attractive and cosy inn facing the highway, with its back to beautiful Mist Falls.”

Mist Falls Lodge as shown in the newspaper

In November of that year a severe snow and ice storm hit the Columbia River Gorge. The roof of the lodge collapsed under the weight. The pictures below appeared in the November 27 Oregonian.

The caption read: “Above–View of highway with wrecked Mist Falls Lodge at upper left. Below–One of scores of buried touring cars found along road.”

The roof was replaced and business carried on. A July 26, 1924 advertisement in the Oregonian touted the “delicious chicken dinners” as well as trails, swings, hammocks, music, refreshments, and fishing.


The lodge was up for sale again in 1925, with a May 25 advertisement amusingly stating “Good proposition for some hustling woman.”


Undated photo of Mist Falls Lodge (Ash Creek Images)

The lodge burned down in 1929 and was never rebuilt. In 1971 the site of the lodge was part of a five acre tract that was donated to the State Highway Commission by the landowners, Reuben and Rose Lenske. In a May 4, 1971 Oregon Journal article Reuben, who was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, was quoted as saying “Instead of selling it and then devoting a considerable portion of the sales price to the federal government, in the wrongful destruction of the ecology and the environment as well as the people of a distant land,” he wanted instead to donate the land for “peaceful park purposes.”

The former site of the lodge is right along the Historic Columbia River Highway, although vegetation has grown up tremendously.

Mist Falls Lodge site in 2013

The plaque commemorating the 1971 land donation

A stone by the side of the road notes the year of construction

All that’s left of the lodge is the towering chimney

Former location of Mist Falls Lodge:

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The resort community of Swim was once located at the base of Multorpor Mountain near Government Camp. It was established sometime prior to 1924, when it appears on the USGS topo map.

Map of Swim area from 1924

A post office opened there in 1925, with resort owner Boyd Summers named postmaster. In 1928 two different advertisements ran in the Oregonian on June 15 and on August 10 listing the features and amenities of the resort, including fishing, hiking, campgrounds, a store, cabins, and “hot tub baths of radio active mineral water.”

Mount Hood Warm Mineral Springs Summer & Winter Resort Swimming Hiking Fishing Public Camping Grounds Completely furnished log cabins Store Post Office Gas & Oil Toboggan Slides Skiways Ski Jumps Hot Tub Baths of Radio Active Mineral Water Write for literature on home treatment of Radio Active Mineral remedy for Poison Oak, Rheumatism, Pyorrhea, High Blood Pressure, Cuts and many other ailments that Radio Active Springs will cure. Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Summers, Phone Swim, Ore Write Portland 57 mi Hood River 47 mi Mt. Hood Loop Highway

Swim Resort

Pool at Swim Resort
Pool at Swim Resort (sign on pole says “Swimming Pond Warm Mineral Water” and sign on building says “Mt. Hood Mineral Springs”) (U.S. Forest Service)

People were led to believe that the tubs at Swim Resort were fed by a hot spring. Since there is not a hot spring in the area many people now think that Summers heated the pool water artificially with a boiler hidden in the woods. In his book Lonely on the Mountain, George Henderson tells how he felt the creek water in 1936 and it wasn’t a bit warm, but he goes on to say that an “old-timer who had worked on the highway crew when the Barlow Road was realigned from Meldrum Meadows higher up the mountainside assured me that the creek had been warm before dynamite was used to install a culvert to carry the spring water under the new road.”

Pool at Swim Resort
Pool and cabin at Swim Resort (U.S. Forest Service)

Cabin at Swim Resort

Pool at Swim Resort (Mt. Hood Cultural Center & Museum)

Swimming pool at Swim Resort, Mt Hood National Forest
The Swim swimming pool (U.S. Forest Service)

415 Swimming pool at Swim Resort, Mt Hood National Forest
The Swim swimming pool (U.S. Forest Service)

175 Swim Resort near Summit Meadows Mt Hood
A postcard for Swim (U.S. Forest Service)

384 Swim resort, Mt Hood Nat'l Forest
A postcard for Swim (U.S. Forest Service)

Cover of brochure advertising Swim (Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum)

A group of winter visitors pose at the entrance to Swim

According to Jack Grauer in Mount Hood: A Complete History, drivers would park at what is now the Summit Ski Area at Government Camp and walk down the old Barlow Road which led right into Swim. In 1926 members of the recently-formed Cascade Ski Club moved tons of earth by hand to build a ski-jumping hill on the east side of Multorpor Mountain right above Swim. A November 22, 1927 article in The Oregonian noted that “a 1600-foot toboggan slide, a 1600-foot ski run, and a pretentious ski jump that will permit 180 to 200-foot ski jumps have been developed.” The Mount Hood Ski Club held it’s first annual tournament at Swim on Sunday, February 5, 1928, and a second annual tournament on February 10, 1929.

Map from a 1930 winter sports brochure published by the Forest Service (Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum)

On May 8, 1927, Boyd Summers’ personal cabin at the resort burned down. By the end of the summer of 1929 he had put the resort up for sale due to illness. This notice appeared in the August 30, 1929 edition of the Oregonian:

Swim Resort

On November 19, 1929 the Oregonian ran a short announcement that Ray L. Law and his brother Lewis M. Law had purchased the resort. The Law brothers apparently didn’t like running a mountain resort because on January 14, 1930, the day after a Cascade Ski Club tournament at the resort, the brothers took everything they could carry and skipped town. They had never paid Summers a dime.

In 1931 the resort was purchased by Edward J. Wonder from southern California. An  article in January of 1932 reported that Wonder planned to make improvements to the resort, including installing lights along the trail that led to Swim from Government Camp as well as along the ski run and toboggan slide, putting in a hydroelectric plant, installing two fish ponds, and building a new main lodge.

It’s unclear if these plans ever came to fruition. The Swim post office was decomissioned in 1932, probably because a new post office had just been established in nearby Government Camp in 1931. An Oregonian ad in 1935 indicated that the resort was still open for business.

Swim Resort

What happened after that is unknown, but at some point the resort closed and the buildings were torn down. Swim is shown on the 1938 Mt. Hood National Forest map, but not on the 1946 map. Henderson writes, “as the Depression deepened, the resort at Swim closed, and the swimming pool became part of a Forest Service campground.” The location of the Swim site today is near the Still Creek Campground in the middle of the forest. The passage of 70 years has almost entirely erased evidence that the resort ever existed. On a recent visit all I found was a pile of bricks on the east bank of Still Creek that were probably part of a fireplace.


Swim Resort

10/13/12 Update: I returned to the area today. You can see more of the ruins by driving into the Still Creek Campground and parking at a small turn-out for a picnic area and exploring the area just beyond.

What appears to be an old hearth surrounded by stones from a collapsed chimney, possibly from one of the cabins

The crumbling concrete walls of the old swimming pool

This is right next to the old pool, so it might possibly the stone foundation of the bath house

This looks like it might have been a fireplace

If you walk up the trail from the picnic area you’ll be on the old Barlow Road where emigrants traveled with their wagons in the 1800s and where people walked down from Government Camp in the 1920s and 1930s on their way to Swim

The former location of Swim:

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