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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 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.
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.
At Timberline Lodge the tram had no upper terminal building. Passengers had to load and unload from an open-air platform.
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.
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
Check out this 1956 video featuring the tram (and the untrue claim that it took only 10 minutes to ride to the top):
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:
Silcox Hut was built on the south side of Mt. Hood in 1939. Sitting at 6,950′ it is nearly 1,000 feet higher than Timberline Lodge, which opened to the public in 1938. Many of the WPA craftsmen who worked on Timberline Lodge also helped build Silcox Hut, which cost $58,000 to built.
Silcox Hut under construction in 1939 (Oregon State Historic Preservation Office)
It was built in a non-intrusive style and was sunk into the mountainside to accomplish this. It was constructed from heavy timbers and native rock with walls four feet thick at the base and two feet thick where they join the roof. The building is shaped like an “L” and at its widest point is 60 feet long and 27 feet wide. The two chimneys are made from local stone. The hut was named after Ferdinand A. Silcox who was chief forester at the time that Timberline Lodge was being proposed and was a strong advocate for the project.
Chief Forester Ferdinand Silcox (Forest History Society)
Silcox Hut served as the upper terminus of the Magic Mile chairlift, which was the second such lift ever built in the United States and the first to use steel towers. According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form:
The lift began 200 yards east of Timberline Lodge, rose 996.5 feet in elevation over a 207° slope and ended 4,950 feet up the mountain at Silcox Hut. The lift had a capacity of 255 people per hour and moved at a rate of 450 feet per minute…To prevent skiers from falling out, each chair was supplied with a seat belt and blankets were provided to ward off the cold.
On May 21, 1939 Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha of Norway secured the first tower with a nut and bolt in a pre-dedication ceremony. Oregon’s notoriously fickle spring weather made for a wet ceremony as described in the Oregonian the next day.
The lift began operating on November 26, 1939 even though Silcox Hut was still two weeks from completion. When the hut did open it had a concession counter for the convenience of skiers.
Silcox Hut in 1939 (Oregon State Historic Preservation Office)
The lift operated in summer too, offering sunset rides with amazing views that a June 27, 1940 Oregonian article called “the finest in the west”.
The Magic Mile chairlift was moved in 1962 and Silcox Hut was left abandoned. Time, harsh weather, and especially vandals took their toll over the years. In a July 12, 1981 Oregonian article, Forest Service administrator Dick Hoffman said:
Climbers have torn down every stick of wood they could reach for firewood. We have restored the shakes (on the roof) twice, but it is a losing battle. We tried locking up the lounge area, leaving the bull wheel room open to provide emergency shelter for climbers. But someone managed to hack his way through a 3-inch wooden door and broke into the lounge wing. We barricaded the other doors and covered the windows with welded steel shutters, but vandals used bed frames to pry them off.
Silcox Hut in 1983 with roof damage (Oregon State Historic Preservation Office)
The hut was in bad shape and the Forest Service considered demolishing it. But it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and then Nancy Randall, a Portland attorney, founded the Friends of Silcox Hut and restoration efforts began. Hundreds of volunteers donated their time. Electrical outlets were installed without altering the stonework. Graffiti was planed out of the bar, which was made from a slab of 500-year-old Douglas-fir.
Finally in 1993 the restored hut reopened. Today Silcox Hut is run by Timberline Lodge and is available to rent for weddings and retreats. Strong hikers can walk up to it from Timberline Lodge via the service road.
The upper terminal of the relocated Magic Mile lift can be seen in the background below.
The door of the hut has an engraved sign on it.
The concrete footings from the old Magic Mile lift are still visible between the lodge and the hut.
Location of Silcox Hut:
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.
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.”
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 and cabin at Swim Resort (U.S. Forest Service)
Cabin at Swim Resort
Pool at Swim Resort (Mt. Hood Cultural Center & Museum)
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:
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.
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.
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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Oregon used to have hundreds of fire lookouts perched on mountaintops. Every summer men and women were hired to live in or near these fire lookouts and spend their days watching out for forest fires. Eventually planes and satellites became a more efficient way of spotting fires, and today only a few fire lookouts remain. Some sit abandoned, some can be rented by members of the public for overnight stays, and some are still staffed in summer.
Clear Lake Butte is about 15 miles south of Mt. Hood. The Clackamas/Wasco county line goes right over the top of the butte. A 100 foot observation tower was constructed here in 1932. On a recent hike up to the butte, the woman staffing the current fire lookout showed me a picture of the original tower.
The original 1932 fire lookout on Clear Lake Butte
She also had pictures of a fallen tree that she had found while wandering around the summit. The tree had remains of ladder rungs along its length, which she supposed was leftover from a long-gone crow’s nest lookout at the top of the tree.
In the early years the person staffing the tower slept in a tent at the foot of the tower. A canvas fly covered a rough table, ice-box, and cookstove. In his book, Tales of High Clackamas Country, F. Alton Everest tells a story about Robin Hoodwink (not his real name) who briefly staffed the tower in 1934 before he was fired. One day Robin called down to the office.
“I’ve got a fire,” he yelled excitedly.
“Give me a bearing on it,” I said.
“No! No! I’ve got a fire right here. The grease in my frying pan caught fire and set the tarp on fire.”
“Well for the luva-mike, get off the phone and put it out before you start a forest fire.” Click. He hung up.
After about twenty minutes he phoned back. “Everything under control. I pulled the tarp down and beat the blaze out with a gunny sack.”
The first tower was replaced by a 41 foot wooden tower with an R-6 cab in 1962. The photo below shows this tower 30 years ago when the trees were shorter and you could see Mt. Hood from the ground.
Clear Lake Butte fire lookout, 1982 (Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, by Ray Kresek; photo by Ray Kresek)
That lookout still stands and is one of a few in the Mt. Hood National Forest that is staffed in summertime. These days the trees have gotten taller and there is no view of the mountain from the ground.
Clear Lake Butte fire lookout, 2012