Photograph from, "The Alaska Railroad" by Bernadine Prince
Colombia Lumber Company operated a steam sawmill in Whittier Alaska from the mid 1940's until it was destroyed in the 1964 Alaska earthquake. A 1950 vintage photo was taken from the shoulder of the West Camp road right alongside the Alaska Railroad main line as it approaches Whittier Creek at the west end of the Whittier Yard. The creek passes between the slash burner and the mill.
An early 1944 aerial photo taken from the ocean side shows the mill complex in operation at the right/west end of the Alaska Railroad yard. The log booms and rafts of spruce logs can be seen extending into the bay highlighted by the silt laden fresh water flow from Whittier Creek.
The track in the foreground was the tail of the siding serving the mill. The dock was used for loading flats with finished lumber and servicing tow boats and small tugs used to bring log floats of spruce in from logging operations at remote sites in Prince William Sound. The log pond was contained behind piling driven into the alluvial gravel bottom beyond the mill. The bull boat can be seen at the end of the finger pier past the burner.
The boilers were fired with slash and sawdust with a large squirrel cage fan inducing forced draft through a "dutch oven" fire box. The bull chain, band saw and some auxiliary pumps and a turbine electrical generator were steam operated. The green chain, and cut off saws were all electric powered. Steam heat was piped to the camp dormitory, offices and out buildings along the yard track off to the right. The entire facility was self contained.
The mill operated seasonally because of the heavy snows in Whittier. They cut timbers, and dimensional lumber as well as ties for the Alaska Railroad under contract. There were no drying facilities in Whittier, and green lumber was shipped by rail to the Colombia Lumber Yard in Anchorage.
In the late 1950's there was a Coopers Creosote Plant built inside the Y at Whittier creek. The plant consisted of two large steel clad tanks and a long retort for cooking ties feed in on rail mounted carts. They had a contract with the ARR to treat ties cut by the mill across the tracks.
It all came to an end with the 1964 earthquake. The mill was destroyed as the alluvial bottom it was attached to shifted. There is no evidence of the site today, as it has been replaced by the small boat basin. The new cruise ship dock occupies the space where the old wood dock served the tow boats.
This account of the mill is based on memories of playing around the mill in the summer as a kid. The mill manager, Mr. Olson had his whole family there and little "Richard" and I had the run of the place. Our favorite activity was riding the bull boat in the log pond. Exploring the mill and all the steam equipment with the winter caretaker was an initiation into the marvels of mechanical stuff. In those pre OSHA days, at 12 or 13 years of age, I had an unpaid education that curious kids today can only wish for. -- Pat Durand
Page created 11/15/04 and last updated 1/28/16