Punk, Rotten & Nasty: The Saga Of The Pacific Railway & Navigation Company, by Paul Michael Clock
It is rather striking that a short-lived railroad that performed a notable task of civic-mindedness should have been saddled with such a terrible nickname. The Pacific Railway & Navigation Company ended up building a railroad that connected Tillamook, with its harbor and its agricultural fertility, in a convenient way with Hillsboro and thereby with the Portland metropolitan area. Previously, before this railroad was built, the only way to and from Tillamook with the outside world was either through inconsistent ferries to Seaside or through expensive toll roads. Tillamook’s ability to escape this isolation allowed it to become an important center of trade and population in the area, and so the railroad that brought people and greater trade to the area is one that should be celebrated, and is, hence the existence of this particular book, even though the railroad only lasted for a few years before it was bought out by the Southern Pacific. Perhaps we might expect most railroads to be punk, rotten, and nasty, but it probably seemed most appropriate at the time to use those words to describe a railroad that was, in its social-mindedness at least, a cut above most.
This particular book is a short one at a bit more than 100 pages but the pages are large and richly illustrated with black and white photographs and other illustrations that show the planning and impact of the small PR & N Company. The book begins with a preface and introduction that show that the author in this book stepped out of his comfort zone of writing prose fiction and wrote a competent institutional history of the kind that appears in the Images of America series. The book contains six chapters as well as other materials. The author begins by looking at the existence of Tillamook and surrounding areas and their isolation and feeling of being forlorn at the beginning of the 20th century (1). After that there is a discussion of the “Lytle Road” and the vision of the connection of Tillamook to other areas (2). This leads to a discussion of the two divisions of the Pacific Railway & Navigation Company, focusing first on the Hillsboro division between Hillsboro and the mouth of the Salmonberry River (3) and then the Tillamook division between Tillamook and the mouth of the Salmonberry River (4). After this comes a discussion of the big contract between the two divisions of the railway (5) and the impact of daily rail service to the previously isolated area (6), after which there is a short epilogue, acknowledgments, appendix, bibliography, and index.
For me, what I found most interesting about this book was the context of the work that was taken. It was striking to me that the course made by the PR & N Company mirrored that of the future US Highways 101 and 26, bringing people to such areas as Banks and Timber that I am familiar with. I was also struck by just how isolated Tillamook was from the rest of Oregon. Throughout the history of Oregon one reads about how it was that the steamboat and railroad and various toll roads and eventually freeways brought together what was an area of great isolation. The Cascade and Coast Range and rapids of the Columbia and high desert all conspired to make Oregon an area of great isolation long after it became a state. One thinks of this problem when one examines Alaska, but it is striking to realize that it was an issue in Oregon as well. Given our ability to zip around all over the places in our cars, it is easy to forget that this was not always so, and books like this remind us to appreciate the fact that we are better connected than was the case just over a century ago.