Monday, February 21, 2011


Earl Clayton's family, on Blue Creek, and all the settlers in the west end of Sanders county, got a boost when a cedar shingle mill located nearby.
"We had built some log cabins on the bench land above the canyon the on east side of Blue Creek canyon," Austin Clayton said.
"My father and the neighbors had convinced the Sanders County Commissioners that we needed a road to replace the wagon trail that required teams to ford Blue Creek where there was no bridge.
"A log bridge had been built on rock ledges above the high water level of spring floods. Also a ten foot-wide wagon track had been dug, by hand, using pick and shovel, in the canyon walls on a grade set by the county engineer. That year the Dover Lumber Company removed the rails and ties of their railway, ending their operation. The county road was free of the railroad crossing.*1.
"Emerson and Lauderdale came to the Laughboro clearing on Blue Creek one summer day when we were finishing a family outing lunch. There was a grove of giant cedars in the creek bottom that would rival the Ross Creek Cedars.
"Mother had some overdone potatoes at the end of our campfire that looked like black stones. Since we had no food left she offered those few potatoes to the pack laden men. They broke open the black "stones" and wolfed down the white potato flesh.
"They were planning a shingle mill," they said.
The Lauderdale Shingle Mill was built.*2. Emerson and Lauderdale began construction of an engine-driven highline tramway to carry their product to the railroad spur across the Clark's Fork River, on the south side. Entries in Earl Clayton's diary describe it:
"Sept. 5, 1918: Worked at digging for cableway. 6th: Worked on roadway for Lauderdale. 7th: Finished smoothing roadway as far as Aue's today. Sept. 3, 1918: Went to riverbank below (River Echoes) school and helped dig trench for cable anchor for Lauderdale cable way. 4th and 5th: Same. Sept 7: Finished smoothing roadway as far as Aue's today.
"Sept. 18, 1918: Went to Lauderdale's cableway to help put up gallows frames south of river. Sept 19, 1918: Helped finish south side frame and strung cable. Sept. 20, 1918: Took team to Jones' and hauled up tools to end of cableway. Sept. 21, 1918: Raised gallows frame with my team for cableway on north side of river. 23rd: Helped Lauderdale string cables across river. Cable way hauled cedar shingles across river from north side for loading in railroad boxcars on Northern Pacific Railroad for shipment to market. Earl Clayton and others helped for Lauderdale Shingle Company."
The operation was working well. Then, inevitably, February 9, 1919 the little one-cylinder gas motor operating the cable way stalled, it's 'Bang, puff puff. Bang, puff puff', dying on the still air.

Ice built up on the cables. The little engine couldn't push the cable up hill over the track wheels on the south landing. The motor operator, on the north side, went for help and equipment.

Tom Duffy and Joe Brooks were on the cable cage near the south shore of the river swinging high over the swift river current with a harnessed team of Pat Duffy's horses, crossing north to south. It was a small cage made of wired on poles.

The horses nervously backed against the poles. They gave way. The horses fell. Weighted by harnesses, they drowned.

After the horses reared and fell off, the cage tilted and Joe and Tom couldn't get it back. Joe had to hand over hand across that cable to get back.*4. It was the only tragedy ever recalled at the Lauderdale Tramway, which was in operation many years.


  1. Austin Clayton, letter January 4, 1987.
  2. Austin Clayton, letter January 21, 1987. The Lauderdale Shingle Mill ran until fire escaped from their boiler stack and burned the cedar grove and centuries of old trees in Blue Creek canyon and close by mountains.
  3. Austin Clayton, 1989.
  4. Joe Brooks, 1979 Heron Reminisce Day.

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