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052.090 Lyle Convict Road (Washington State Road 8)

Lyle Convict Road - 2014 Curious Gorge Tour
Friends of the Columbia Gorge - Curious Gorge Histories and Mysteries Tour 2014. April 27, 2014
Copyright © 2014 A. F. Litt, All Rights Reserved

...Lyle, where one of the most picturesque highways to be found in the world is under construction.  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910) 

This roadbed, directly above the tunnels east of Lyle, stretches about a half-mile and it's not too difficult to scramble over a century of rock fall and landslide to examine these remnant's of Sam Hill's road-building vision.  (Cook, Curious Gorge 218)

The first highway that traveled through the Columbia River Gorge was surveyed in 1905 at a cost of $15,000 (equivalent to $393,722 in 2015[28]) by the state of Washington as a wagon road connecting Washougal in Clark County to Lyle in Klickitat County that was designated as secondary State Road 8.[29] 



State Road 8 was extended east from Lyle to Maryhill and northeast to the county seat of Goldendale in 1907.[30][31] 


Sam Hill, the quirkiest of the Northwest's pioneer business magnates, was building was building the infrastructure for his proposed Maryhill town site in 1909. Hill believed that economic prosperity followed road improvement and he campaigned enthusiastically for "Good Roads" (most roads in the early 1900s were dirt and rock, boggy and uneven.  Gravel and pavement were still rare).  Hill strove to get the WA gov't to build a road on the Columbia's north bank to aid commerce between Gorge, Maryhill, and inland farmers.  Initially, with WA Governor Hay's support, Hill convinced Klickitat County to house convicts in a walled tent camp east of Lyle in order to use their inexpensive labor to build the roadway over this difficult cliff-pinched impasse.  The progressive use of convict labor garnered national attention and praise.  Construction began with leveling the surface and building masonry retaining walls on this one-mile stretch ... until Gov. Hay inexplicably about-faced and pulled the plug on the convict-use idea.  Regular wage workers were deemed too expensive to hire for this far-from-anywhere road, so the infant north-bank road was abandoned.

Hill fumed, to say the least.  Gov. Hay had personally promised to back his project!  Infuriated, Hill successfully schemed to unseat Gov. Hay in the 1912 election.  Meanwhile, interest was growing in Oregon for a Columbia River road, and Hill, despite his previous WA ties, joined with OR Gov. Oswald West to campaign energetically for a road on the Oregon side of the Gorge.

In Feb 1913, at Hill's own expense, he brought the entire Oregon Legislature -- 88 men -- out to his Maryhill ranch for a gala event.  At this gathering Hill showed-off the experimental roads that he had been building on his ranch with his personally contracted road engineer, Sam Lancaster. 

Together they displayed state-of-the-art grading and paving techniques used to construct the "Maryhill Loops."  Hill's tenacious boosterism succeeded.  Soon thereafter the legislature approved funding for the Columbia River Highway and hired Sam Lancaster to design the project.

...

Thus, if you love the Historic Columbia River Highway ...  then go explore this remnant of road in Lyle and ponder Sam Hill's little known legacy.  Biographer Tuhy states, "Had it not been for his [Gov. Hay's] objection to the use of Washington convicts on road projects and his thwarting of Sam's efforts to promote a north bank highway, Sam probably would not have turned his considerable energy and talents for persuasion to the Oregon side of the river."  (Cook, Curious Gorge 218 - 219)


The secondary highway, named the North Bank Highway, was re-aligned in 1913 to follow closer to the Columbia River and was extended west to Vancouver and east to Mabton via Satus Pass.[32][33][34]  

Fig. 2 - Portion of State Road No. 8, Showing Series of 100-ft. Curves.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
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The State road system of Washington as already planned involves the construction of about 1,100 miles of highway. It is the intention, however, to first complete three main trunk lines, appropriations for which has been made, the Blaine-Vancouver, the Walla Walla-Vancouver, and the Walla Walla Spokane. It is stated that these three roads will benefit 90 per cent of the people of the State.
(N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)

Lyle Convict Road - 2014 Curious Gorge Tour
Friends of the Columbia Gorge - Curious Gorge Histories and Mysteries Tour 2014. April 27, 2014
Copyright © 2014 A. F. Litt, All Rights Reserved

Convict Labor

A practical demonstration of the utility of convict labor on road work was made on May 21 [1910], says an article in Good Roads, when Samuel Hill, Honorary President of the Washington State Good Roads Association, and Major Henry L. Bowlby, State Highway Commissioner, took a party of leading citizens of Portland and Seattle to inspect the work, being done near Lyle, on a section of the Washington State road.  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)

A member of the party from Oregon... is reported to have said: "This is ideal work for them.  Here we saw them construction a road as good as the old Roman roads, which also were constructed by convict and slave labor.  The men were happy and contented: in the jail they are unhappy and discontented.  On the road they are of economic service; in the penitentiary they are a menace to themselves and the State.  Few men are required as guards, for the men do not try to escape.  I am most favorably impressed with the scheme and I trust Oregon adopts it. "  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)

The work ran at a "profit" for the state, according to the 1910 New York Times article:

MARCH:
Total Value of months work:            $3,123.00
Cost of camp maintenance:              $1,567.00                         
Profit for March:                                   $1,530.00

936 days labor performed
$1.66 per day profit per man

APRIL:
Total Value of months work:            $4,321.50
Cost of camp maintenance:              $1,891.87                         
Profit for March:                                   $2,429.63

936 days labor performed
$2.60 per day profit per man
 
Location

This particular piece of road was selected because of its unusual favorable location, both with respect to its climatic location and the nature of the material to be handled.  (Kittredge 722)

Laying just east of the Cascade Divide and at an elevation of about 200 ft. above sea level, we are neither subjected to the cold and snows of Eastern Washington, nor the winter rains of the coast  ...   we lost less than two days per month on account of bad weather, in spite of the fact that the winter of 1909-10 was very severe through most of the state.  The record for the winter of 1910-11 was even better.   (Kittredge 722)

Road Along Columbia River c.1910
Good Roads / N.Y. Times Published November 13, 1910
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E03EFD6173BE430A75750C1A9679D946196D6CF
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

,
Convict Camp (State Road No. 8, Camp No. 3)

In January 1910, the State Highway Commissioner of Washington, Mr. Henry L. Bowlby, established a convict camp at Lyle, Wash., for the purpose of building the heaviest section of State Road No. 8.  (Kittredge 722)

Fig. 1 - Convict Camp and Stockade.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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The State Camp at Lyle opened with a total of 27 convicts, including those employed in the kitchen and maintenance of the camp.  This force remained the same until March, when the number was increased.  (Kittredge 722)

At the convict camp visited there are 84 convicts employed.  There are sheltered in wooden buildings, with kitchens and mess rooms within the inclosure, which is surrounded by a stockade constructed of heavy timbers.  These are bolted together so that the stockade can by easily removed when a change of base becomes desirable.  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)

The location of the convict camp was well chosen both from the standpoint of minimum of lost time on account of winter weather and from the more important standpoint of concentration of convicts on heavy work, thus reducing the expensive guard force and enabling the state to put up a permanent stockade and camp without the constant expense of moving as work progressed.  (Kittredge 722)

Convicts 

All are under the direction of competent foremen.  A few armed guards are stationed at advantageous points with orders to shoot if attempt at escape be made.  It is stated, however, that no such attempts have been made since the gangs were put on the work.  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)

Commissioner Bowlby makes the statement that three convicts will accomplish as much work as four men that he can hire, their energy being attributed to the fear that if not industrious they will be returned to the penitentiary.  This fear is also held to be responsible for their good behavior.  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)

A convict who was incarcerated for dynamiting has charge of that portion of the work. (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)



Road

The grading work, at points visited by the party, is mostly through solid rock.  (N. Y. Times, November 13, 1910)



Fig. 3 - Beginning of Heavy Work, Sta. 397 (Before).
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 4 - Entrance to Heavy Work, Sta. 397 (After).
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 5 - View of Concrete Arch and Fill.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 6 - Columnar Formation - Loading Crevasses.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 7 - Finished Grade of Fig. 6 - 18 Ft. Masonry on Lower Side; 35 Ft. Cliff Vertical on Upper Side.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Fig. 8 - Site of 140 Ft. Wall and Arch.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 9 - Completed Wall and Arch.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 10 - Masonry Wall on 100 Ft. Radius Curve.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 11 - View of Curved Wall.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 12 - View Looking West Over Grade from Sta. 387.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 13 - Dry Masonry Wall, 130 Ft. High; Batter 7 to 10.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 14 - View Looking West - Heavy Work in Distance.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig 16. - Typical Hillside Work.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
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Fig. 15 - Finished Road at Foot of Slide.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 17 - Typical Construction on Dead Talus.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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Fig. 18 - Completed Roadway Along Side.
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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View of No. 61 Street Mixer Showing Skip Ready For Batch
"Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor." Engineering and Contracting. Vol. XXXVII. No. 26. June, 26 1912. 722-727
Digitized by Google.
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CLICK HERE to continue exploring the highway

Links

Some great early pictures from 1910 can be found on Scott Cook's Curious Gorge Blog: 

1910 New York Times article about the progress on the Lyle Convict Road:
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F1091EF73C5F117088DDAA0994D9415B808DF1D3
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